I get a certain feeling when exploring a new land….an incredible feeling of serenity. The Bisti Badlands have been on my list for quite some time. And as soon as I realized I was going to have 3 days off work – I began planning my weekend getaway.
The Bisti Badlands are located in the northwest corner of New Mexico. It is BLM land, essentially Public Lands – for all to love and enjoy. What does this mean exactly? It means there are no parking or entrance fees, no restrictions on where you can camp or hike. This freedom is so enlightening. My favorite thing about this area is how infrequently traveled it is. This land is so raw, untouched and free of trash. Heaven.
My trip began on Friday morning. I loaded up the mutts and our gear and hit the road. Luckily, our drive to this unique land is only 6 hours. The badlands are located about an hour off of the highway and down a couple short dirt roads. We met our friend Marilyn (@trailswith4tails) and her posse of pups! 2 ladies and 6 dogs headed out in to the Bisti Badlands for an overnight backpacking trip.
An interesting aspect of the Bisti Badlands is how there are ZERO trails – it is a free for all. There are a number of commonly known landmarks that are a sight to see, for sure. With a GPS device, I imagine these are remarkably easy to locate – however, neither of us had a GPS. We had a printed out topo maps and a vague idea of where to locate these landmarks. To me, this made it all the more fun!
The badlands have 2 main washes that make navigating slightly easier (Alamo and Hunter). We began in Alamo wash, heading East. We took our time and enjoyed playing on a variety of hills and hoodoos that we came across! The first landmark we were looking to find was an area called the “Cracked Eggs” – we definitely did not find these first, we accidently passed right by them because we saw a couple people hiking in the distance and we moved well out of their way so we wouldn’t have to leash all of the dogs back up (we later discovered the Eggs were right where they were – which is why we missed them the first pass by). After walking down the wash a little bit longer we noticed an amazing group of hoodoos towards the south and detoured over to check them out. This is when we stumbled upon multiple logs of Petrified Wood that we had hoped to locate while out there. After enjoying some time in that area, we continued East. This is when we came upon a large formation with a giant, abandoned Ferruginous Hawks nest upon it. I immediately recognized this formation from the research I had done. This was as far East that we would travel, as after this it becomes hills upon hills.
Now that we have traveled as far East as we intended, we decided to head back down the wash. Along the way, we played on multiple hoodoos, found a tiny arch that the dogs ran on and through and took many photos. We headed back West with the intent to find the “Cracked Eggs” again! And, of course, we found them easily once we realized we had avoided that area on the first pass by. The eggs were my favorite, I can’t even explain why. I was mesmerized by them, I could have stared at them forever. We spent a lot of time just looking at them, feeling them and photographing them. They aren’t actually eggs – but instead, just incredibly unique rock formations. Rock formations that looked like where Quinci’s velociraptor ancestors were born!
At this point – we wanted to head towards an area referred to as the Hoodoo Garden. We only had a vague idea of where this was located – in the hills between the two washes. Turns out these hills are incredibly difficult to navigate. All of the drainages in the badlands head East to West – so attempting to travel South to North was a struggle. We never did find this so called Hoodoo Garden. But meandering through these hills was magical, with the waning light bouncing off of these painted hills. After ending up much further West than North, we decided to make camp in a beautiful, flat area among the hills (which helped to protect us from some slight winds).
Just South of us, there was a beautiful and tall formation known as the Zagarrat or “Alice”…..we stuck with Alice. She is a taller hill than most and looks like she has a fist on the top. She would end being our most valuable resource for navigating through these hills and located other landmarks, the following day.
After an amazing evening full of food, cards, fun and sleep…..lots of sleep – we woke up refreshed. Before packing up camp, we let the dogs run a little wild chasing bubbles. Because, seriously, when you find a bubble wand for a dollar at the grocery store the day before you leave – it’s a sign that it must come backpacking. The dogs LOVED it. Chipper chased bubbles up and down those hills like a mad man. So much fun.
But back to business now – we packed up camp, found “Alice”, and attempted to head North towards Hunter Wash. In Hunter Wash, we wanted to locate formations known as the Wings (which should be due north of our dear “Alice”). After navigating East and West and winding our way slowly North, we finally found Hunter Wash! Once we were in the wash we enjoyed a new set of sights and spent some time exploring and photographing. In the wash, we headed East. After a short walk, we noticed in the distance what could possibly be the Wings. We headed South towards these formations. We found them! They’re so beautiful. The area surrounding the Wings was so different than we’d anticipated. It’s amazing how photographs can make things seem so different that they really are, in person. I always attempt to keep the integrity of my photos by not altering images to make them more how I wish the landscape would be than what it actually is.
(photo by Marilyn Gaupp – @trailswith4tails)
From the Wings, we attempted to navigate the hills again in order to return to Alamo wash. We were intending to just explore a little more, to find anything we may have missed. After spending so much time, again, walking East to West we finally climbed up the tallest hill we could find to figure out how close we had gotten to Alamo wash. After figuring out where we were, we made our way down the hill and out to the wash. Once we were down in the wash, we glanced around and immediately located the Windows directly to the East. We were so excited and headed straight for them! They were so amazing, we spent a long time climbing around the Windows and surrounding ridges. After this, we were sufficiently tired and incredibly hungry – so we headed the few miles back to our cars!
I can’t say enough good things about this area. I truly feel backpacking was the best way to experience it. We were able to completely immerse ourselves in our environment. It gave us the ability to really get a feel for the land and explore deeper than most day hikers would. I would like to note though, there is ZERO water in the badlands – if you plan to backpack carry enough water! For one night, Marilyn and I each carried 4L, Chipper carried 2L and one of her dogs carried another liter. I would always rather be safe than sorry, when it comes to water!
I knew the second night would be much windier, so my intent was to car camp. I drove North of the parking area, on the dirt road, to find a place to pull off. Just before the dirt road is blocked by a fence, I found an area to pull my car behind a small hill. The dogs and I explored this area, at sunset. We ended up finding one of the largest areas of hoodoos we had seen during that weekend! I highly recommend checking it out, if you go to Bisti. The hoodoos were less than a mile north of the parking area, on the west side of the road behind some low hills!
I could have gone on forever and ever, describing my experience, in this post. If you have any questions about visiting the Bisti Badlands, please ask away! But I also ask, that if you visit this area, please keep it as beautiful as you find it. Pack it in, pack it out. Respect nature and keep these lands public!!
Katie, Chipper and Quinci