photography from the ground up

The (Other) Lybrook Badlands

I recently posted an entry about my efforts to find an out of the way section of the Lybrook Badlands. Wikipedia defines badlands as: a type of dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. It can resemble malpais, a terrain of volcanic rock. Canyons, ravines, gullies, hoodoos, and other such geological forms are common in badlands. They are often difficult to navigate by foot. Badlands often have a spectacular color display that alternates from dark blue/black coal strata to bright clays to red scoria.

That’s a mouth full and if that definition is correct, then I think this image is about as close as I can get to capturing the essence of a badlands environment. What I’m trying to get at here is that this image was made outside of the area that is generally referred to as the Lybrook Badlands. It is, in fact right next to a major highway in northwestern New Mexico which sort of destroys any romantic idea of a wilderness miles from civilization. None of that really matters though; this area is as much a badlands as any remote, hard-to-reach, hard-to-find wilderness.

I made this image less than a mile from where I made the first one. You can make out the coal, scoria, and clay strata in the hills right next to the highway. I have driven past this place dozens of times on my way to somewhere else, and as is my way, I find myself wondering why I didn’t take the time to explore the area sooner. I had been drawn to it the first time saw it; a few years ago, I stopped by the side of the road and made this image, but went no further.

If it looks familiar it’s because I used it in a previous entry, but the point is: I knew this place had potential, yet it took me years to turn on to that dirt road.

Less than five hundred feet from the place where I stood when I made the roadside image, I came across this landscape. The small yucca nestled practically inside the shattered rock suggests that the cactus may have just emerged from the rock like a newborn bird from an egg.

The roads in this area don’t go very far; like most around Lybrook, they lead to gas wells such as the one shown in the above image, or well heads like the one shown below.

Natural gas development is what brings most of the people who live and work here, except for the Navajo people who have been around these parts for thousands of years, long before anyone knew what gas was, and, of course, crazy photographers who wander around hostile, but beautiful landscapes with a heavy pack full of cameras and lenses just because they’re there.

I’ll leave you with this photograph to ponder what kinds of natural forces sculpt a landscape such as this: these small round, flat stones seem to have been shed from the larger one, but why are they all shaped like that? I often find myself wondering about these kinds of mysteries when I am wandering around the badlands which are fast becoming a second home to me.

9 responses

  1. Fantastic images Jim. Love them!


    August 22, 2012 at 11:24 am

  2. Great shots! I love the last one.


    August 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    • Thanks. It’s a little heavy on the HDR, but sometimes form has to follow function.


      August 23, 2012 at 2:12 pm

  3. smackedpentax

    exceptional photos, and a really interesting read!


    August 24, 2012 at 12:32 am

  4. beautiful and excellent contrast 🙂


    August 26, 2012 at 7:10 am

  5. Amazing pics. I like your taste. Makes me wanna travel and do the same:)


    August 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm

  6. Priscilla Shannon Gutierrez

    I get to drive by this area on a monthly basis en route from Santa Fe to the 4 Corners and at times struggle to keep my eyes on the road because of the geology. The black cinder-topped mounds are especially impressive, even along the Pueblo Pintado road. One of these days I am going to make it a point to head there on a weekend when I am not working and explore the terrain before the oil industry construction takes over the area…


    March 7, 2014 at 2:57 pm

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