Guy Tal, Badlands in Bloom

This image was five years in the making. I first saw this area in bloom in 2005, on my way to a different location. Since I didn’t have time to properly work the scene, I captured a few snapshots under a clear blue sky in the short time I had, and drove off to my original destination, making a note to return to these badlands the following spring. When I returned on the same dates in 2006, however, I was in for a surprise—the desert was bare, and not a single flower in bloom was to be seen for miles.

On that trip I also befriended a local farmer who told me that the bloom only occurs once every few years and is difficult to predict. It requires the right combination of precipitation and timing to awaken the dormant seeds. I decided to keep trying, and made repeated trips to the area in the following years to no avail. But, in the process, I also got a chance to spend more time in the area and discover more of its many wonders. Rather than wait for the bloom, I continued to return to the badlands, each time exploring farther, staying longer and seeing more until I developed a very rich body of work from there, at various seasons and times of day.

I finally saw the bloom again in the spring of 2010, when this image was made. I witnessed it again this year (2014), though the flowers were not quite as profuse as on previous occasions.

"...the gray hills turned to blue and no other color competed with the beautiful blooms of purple scorpionweed."

I happen to live just a 30-minute drive away from this area. In the spring of 2010, when I first noticed early sprouts peeking from the cracked earth, I began planning my composition. I visited every other day until the flowers began to bloom, and then continued to visit every day to monitor their progress. My earlier images were fairly generic—sunrise light and blooming fields, visually attractive but hardly creative or unique. When the weather forecast predicted a cloudy morning, I knew it could turn into something special. I wanted the flowers to take center stage, not golden light or other visual feats that can be found elsewhere. Under a cloud cover, the gray hills turned to blue, and no other color competed with the beautiful blooms of purple scorpionweed. A serendipitous hint of purple in the sky helped balance things nicely, and I remember the sense of elation I felt when I captured this image, just minutes before dawn.

In the following days, the purple scorpionweed gave way to yellow beeplant, and I was fortunate to witness the transition from purple to yellow progressing day after day until the flowers were gone.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was fortunate in more than one way. This area is also a battleground between conservationists and off-road vehicle enthusiasts. Although this spot is surrounded by signs reading “no motor vehicles,” they are largely ignored by rogue motorized recreationists. A more recent image shows the area as it looked around the same time in 2014. Just a few years earlier, this was a sea of purple, but today very few flowers remain, and the area is shredded by tire tracks left by illegal motorists.

For those interested, the image was made with a Canon 5D Mark II and 17-40mm lens, although this fact is entirely irrelevant. The same image could have been made just as well with numerous other camera/lens combinations. My persistence and years of familiarity with the place are the main factors in how (and why) I got the image.


About Guy Tal: I am a professional artist, author, photographer, educator and public speaker. I believe that the practice of creative pursuits manifests not only in the making of art, but also has the ability to transform and enrich life, facilitate meaningful and rewarding experiences, and foster contentment and satisfaction through life-long discovery and learning.

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This is simply stunning. Not only the image but also the commitment to capturing the image. 

The destruction of such beauty is heartbreaking and infuriating.