photography from the ground up

Primal Earth

There are places in this world that defy expectations of how a landscape should look; places that are twisted and broken; places that are filled with other-worldly forms and shapes; and places that shift the spectrum of what we might think are normal hues for a landscape on planet earth.


Utah is certainly one of those places and in a small, overlooked area in the center of the state, where a layer of Mancos shale has been exposed by the elements, there lies an expanse of bluish colored earth, which depending on the light, might be a subtle grayish blue, or a more deeply saturated aqua-blue.


In every instance, the landscape is surprising; the texture can range from rough and deeply creased to smooth and almost sensual. In some places, it resembles a network of arteries (which, I suppose, in a way, it is).


In other places, it is a series of waves advancing on some forgotten beach. But everywhere there is at least a hint of blue. When you are used to red, sepia, or even more common grays and browns, the change can be quite startling. One location, in particular, was a prize we had to spend a little time searching for. Factory Bench overlooks what has come to be known as the Moonscape Overlook. It is a place that changes your perception of how the world should (or might) look.


If the light is right, the whole experience becomes exaggerated by the deep shadows playing over the complex terrain. Every twist and turn, every sinuous channel becomes more deeply etched into the unearthly earth.


Spending a night on the plateau above these badlands was an adventure in itself. A storm, which had been building throughout the day, moved in around sunset. Wind whipped the tent through the night and several times I was sure our shelter would be ripped away from us. But our little Coleman prevailed and by morning, things had calmed down enough that we could have a peaceful breakfast.


This last image was made looking east across the broken, variegated wilderness. Not far from here is the Mars Research Station where teams of scientists and engineers have been spending long periods of time in a simulated habitat to prepare for a possible trip to the red planet. The remote and other-worldly landscape allows them to make their preparations without light pollution or other outside influence.


On this same trip, we spent time in Capitol Reef and Goblin Valley. Probably it was the crowds and touristy nature of those parks that turned me off (I am a hopeless misanthrope), but neither of them had an impact on me as strong as did the blue badlands of Caineville Mesa and Factory Bench.

10 responses

  1. Ken Hoffman

    Wonderful images, Jim!


    February 28, 2017 at 1:36 pm

  2. Incredible photos! I’ve never heard of this place before. Thanks for sharing.


    February 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    • Dustin, it’s one of those places that seem to be overlooked in the rush to get somewhere else. I like it that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      March 1, 2017 at 9:02 am

      • Those are definitely some of the best places to visit.


        March 1, 2017 at 9:27 am

  3. Great and interesting post with brilliant photos


    February 28, 2017 at 3:17 pm

  4. Stunning captures. The blue is unexpected and arresting. I love the emptiness and solitude (yes, I’m a misanthrope too). Thank you for sharing.


    February 28, 2017 at 5:59 pm

  5. I am an artist and thinking, Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be there to do some Plein air paintings!!! Love these!!


    August 31, 2020 at 5:28 am

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