New Mexico's Bisti Badlands Look Like a Disused Science Fiction Set

Bisti Badlands: A Sci-Fi Landscape in the Arid Desert of Northwestern New Mexico

Bisti Badlands: A Sci-Fi Landscape in the Arid Desert of Northwestern New Mexico

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Sept. 21 2015 1:45 PM

The Alien Landscape of New Mexico's Bisti Badlands

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An edited view of the Bisti Badlands.

Photo: John Fowler/Wikimedia Commons

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Located in the arid desert of northwestern New Mexico, the Bisti Badlands (formally the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness) offer one of the closest approximations of an unknown alien world as can be found right here on Earth.

Surprisingly, the area takes its name not only from the striking stone formations and hoodoos that litter the landscape ("bisti" being a Navajo term meaning "among the adobe formations"), but from petroglyphs of a crane (bird, not construction equipment) that were found in the area, "De-Na-Zin" being the Navajo word for the animal. The blasted landscape is covered in strange, undulating fungal shapes made of the colorful sandstone and shale. Huge hoodoos and small labyrinths of odd stone shapes have been created by eons of water and moisture wearing away at a softer layer of ash, creating improbable, top-heavy oddities.

Despite looking like a readymade set for a science fiction or fantasy production, the area has not been widely used for filming, save for the 1977 film, Sorcerer.  

Eric Grundhauser is a head writer and editor at Atlas Obscura. He lives in Brooklyn with his comic book collection. Follow him on Twitter.