photography from the ground up

Finding The Fossils In The Fossil Forest

In my previous post: Roaming The San Juan Basin, I described a two-day journey through a place with landscapes as varied as they are timeless. At one point during that journey, I passed a nondescript cattle guard on San Juan County Road 7650. To the north, a little more than a mile from the road is a ridge that has been eroded over time, and which now displays all the telltale signs of a badlands: deeply eroded gullies with unevenly spaced bands of color, large areas of red deposits, and the unmistakeable outlines of hoodoos against the smoother walls of hardened ash and clay. I filed it away for future reference.

Petrified-Tree-Fossil-Forest-2

A petrified log lies in a small wash near the edge of the Fossil Forest

Actually I had been aware of this small badlands for several years, but had never explored it. I decided to make the effort in the near future. So, a few weeks later, Robin and I loaded up the car and headed out to the Fossil Forest. At the top of my list was finding a certain petrified tree stump that overlooked a drainage to the south. I had found a photo of the stump online and had a copy of the image on my phone; as it turned out, it was an invaluable aid in ultimately finding the location of the fossil.

Where-Earth-And-Time-Collide

The view from the ridge top across the clay mounds, and ravines to the wide expanse of the San Juan Basin

From the parking area on the road we walked about a mile to the north until we reached the small drainages and scattered hoodoos that marked the boundaries of the badlands. We then explored some of the drainages to see if there was an obvious, or easy way to the top. No such luck. Eventually, we came across a relatively wide ravine near the eastern edge of the ridge. I recognized a petrified log I had seen on the BLM website; it was partially buried and lying near the mouth of the the wash. This seemed like a good place to begin the climb to the ridge top.

A-Slice-Of-Time-2

Colorful, banded clay and lignite mounds Have eroded away leaving fossil and hoodoo filled ravines

Actually, it was more of a scramble than a climb. There is about a one hundred foot elevation gain from the mouth of the drainage to the crown of the ridge, but it was steep. Once on top, we surveyed the area from our new perspective. To the east lay a jumble of clay hills with bands of black (lignite) and daubs of red (clinkers). To the north and south were more banded hills that fell away into the steep sided ravines which emptied onto the desert floor.

Deep-Time

A petrified stump overlooking the badlands of the Fossil Forest

Now that we were on top, we began looking for the features that were visible in the photo I had on my phone. We came across several petrified logs most of which were eroded and broken into small pieces. At each of the promontories that intersperse the ravines, I walked to the point to compare the features. It was after several failed attempts that I looked across the next channel and spotted the stump.

Petrified-Stump-Fossil-Forest-2

Another view of the Petrified stump on a high ridge in the Fossil Forest

There is a feeling of accomplishment that comes after searching for and finding something that is situated in a remote location, especially if that something is a millions year old relic of a former time. As I made these images, I tried to imagine the way the world was when this remnant of a lost age was intact and alive. It is not unlike the emotion I experience when I stand among ruins that were constructed by unknown hands thousands of years ago.

Hoodoos-On-Lignite

The top of a mudstone and lignite mound has eroded beginning the process of hoodoo building

We spent a half hour or more working the scene from different perspectives before deciding to begin the hike back to the road, the car, the present world. After negotiating the way down from the crest of the ridge, we followed one of the many washes that empty into a series of small arroyos that drain this part of the San Juan Basin. On the way, we passed a mound of mudstone and lignite that was just beginning to reveal its secrets: yet to be formed hoodoos, still uncovered petrified trees, possibly the petrified bones of an, as yet, undiscovered dinosaur. What will this landscape look like a hundred thousand years from now? Will there be anyone around to wonder at its past?

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14 responses

  1. I really enjoyed tagging along on your journey, Jim. It is a remarkable thing to travel back in time, to be standing with the petrified world of long ago. And I am impressed at your tenacity in finding it. lovely post.

    Like

    September 8, 2015 at 8:33 am

  2. Ray Sanders

    Thanks again for sharing your awesome pics Jim. Much appreciated.

    Like

    September 8, 2015 at 9:05 am

  3. Well done.I enjoy this post.

    Like

    September 8, 2015 at 10:34 am

  4. A fascinating post with some gorgeous photos. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    September 8, 2015 at 2:48 pm

  5. I love places like this. I can’t wait to get out there again. Nice images, nice report. Thanks.

    Like

    September 8, 2015 at 3:46 pm

  6. Gorgeous images and great processing. I love how you’ve brought out the skies!

    Like

    September 9, 2015 at 10:01 am

  7. Interesting post Jim, superb images as always!

    Like

    September 10, 2015 at 11:36 pm

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