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Painted Desert

Historical Photographs, Part IV

Quite a few years ago, my brother and I went on a weekend trip through northeastern Arizona.  One afternoon, we went hiking in at Petrified Forest National Park.  The trail was difficult to follow, so we gave up trying, and just started heading off into the backcountry.  Petrified Forest NP, which lies in the middle of the Painted Desert, has hills that can look the same very quickly, and is not the place for an inexperienced hiker.  After about a couple miles of this, we knew it was almost time to turn around, when something caught our attention.  As we got closer, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  There were two standing petrified trees!  Although one was more like a tree fragment, the larger was about 9-10 feet tall.

Standing Trees - Petrified Forest NP - Steve Bruno

As you take the driving tour through the park, you will see the petrified logs laying on the ground, with some I’ve seen 40-50 feet in length.  I haven’t covered every square mile of Petrified Forest National Park, but I’m pretty sure these trees were the last ones standing.  That day was a complete adrenaline rush, but both my brother and I knew we had to come back and see this again with different skies.

It was almost a year later when our schedules coincided and we had dramatic skies to photograph this rare find.  It had been a wet winter, and the washes still had water as we headed into the backcountry.  Like I said earlier, the hills can look alike, and we were having trouble locating the trees.  We were joking that we were losing our tracking abilities, but then we discovered why we were having difficulty.  The taller of the trees was no longer standing.

As I mentioned, it had been a wet winter, and the soft soil of the Painted Desert captures impressions very well.  When we arrived at the fallen tree, there was a lone set of footprints that wandered towards the tree in an almost drunken fashion, stopped at the tree (easily in arms reach), then continued onward.  When this tree eventually fell, I figured it was going to be towards the right (top photo), but it had fallen to the left.  More importantly, it fell away from the footprints.

I find it highly improbable that this tree stayed upright for so many centuries, then fell on its own within the next year.  The footprints and the direction of the fall lead me to believe it had assistance.  This seems like the senseless destruction that only a young male would do, but then the story about boy scout leaders toppling a boulder in Goblin Valley, Utah a couple years ago makes me wonder.  They were both in their 40’s, and supposed role models, but look like immature teenagers in the video.  Their excuse was “we didn’t want the rock to fall on someone and hurt them”.  Sounds like the bullshit their lawyer fed them.

In the case of the petrified tree, the footprints wandered further into the backcountry.  I honestly hope that the asshole who did this was drunk and couldn’t find their way back, and ended up being a good meal for the coyotes and buzzards.  At least there would be some purpose for this waste of life.

Even with the photos I did manage to get on the first trip, it took a couple tries before I had one published.  Ironically, on the day after the magazine came out, I received a phone call from a photographer who gave me a long winded story when I inquired about one of his locations.  For a brief moment, I felt like sending him on a wild goose chase, but I was still disgusted over this, and just told him how there was nothing left to go back to.

WPC: Beneath Your Feet

For this week’s challenge, I thought it would be easy to come across many photos fitting the category.  Emphasizing the foreground in landscape photography is one of the standard rules.  Moving in close doesn’t necessarily equate to showing what’s beneath your feet, however.
The featured image, taken in Yosemite National Park, is a location where everything was below my feet.  I had a great vantage point where three creeks came together, providing a different perspective on tumbling water.
At Bryce Canyon National Park, I usually prefer to hike down amongst the formations, but this has been a favorite from the rims.  I have often been asked where I was standing to get this one.  Since then, I think erosion has made this spot off limits.

Overlook at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah by Steve Bruno
Overlook at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah by Steve Bruno

Not far from Bryce, in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, I encountered these sandstone discs embedded in the ground, on edge.  This repetitive pattern was under my feet for some distance.

Sandstone discs line the hills of Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, northern Arizona by Steve Bruno
Sandstone discs line the hills of Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, northern Arizona by Steve Bruno

The Painted Desert was a well chosen name, which becomes more obvious when you see it after a rain.  These patterns were in a wash where the water was still standing in limited pockets.  A polarizer was used to remove the glare and allowed the color come through.

Wash patterns after a rain in Petrified Forest National Park by Steve Bruno
Wash patterns after a rain in Petrified Forest National Park by Steve Bruno

Getting down close to the ground was the best way to get photos of these little goslings, seen on one of my trips to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

young goslings near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, Canada by Steve Bruno
young goslings near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, Canada by Steve Bruno

Most people are in disbelief when you tell them there is a great hiking trail right next to Interstate 10, which is arguably the most boring drive in the US.  Picacho Peak rises about 1500 feet above the surrounding desert, and on the back side there’s a stretch with very little earth beneath your feet.  Posts, cables and planks assist hikers in this steep section.  Thrillseekers expecting something along the lines of Spain’s El Caminito del Rey will be disappointed.

Hiker on the built-up portion of the summit trail to Picacho Peak, Arizona by Steve Bruno
Hiker on the built-up portion of the summit trail to Picacho Peak, Arizona by Steve Bruno

I know some people are big on taking foot-selfie’s wherever they go, but this is the only one I have.  From under one of Valley of Fire State Park’s largest arches, where I brought my friend and accomplished hiker, Dave.

Valley Of Fire Overlook-Steve Bruno
After the arch, Dave and I explored the large sandstone mass in the middle of the park, which I refer to as the park’s summit.  Along the way, we came across some interesting potholes and pools.  This one went down a short distance, then ejected from the small side canyon in the shaded area, upper left.  Nothing under his feet there, and as we walked this area, we could hear some areas that had a hollow sound underneath.

Hiker swallowed up by sandstone manhole, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada by Steve Bruno
Hiker swallowed up by sandstone manhole, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada by Steve Bruno

Another great place to check out what’s beneath your feet is Mount Charleston, just west of Las Vegas.  The red flowers are called Indian Paintbrush, and this is a squirrel’s perspective on them.

Indian Paintbrush flowers in early summer on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno
Indian Paintbrush flowers in early summer on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno

Also on the mountain you will come across both of Nevada’s state trees.  This one, the bristlecone pine, is characterized by distinct coloring and patterns, and can live to be 5000 years old.

The base of a bristlecone pine tree on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno.
The base of a bristlecone pine tree on Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno.

At the base of Mount Charleston, there are thousands of joshua trees.  I wasn’t quite sure what was lurking under all that snow, however.  Rocks?  Bushes?  Frozen bunnies?

Winter buries the desert at the base of Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno
Winter buries the desert at the base of Mount Charleston, Nevada by Steve Bruno

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