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Shadscale plant reaching through the cracks for what little moisture and nutrients it can find in the dry desert floor, defying the odds.
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Solitary cottonwood tree in autumn coat in an other-worldly landscape of desert badlands.
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Sliver of morning sunlight paints a desert butte in golden hues before storm clouds close in again.
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Colorful blooms bring to life a desert alluvial fan.
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The faint glow of pre-dawn light brings to life the delicate pastels in a slope of clay desert badlands.
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A skull half-sunk in solid clay. With each rare rainfall, it will sink a little deeper and after that may never reach the surface again. Or, it may become fossilized and some day, perhaps millions of years from now, be revealed to other eyes.
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Purple scorpionweed flowers, and a single yellow bee plant, emerge from cracked desert ground after years of waiting for rain.
Badlands in Bloom
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Purple scorpionweed flowers in a desert wash. This phenomenon occurs only once every few years. At the time of writing, it has been nearly a full decade since the last bloom of this magnitude.
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Most other times, this area is an arid plain of cracked earth where few hardy shrubs barely survive. On rare occasions, perhaps once in a decade if not longer, when conditions are right, dormant seeds burst out in a stunning display of flowers.
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Lonesome raven surveys a surreal landscape of painted hills.
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Hardy shadscale plants manage to survive in an area once known by its early Mormon settlers as, The Baddest of the Badlands.
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Swaths of colorful clay, sandstone, and shale.
Desert Jigsaw Puzzle
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Cracked drying mud on desert floor. The gradation in color indicate level of moisture still remaining in each piece (they dry from the outside in). Recent raindrops dotted the clay with small impact-craters.
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Mineral-rich hill of textured bentonite clay.
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Deep cracks in desert floor.
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Layers of ancient clay revealed in eroded cliff face.
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Ridges of the blue hills, dusted in snow, glow in the cold light of winter.
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Eroded ancient sea bed, now arid desert badlands.
Into the Blue
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Eroded slopes of blue bentonite clay, large enough to dwarf large sandstone boulders.
Do Not Disturb
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Clay badlands are fairly soft. Being dry almost year-round, footprints and tire tracks may leave lasting marks. The proper way to wander in these places is in the narrow washes among the hills, which are first to get smoothed out with any precipitation.
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Alluvial drainage patterns in clay badlands.
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This is the view from what used to be one of my favorite campsites, where I have never seen another person for a period of about fifteen years. Today, it is a popular spot among photographers and the solitude is gone.
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Convoluted alluvial patterns and buttes in clay badlands. Once a remote and unknown place where one could spend days in solitude, now becoming rapidly popular in the age of online sharing.
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Sedimented clay, once the bottom of an ancient sea, now desert badlands.
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The view from the edge of a sandstone shelf above a vast area of badlands.
As the Crow Flies
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Soft light meandering among eroded desert hills.
Dignity of Light
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Gentle light in the blue desert.
Life, Just Barely
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An unusually cold winter day in the badlands. Very rarely visited, even in other times, it is unlikely that many people ever witnessed the cold desolation of winter in these places.
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Broken sandstone boulders strewn along an eroded clay slope.
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An unusually cold and foggy winter day in the badlands.
A Day of Rest
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Desert butte glows in early morning light after an overnight snow storm.
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Large caprock boulders making their way down an eroding slope of bentonite clay.
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Desert badlands under a blanket of fresh snow, viewed from a lofty sandstone ledge.
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Dormant cottonwood trees engulfed in wintry fog, looking like they are swaying to music only they can hear.
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Eroded badlands, formerly deposits from the bottom of an ancient shalow sea. I remember fondly the days before this place was “discovered” in recent years. At the time, you could camp on this ledge for days, and it was nearly inconceivable that another person would show up—a place of peace and a perfect setting for contemplation.
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Fresh snow fills the grooves of an eroded desert slope.
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Small shadscale shrubs persist in a small wash in mineral-rich clay hills.
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Desert mountains covered in snow loom above a landscape of pink desert clay hills.
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Sandstone boulders making their way down an eroded clay hill.
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The skeletons of juniper trees remain standing, sometimes for decades after their death.
Life on Mars
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Shadscale plants emerge in an alluvial wash carved in red clay, after recent rains.
Path of Water and Light
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First light illuminating an alluvial wash in clay badlands.
The Good Badlands
These arid places of clay and shale are the backdrop to harsh, desolate, and infinitely delicate vignettes. To a casual visitor, it is a sun baked wasteland of lifeless grey earth, caked and cracked and carved by rare floods. To the patient observer, however, there is great beauty here, delicate and subtle, but it does not reveal itself easily. You have to want to see it, and be willing to work hard for it. On rare years, wildflowers burst into stunning display of color, transforming the desert into a veritable garden for just few precious days; miss it and you may never get another chance. This area is also coveted by off-road enthusiasts, in many places despite legal closures to protect the fragile ecosystem. This is a place where humans always struggled, yet always fought for.
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