Big Bend Badlands – Rattlesnake Badlands

Part 2 of 4

My second hike was to visit what I call the Rattlesnake Badlands, an area just south of the Rattlesnake Mountains. Acutally, there are two distinct areas of badlands, and they are separated by an alluvial fan that spreads south from the mountains.

I discovered these areas using Google Earth. My first attempt to visit them was in September 2007, but I didn’t make it due to bad weather and lack of time.

On the west side of the alluvial fan are the “purple hills”. These are classic badlands – rounded hills with bands of color and little or no vegetation.

The Purple Hills I
(click for larger version)

The transition from typical Chihuahuan Desert to these badlands was abrupt. I was amazed at the change. Again, it was like stepping into Death Valley.

The Purple Hills II
(click for larger version)

Roaming these hills was fun. Some were quite steep and tall and could not be climbed easily. I tried keeping my travels on them to a minimum because of the damage my footprints left. Each step sunk an inch or two and broke through the crusty soil layer. Walking the narrow, flat bottoms in the valleys was much easier.

(click for larger version)

The second spot of badlands, to the east of the alluvial fan, was a little different. These badlands were more open and spread out. The colors were lighter too (mostly a dusty gold color).

Soil and Clouds
(click for larger version)

I made camp down in these badlands on the soft soil. I spent a comfortable night out there, completely alone. I did see one set of old footprints, so someone must have visited in the recent past. It also reminded me to be conservative where I stepped since my footprints would remain for a long time and disturb the beauty of the badlands.

Golden Hills
(click for larger version)

Up next, Old Maverick Road and finding Ansel Adams’ shot. Stay tuned…

7 thoughts on “Big Bend Badlands – Rattlesnake Badlands

  1. Great work, TJ. I’m extremely envious of you going off trail for these excursions. I imagine the effort required is immense, so way to go.

    Personally, I much prefer the images w/ closer elements, i.e. “Purple Hills II”, “Badlands!”. On the other hand, 800 pixel versions of the infinite landscapes don’t do anything for me. I want to be out there, and 800 pixels are only a frustration. But Purple Hills I feel like I could crawl in there and take a snooze. The texture and shapes are much more graspable, at least for me.

  2. Thanks, Kent! Thanks for your comments.

    Indeed there was much required effort but you kinda forget the amount of work required when it’s fun and enjoyable. Of course there were a few points during that trip when I was ready to quit and head back for that cold beer or frozen margarita :-)

    Yeh, I wish I could show everyone a large-ish print so that all the texture comes through visually. I like your idea of taking a snooze – that’s an aspect I hadn’t verbalized yet, and now that you mention it, there is a “comfortable” feel to the flow and curves of the badlands.


  3. TJ, looks like you’ve been busy! Glad to see you posting more stuff from Big Bend. You’re showing me aspects of the park I never even knew were there. I don’t have time to comment on all of them right now but I wanted to single out a few from this post that I particularly like.

    ‘Golden Hills’ – I love the color pallete in this image. Blue and Gold is a powerful combination, and the soft, directional light really lets the colors sing in this image. The tonal scale is very well balanced, and I have no idea if this is a single exposure or blend but you did a good job either way. Convential wisdom says to avoid placing the horizon in the center, but here I think there’s a certain symmetry between the clouds and the lines created by the badlands (even if it’s not quite as literal as with an exact reflection in water), and the image balances out very nicely.

    ‘Soil and Clouds’ – Another effective use of colors that complement the composition without seeming over done. The warm yellows int eh foreground advanced against the darker colors in teh background and the cool blue of the sky, futher enhacing the depth of the image. The side lighting creates additional layers from the alternating hills, and the clouds in the sky seem to extend right overhead. I t the strength of this image lies in its simplicity, everything fits together just right, there’s nothing extraneous to distract the eye.

    ‘Badlands!’ – In a word, ‘wow’. This shot has everything you want in a great B/W capture: wonderful texture, a rich tonal scale, and a strong composition with great lines. I love the low-contrast but still directional light, and the way it brings out the shape of the badlands. There’s an almost abstract nature to this image, because I’m not entirely sure what the scale is. Definitely my favorite shot from this set; but then I’ve been on a bit of a B/W kick lately… :)

  4. Thanks, Jeff! Many thanks for your comments and taking the time to write them.

    ‘Golden Hills’ This is a one-exposure shot. It’s looking south-ish just before sunset, and the DR of the scene was fully captured in one photo. IIRC, I think I processed the RAW file twice and then blended the two just as I would have a two-exposure scene.

    ‘Soil and Clouds’ I remember a comment you left me on a photo some time ago about simplicity and how I seem to do well at that style. That’s what I was going for here – just a shot containing only a few key elements. Glad you liked it. It’s my favorite from the trip.

    ‘Badlands!’ This is one of those shots that just happened instantly (and that rarely happens). I had just started to hit that area of badlands as I hiked down the little wash. The scene unfolded right in front of me and stopped me. I put the tripod down right there and shot it as I first saw it. One of my first thoughts, when thinking about the final print while I was setting up the shot, was to go B&W. I too have been thinking and shooting for B&W more and more recently :-)


  5. TJ, What a great set, I too love the Badlands B&W, and I’m a color guy… I wish I could give you some tips, but you’ve nailed these. Technical perfect, color design right on, design elements work and the feeling of an earth we need to save now!! Happy Earth Day

  6. One last comment, I don’t know this park I sure would like to get to know it so thanks for the extremely difficult work that you’ve done to capture and share these beautiful images…

  7. Thanks, Mike! If you ever get out there, trust me, it’s worth it. Big Bend is an amazing place. Once you go there, you’ll understand why people like it so much and keep coming back.

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