De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area

Millions of years ago this region was part of a semi-tropical environment where abundant vegetation and reptilian creatures thrived. Only remnants of this past plant and animal life exist. Over the eons, the climate, plant and animal life changed. Today the area lies in the high desert region of the Colorado plateau in the San Juan Basin, where the harsh arid environment has resisted efforts to tame its uncivilized nature.

In the recent past, legend has it that large flocks of cranes set down in the area to rest and feed before continuing their migratory flight. Thus, the area received the name De-na-zin (Day-naa-zin) which means "standing crane" in the Navajo language.

The area is now known as the De-Na-Zin Wilderness, designated by Congress in the San Juan Basin Wilderness Protection Actof 1984. This 24,000 acre unit is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Plant Life

Because of changes in elevation and a diversity of terrain, five habitat sites are found in the De-Na-Zin. An upland piñon-juniper community and sagebrush flat in the eastern portion of the wilderness contains yucca, Mormon tea, snakeweed, assorted grasses, cacti, and sagebrush, as well as piñon and juniper trees. Sloping down towards the west, sandy washes cut through the badlands. These areas produce very little vegetation, due in part to poor soil conditions and low rainfall. Rolling grasslands towards the south consist primarily of Indian ricegrass and alkali sacaton. Interspersed throughout the southwest and northern portions of the wilderness are sandstone-capped mesas and one area that contains a remnant population of pondorosa pine trees.

Natural History

The colorful scenery of the De-Na-zin has been produced by the weathering of three geological formations: the Kirtland Shale, the Ojo Alamo Sandstone, and the Nacimiento Formation. Natural forces have slowly eroded these formations into interesting land forms. The Kirtland contains shales and alternating layers of sandstone that make up the scenic badlands and mesa tops in western De-na-zin. Exposure of the Ojo Alamo and Nacimiento results in beautiful rust, grey, red, black and white colored caps of mesas at the head of De-na-zin wash.

During the Upper Cretaceous and Early Tertiary periods (approximately 70 million years ago), this region was populated by many large reptiles and a few primitive mammals. one theory holds that the earth was undergoing a major transition, from being a reptilian-dominated world to one dominated by mammals. Evidence of this region's past can now be found throughout the badlands in the form of numerous petrified logs, dinosaur bones, mammal fossils, and other plant and animal fossils.

Federal law prohibits the collection of any fossil resources. Collection of petrified wood and other fossil material interferes with scientific research and eliminates the opportunity for others to view, sketch, and photograph these unique features of the wilderness.


The wildlife of De-na-zin varies with the changes in terrain and vegetation. few species of animal life inhabit the badlands, except for lizards and snakes including the prairie rattler. In contrast, the grasslands and piñon-juniper communities are home to birds and mammals such as jays, ravens, quail, doves, rabbits, badgers, and coyotes. Ferruginous hawks, prairie falcons, and golden eagles may also be observed soaring overhead.

Remember, the wilderness is home for these birds and animals and you are the visitor.

Wilderness Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is directed to manage the De-na-zin Wilderness in a way that preserves its wilderness values for the long term. Preserving these values involves protecting the area's natural qualities, outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive types of recreation, and the area's special features. Wilderness must be used in ways that will leave it unimpaired for the use and enjoyment of future generations. Some uses that do not seem compatible with wilderness preservation, such as certain types of mineral operations and livestock grazing, are allowed to continue under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The BLM strives to emphasize uses that preserve the wilderness as a place people can visit and enjoy in its natural state.

Managing wilderness is a difficult task that requires a commitment from the managing agency as well as the public. The challenge for managers lies in overseeing the use of other resources and activities within the wilderness in a manner that is compatible with the wilderness resource. The challenge for visitors is to use the area in harmony with the wilderness environment.

The De-na-zin Wilderness Management Plan (1989) contains specific administrative guidance for preserving wilderness values. It also details actions to restore any natural conditions negatively affected by human influencesm, and to allow the area to be nurtured and preserved as wilderness. The Management Plan is available from the Farmington office of the BLM upon request.

No permit is required at this time to visit the De-na-zin Wilderness. Permits are required for most uses other than primitive recreation. including grazing, mineral exploration, scientific research, outfitting/guiding, and commercial filming.

Efforts are continuing to acquire the private inholding and resolve an unauthorized occupancy. Consolidation of public ownership within wilderness is perceived as essential for effective wilderness management.

One vehicle route has been granted for private landowner access within the wilderness. This route is the minimum necessary for the use and enjoyment of this private land and the protection of wilderness values.

Travel Tips

There are no services or conveniences near the wilderness. Stock up on supplies and gas before your visit.

Wilderness Etiquette

Public Access


The De-na-zin Wilderness is accessible from Farmington or Crownpoint, New Mexico via State Highway 371 to County Road 7500 (formally CR 15), then travelling east to the wilderness entrance. Visitors can also get there from Bloomfield or Cuba, NM via State Highway 544 (formerly 44) to County Road 7500 at the Huerfano Trading Post, then travelling west to the wilderness entrance.

Travel on the county road is good during dry conditions but the road can get slippery and rutted during the wet season, normally in spring and late summer. A short dirt road connects the county road and parking area at the wilderness boundary.

Topographic Coverage

Alamo Mesa West, Alamo Mesa East, and Huerfano Trading Post SW, NM.

Visitor Opportunities

The wilderness is open all year. Visitors can expect to find an experience of solitude in the De-na-zin. Most visitors visit the upland rolling grasslands and sagebrush flats near County Road 7500 in eastern De-na-zin, enjoying the wilderness from a distance. When the sun is low in the sky, a wonderfully colorful view of the landscape unfolds.

Those who hike into the badlands along sand washes and into the backcountry have the opportunity to achieve a strong sense of solitude and isolation from the sights and sounds of civilization. There is a good probability of experiencing minimum contact with others, independence, closeness to nature, self-reliance through the application of backcountry skills, and an environment that offers a high degree of challenge and personal risk.

Highway directional signs, a rustic parking area near County Road 7500, interpretive displays, and a self-issue registration are planned. no other recreational developments such as trails, signing, or camp sites are planned. Visitors are left to explore and discover the wilds of the De-na-zin without management controls that may intrude upon the wilderness experience. The wilderness contains inholdings with private residences, a vehicle trail to these inholdings, livestock grazing, and mineral development. In some areas of the wilderness, these activities might be observed. The BLM will controll their obtrusiveness to the maximum extent allowed by law, to preserve wilderness character.


The Bureau of Land Management wishes to recognize the important contribution to public land management made by wilderness volunteers. They have completed numerous projects and provided an important presence in the field while doing projects they enjoy. The BLM invites anyone interested in wilderness management to join the volunteer efforts.
For further information contact:
Bureau of Land Management
Farmington Resource Area Office
1235 La Plata Highway
Farmington, New Mexico 87401
(505) 327-5344
Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau
203 W. Main - Suite 401
Farmington, New Mexico 87401
In State (505) 316-7602
Out of State 1-800-448-1240

This page is essentially a copy of the public domain pamphlet on the De-Na-Zin Wilderness provided by the BLM.

In Association with


Navajo Sacred Places, Klara Bonsack Kelley, Harris Francis, Indiana Univ Press.
Native Roads : The Complete Motoring Guide to the Navajo and Hopi Nations,
Fran Kosik, George Hardeen, Creative Solutions Pub.
Named in Stone and Sky : An Arizona Anthology, Gregory McNamee (Editor),
Univ of Arizona Press.
Talking to the Ground : One Family's Journey on Horseback Across the Sacred Land of the Navajo
Douglas Preston, Univ of New Mexico Press.
A Guide Book to Highway 66, Jack D. Rittenhouse, Univ of New Mexico Press.
Basin and Range, John McPhee, Noonday Press.
Navajo Country : A Geology and Natural History of the Four Corners Region, Donald Baars, Univ. New Mexico Press.
The Colorado Plateau : A Geologic History, Donald L. Baars, Univ of New Mexico Press.
Roadside Geology of Arizona, Halka Chronic, Mountain Press.

In Association with
In Association with

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