Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This article was specifically written as a comprehensive guide for photographers visiting the Bisti Badlands to help them make that trip as productive and safe as possible.  If you are more interested in general information about Bisti, then please check out my earlier article which is intended for visitors who aren’t totally focused on photography. 

Note:  The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is a huge area (45,000 acres) Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers  Bisti is the western section and De-Na-Zin is to the east but most maps (and signs) will just say ‘Bisti/De-Na-Zin…which can be a bit confusing. This blog only covers the popular western section (Bisti) which is about 36 miles south of Farmington, N.M. and includes locations like the ‘Alien Egg Nursery’ (aka “Cracked Eggs”),  the ‘Stone Wings,’ the ‘Conversing Hoodoos’ and others   This blog will not review the De-Na-Zin area which borders CR 7500 (this area includes the ‘Valley of Dreams’, ‘Alien Throne’ and the ‘King of Wings.’ )

Tip 1:  Get a GPS App:

There are no trails in Bisti, no boardwalks, no rangers, no consistent cell service.  Lots of folks don’t plan ahead and end up walking around for hours, getting lost and not seeing much. 

If you have your own GPS unit or you’re one of the old breed who knows about topographical maps and compasses, then you can get topo maps here and you will find GPS coordinates later in this article.   

But for most folks the best thing to do is buy a good GPS app for your smartphone.  Some of these apps are really excellent and with a bit of practice, you should be able to find your way around Bisti well.  Personally, I’d recommend the All Trails Pro ($29.99/yr) app.  Another highly regarded product is the Gaia App ($20)

  •  These apps do not need a cell signal to work…which is critical since cell service is poor in Bisti.  They work work right off of GPS satellites.
  • All Trails Pro includes ‘tracks’ by other people who have previously made this hike and it includes their photos.  For example, you can pull up a hike I did in Oct 2018 and see exactly where the photo locations are that I found.  When hiking with this app, it can indicate your location within ten feet or so (which makes it pretty darn hard to get lost).  Think of it as a ‘virtual guide.’  $30 might be a lot for an app, but its cheaper than buying  stand-alone GPS unit…plus if you are coming all the way to Bisti to photograph, $30 seems to be a small price to ensure that you make the most of the experience (BTW: I don’t get a kickback from All Trails…or any of the items I recommend in this blog). 
  • Don’t buy one of these apps and use it for the first time when you visit Bisti.  There is a learning curve involved when using these apps.  You really need to try them out first near home and be comfortable using them before hiking out into the desert at Bisti.  
  • Buy a portable backup battery for your smartphone.  GPS apps will drain your battery and if your phone is the only way of finding your way back to the car, you don’t want to run out of juice.  I bought one of these backups a few years ago.  It’s lightweight and will recharge my phone multiple times but I’m sure you can find better/cheaper ones out there now.

Tip 2:  Stay in Farmington:

You can camp in Bisti (at no cost) but you will have to drive back to Farmington (about 40 minutes) to find food or water.  So unless you have an RV or have experience in Wilderness Camping,  getting a room in Farmington will be your best bet.   FYI…a pit toilet at the main Bisti Parking lot has recently (March 2020) been added…so at least you don’t have to drive 40 miles to find a bathroom like in the past! 

Tip 3: Visit in the Fall or Spring: 

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is open year round 24/7/365.  Good images can be made any month of the year.  However, some months are definitely more hospitable than others.

  • Many consider September and October to be the prime months to visit.  Temperatures range between 49°-76° and you can stay out from sunrise to sunset with no problems.   
  • April/May are also very good but since this is the is windy season, you have to be careful of the fine dust/sand that can be blown about.  
  • Summers often have some great clouds because of the Monsoons, but the heat can be absolutely brutal:  Bisti is in the desert and there is no water and little shade.  Other than early mornings, it can be challenging to be out for more than a few hours on hot days even if you have experience hiking in high temperatures.   Night photography is still be a good option during these months since it is cooler and the full Milky Way core is visibleis visible).  
  • Bisti does get snow in the winter and it can used to great advantage in your photography if you can handle the chilly temperatures  (Bisti is at 6500 feet, so it really does get cold here).
Monthly Averages & Records –  °F 
Date Average
January 19° 38° -21° (1963) 63° (1986) 0.64″ 6.3″
February 23° 45° -10° (1989) 68° (1976) 0.43″ 5.9″
March 28° 53° 3° (1966) 80° (2004) 0.68″ 5″
April 34° 62° 10° (1980) 86° (1981) 0.56″ 1.2″
May 42° 71° 19° (1967) 92° (2002) 0.65″ 0.5″
June 52° 82° 26° (1974) 99° (2007) 0.57″ 0″
July 57° 86° 45° (1995) 100° (2007) 1.46″ 0″
August 55° 83° 35° (2000) 94° (1996) 1.84″ 0″
September 49° 76° 25° (1971) 90° (2004) 1.04″ 0″
October 39° 64° 14° (1993) 81° (1963) 1.04″ 1″
November 27° 49° -6° (1976) 76° (1977) 0.79″ 3.1″
December 21° 40° -12° (1990) 63° (1999) 0.53″ 7″

Tip 4:  Think about your Safety:

A Personal Locator Beacon

When you hike in Bisti, you will often not see another soul all day.  Plus cell service is not good.  Occasionally you might get a signal when you climb a bluff but you can’t count on it.  If you get lost or have a medical emergency, help could be a long time coming…if it comes at all

Hiking with a friend is a good idea. 

Another option is to have a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).  PLBs are smaller than a cell phone and weigh about the same as a couple granola bars.  They accurately relay your position to a worldwide network of search and rescue satellites in case of emergency.  My PLB set me back about $280 from Amazon, which isn’t cheap unless you consider the alternative. Plus it made my wife happy…and that is truly priceless.  

There aren’t many big critters here, so you don’t need bear spray.  There are rattlesnakes, so don’t go sticking your hand into dark holes, but short of stupidity of that magnitude, you don’t have to worry much about wildlife.

It is the desert.  Lots of sunshine, 12 months of the year.  Wear a hat and sunscreen and carry plenty of water.

Tip 5:  Rain makes Bisti a mess:

You wouldn’t think it rains here in the desert, but it does.  And even a little sprinkle of rain will turn the surface into a heavy, boot-sticking goo that makes hiking miserable (I learned this the hard way).  If rain is in the forecast, it might be a good day to check out other photo ops in the area (like Shiprock.

How do you to get to Bisti?

Nearly every photographer going to Bisti wants to go to the ‘Eggs’.  Whether you call them ‘Cracked Eggs,’ Alien Eggs,’ ”the Alien Egg Nursery’  or ‘the Egg Hatchery’ it is the certainly the most famous and desirable photo location in Bisti, so that’s where we will start:

  • To download a PDF of this map, click HERE.
    • From Farmington, take SR 371 south about 36 miles, turn left onto Country Road CR 7297.  It is between Mile Marker 71 and 70 (closer to 70).  CR 7297 is a well maintained gravel road (as of Oct 2018).  You don’t need FWD or high-ground clearance.  CR 7297 will dead-end into CR 7290 in about 2 miles.  Turn left on 7290 and go about a mile until you see the large ‘Bisti’ Sign on your right. 
      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
      Sign at Parking Lot: #1 on the map



      This is the main parking lot for Bisti.  It is probably the location that will pop up if you search for ‘Bisti Parking’ on Google Maps, Waze or most other apps.  There are a lot of different names for this parking lot, but let’s call it the Main Bisti Parking Area at Alamo Wash (South). Bisti is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and there is no fee to park or hike.   Lock up your car and hide your valuables then walk 100 yards to the cattle guard gate to your east that allows you through the barbed wire.

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
      Cattle Guard: #2 on map

      From here you will see two low red hills nearly directly east.  Walk to them. 

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
      The two ‘Red Hills’: #3 on map

      When you pass them, look further to the east for two distinctive black topped hills and head toward them. 

      Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
      The two Black Top Hills: #4 on map

       When you reach them, hike around the left (north) side of the two hills.  You should see black topped white cliffs in the distance to the east.  The “Alien Egg Hatchery” is right up against that white colored bluff/cliff that is part of the elevated ridge-line south of you that runs east/west.  The actual area is about half the size of a football field.  The “eggs” are about 3 to 4 feet long but can be hard to spot until you are nearly on top of them (I wandered around for 30 minutes the first time).   Use your smartphone app and it will take you right to them.  From the parking lot, it should take you about 35-45 minutes to reach the eggs (assuming you don’t stop or take any detours on the way). 

    • After checking out the eggs, there are a lot of other spots you can explore and photograph.  Below I’ll review a number of the most popular locations and provide photographic tips

Photo Tips for Bisti’s Top Attractions

South Bisti:

The Alien Egg Nursery (Cracked Eggs): #5 on maps

  • The Eggs look best right after sunrise or shortly before sunset when low angle direct sunlight emphasizes the shadows and textures on the eggs.  Of the two, sunset is often better because the bluff to the east of the Nursery blocks sunrise light until it is a bit higher in the sky. 
    • This is one of the few places (other than the parking lot) that you are likely to see other people.  Other photographers will often be keeping you company at sunset (but rarely any other time of day).
    • Get there early so you can scout out the eggs.  Some of them are much cooler than others.  Remember, the good light doesn’t last long and you don’t want to be stumbling about frantically trying to figure out where to shoot as the sun goes down…plan ahead and use that time productively.
  • Don’t only shoot from eye-level, try getting lower to the ground for a different and more intimate perspective.   Try to pick out a particularly nice ‘egg’ and get close so it fills up your foreground.
  • Night photography here is awesome with very little light pollution.  You can shoot the Milky Way to the south or flip around and shoot northward to capture star trails including the north star.
  • If you only have one day and you can’t be here at sunrise/sunset, then you should know that  the eggs just don’t photograph well during the middle of the day.  If that’s your only option then do yourself a favor and don’t spend too much time here, instead hit some other nearby locations that look great in direct light.  Most of them are only a 30 minute hike away and are detailed below in the section called ‘North Bisti’).
    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery
    Sunset at the Alien Egg Nursery. Check out the organic patterns on the surface of this egg.

    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery
    If the sky is clear on the horizon, you will be blessed with this dramatic low-angle warm sunlight.


    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Alien Egg Hatchery
    A subtle amount of Low Level Lighting on the foreground and across the desert floor in the background can make Milky Way shots at the Egg Factory truly something out of this world.

The Bisti Arch: #6 on maps

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
The Bisti Arch. If my three year old granddaughter was in this shot she would look like Godzilla looming over Tokyo!
  • 2020 UPDATE:  The Bisti Arch collapsed early in 2020.  Arches may seem like permanent structures, but sadly, they are not.    As it turns out, this shot of the Bisti Arch was the last one I’ll ever take. 
  • This spot is less than a 10 minute walk from the eggs and based on the number of references to it on the internet, it seems to be popular but I can’t for the life of me tell you why.
  • First off, it is really small…the ‘window’ is less than two feet tall.  Not exactly what you would see at Arches National Park!
  • If you set up your tripod very low to the ground, you can make it look larger (see photo) but even so, the results aren’t dramatic.  I’m sure someone, someday will take a great shot of the Bisti Arch, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be me.

Petrified Wood Logs: # 7 on maps

There is petrified wood all over Bisti, but the largest concentration is just east of the eggs.  Some of these are full logs, many over 30′ in length.  You should be able to spot 5 or 6 of them within 30 minutes if you look around a bit.  I’ll admit that I’m fascinated by petrified wood but even if you don’t share my interest, this area is worth a look. 

From the ‘eggs’, walk east along the bluff/wall that overlooks the eggs.  There are a number of little alcoves, each with some photographic gems and oddities, like this hoodoo shown below with a chuck of petrified wood perched on top:

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
I’ve seen a lot of hoodoos in my time, but this was a first!

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

This log weaves in and out of the cliffside…

The first log is east of the Nursery around two small outcrops of light colored rock projecting out from the bluff that borders the badlands to the south of you.  It’s a long, nearly black log that rests on a 5′ tall white rock pedestal. It’s pretty neat but I have always found it difficult to capture its appeal in a photograph.

Just behind the bluff behind this log is a large flat area surrounded by walls.  Just continue walking east about 500 feet and look for an opening through the wall to your right.  Once you get into this area, you will find a number of huge logs .   

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
Check out the root ball on this petrified cypress tree. Bisti is one of the few places where you will be able to make an image that has BOTH a hoodoo and a petrified log.

Hoodoo City:  #8 on map

This is a dense concentration of hoodoos close to #7.  They are in a depressed ‘amphitheater-like’ setting.  It is best photographed after the sun rises over the surrounding walls..

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
“Welcome to Hoodoo City N.M.    Population Zero”

Rock Garden:  #9 on map

The Bisti Rock Garden is an area with lots of small rounded rocks that photograph well near sunrise/sunset when the low angle light accentuates long shadows  There are also some small (7′ tall or less) hoodoos a bit to the west but they are not particularly photogenic during the middle of the day.   

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
The so-called ‘Elegant Hoodoo’ is about five minutes from the Rock Garden

Since there are much more photogenic places at Bisti for sunrises and sunsets, I never spend much time here.  Instead I start heading north where you will find the highest concentration of great photo opportunities.  Pull up your GPS app on your phone and follow it to the Beige Hoodoos. 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
Bisti Rock Garden…

North Bisti

Beige Hoodoos:  #10 on map

A little creative night-time Low-Level Lighting and you would think you were on another world


As you hike out of the wide and flat Alamo Wash, your GPS will lead you through some increasingly narrow valleys as you hike in a northerly direction.  If you are heading here from the eggs, it will take you about 45 minutes or so if the area is dry.  If it is wet, this area can be a mess, filled with mud and run-offs that can result in a lot of detours, which can easily double or triple the amount of time it takes to transverse the area.

The Beige Hoodoos cover a substantial area…think of one or football fields…packed with squat 6′ tall hoodoos jammed together.  Plan on spending some time here.  There are so many hoodoos that it can be overwhelming and you might have a tendency to take wide-angle shots in an effort to get them all in a single frame (like I did below).  However many of these hoodoos are fascinating by themselves so invest some effort into photographing them as individuals as well.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
The Beige Hoodoos are a large and enjoyable area for you to explore.

Manta Ray Wing:  #11 on map

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
This is the view of the Manta as you walk up to it from below…


Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
…but from another perspective it looks totally different…

As you follow your GPS app and walk north and east from the Beige Hoodoos, the pathways become narrower and more constructed.  Take your time, watch your footing and you’ll be fine. 

The Manta Ray is one of the more attractive wings you will see while winding through the little dry creeks.  Stop every few minutes and check out the surrounding ridgelines so you don’t miss the photographic opportunities  that populate this area. 

The Manta can look dramatically different depending on what angle you photograph it from.

Manta at night under a full moon

Even though I thought I had examined it from every angle, I was wrong.  A photographer named Mike Jones captured this perspective that makes it look like a F117 fighter jet!

Vanilla Hoodoos:  #12 on map

As the name implies, these hoodoos are very light in color and look quite dramatic when photographed in front of a nice cerulean blue sky.  Not as large an area as the Beige Hoodoos, but perhaps even more photogenic. 

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
The Vanilla Hoodoos are filled with fantastically shaped monuments that will fill quickly up your memory cards.


Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
I call this one the ‘Star Destroyer’…one of many the many delights awaiting you in the Vanilla Hoodoos.                                                                                    

There is petrified wood scattered around this area including a few good-sized ‘stumps.”

Check out that stump on the bottom right corner.

Another daytime view at the same spot:

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
A stump of petrified wood provides foreground for the Vanilla Hoodoos…

Stone Wings:  #13

As you are  hiking in from the south (from the Eggs or Beige Hoodoos), you will have to negotiate some uneven footing and narrow passages.  Again, just be careful and don’t rush. 

Other than the Eggs, the Stone Wings are probably Bisti’s most famous photo op.   These large wings are perched on an easily accessible bluff and are truly magnificent…certainly among the most photogenic I’ve seen anywhere.  Wonderful at sunrise and sunset and easy to photograph from multiple angles and perspectives.  It is also an absolutely incredible location for night photography. 

Bisti Badlands: star trails Stone Wings night photography
If you position yourself south of the stone wings, you can shoot great star trails with the north star anchoring the image.


Bisti Badlands Milky Way Night Photography Stone Wings
If you walk up the bluff that the stone wings are perched on, you can shoot them with the Milky Way visible to the south.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers Stone Wings

The warm, orange light of sunrise illuminates the Stone Wings in all their glory. The wing on the right reminds me of a Klingon Battle Cruiser but from other angles it looks like a seal. It is one of the most uniquely sculpted wings you will see anywhere.

Conversing Hoodoos:  #14

These tall, elegant Hoodoos are not as well-known as the ‘eggs’ or ‘stone wings’, but they are one of my personal favorites.  Unlike many hoodoos here, these suckers are tall…easily 15′ or so and they sit on the side of a bluff with a commanding view of the valley (Hunter Wash). 

The best light here is during the morning because of a bluff behind them (to the west) that blocks sunlight in late afternoon, but good photos can be taken here all day.  Don’t be afraid to explore around them for better angles.

The shot below was taken hand-held while on my back wedged in a crevice trying to capture that elusive afternoon light.  Desperation can definitely inspire creativity!  FYI…some folks call these the “Talking Hoodoos” or the “Bonnet Hoodoos.”

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
Tatooine? Altair IV? Vulcan? Nope…just another couple Hoodoos in Bisti!   I think the Conversing Hoodoos are particularly photographic and the surrounding vista and dramatic clouds are just icing on the cake.

There is a whole lot more to photograph in Bisti than the ones described above.  It is such a large and relatively unexplored area that there is much left to be discovered. One great source to find other locations is the Bisti Facebook page.  Many of the members are locals who know the area far better than I and they post some amazing photos.  You can also check out this link to an interactive Google map that explores additional locations that may interest you.

Now that we’ve reviewed the photo locations, lets finish up by going over some final tips…

Tip 6:  Try Hunter Wash on your second day:

As you may have already noticed, much of Bisti’s most photogenic stuff is not near the Eggs….it is in the northern section.   If you are going to visit for more than one day at Bisti, then you should do yourself a favor and spend some time in the northern area. 

Exploring the northern section begins at the Bisti Parking Area at Hunter Wash (North).

To download a PDF of this map click HERE.

This trail has a couple of big advantages:

  1. It it closer to the northern part of Bisti and will save you over an hour (round trip) of hiking. 
  2. If you want to photograph the Stone Wings, Conversing Hoodoos, Beige Hoodoos or Vanilla Hoodoos at sunset, sunrise or after dark, this is a safer route for hiking than from the main parking area.  This is because you can avoid the more tortured terrain you have to cross if you hike in from the southern part of Bisti (from the main parking lot or Eggs area.)

As noted on my graphic, there are some watch-outs:

  1. This parking area is a bit harder to find.  Even so, with the directions on this map you shouldn’t have any problems during daylight hours. 
  2. Nighttime is another story.  As you get close to the parking area it can be hard to even see the road.  If you aren’t careful, you could make wrong turn by mistaking a ‘path’ for a road and end up getting stuck in loose sand.  If you are going to park here in the dark, scout it out during daylight first.
  3. The road is dirt, not gravel but a regular passenger car should have no problems (as of Oct 2018).  These roads are not maintained as regularly as those leading to the Main Parking Area at Alamo Wash (South). 
    Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
    The cattle guard at the Hunter Wash trailhead. #15 on map above









  4. This parking area can flood after rainfall.  Avoid parking here if rain is forecasted.

For details on how to hike to the ‘stone wings’ from the parking area check out a ‘track’ I recorded on All Trails for this hike, you can see it here.

Tip 7: Get out of the Gutter

Look for the white areas and then go check them out.

When hiking in Bisti, your natural tendency is to walk in the washes (flat valley areas).  Instead, occasionally climb up on the little hills and bluffs and scout around.  Although it is a bit more work, you will be able to spot really interesting stuff nearby that you just couldn’t see from down in the washes.   When scouting from hilltops, look for white colored areas (as opposed to the regular darker coffee-colored landscape).  These lighter areas are usually the ones that have most photographic interest (like hoodoos/wings).   

Tip 8: Don’t Believe in First Impressions

When you first find a new hoodoo or wing, resist the temptation to just start taking photos.  Instead, walk completely around it.  Look at it from different angles and different elevations (close to the ground vs eye level).  Usually the best composition will NOT be the first one you see.  I have missed some great opportunities by not following my own advice here (like the Manta Ray I already mentioned).

Tip 9:  Walking on Sunshine

Stone Wings at Bisti Badlands Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
Even at noon, you can capture wonderful images at Bisti.

Don’t shoot only at sunrise and sunset.  The landscape is so unique that many locations will photograph well even during mid-day.  Hoodoos and petrified wood, in particular, can be stunning, especially if you have a brilliant blue sky for contrast.  The only downside is that you won’t have anytime for sleep, especially if you hike out early for sunrise, shoot all day, capture the sunset and then stick around for some night photography….   But isn’t that a wonderful problem to have?

Tip 10:  Water is Good for more than Drinking

Spray some water on petrified wood before you photograph it.  The water can really make the color pop.

Tip 11:  Forget the Flip-Flops

I’d recommend boots with good ankle support.  You really don’t want to break an ankle here since help isn’t just around the corner.

Tip 12:  Bring your Tripod and Polarizer

Even during the light of the day,  I find that I often need my tripod to get the widest possible depth of field.  This requires smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds which make a tripod critical. 

A polarizer is great for intensifying the incredible blue skies.  

Tip 13:  Save weight on Lenses

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
Monochrome Magic at Bisti: The Conversing Hoodoos

During daylight photography at Bisti, I use my 24mm-70mm zoom for over 80% of my shots (on a full frame camera).  You won’t have much need for a long lenses here.

You might want to bring a wide angle lens.  I used my 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8 when photographing the eggs so I could get a frame filling egg in the foreground and still show the landscape behind it.  This was my go-to lens for night photography as well,

If you are into micro photography, you might be interested in the lichens that grow on the petrified wood, if so, bring that micro lens.

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers
Lichens live off of the minerals composing Bisti’s Petrified Wood

Tip 14:  Dust Control

The sand/dust in Bisti can be pretty pervasive, especially in the springtime.  Bring lots of Microfiber cloths and maybe a small can of compressed air.  Change lenses sparingly.  Also, bring a small towel to put down underneath your backpack when you take it off.  This will keep dust from sticking to your backpack and coating your gear inside.

One last tip:  Don’t forget about Black and White 

It is easy to get enamored with the incredibly blue skies and their contrast with the light-colored hoodoos and wings.  But that very contrast can make for dramatic black and white images, especially if you are blessed with some wicked clouds.  

And don’t despair if blue skies aren’t to be seen,  Overcast skies can really be used to great advantage in Black & White.  Actually, eliminating color can serve to draw attention to the bizarre shapes and textures that are unique to Bisti (see ‘Desert Dreadnaught’ below). 

“Desert Dreadnaught”

Wrapping up

If you do make it out to Bisti and you found this guide helpful, then I’d ask for a small favor in return.  Just pop me a brief email and tell me about one thing I left out…or got wrong.  I’d like to make this a living document that helps my fellow photographers in the future and I’d greatly appreciate your help!

Enjoy your time here: it is a landscape photographer’s wonderland.  But even more, I’m sure you will find Bisti a truly spiritual place that you will remember long after the photographs are forgotten.




Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers

Bisti Badlands: Tips & Comprehensive Guide for Photographers


Related Images:

This Post Has 60 Comments

  1. Hi, Jeff. Thanks for the tips! I will travel there next worried about the road conditions (I am driving a passenger car). Is there any place I can call to know about road conditions (whether or not being wet etc.)?

    1. Hi Kevin. Enjoy your trip to Bisti next week. Unfortunately, Bisti is pretty remote and there aren’t any places you can call for road conditions that I’m aware of. As long as you are visting South Bisti, the roads will be fine even if they are wet…those roads are well maintained gravel. North Bisti is a gamble when wet and I’d avoid them if you have rain.

  2. Can anyone recommend a good guide for a first-time visit for astro shooting?

    1. Hi Steve, Navajo Tours does conduct guided tours of Bisti and have been recommended to me by others. I haven’t gone on one of their tours but they have excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. Good Luck and don’t hesitate to let me know if you have more questions. Jeff

  3. I will be traveling here in late June. I am so excited to have found your site. I cannot wait to take advantage of all of your tips (on my way to buy a spray bottle now heheh).

    1. Hello Jeff,
      You created a great web site, very helpful and informative. Your portfolio of images are beautiful. I am working on a series of night photos in a number of states.I will making a trip yo Bisti in two weeks. I know it will be hot but nothing different than Az. My friend have gps units would you suggest that we hire a guide for a few days, since I would like to cover a few areas considering the distances apart. We would be hiking in before sunset and coming late in the night since we are mostly light painting.

      1. Hi Sal,
        If money is not an issue and you have little experience hiking at night with GPS, then hiring a guide is the right way to go. On the other hand, if you have experience with GPS or an app like AllTrails Pro and are confident hiking at night, then that’s another option. However, I’d avoid hiking anywhere at night if you haven’t first hiked the same route during daylight.
        Have fun, Bisti is a magical place!

        1. EThanks for getting right back to me. The coordinates that you have listed for a number of highlights are these yours personally that you have used. We were up in Escalate Park in Ut and some of the Gps coordinates were way off not fun. I don/t know if you have been there ,great arches and formations. Thanks, again. Sal

          1. Hi Sal,
            I may have pulled those GPS coordinates off of the AllTrails website, so I can’t swear they are perfect. I use AllTrails Pro for my hiking and I use it exclusively in Bisti and it has been flawless for me. Here is a link to MY recording of my hike to Bisti’s photo locations on AllTrails: It will take you right to the best spots.
            I was just in Escalante two weeks ago. All Trails worked perfectly for me there as well.

  4. I am planning a trip in late September, this is really useful. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Your monochrome photo of the Conversing Hoodoos has convinced me to take my 4×5 field camera on our planned trip to the Bisti Badlands in September. Thanks for putting this site together.

    1. Hi Dave, Glad you enjoyed that shot of the Conversing Hoodoos. Enjoy your time in Bisti…it is a magical place for photographers!

  6. Hi, This was a great resource for recent trip to Bisti. Thank you for putting it together. Had 1 comment. The instructions for Driving to Hunter Wash say , need to take 4290 after 7293. I believe it should be 7290 ? Thanks

    1. Hi Roy, Glad you found the blog helpful and thanks for the correction. I’ve updated the blog to correct the error you found. Thanks again!

  7. Oh My Goodness! Thanks so much. I ventured out without a map once and walked the area that I now know (thanks to you) is the North wash area.
    My goal is to go back and find the cracked eggs. We live in Farmington but finding trail maps and info locally has been limited.
    I truly appreciate your tips and directions between the various formations.
    Now I know that I barely scratched the surface compared to what all is available to explore!
    Blessings in Christ Thanksgiving 2020 and beyond.

    1. Wow…when a local Farmington resident thanks me, well…that really makes my day! Hope you can get out to Bisti soon and enjoy the wonders that are so close to your home. I envy you…I have to travel all the way from Florida!
      Have a great Thanksgiving!

  8. Hi, Jeff. Thanks so much for your extremely helpful info. Of all the online resources I found, yours is the most helpful and easy to follow.

    I walked over to the north area from the south parking lot, but was thinking of driving over to the north lot next time, and save my “steps” for the more photogenic areas rather than the walk over. However, I am a bit confused, as you refer to the roads as 4293 in the text, but it appears to be 7293 on the map. Same with 4290 and 7290. I am not sure if this was a typo, but the roads seem to be one and the same looking at the map. Could you please clarify for me, as I find no roads out here with a leading “4.” Thank you again!

    1. Hi Suzanne,
      Thanks so much for pointing this out…you are absolutely correct, I had typed in the wrong numbers. The correct roads are 7293 and 7290. I’ll correct the blog accordingly. Thanks again! Jeff

      1. Very very helpful. Re the typos on road numbers, I think they still need to be fixed on the maps themselves and instructions below maps. (Main map says 7295, which I assume should be 7293. North map needs number fixes below the map.) Thanks again for the great guide.

        1. Hi Patrick,
          Thanks for the heads-up. It looks like I had updated the maps that are shown on the blogs, but the links were to obsolete PDF maps that had the incorrect info. I’ve revised the PDF links to the corrected maps.
          Glad you found the guide helpful. Bisti is a magical place!

  9. what a great and helpful guide. someday i’ll go and i’ll have you to thank 🙂

  10. hi jeff, we are planning a visit to bisti in november, THANK YOU for the maps you provided, as others stated, I could not find any specific information on the area. we are planning to camp in the parking areas and was wondering if that was something you also did. we are not photographers, just two people who love adventure. thanks

    1. Hi Mary,
      I actually stayed in Farmington and drove into Bisti each day. However, I did meet a number of folks who stayed in campers in the parking area…which would save a lot of time since Farmington is about an hour away.
      Have fun!

  11. Just want to say you are amazing. I am so appreciative of all this information.

  12. Jeff
    are you guiding yourself or could you recommend anybody?

    1. Hi Josef,
      I’ve always guided myself. As long as you have a GPS (or even a compass) you can always find yourself back to the road (even if it might take you a while…which isn’t a problem unless you are hiking in the heat of summer…which wouldn’t be a good idea). I’m not aware of anyone that currently offers a guide service (the last time I checked was years ago and it wasn’t cheap).

  13. Hi Jeff,
    I am going to visit Bisti in two weeks. Thank you so much for the details here, best I could find online. I also watched some videos about how to find my way around. I am still a little scared to get lost or stuck in the sand….I have my phone with Gaia….I will let you know how it goes. Thank you.

    1. Hi, Enjoy your time in Bisti…I’ve never met a photographer who didn’t. As long as you have your GPS and use good common sense, I think you will be fine. I’d suggest going during the daylight on your first hike…it can be a bit more confusing at night. Look forward to seeing your photos!

  14. I am looking forward to visit Bisti in october with a friend. Thanks to your great article it will be much easier for me to plan the trip to the southern part of Bisti. What about the northern part, Jeff? You gave us excellent information about how to reach the northern parking spot, but hardly any information about hiking in the northern area. I am wondering, Jeff, will it be easy to reach the most attractive parts there without getting lost or walking for hours without finding them? I just know that i have to walk for a bit more than one mile and that i have to walk to the east. Thank you very much

    1. Hi Wally,
      It would be easy to walk for hours without finding the locations I mentioned. There are no markers, trails or signs. The only guaranteed way to find the spots is to use a guide or a GPS hiking guide. I strongly recommend the AllTrails App which costs $30/year You do have to learn how to use it, but it is a lot cheaper than a guide. I’ve added a trail on the app that will take you right to the best spots…
      Good luck!

    2. Hi Jeff, Thank you very much for your reply. I understand that i really have to use a gps (i was already afraid of). But i will bye the one you advised us and i will learn how to use it i guess. If corona allows me to travel to the Bisti in october i will send you some pictures i made thanks to your help.

      1. Hi Wally,
        Have fun in Bisti…it is truly another world and is outstanding for night photography. I’ve already had to cancel two trips this year because of the virus and like you, I’m hoping to be able to get out again at least by fall. But, as my wife tells me, no silly photo is worth my health. She is hard to argue with!

  15. Hi Jeff, thank you for taking the time to write and share your photography tips with us. It is very useful. I am planing to visit Bisti in June for the night photography. Thank you again. Liguang

  16. Jeff,

    Myself and a fellow photographer are looking to make a trip to Bisti in mid-April assuming we can travel safely. One of things we are looking to do is to shoot the Milky Way while we are there. However I noticed in your blog post you reference sunup to sundown with no mention that I saw about night visits? Are these allowed and if so do we need special permission to do so?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.



    1. Hi John,
      I understand your concerns about travel…I have a trip planned to Utah next week that I’m seriously considering cancelling. Anyway, there are no restrictions or permission needed for night photography at Bisti. You likely won’t see another soul (I never have when I’ve shot there at night) and the night skies are beautiful. There is a bit of light pollution to the north (Farmington) but personally I like a bit of colored light on the horizon in my night shots. You will have a ball. Jeff

      1. Jeff,

        Thanks for the quick response. We were supposed to be in the Grand Canyon at the end of the month but have postponed that trip to October. Will let you know if we make the trip in April. Or if not when we are going to try for.



        1. Hello,
          I want to go here to see the milky way, When is the best time of year to visit to see the Milky Way?


          1. Hi Beckey,
            The Milky Way core is best visible from April thru August at Bisti. Pick a night with little or no moonlight. Using an App like PhotoPills will allow you to visualize what it will look like at different dates/times of night.
            Have fun!

  17. Thank you so much for giving us such a detailed report with photos and ideas. You have been most helpful! I am going to NM in June, on the calendar when there is little/no moon. I was dying to go to Blue Canyon AZ, but stumbled across Bisti last night, I don’t even know how. This place looks to be more awesome, and it’s only a couple of hours away from where we are staying, bonus! Thanks again!

    1. Hi Rod, Blue Canyon is cool, but Bisti has far more potential for a photographer. It IS in the middle of nowhere, there are no trails or facilities but it is heaven for a landscape photographer. Be safe and have fun!

  18. Thank you very much for sharing this awesome Bisti guide. I´m looking forward to visit the Bistis next May. Greetings from Germany! Lothar

    1. Hi Lothar, Glad you found my guide helpful and I hope it will help you make the most from your visit in May!

  19. Thanks for the great guide. We visited the parking lot and the closest formations (kind of sw of parking lot) in 2016, and we are planning a trip in October. We really appreciate all the information you’ve provided and the photo examples.Thanks for all the time you put into the article.

    1. Planning for October, too.

      Thank you for the guide!!!

  20. Thank you for such an informative guide, including GPS coordinates. This comment is probably going to be the most amusing you’ve received. I have lived in Farmington for 55 years and though we buy all of our hay, potatoes, etc. on that highway, we have never visited the actual Bisti Wilderness area. We grew up having bonfires in the “badlands”, and my dad surveyed across the entire area for the canals that brought water from Navajo Lake to the NAPI farms. I guess the area was just too close to strike attention for many of those years. With age, we have grown to appreciate so much of what our desert has to offer, and as an amateur photographer I am making up for lost time in our retirement. We plan to visit the Bisti in the next few days—as soon as the temps drop a little. Your blog was a welcome find with GPS coordinates, even for a local. Thank you!

    1. Well Gwen, your comment surely did make me smile! Good to know I can even help out the locals. You are blessed to live in such an amazing place…I regret I have to travel across the entire continent to enjoy it myself! Hope your visit is all you hope it to be.

  21. Are the night shots blend of foreground and sky? I see the first one shot of eggs is exposed for 132″, which has to be from the foreground shot, otherwise the stars would become streaks.
    Excellent article and photos.

    1. Hi Louis, Yes, I blended a long exposure shot of the foreground with Low ISO with a 17″ exposure of the Milky Way. This allows me to have a low-noise foreground with the Milky Way in the background.

  22. Your article is amazing, very informative and those photos!!!. I am in Australia and visiting Bisti in May and although I am hiring a guide was wondering if I would be able to see part of Bisti and also part of Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness Study Area in a full day. I can see from your wonderful map I may just be able to do the northern end (miss the eggs section) and possibly have time to get to Valley of Dreams for a few hours. Thank you for such wonderful info, it’s the most comprehensive and helpful piece I’ve found in months of research on this magnificent area. Happy snapping

    1. Hi Judy,
      Thanks for your compliments. I had the same problem finding good info about Bisti before my visit last year so I wrote the article to help future photographers…so I’m glad to hear that my effort is paying dividends! Enjoy your trip to Bisti…it is truly an amazing place.

  23. Thanks for a great article with excellent photos. I didn’t know much about Bisti before this so your detailed guide was very informative. I book marked it so i can refer back to it in the future if/when I go there.

    1. Glad you found the article helpful Steve. Hope you get a chance to explore the Bisti Badlands soon!

  24. Thank you so much for this incredible guide. I just learned about Bisti and look forward to a trip there soon.

    1. Hi Bill, Glad you found the Bisti guide helpful. I just looked thru your portfolio on your website and was quite impressed. You have a unique way of seeing details that most photographers (including myself) often miss because they are looking at the grand landscape. Take care! Jeff

  25. Fantastic guide to Bisti. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hope you get a chance to visit Bisti soon and put my guide to good use David!

Leave a Reply

Close Menu
Close Panel