Off the Beaten Path: Photographing the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico

The Bisti Badlands may be the strangest landscape we have ever seen. Seeing photos on the internet does not do it justice. It’s remote. It’s extreme. It’s weird. It’s difficult. But, it’s worth the effort and we will definitely be back for more. Here’s what you might see.

The Alamo Wash (big wash)

If you don’t want to dry camp, then stay in Farmington, NM which is about an hour away from the parking area. There are two entrances into the Bisti Badlands. I would suggest the South entrance at the Alamo wash (main wash or big wash) which has a toilet, large parking lot, and room to camp overnight, if you want to. The Alamo Wash runs pretty much east/west and is very wide. It is the way in and the way out. All of the little washes run into it, so if you get lost go down hill towards this wash and you can make it out. It’s easy to get lost because the little washes and hills blend together. Oh, and there are two barb wire fences that mark the south and east boundaries of the Badlands. If you get on the wrong side of the fences, you will be stuck…more on that later. Carry a GPS if you have one and we also found the All Trails App useful.

We spent two evenings here and one morning. It can be both very cold and very hot and very windy, so be ready for any weather condition. Also have a flash light or head lamp if you stay out too late after sunset.

You will have to WALK. When you start in the wash, you can not see anything interesting and it all looks like ugly mud mounds. About two miles into the wash on the right side you will find the Egg Hatchery (also know as the Egg Factory and the Alien Egg Hatchery) and Hoodoo City.

For all of these locations, low light from just after sunrise and just before sunset worked best. As soon as the sun went down, all the contrast and shadows disappeared and everything looked flat and boring. Same in the morning, until there is some direct light, the shapes of the hoodoos don’t do much for me. As the sun came up and over head we switched to our infrared cameras.

On the right side of the main wash is the Rock Garden, which Mary re-named the Fairy Garden and farther afield is the Petite Boulder Garden (another Mary name).

Finally, as you continue to make your way more North you will hit the Vanilla and Beige Hoodoos and the highlight of the trip – the Manta Ray and the Stone Wings.

And here is where I got into trouble. I used my GPS to bushwhack directly back to the parking lot from the Stone Wings. We went up and down hills, through small and big washes, but I knew we were heading in the right direction. Then we hit the first barb wire fence. I encouraged Mary to leap over it, only to find a big hole in the fence about ten feet away. We were obviously not the first people to get stuck behind the fence. About ten minutes later we hit the second barb wire fence and found another hole to crawl through. Though we got away with this tactic, I would recommend using the big wash and not bushwhacking.

We used color and infrared (converted to monochrome) cameras and wide angle zoom lenses for most of the shooting. We did hike with our tripods and as our friend Jack Graham says, “buy the heaviest tripod you are willing to carry.” I think up and back to all of the principle areas covers about 6 miles of walking, so bring plenty of water and a snack.

This blog post from Jeff Stammer is enormously helpful for planning and executing your trip to Bisti.

To see more of and buy our photographs, please go to

You can check out more of our photos on Flickr.

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