Bizarre Yet Beautiful Badlands: Hidden Gems In New Mexico’s Wilderness [52 PICS]

August 6th, 2015 Permalink

When you think “alien” and New Mexico, Roswell might come to mind, but “alien” in this case is about 5 and a half hours away in the little known New Mexico Wilderness areas of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah and Bisti/De-Na-Zin. The rock formations are fantastic and surreal, alien in appearance, and the area is full of dinosaur bones and other fossils. Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area has over 6,500 acres, including the Valley of Dreams, and the nearby Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness has more than 41,000 acres; all are remote and full of colorful hoodoos, pinnacles, spires, cap rocks, canyons, washes and other bizarre formations laid out in a remote maze. Those who brave the wilderness may not see another soul during their adventure, but they are rewarded by seeing some of the most unusual scenery and incredible landscapes in New Mexico; it is a photographer’s dream shoot location. [52 Photos, 1 Video]

Stars in the Valley of Dreams, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness in New Mexico

Magnificent Milky Way from the Valley of Dreams, a hidden gem within the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area. These bizarre yet beautiful badlands are located in northwestern New Mexico. This stunning shot was captured at the GPS coordinates of 36.141132, -107.976894. Photo #1 by John Fowler

Lookout at Valley of Dreams New Mexico

“Lookout” the photographer called this shot of the Valley of Dreams in San Juan County, New Mexico. Photo #2 by John Fowler



Surprise sunset at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah

Surprise sunset at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah. Photo #3 by wildhoney

King of Wings

This formation is known as the “King of Wings.” When asked if this formation was at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah, De-Na-Zin, or Bisti, the photographer said it was near all of them, but he wasn’t sure if the place has a name. He first visited the KoW (King of Wings) and then Bisti. Regarding this shot he added, “I didn’t put the bones there, BTW. And sky is, ummm, from another place and time.” Like many truly spectacular places, many photographers don’t want to give out the exact GPS coordinates so others can find it and perhaps some idiot would harm the fragile structure that took nature thousands of year to create. Around 2013, the King of Wings became like a “holy grail for landscape photographers.” Finding this “piece of sandstone that sits atop a column of mudstone” was a challenge as it was known to be “somewhere out in the middle of New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.” Yet photographer Andreas Moller gives the King of Wings GPS location as 36.17111,-107.97263. If you go there, please treat it like the hidden gem it is. Photo #4 by John Fowler

Bisti Egg in Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

Bisti Egg in the 45,000-acre Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Like Ah-Shi-Sli-Pah, this wilderness is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The BLM says, “The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a rolling landscape of badlands which offers some of the most unusual scenery found in the Four Corners Region.” Photo #5 by QQ Li

Evening At Bisti

Evening At Bisti. The name Bisti means “among the adobe formations” or “a large area of shale hills;” it was translated “from the Navajo word Bistahí. De-Na-Zin takes its name from the Navajo words for ‘cranes.’ Petroglyphs of cranes have been found south of the Wilderness. It is on the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated New Mexico Scenic Byways.” Photo #6 by Joshua Warrender

Lots of hoodoos at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah

Lots of hoodoos in Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness. The photographer added, “This place looks a lot like the Bisti; hoodoos, petrified wood all over the place, dinosaur bones, stratified layers, etc.” Photo #7 by John Fowler

Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a remote desolate area of steeply eroded badlands

BLM said there are 41,170-acres that make up the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, where “time and natural elements have etched a fantasy world of strange rock formations made of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt.” Photo #8 by Bob Wick, BLM

Midnight in the Garden of Dreams Valley of Dreams

“Midnight in the Garden of Dreams.” Shot captured at Valley of Dreams, San Juan County, New Mexico. Photo #9 by John Fowler

Valley of Dreams queen and throne

“Queen, throne, and various mysterious objects.” The photographer mapped this location with 36.142258, -107.975564 as the GPS coordinates for the Valley of Dreams. Photo #10 by John Fowler

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah The Council

“Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah: “The Council.” According to Wikipedia, “The BLM Wilderness Study Area was declared in May 1992, and would protect an area of about 26.5 km2 (6,563 acres). The area was prospected by the renowned dinosaur hunter Charles Hazelius Sternberg in the summer of 1921. Sternberg collected the type specimen of Pentaceratops fenestratus, a ceratopsid dinosaur from the late Cretaceous Period, within the WSA. Specimens from this area form a significant part of the vertebrate paleontology collection at the Museum of Evolution, University of Uppsala, Sweden. Note that fossil collecting here without a permit is prohibited by law.” Photo #11 by John Fowler

Bisti Bones

“Bisti Bones.” The photographer noted, “Dinosaur bones? No, just Bisti rocks.” Regarding the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, BLM explained, “The weathering of the sandstone forms hoodoos – weathered rock in the form of pinnacles, spires, cap rocks, and other unusual forms.” Photo #12 by John Fowler

The Temple at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah

“The Temple” at Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area. This wilderness is not exactly the easiest place to reach, but the reward is surely worth the bumpy drive and then hike. “There are three areas of photographic interest in the wash: the Wilderness Study Area (WSA) on the south side of the the wash, the King of Wings (KOW) area on the north side, and Valley of Dreams (VOD) also on the south side but outside the WSA. Photo #13 by John Fowler

New Mexico Wilderness

The New Mexico wilderness holds many awe-inspiring views, but sadly the BLM doesn’t hand out maps for this public land and its description of Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area and Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness do not even hint at any of the top locations for photographers. There’s no mention of the King of Wings, Valley of Dreams, Cracked Eggs, Eagle’s Nest or other special and rarely busy places. Considering Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness is 6,563 acres and Bisti/De-Na-Zin is 41,170 acres, you could wander around endlessly and still not find those sites. That might be fine if you were a local, but if you travel a long way to shoot those scenes, you had better do your research first. Photo #14 by Bob Wick, BLM

Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is located south of Farmington, New Mexico. It doesn’t have the same mind-blowing kaleidoscope of colors, but it reminds us a bit of the Painted Hills in Oregon at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Park. Photo #15 by Bob Wick, BLM

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah  shot The Citizens

Ah-shi-sle-pah offers not only bizarre yet beautiful and alien-appearing landscapes, but BLM said the landscapes “leave you looking over your shoulder for dinosaurs!” Another photographer explained, “Ah-shi-sle-pah hasn’t changed much since Sternberg explored it. Even today, in some parts of the wash, you will be able to spot bone fragment. They resemble petrified wood, but their honeycomb-like structure distinguishes them. Scientists, such as search field paleontologist Robert Sullivan, continue to search for bones, skulls, teeth and whole skeletons of the ancient beasts buried in the mud hills. Over 280 specimens of fossil vertebrates have been isolated from the sedimentary Kirtland and Fruitland Formation and are now Exhibited at the New Mexico Museum of History and Science in Albuquerque and at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.” Photo #16 by John Fowler

Queen's Chamber, Bisti Badlands, New Mexico

Queen’s Chamber at the Bisti Badlands. Photographer Andreas Moller gives the following GPS locations in case you want to grab a camera and go: 36.26745,-108.22367 for the cracked eggs, 36.26893,-108.21252 for the Eagle’s Nest, 36.27927,-108.23729 for the Wings of Stone, 36.17111,-107.97263 for the King of Wings and he lists other GPS coordinates as well. America is a land of endless beauty, so soak in that beauty while you take some great pics that will help more people learn about these public lands…but please treat the places with the respect they deserve. Photo #17 by QQ Li

Rainbow over De-Na-Zin Wilderness in New Mexico

Rainbow over De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Another photographer relates a super muddy trip and a nearly perfect trip to Bisti a year later. He also has mapped each on EveryTrail so that the coordinates can be downloaded into GPS devices. Photo #18 by Jared Tarbell

The little ones, desert landscape of Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness

“The little ones,” desert landscape of Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness. Photo #19 by John Fowler

Gnome Home in Bisti

“Gnome Home” in Bisti. We’d like to give John Fowler a very special thank you for putting his awesome shots of New Mexico wilderness under a creative commons license. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t even have heard of these alien-looking, former dinosaur-stomping areas. Photo #20 by John Fowler

Entropy Valley of Dreams

“Entropy” captioned the photographer of shot captured in Ah-shi-sle-pah’s Valley of Dreams. Long ago, this wasn’t a desert like it is today. When dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago, this area was one of swampy lush vegetation. The dinos and the water disappeared, an ice age passed, and erosion took over, leaving what you see now. Photo #21 by John Fowler

New Mexico wilderness leaves you looking over your shoulder for dinosaurs

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is “home of the famed Tyrannosaurus ‘Bisti Beast’.” Photo #22 by Bob Wick, BLM

Bisti badlands

Bisti badlands. “Erosion is the process that shaped the characteristic features of the modern landscape of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness.” Wikipedia added, “The high plains around the Wilderness are about 6,500 feet above sea level today. The badlands lie 200 to 400 feet below those surrounding plains. The highest points in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness are always grassy. From them, you seem to be looking across a grass plain. This is because all the high points are mesas that stand even with each other, and the clay and lignite surface is hidden as a result of lying below the high points. The impression strengthens one’s understanding that everything below the grass has been carved away by wind and water. Anywhere that hard materials sit atop a layer of ash, hoodoos have eroded out of the matrix. While igneous protrusions might be a more common source of stone pillars and pedestals, in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, pillars and hoodoos exist solely because everything around and below them has been removed by wind and water, over time.” Photo #23 by Thomas Shahan

Bisti New Mexico Badlands

Badlands of New Mexico’s Bisti Wilderness. Photo #24 by Thomas Shahan

Bisti Pterodactyl

Bisti Pterodactyl? The Wave website suggested,”It is best visited in the Fall. If you go in the Summer bring a lot of water. Spring is windy season in the Southwest and sandstorms are common. The average elevation of the Bisti is 6,300 feet so winters will be cold. This leaves the Fall. Fall days are pleasant and days are shorter. Strong hikers can be out at both sunrise and sunset. The access road to the Bisti is gravel so the parking area is accessible after a rain. However hiking after a rain would be difficult / impossible due to the clay based soil.” Photo #25 by John Fowler

Bisti Wings

Bisti Wings seem to be all over the place. Photo #26 by John Fowler

Bisti Wing

Bisti Wing. “There are two main washes in the Bisti. Both run east to west, with west being downstream. The northern wash is named Hunter Wash, and the southern is named Alamo or Gateway Wash,” explained The Wave. But “there are no hiking trails in the Bisti…If you’re without a GPS I suggest you stay in Alamo wash, there are plenty of great photo opportunities right there such as the ‘Cracked Eggs’ and the ‘Rock Garden’. If you choose to explore the hills I suggest you visit the area near the ‘Bisti Wings’ which is extremely photogenic with many compositions possible. You can also cross over into Hunter Wash from The Wings.” Photo #27 by John Fowler

Cracked earth at Bisti Badlands

Cracked dry earth at Bisti badlands. Photo #28 by penjelly

New Mexico's Valley of Dreams is an alien-looking world

Photographer John Fowler wrote, “I don’t know how the Valley of Dreams got its name…It is an inaccessible place that can be reached only by driving down about 15 miles of dirt road, then a couple of miles of sandy jeep trail of varying quality, and finally half a mile of no trail at all.” Photo #29 by John Fowler

Rusted wreck in the valley of dreams

This rusted wreck was captioned, “Valley of (shattered) Dreams.” Fowler added, “The view in this photo is looking north from the southern edge. Just over the hood of the car you can see the first stand of hoodoos. About half a mile beyond that one sees the second stand, and half a mile further north (where you see the red hills) is the third and most impressive area.” After taking some shots, he said, “I noticed a person walking toward me from the panel truck. He was far away and I had some time to speculate on his intent. I began to wonder if I should be afraid. This area is a checkerboard of patches of BLM, private, and Navajo land, each about a square mile in area. It’s so mixed up you can’t know for sure where you are with regard to property boundaries. So I wondered if the person coming toward me was a local rancher who was going to tell me to get off his property, or a crazed drug addict who would rob and murder me, or just another photographer.” Photo #30 by John Fowler

The Sphinx mushroom rock at Bisti

This mushroom rock at Bisti sort of resembles a Sphinx. A TripAdvisor reviewer called Bisti an incredible place and one of the best places in the Southwest. “This place needs a little research before visiting, and it could be easy to get lost/dehydrated. The scenery is really unusual and just spectacular. Brilliant place for getting off-the-beaten-track and for photography.” Photo #31 by John Fowler

Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area yielded fossils and is a spectacular badland counterpart to the nearby Bisti-De-Na Zin Wilderness

BLM noted, The “Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area yielded fossils and is a spectacular badland counterpart to the nearby Bisti-De-Na Zin Wilderness.” Photo #32 by Bob Wick, BLM

Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area

Paleontologist Robert Sullivan called (pdf) Ah-shi-sle-pah “a paleontological treasure and resource” where more than “280 specimens of fossil vertebrates (fishes, turtles, crocodilians and dinosaurs” have been found. Some of the prominent fossil-finding locations he mentioned included “Bob’s Bloody Bluff, Eagle’s Nest, Eagle’s Nest Flat, Bob’s Microsite, Denver’s Blowout, Turtle Terrace, and Sternberg’s hoodoo site. Yet he believed, “Our understanding of the paleontology, fauna and flora, of the Ah-shi-sle-pah WSA is presently in its infancy.” Photo #33 by Bob Wick, BLM

Great outdoors at Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness

Like the Valley of Dreams, the Gray Salt Badlands is part of Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area. Photo #34 by Wolfgang Kieckbusch

Fruitland Formation and the Kirtland Shale primary geological formations of Bisti De-Na-Zin

Fruitland Formation and the Kirtland Shale are the primary geological formations of Bisti/De-Na-Zin. Photo #35 by Bob Wick, BLM

Howl at the moon at Bisti De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Farmington, New Mexico, the town closest to these sites, noted, “The Wilderness was once a coastal swamp of an inland sea; and was home to many large trees, reptiles, dinosaurs and primitive mammals. What you see today is the preserved record of this swamp that is now a true desert wilderness. You can reach some of the most astonishing landscapes with hikes of 2 to 5 miles round trip. It is best to travel in the early morning and late afternoon. There are no marked trails in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness and it is easy to get confused or lost. A GPS or compass is helpful and pay close attention to your surroundings. Take plenty of water, protective clothing.” Photo #36 by John Fowler

Ruins in the Valley of Dreams

Ruins in the Valley of Dreams. The photographer captioned this shot as “Forgotten. The remains of this structure appear to be rather recent relative to the Anasazi construction also present in this area. But it might have been a hundred years or more since it was built. I don’t know if it was used for storage or shelter or something else.” Photo #37 by John Fowler

Bisti De-Na-Zin formations and arch

Bisti De-Na-Zin formations and arch. Photo #38 by John Fowler

Starship Enterprise in the Valley of Dreams

“Starship Enterprise” in the Valley of Dreams. “Beam me up, Scotty!” Did you know?…The Stargate Universe episode titled “Malice” was filmed in the Bitsi badlands. Photo #39 by John Fowler

Bisti rockscape

Bisti rockscape. The American Southwest wrote, “The clayish hills that cover most of the wilderness are composed of thin layers of coal, silt, shale and mudstone with varying hardness and coloration, and are mixed with more resistant sandstone which has eroded into thousands of weird formations – hoodoos, ridges, arches, balanced rocks and small slot canyons. Many ravines created by rainwater erosion cross through the hills, which also harbor occasional caves and narrow fissures several meters deep. Much of the surface is unstable – the layers are often loose, rocks are crumbling and some of the formations are quite delicate, so hikers should take care not to damage the features; there are no established trails, but walking along the ravines and the valley floor is the usual way to explore. Petrified wood is scattered across the surface, especially to the southeast – sometimes entire tree stumps, with the bark and growth rings still clearly recognizable. Fossils may also be found, and the teeth and bones of a variety of large dinosaur species have been discovered embedded in the earthy layers.” Photo #40 by John Fowler

Valley of Dreams mushroom

Valley of Dreams mushroom. Photo #41 by John Fowler

New Mexico conservation land

New Mexico conservation land. Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area formations extend for 6 miles, according to the American Southwest, yet it is a “little known region of fantastic eroded rocks in the high desert of northwest New Mexico.” Photo #42 by Bob Wick, BLM

Hoodoos at Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Hoodoos at Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness. Photo #43 by Bob Wick, BLM

Ripples at the Valley of Dreams

Ripples in the Valley of Dreams. Photo #44 by John Fowler

Thin Man and One-eye in De-na-zin area of Bisti

“Thin Man and One-eye in De-na-zin area of Bisti, northern New Mexico. This one’s about ten feet tall and doesn’t appear to have much holding it up.” Photo #46 by John Fowler

Bisti Wilderness Area

Bisti Wilderness Area. Photo #47 by Paolo Rosa

Formations in the Valley of Dreams

Formations in the Valley of Dreams. Photo #48 by John Fowler

Visit to a dentist in the Valley of Dreams

Visit to a dentist in the Valley of Dreams…for some that might be a nightmare? Photo #49 by John Fowler

Valley of Dreams Alien

“Alien” in the Valley of Dreams. Photo #50 by John Fowler

Step back in time in New Mexico Wilderness

Step into the New Mexico Wilderness and step back in time. Photo #51 by Bob Wick, BLM

Bisti and the moon

Bisti and the moon. Photo #52 by John Fowler

Valley of Dreams Dusk to Dawn

Wowza: Valley of Dreams Dusk to Dawn. Video #1 by John Fowler

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