Near Delta, Colorado
I love the Adobe Badlands. Have I mentioned this before? It seems like I might have but I can’t say it often enough.
I first noticed these amazing hills while driving up and down U.S. 50 between Grand Junction and Montrose. You can’t help but notice them, they’re very eye catching. It’s best if you’re the passenger in the car when you see them, and not the driver, as they can be very distracting in their stark beauty, especially near sunset.
I would admire them beginning just north of Delta, and soak them in all the way through Whitewater, which is just south of Grand Junction. I kept thinking I just wanted my husband to let me out of the car somewhere along the way and let me walk up the side of U.S. 50 so I could photograph them. I understand that seeing someone walking along the side of the highway is distracting as well, and could potentially be dangerous, but the draw was still there.
So, one day I looked at the area in my trusty DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer and there it was. The Adobe Badlands! This is marked on the map as a Wilderness Study Area, managed by the BLM. The map showed a couple of different entrances and roads I could take to get into the middle of this area, and I knew I just had to make it happen. I’ve been a few times now, and I’m still in awe of these beautiful adobe hills.
Sometimes it feels like they are so unique that there’s no way there could even be anything like them anywhere else in the world. Do you ever remember having that feeling about another person in your life? Like maybe your husband or wife when you first met them? How unique and fabulous they seemed? How different from every other person on earth? How perfect they were? That’s how you know you’re in love and that’s how I feel about The Adobe Badlands.
Every time I go there, I’m disappointed that I ever must leave. I always seem to think I’ll be able to slake my thirst for the place in one big gulp and of course that never happens. Since I drive very slowly through there, that is, at a photographer’s pace, it takes a couple of hours to really do any part of it thoroughly. It reminds me of when I was in my early twenties and on Mondays, all of us in the Claims Department at Allstate would report in about how our weekends went. I remember asking one friend about how her weekend went, and she replied, “It was great! I did two malls on Saturday!” Good Lord! I don’t even like to do one mall now. Now I’d like to take two roads in The Adobe Badlands on one day, but I can’t, because the light changing over the sculptured hills is so enchanting, I can never do more than one road before I lose the light to midday. Then, I go to Starvin’ Arvin’s and scroll through my images to see which ones I like best and live the enchantment all over again while drinking my coffee.
Turns out, there are other places like The Adobe Badlands in the world. One of those places is a part of Death Valley National Park, which I visited early last December. I’m including a picture of it here because it reminded me so much of The Adobe Badlands. I believe this is 20 Mule Team Drive, a short 2.5-mile drive near Zabriskie Point. Since it was a paved road though, it’s possible that this photo was taken at Artist’s palette, also at Death Valley National Park. Either way, there are some strong resemblances.
The hills in Adobe Badlands range in color between yellow and a light sand color. That’s the main difference between Adobe and Death Valley. The colors at Adobe are much more subtle. But when the light hits them, it’s truly magical.
One of the things you’ll notice when looking at some of these photos, is that lots of people like to go out there on the weekends and drive over the hills. There are a couple of main service roads out there, mostly maintained, with no serious potholes or ruts to contend with. It’s OK to drive on these. Some people though, prefer to go off the road entirely in their 4 WD vehicles, OHV’s, ATV’s, motorcycles and so on. I get it. It’s fun. For some people, it’s irresistibly fun. They get such a rush out of it, they can’t wait to go back the next weekend, and bring their friends and family members. Some people are even making videos of themselves doing it, which will entice others to go out there and do the same, no doubt.
Unfortunately, despite it being really fun to do this, it’s also illegal. Not that there is anyone out there who will stop you. In doing some research on this topic, I found some information in a document created by Delta County in 2018, when they did a Recreation and Trails Master Plan. They note that Adobe Badlands is under the management of the BLM, but that there are some management issues, which they have identified. To wit:
“Adobe Badlands Outstanding Natural Area/ACEC – 6,370 Acres Current Uses/Management • Managed to protect its unique scenic qualities, improve threatened and endangered species habitat, provide for semi-primitive nonmotorized recreation opportunities and use, and reduce active erosion. • There are a total of three sheep grazing allotments in the ACEC. • Open to fluid mineral leasing with no surface occupancy stipulations. • Closed to coal leasing. • Closed to mineral materials disposal. • Closed to off-road-vehicle use, managed for nonmotorized recreation opportunities. • Managed as VRM Class I. • Closed to major utility development. • Erosion and salinity control measures are prohibited from using structures or land treatments that would alter scenic values. Valid Existing Rights • There are no valid existing rights in the ACEC. Management Issues/Trends • Lack of on-the-ground monitoring, patrol, and enforcement of regulations, particularly for recreational use. • Lack of an effective information and education campaign promoting a sound land-use ethic. • OHV incursions from adjacent North Delta OHV open travel area. OHV use may be impacting threatened species including Colorado hookless cactus, which has known populations in the ACEC boundary with the OHV open area. Delta County Recreation and Trails Master Plan 36|”
I get that it’s fun. It’s probably as fun for some people to drive over the hills as it is for me to photograph them. Sadly, the damage they are doing is probably permanent. These hills have stood here since the end of The Cretaceous period (65 million years ago) and are being worn down in one generation.