The Bisti Wilderness is located approximately 35 miles south of the city of Farmington along New Mexico State Road 371. It’s a part of the larger Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The entire wilderness lies within the San Juan Basin.
The basin was formed over the last 70 million years by sedimentation, volcanism, plate tectonics and glacial erosion. Further erosion from wind, water and annual freeze/thaw cycles has sculpted a wonderland of hoodoo gardens that are especially obvious along the edges of the many washes that cross the basin. Two of these drainages are Hunter Wash and Alamo Wash, which are responsible for carving the Bisti.
If you follow either of these main drainages into the many tributaries, you’ll find a phantasmagoria of hoodoos and other strange formations that make the area a hot spot for landscape photographers.
The high deserts of New Mexico are extreme places. In the summer, temperatures at Bisti Wilderness can reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and a sudden thunderstorm can build within minutes, so come prepared with plenty of water to stay hydrated, raingear and sunscreen. I’d advise against visiting the area during the months of July and August.
The winters here can be bone-chillingly cold. Temperatures hovering at or below zero aren’t uncommon in the morning. I dress in layers during the winter, which enables me to adjust to the changing conditions. The bottom line is to use common sense and be prepared.
One other thing to be aware of regardless of the season you plan to visit during is that when the clay-rich soil is wet, it becomes a quagmire, and while the road from the highway to the parking area is gravel and pretty well maintained, the places you’ll be hiking in can become very muddy and slick.
Photo Experience At Bisti Wilderness
The Bisti Wilderness provides seemingly endless opportunities for landscape photographers. The Brown Hoodoos, the Egg Garden, Bisti Arch and the Stone Wings are just a few of the more well-known and photogenic features to be found here.
As any good photographer will tell you, if you have an interesting subject, you’re halfway to a good image. So, while I do recommend seeking out the iconic spots, I also know from experience that the possibilities are endless and can be found just about anywhere in the Bisti Wilderness.
Any time of year can be good here, with the noted exceptions. Personally, I prefer to photograph landscapes under stormy skies, so I generally plan my trips to the Bisti when I know these conditions are forecast. Of course, sunrise or sunset provide the “sweet” light, but keep in mind that a thorough exploration of this place requires at least two full days.
Contact: Bureau of Land Management, blm.gov/visit/bisti-de-na-zin-wilderness.
See more of Jim Caffrey’s work at jimcaffreyimages.com.