The Big Picture: The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness – Paleontologists’ outdoor laboratory.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, an expanse of desert covering nearly 45,000 acres in New Mexico, USA, is a site of remarkable scientific significance. Its unique geological formations, rich fossil record, and ancient cultural traces lend it an extraordinary value for scientists across various disciplines.

Geologically, the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is an outdoor laboratory. The wilderness is renowned for its remarkable badlands, a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. The resulting landscape features hoodoos, arches, and petrified logs, intricately carved into otherworldly shapes. The area was once a riverine delta that lay to the west of the shore of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70-80 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period. The sedimentary layers visible today are records of these prehistoric environments, allowing geologists to reconstruct Earth’s past climates and landscapes.

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is also a treasure trove for paleontologists. The layers of shale, mudstone, coal, and sandstone harbor a wealth of fossils from the late Cretaceous period. Fossils of dinosaurs, trees, leaves, and marine life have been discovered, providing a snapshot of the area’s diverse and thriving ecosystems millions of years ago. Among the most notable discoveries is the Bistahieversor sealeyi, a genus of tyrannosaur that was discovered in the Bisti Wilderness in the late 1990s. The discovery of this new tyrannosaur genus significantly contributed to our understanding of the evolution and diversity of these iconic dinosaurs.

Moreover, the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness has been a significant source of information for archaeologists and anthropologists. The Navajo name for the wilderness, Bistahi, translates to “among the adobe formations.” De-Na-Zin, on the other hand, means “cranes.” Evidence suggests that ancient peoples have passed through and lived in this area for thousands of years, leaving behind artifacts, petroglyphs, and other cultural remnants. These traces provide invaluable insights into the lives and movements of prehistoric cultures in the American Southwest.

Beyond the scientific significance, the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness holds immense educational value. It serves as a natural classroom where students, researchers, and the general public can explore and understand the geological and biological history of our planet. The wilderness’s fascinating landscapes and its accessibility make it an excellent location for educational field trips, inspiring the next generation of geologists, paleontologists, and conservationists.

WORDS: Scientific Inquirer Staff.

IMAGE CREDIT: Bureau of Land Management; Alexander Hatley.

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