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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

Watch for ghosts among the mushroom-shaped rocks in this weird, lovely landscape.

by: Renee Gavin

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Contact Information:

Bureau of Land Management 1235 La Plata Hwy. Farmington, NM 87401 (505) 599-8900 Location: The Bisti Wilderness is in northwestern New Mexico, 170 miles northwest of Albuquerque, near the state's "four corners" junction with Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. The nearest town is Farmington (203 W. Main-Suite 401, Farmington, NM 87401; (800) 448-1240 or (505) 326-7602), 35 miles south of Bisti.

Getting There: From Albuquerque, take State Hwy. 371 north from Crownpoint, New Mexico, for 46 miles until you reach the unmarked gravel road known locally as Old State Hwy. 371. This road will take you to the Bisti Wilderness entrance at Gateway Wash, which is no more than a wire fence with an opening wide enough for one person to get through.

Seasonal Information: The Bisti Wilderness is open year round. The best times are late winter, spring, and fall, when temperatures range from the 40s at night to the high 70s during the day. Summers can be brutally hot. Snow during winter usually doesn't last long. Portions of the Bisti Wilderness are closed in spring and early summer for nesting hawks.

Wildlife: Ancient animal life is represented by isolated teeth and bones of fish, turtles, lizards, mammals, and dinosaurs. Although traces of wildlife are found mostly in fossils throughout the region, visitors may sight hawks and eagles soaring overhead.

Insects: No information is available.

Plant Life: The abundant vegetation and animal life that once existed is in stark contrast to today's barren badlands. The little vegetation now consists of scatterings of rice grass and snakeweed.

Facilities: There are a number of designated campsites. Car-camping across from the main access point may be available by contacting the Bureau of Land Management.

Parking: No information available.

Permits: No permits are required for private hiking or camping trips.


  • Motorized vehicles, mountain bikes, and cooking fires are prohibited inside the wilderness.
  • Groups are limited to eight people.


  • There is no water in the Bisti Wilderness, so visitors should bring plenty along with them.
  • Also, be warned that when the winter snow melts the ground ~ containing clay ~ can become quite slippery.
  • There are no developed trails or signs.

Leave No Trace:

  • Climbing on rock formations is dangerous, accelerates erosion, and destroys the scenic value of the area.
  • All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: Three USGS topos of Bisti Trading Post, Alamo Mesa West, and Tanner Lake cost $4 each. Less detailed maps are also available through the Bureau of Land Management.

Other Trip Options: The 24,000-acre De-na-zin Wilderness is just 4 miles east of Bisti. Officials are currently pursuing connection of the two areas.

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