The Painted Desert

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2008 near Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Rich with color, the Painted Desert covers a wide arc across northeast Arizona. Beginning to the east of the Grand Canyon, this beautiful landscape stretches almost to New Mexico.

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2008 near Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

My favorite views of this region are found in and around Petrified Forest National Park.

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Preserved trees photographed 03/2008 at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

I wrote about the preserved trees of Petrified Forest in the past, but the landscape itself is worth a closer look.

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2008 near Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

The rocks of the Painted Desert badlands are part of the Chinle Formation of the late Triassic Period. These sediments were deposited between about 225 and 205 million years ago in and around rivers and streams that blanketed the area. Composed mostly of soft, easily-eroded shale, mudstone, and volcanic ash, they also contain thin layers of sandstone, siltstone, and limestone.

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2008 at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

This formation is rich in a variety of minerals that produce vibrant colors when weathered. Iron and manganese minerals are particularly common.

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2008 at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Despite the striking contrast between red and green/blue layers, they contain roughly equal amounts of iron minerals. The color difference is a result of varying water levels as these sediments were deposited. When water levels were low, the iron minerals were oxidized by atmospheric oxygen and turned red. When water levels were high, the iron minerals were cut off from atmospheric oxygen. In this reducing environment they turned green or blue.

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2008 at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

The river deposits, preserved trees, and abundant vertebrate fossils demonstrate that this area was much different in the late Triassic. Waterways harbored numerous fish and amphibians. The wet climate supported forests of large coniferous trees and many other plants. These riverside woodlands were filled with early dinosaurs and the ancestors of modern reptiles and mammals.

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2010 at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

Although 200 million years of earth history have radically transformed this region, it’s still home to a different assortment of plants and animals.

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Side-blotched lizard (Squamata: Phrynosomatidae: Uta sp.) photographed 03/2008 at Wupatki National Monument, Arizona.

Between the modern organisms, ancient fossilized organisms, geologic history, and breathtaking scenery, the Painted Desert is a worthwhile destination.

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Painted Desert photographed 03/2010 at Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Geology, National Parks, Paleoecology, Paleontology, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Painted Desert

  1. Mike Powell says:

    The photos are stunning and held my interest long enough for me to learn some new things, like why the rock layers have different colors. More than 20 years ago I visited the Petrified Forest National Park–I guess that it’s time for a return trip.

    Like

  2. Nice photos! Looks like a spectacular, geologically interesting place to visit some day!

    Like

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