painted desert

Located east of Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert is bordered on the south by the Little Colorado River. A heavily eroded land of sandstone, mudstone, and volcanic ash, mesas, and buttes, this desert is multilayered with reds, oranges, and pinks (the result of the presence of oxides of iron and aluminum in the soil) and blues, grays, and lavenders (the result of oxygen depleted by flooding or rapid sediment buildup). This is part of the Colorado Plateau, and its characteristic painted rock layers are typical of the region. Everett Ruess, a writer, artist, and wanderer of wildlands, wrote of his “serene and tempestuous days” walking 170 miles alone across the Painted Desert. From a 1931 letter of his to a friend: “On the open desert . . . the world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before. I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the red sand blowing in the wind, the slow sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.” In 1934, at age twenty, Ruess disappeared while roaming the canyonlands of Utah.

Pattiann Rogers