Bisti Badlands New Mexico
Bisti Badlands New Mexico is one of those places that has an otherworldly beauty and mystique to it. Situated in the Four Corners area of Northwestern New Mexico, the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a land of layered sandstone, silt, shale, mudstone, and coal. Years of erosion by water and wind have turned these layers into strange and whimsical rock formations, hoodoos, wings, fins, and mushroom shaped spires, seemingly straight out of a fantasy or science fiction story.
Always on the search for new locations offering dramatic landscapes, and being a big fan of geologic oddities, I was drawn to Bisti’s beauty many years ago after seeing some photos of it in a magazine. However, it wasn’t until this spring that I had my first opportunity to visit and photograph this wonderful wilderness. I had put off visiting this and other sites in New Mexico to photograph other more famous Southwest icons, such as Zion, Arches, Joshua Tree, and the beautiful Sonoran Desert, to name a few. So it was with great excitement that on this trip I was finally going to see one of the greatest concentrations of badlands in the Southwest.
Bisti Badlands doesn’t flaunt it’s beauty like many of the well known and sought after locations in the SW. It’s one of those places where you’ll drive for miles on empty roads in a seemingly desolate landscape, only to arrive and wonder what the big deal is and where is all the scenery? It’s true that the Bisti Wilderness is situated in an arid, dusty, nearly flat and featureless high plain, arriving at the main parking area you are greeted by not much more than a wide dry wash framed by a few interesting hillsides, but there is much more to see.
Like many hidden wilderness gems you have to get out and do some legwork, spending the day exploring hidden canyons buttes and washes. This is where doing your homework and researching literature maps and photos comes into play. There are several key areas of interest scattered about and without some clues as to where they are you can spend many hours wandering about missing them and potentially getting lost in a very remote area. These days many people rely on GPS technology to guide them quickly to the best spots, but I feel this really takes away from that wonderfully satisfying experience of discovering something unique on your own.
Another way in which Bisti Badlands keeps it secrets is the light. You can spend several days wandering about and checking out all the best the Bisti has to see, but if all your time is spent during the middle of the day, and maybe in grey overcast conditions, you’ll miss out on the real magic. I was incredibly fortunate on my first trip to encounter some truly spectacular lighting conditions which made the badlands come alive with just about every adjective in the book. On my second day the weather was very cold and windy, with a solid grey sky that made even the most interesting hoodoos look dull and lifeless. Like a good photographer, and someone who has nothing else to do, I stuck it out and spent the time exploring and lining up compositions for when and if conditions were more favorable.
To my surprise, and great relief, the clouds began to break up in the west about an hour before sunset, the time many photographers refer to as the “magic hour”. In the eastern sky was the remnants of a passing storm, sheets of rain and snow flurries against a dark grey background. As the setting sun broke through the clouds in the west it lit up the eastern sky like it was on fire, truly an experience that I will always remember. Of course in the midst of all this drama I was working in high gear to find and compose as many photographs as I could reach before it all ended. The next evening was more tame, but waiting around until dusk brought some interesting light on the badlands as alpenglow softly illuminated the formations.
To see more images check out this special Bisti Badlands Portfolio. As always all images are available for immediate licensing and purchase as fine art prints.