The Badlands

November 1, 2011

I was at Blue Mesa yesterday evening, photographing the badland hills at sunset. They’re called badlands because early European explorers thought they were bad places to be. About 10 to 15 minutes after the sun sets, amazing light falls on the west-facing landscape. The badlands are made of bluish bentonite clay, according to the informative visitor guide. As the warm light falls on the undulating hills, you can see incredible detail – every crack and erosion, plus occasional rock falls and clumps of petrified wood. The tops of some hills are reddish, due to iron in the soil. You see the various layers of minerals and sediments built up over time.

At a place called Long Logs is one of the largest concentrations of petrified logs in the park; there are thousands of them, mainly in pieces, strewn about at the base of the two-tone hills. Some whole logs have sunk into the earth as if they had partly decayed and then hardened.

But manmade light continues to be a problem. Lights from various sources, including the south entrance visitor center and the Rainbow Forest Museum, dot almost all the horizons, except looking east and northeast. It’s tricky to try to align the photo and avoid the lights – and requires lots of crawling around on the ground with the camera at a low angle. I caught the light from the setting moon on some of the hills, and they seemed to glow like the landscapes at sunset.

I forgot to include a photo yesterday of some purple flowers by the roadside near the Tepees formation.

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