SAN JUAN COUNTY — Some people may have never heard of it, while others travel from all over the world to explore it.

It is called the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, and this unique area is located just outside Farmington.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is made up of 41,170 acres of badlands and is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The area consists of rare rock formations and fossils created by time and natural elements. It is free for the public to visit.

Translated from the Navajo language, Bisti means "a large area of shale hills." De-Na-Zin takes its name from the Navajo words for "cranes." Petroglyphs of cranes have been found south of the area.

Karola and Willy Bertleff, of Germany, head out into the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area on Sunday.
Karola and Willy Bertleff, of Germany, head out into the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area on Sunday.

Karola and Willy Bertleff recently visited the area from Germany as they toured the Southwest.

"This (Bisti/De-Na-Zin) is part of my bucket list," Karola Bertleff said.

The couple learned about the area from an online group of travelers who journey around the United States and share their stories.

With the monsoon season over and fall in the air, this is the perfect time to visit the remote wilderness area. Because roads to the area are dirt, access can be limited during monsoon and winter months.

The formations at the Bisti/De-Na-Zin are out of this world, and the colors are mesmerizing. Rocks alternate in a rainbow of colors and pop up from the ground in swivels and swirls.

"I am mesmerized with this area," said Maddie Minnis after spending a weekend camping at the Bisti. "The colors, atmosphere and the desolation is like nothing else I've ever seen."

The area is comprised of two major geological formations called the Fruitland Formation and the Kirtland Shale. The majority of what visitors can see is from the Fruitland Formation, which contains sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal and silt, all piled together.

Hoodoo formations stand out among the barren wilderness area of the Bist/De-Na-Zin on Sunday.
Hoodoo formations stand out among the barren wilderness area of the Bist/De-Na-Zin on Sunday. (Photos by Jaclyn Waggoner /Special to The Daily Times)

The sandstone formations are formed from weathering that causes spires and hoodoos, otherwise known as the sculpted rock.

The Kirtland Shale contains rock of various colors and dominates the eastern part of the wilderness.

"Hoodoos is what attracts most people to this location," said Janelle Alleman, who handles outdoor recreation work with BLM. "But there are other neat features that people often miss from paleontology to petrified logs."

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin is famous for its paleontology.

In fact, a tyrannosaur dubbed the Bisti Beast was discovered in the wilderness area in 1998, and the cast of the skeleton is on display at the Albuquerque Museum of Natural History.


The Bisti/De-Na-Zin is a wilderness area, federally designated to protect it for future generations.

You are allowed to hike, backpack, camp, horseback ride and photograph.

You are, however, asked to practice Leave No Trace principles to have a minimal effect on the area. Pack out what you pack in and leave the area just as you found it. For more information, go to

You are not allowed to drive any vehicles into the wilderness area, not even a bicycle, or to collect anything.


The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is located about 30 miles south of Farmington.

There are two accesses to the wilderness area.

The first is off N.M. Highway 371. Take a left turn on NCM Road 7297 and follow a gravel road for approximately 2 miles to the Bisti parking lot.

The second access area is to the De-Na-Zin parking lot and off County Road 7500, which connects U.S. Highway 550 with N.M. Highway 371, 8 miles south of the Bisti access exit.

Parking areas are available at both of the access points, but there are no facilities in the wilderness area. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you before you head out.

TFor more information, you can contact the Farmington Field Office of the BLM at 505-564-7600.

Jaclyn Waggoner covers outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at