Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 7, 2016

Hoodoo Wilderness: De-Na-Zin, New Mexico

This is the second of two articles about the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in New Mexico. CLICK HERE for part 1.

One never sees it all: all the rooms in the Louvre, all airplanes in the Air and Space Museum, every corner of Yellowstone National Park. Still, we go, make the best use of the time, and, to whatever extent, we’ve “seen” them.

This post reports on a too-brief hike I took in the De-Na-Zin Wilderness of New Mexico, one half of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness administrative unit.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4354 (640x396)

Our  travel plans limited the time we had available to see De-Na-Zin, but we were determined to see at least a portion of it, even though it meant squeezing it into a few hours of a day we spent primarily at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

We saw stunning scenery, enough to tempt us to return, and to urge you to seek out De-Na-Zin, preferably for at least half a day of easy hiking in a not-too-remote wilderness.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4364 (640x387)

Located in northwestern New Mexico, De-Na-Zin is one of two wilderness areas administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness. The name is Navajo, and refers to cranes; petroglyphs depicting cranes have been found there. The map below shows Albuquerque in lower right, Santa Fe on the right, and De-Na-Zin in upper left, accessed by U.S. Route 550.

De-Na-Zin Map - Crop

Complete driving details are provided in a separate blog post, HERE.

De-Na-Zin is, indeed, a wilderness, with no developed trails or facilities other than a parking lot and a sign indicating the beginning of the preserve. You will have only what you bring with you, so come prepared for desert hiking.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4347 (640x507)

You’ll find a metal box containing a trail register. Experienced hikers know the drill: enter your name and the date and time you’re leaving. If something goes amiss, at least there’ll be some record of when you were there.

There is a trail, worn by previous hikers, which heads west from the parking lot. The trail is unmarked beyond the boundary and not maintained, so its visibility may vary by season.

The trail begins through typical high desert chaparral of mesquite, sagebrush and grasses, but after a few hundred yards, the trail strikes a creek, which will almost certainly be dry except in rare cases. Turn left, downstream, to follow the watercourse into the canyon.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4357 (640x436)

Turn left, downstream. The watercourse is sandy, walking is easy (remember, it’s uphill coming back). If you have enough water, the proper shoes and clothes, and keep track of where you strike the trail back to the parking area, this is a wilderness hike within the capabilities of any moderately well conditioned hiker.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4361 (640x457)

Unlike the Bisti Badlands a few miles to the west, it’s a long walk into Alamo Wash before you strike the impressive weathered hoodoos and bizarre landforms that are within a few hundred yards of the Bisti trailhead. But the beautiful wild country is the real attraction as it reveals itself in constant variety.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4360 (640x480)

The deeper into the canyon you travel, the higher the bluffs and features rise around you, and you begin to see hoodoos, eroded from shale and sedimentary deposits capped by harder sandstone.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4380 (640x394)

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4368 (640x480)

Stay alert, as always, for lizards, a wide variety of birds, chipmunks, rabbits and, yes, rattlesnakes. On our hike, attesting to how little traveled the trail is, we encountered a larger local resident lounging within a few yards of our path.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4356 (640x494)

That’s a mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). It wasn’t happy to have its afternoon nap interrupted, and dashed off, demonstrating its astonishing speed across wild country.

Speaking of untraveled trails, the most recent hikers in the log before us (on a weekday), had been two days before our visit.

The landscape continues to unfold as you work your way down into the canyon, walking on the sandy bed.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4366 (640x443)

If you scan the ground, you’ll find bits of petrified wood, and you’ll probably find some larger petrified branches, too.

Petrified wood Brad Nixon 4377 (640x463)

Please remember this is protected land, and collecting samples is strictly not permitted. Thank you.

Because of our schedule, we were hiking De-Na-Zin at almost the worst possible time and season: late in the day in July. The temperature was over 100 degrees, and, typical for that part of the Southwest, thunderstorms were gathering.

De Na Zin Brad Nixon 4373 (640x480)

De-Na-Zin Brad Nixon 4381 (640x480)


There are a couple of serious concerns: in summer especially, lightning is one, particularly as you cover the high, flat ground near the parking area, where you will be the tallest object and best lightning rod within several hundred yards. Secondly, if the right storm cell dumps a lot of water in just the right place upstream, you could suddenly be in a swift, muddy river, not a dry stream bed. Pay attention. Keep an exit route in mind: uphill, that is; don’t try to outrun moving water downstream. You’ll lose that race.

Spring and Fall are better for hiking, and early in the day is probably best. We were happy to be there at all after years of traveling through the area without the time to visit De-Na-Zin.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4353 (640x395)

The Bisti Badlands article includes some additional practical information and caveats about hiking Bisti/De-Na-Zin to help you prepare for these relatively accessible and memorable places.

If you exit toward U.S. Route 550 to the north, you’ll get a marvelous view of Huerfano Mountain, which in the Navajo culture is one of the four sacred mountains, Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle.

Huerfano Brad Nixon 4392 (640x353)

HERE is a website compiled by a local hiker which is useful, although some information and photos may be dated.

For driving directions to De-Na-Zin and nearby Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Chaco Canyon), please click here.

Have you been to Bisti/De-Na-Zin? I welcome comments with additional information.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on Click on linked photos or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017



  1. Beautiful country, but I probably would have been terrified with that storm rolling in!


  2. Stunning


    • Thanks. Next time you cruise through New Mexico, there’s a lot to see not far from I-40!

      Liked by 1 person

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