Time and the elements have sculpted a land of fossils, rock formations and badlands in northwestern New Mexico. Preserved by the BLM as the Bisti/Da-Nah-Zin Wilderness area, what were originally two different parcels were linked together in 1996.
Both words are from the Navajo language. “Bisti” means a large area of shale hills and De-Na-Zin is the Navajo word for cranes. Petroglyphs of cranes have been found just south of the Wilderness.
This is a primitive recreation experience, and emphasizes solitude and open spaces. A dirt road leads up to the edge of the Bisti badlands, a silent place of weirdly eroded hoodoos and slate topped formations known as mesitas. These are geologic sculptures made of sandstone and shale that have been eroded by wind and rain.
There are no real trails in this wilderness, but none are needed. Simply follow the relatively flat areas surrounding the washes and less than a mile from the Bisti parking area you will find yourself in a fantasy land of extraordinary beauty. Between the parking lot and the badlands is a fence and mine. If you keep the mine in sight, you can wander the area without getting lost in the jumbled maze of rock. The further you go, the better the landscape. The best terrain is two to three miles from the parking area.
An unimproved parking area is also located at the entrance to Da-Nah-Zin. Numerous fossils are found here, and hiking will be more hilly and rugged than at Bisti. Look for sixty and seventy foot petrified logs newly exposed from the hillsides by the action of wind and rain. This region was the home of many reptiles and large dinosaurs between 65 million and 80 million years ago. Coastal swamps existed where today there are barren badlands. Within the sediments left behind lie the buried remains and bones of fish, turtles, lizards, mammals and dinosaurs. Remember that it is illegal to pick up any of the ancient remnants you may find here.
The Bisti Wilderness is forty miles south of Farmington, New Mexico via SR 371. It is only two miles via a gravel road to the parking lot. The De-Nah-Zin parking lot and access is off County Road 7500, eight miles south of the Bisti access exit. It can also be reached from the northeast side off Highway 550, again turning on County Road 7500.