I read a short but potent article this week for weekly scholar. Written by Dan Flores, expert on the American West, the article makes the case for why the badlands are just as beautiful as any other part of nature. In my experience, I underestimated the beauty of badlands until I got a chance to see some in real life at Big Bend National Park in Texas. They truly are a wondrous experience. Flores describes them in such beauty in this article, that there's no way you wouldn't want to visit some after reading it.
"I have walked among the Spanish Skirts in the slanting, reddish light of morning and the high yellow of sunset, and I can tell you that the experience is to be fairly dazzled by earth art. Eroded into overlapping, earthen hemispheres, the Spanish Skirts in full expression reveal at least seven different hues. The bottommost tint is the pale tangerine of Palo Duro Canyon’s floor. Atop it rests a layer of dark burnt orange, often separated from the crenulated, tangerine base by thin, horizontal stripes of white gypsum. More of these slender bands, finely drawn as if with white ink, surmount the burnt orange belt. Then come fireworks: a broad swipe of deep lavender and another of rich saffron, finished off by an unexpected, quite wonderful stripe of coffee-bean chocolate. Where the Spanish Skirts exist as free-standing mounds, the final flourish is often a cap of creamy white atop the chocolate, like frothed milk floating on the surface of a latte."
It's interesting to note that "the name for these stark, multihued mounds came from eighteenth-century French explorers on the Northern Plains, who called them mauvaises terres, because they presented so few possibilities for settlement." It fascinates me to think about the badlands being made up of shoreline sediments that precipitated to the bottoms of rivers, lakes, and oceans 10,000 to 240 million years ago. There's such a powerful feel to the badlands when you're walking over them. It's not the same as hiking a trail with a stream nearby. It's a different kind of joy.
Flores goes on to describe the great American artist and badlands advocate, Georgia O'Keeffe, and how her paintings captured the spirit of the badlands. In a poignant moment in the article, Flores describes a time when he and Anthony Bourdain went horseback riding no less than a 100 yards from O'Keeffe's New Mexico home where she painted many of her masterpieces. It adds quite a romantic feel to the article, and leaves me with a desire to take a trip and hike out into the badlands.
Purple Hills Ghost Ranch-2 / Purple Hills No II, 1934 Georgia O’Keeffe Oil on canvas affixed to masonite 16 1/4 x 30 1/4 (41.3 x 76.8) | Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Gift of The Burnett Foundation (1997.06.020) © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
A photograph I took exploring the badlands of Big Bend National Park.