Bisti Badlands - Atlas Obscura

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Bisti Badlands

Seemingly grown on some other world, these New Mexico rock formations look like a disused science fiction set. 


Located in the arid desert of northwestern New Mexico, the Bisti Badlands (formally the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness) offers one of the closest approximations of an unknown alien world as can be found right here on Earth.

The area takes its name not only from the striking stone formations that litter the landscape (“bisti” being a Navajo term meaning “among the adobe formations”), but from petroglyphs of a crane (bird, not construction equipment) that were found in the area—”De-Na-Zin” being the Navajo word for the animal.

The blasted landscape is covered in strange, undulating fungal shapes made of colorful sandstone and shale. Huge hoodoos (tall, thin rock spires) and small labyrinths of odd stone shapes have been created by eons of water and moisture wearing away at a softer layer of ash, creating improbable, top-heavy oddities. You can also find some petrified wood here and there.

Despite looking like a readymade set for a science fiction or fantasy production, the area has not been widely used for filming, save for the 1977 film, Sorcerer.   

Know Before You Go

The best Bisti access point is off State Highway 371 at Road 7297, about 40 miles south of Farmington. Follow the gravel Road 7297 east for about two miles to a T-intersections and turn left. Drive almost one mile to the Bisti Access Parking Area.

Note that are almost no amenities at the parking area or anywhere around there—no water, no visitor center, no cell phone reception. There are toilets (outhouse variety) in the parking lot but you should bring your own toilet paper. You must come completely prepared to be on your own. It can be extremely hot here in the daytime and very cold at night. The area where the strange rock formations are located is about 1.5 miles from the parking lot, and there are no trails, signs or guideposts. It would be very easy to get lost here if you're not careful. Reliable GPS is an absolute must.

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