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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New Mexico

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, New MexicoLocation
Comprised of 45,000 acres of badlands, the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico is located about 35 miles south of Farmington. Geologically speaking, this wilderness is as remote an area as a photographer is likely to explore.

Formed over millions of years by the slow accumulation of 14,000 feet of sedimentary rock, the Bisti (pronounced BIS-tie) Wilderness is a collection of deeply eroded land forms, featuring hoodoos, spires, buttes, mushrooms, balancing rocks, washes, canyons and natural sculptures that defy description.

Lightly visited and relatively under-photographed, Bisti is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and offers unlimited photo opportunities for those willing to travel the extra mile to capture unique, non-iconic images. Bisti is open year-round and can be explored by foot or on horseback. Backcountry camping is permitted.

Spring and fall offer mild temperatures, while summers can be oppressively hot (pushing 100 degrees F). Spring brings high winds, which can create dust problems for anything photographic. Winter days often are in the 40s, but evenings can be bitterly cold. The soil in the wilderness will become muddy and almost impossible to walk in after it rains. Most areas of Bisti are devoid of trees or other vegetation that can be used for shade.

Photo Experience

There are no trails or designated overlooks in Bisti. Simply walk into the rocky wilderness and explore what looks interesting. As you hike around this eerily beautiful area, you’ll feel you’re the first to photograph a particular rock formation.

Because the landforms face in all directions, either early morning or late afternoon will produce nicely lit subjects. Bring a wide-angle lens for grand landscape shots and to further distort the curved lines of some of the rocks you photograph. A mid-range zoom will come in handy to isolate details in the landscape. A polarizing filter will add definition to the clouds and intensity to the blue skies. Keep in mind that at high altitudes (over 5,000 feet in Bisti), the skies almost can go black if too much polarization is used.

A compass or GPS and a map are recommended to navigate the jumbled fantasyland that is Bisti. A pair of binoculars will come in handy to scout photo locations from a distance. Wear a hat and carry plenty of water, as there are no services nearby.

Best Times
Because of the mild temperatures, spring and fall are the best times to photograph Bisti. In spring, you’ll find wildflowers along the edges of some washes. Winters are an option, but summer visits aren’t recommended due to high temperatures and lack of water and shade. For a unique photo opportunity, time your visit with the appearance of the moon.

Contact: Contact: BLM, Farmington Field Office, 1235 La Plata Hwy., Farmington, NM 87401, (505) 599-8900,

Essential Gear…

Know precisely where you are and where you’re going while traveling in locations lacking maintained routes or trails. The Garmin Quest is a pocket-sized GPS device that features auto-matic routing, high-speed processing for automatic off-route and detour calculations, and a daylight-readable, full-color display. It weighs only 5.5 ounces. List Price: $642.84. Contact: Garmin, (800) 800-1020,