The Painted Desert – Not Quite What You Expected?

Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park ©2008 Bo Mackison

No saguaro or organ pipe cacti or other familiar succulents in this desert. The Painted Desert in northeastern Arizona really isn’t a desert at all – you need to go further west and south for real desert – but is located near short grass plains or desert grasslands. The Painted Desert is barren red Chinle mudstone. Various combinations of minerals provide the different coloration – red is iron oxide and the white is gypsum.

These formations were formed 220 to 225 millions of years ago, and though the rocks are not high, they are approximately 800 feet thick. No drilling for water through this stuff.

Badlands in Painted Desert

Badlands in Painted Desert ©2008 Bo Mackison

Unfortunately, we were traveling through the area in early afternoon. I would have liked to have captured the colors nearer sunset when the reds would reflect deeper colors. It is still an amazing drive, though, through an ancient world that is well preserved. An incredible number of fossils and archeological ruins are found throughout the park.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Vivant dans une région humide, c’est l’inverse du quotidien, beau cliché !

  2. Yes, that’s an incredibly beautiful place!

  3. Love the textures and colors and sense of rhythm that the rock formations create. Stunning landscape!

  4. Beautiful colors in this Bo, what a tremendous landscape this must be to witness !!

  5. This looks so wild and barren.

  6. Gorgeous, gorgeous! It has been over 30 years since I’ve been to the painted desert. You captured it well. 🙂

  7. Love the adobe colors. It always amazes me to see the houses (or inns – in this instance) so resemble the color of the wild desert rock.

  8. I imagine the colors could have been even more awesome in the evening or morning. However, the pattern in your first shot is mezmerizing.

Leave a Reply