I decided to write a series about Bisti Badlands. When I first saw the images of Bisti Badlands five years ago, I was immediately attracted to the garden of sculpted Hoodoos. Since then, I have made three trips into this badlands on the “Mars”. Bisti have never failed to keep my fascination fresh.
First thing first, Bisti is pronounced like “Bistai”. I had it wrong for a few years until someone corrected me recently. Getting there is the easiest part. Compared to some other remote landmarks out west, Bisti is relatively easy to reach. It is 35 miles south of a fairly large city of Farmington, New Mexico, which is a perfect base for your “Mars” expedition. There is no need to rent an SUV to get there. The biggest “challenge” is 2 miles of well maintained dirt road off highway. There are some useful information online to help you with your directions. Interestingly, Germans who live half way around the world did more extensive research on Bisti than most Americans. One particular web site I found most useful is: http://www.synnatschke.de/bisti/bisti.html It is a German site, but you can read it with the Google Translator. It has an extremely useful topo map completed with GPS coordinates. The author is kind enough to include an English version of the map. Yes, definitely bring a GPS! I would not go in there the first time without a handheld GPS, especially for a photographer. I don’t know how many times I lost the sense of directions because I was so involved with picture taking. Bisti is a vast area. If you are lucky, you might run into a hiker or two in a entire day. Getting lost is not a pretty. I don’t need a GPS to get in there now, but I still keep it in my backpack, even after spending a total of eight days wondering in there.
I will not rehash the directions well presented on the above mentioned web site, except to point out that a handheld GPS will only tell you the direction from point A to point B in a straight line. Do not attempt to climb over any hill to follow the straight line, because I can guarantee you that you will find a cliff on the other side of the hill. Bisti Wilderness is basically a huge valley created by ages of erosion, every hill has one side that is eroded into a cliff. If you always stay on the valley floor, you should be able to find where you want to go without too much difficulty. The only other real dangers in Bisti are weather and cattle. In addition to the usual precautions for hiking in a desert environment, I would not go in there after a rain. The clad on the valley floor will stick to your shoes and make them too heavy to walk. Oh, the cows. I have not seen any cattle in Bisti other than cow dungs within half a mile or so from the parking lot. But the Indians I ran into warned me about the aggressive bulls, because there is a cattle range nearby.