One of the biggest “discoveries” we’ve made over the last 10 years of travel, I think, is the existence of badlands. Before that, the only thing I personally knew about badlands was that there was a national park somewhere in the Dakotas that had that name. I also believed that that was the only place where badlands existed in this country. I remember my son and daughter-in-law talking about driving through some badlands (on their way to their new home in Las Vegas around that time) and me telling them that they hadn’t really driven through actual “badlands”; they couldn’t have, I said, because the badlands were in South Dakota and they didn’t drive that far north.
My statement was, of course, very wrong and very ignorant. Badlands can be found in many parts of the southwest (as well as in South Dakota’s Badlands NP). You can find magnificent examples of badlands in Arizona, Utah, and certainly in eastern California at Death Valley.
And so I keep looking for them.
The Bentonite Hills, just to the east of Capitol Reef NP, is one such place. And yes, when you get up close to these structures, they look kind of crunchy. Mainly because they’re essentially made of clay. And it’s the clay that is one of the reasons that plant life can’t grow in most badlands. Clay tends to expand and contract significantly when it gets wet, a process that’s not conducive to plant growth in general and seedling survival in particular. It’s also true that badlands aren’t exactly resistant to erosion. The top layers will literally wash away during a heavy rainfall. Which is why you see delta-like formations at the bottom of many badland hills.
They can also be very colorful. That’s because they easily absorb minerals (or so I’m told). But then I’m not the world’s greatest authority on badlands. I just like to find them and photograph them. For the moment I’ll let someone else worry about the science of badlands.