2009-2010 : In the series «Terre Fragile» I invite you to travel in the canyons of the United States as well as in the park of Yellowstone.
Dream of childhood, think of the land of the Gods, my planet i met in these immense, magical landscapes! My starting point is from the city where i was born, in the south of France, in the region of Marseille.
From there, i take a plane to Denver, a city in Colorado, in the West Central United States. i rent a car and a beautiful road leads me to Arches National Park…
Arches National Park is one of the most amazing landscapes of the American West, populated by an impressive amount of arches. The action of water, frost and wind has created sandstone rock.
Spectacular! Under a dazzling eye, i cross these huge natural walls.
It is by walking, travelling several kilometers, that i really begin to take the measure of the spectacle that is offered to me. A true “Hymn” to the sun and divinities !
This formidable natural rock arch, “Delicate Arch”, worked by erosion, is located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Whatever the angle of view one is glued by this strange phenomenon with vertiginous dimensions…
The first Europeans were Spanish. By the end of the 19th century, breeders, farmers and gold-diggers had settled permanently in the region. It is declared a national park by Alexander Ringhoffer. The light penetrates the rock to let us observe this color of a beautiful orange red. There are even dragonflies in a perfect mimicry.
Erosion sometimes causes strange situations, we can observe here a whole game of balancing.
A few hours drive under a big storm (usual on the Colorado plateau), before arriving in a breathtaking site ! I have trouble setting up my camping tent because the wind doubles in intensity. After a long wait, suddenly, a rare and strange spectacle is offered to me… the pitons of red rock (of solid sandstone) light up under a bright sun, revealing at the same time sumptuous arcs-in the sky.
On the border of Arizona and Utah, these geomorphological formations sometimes reach 300 or 400 meters. I am in the middle of the Navajo Reserve, which reminds me of cowboy movies such as John Ford’s “The Fantastic Ride” with John Wayne. It’s a mythical place for me.
The rain has moved away… I have the chance and the privilege to watch, sitting next to my tent, a beautiful sunset in a noise-free atmosphere. Only the clicks of my different photographic shots break this silence. Night is coming, but I am having trouble leaving my place, I am really immersed in my thoughts with a feeling of bliss.
My night is eventful, no doubt the excitement of all the shimmering colors that have remained etched in my memory. In the early morning the colors changed, they gradually reveal themselves, revealing a painting that a painter would have retouched…
Change of scenery, my past emotion, I end up at Antelope Canyon, one of the most known gorges of the southwest of the United States. I’m in northern Arizona on the Navajo Nation reserve. There is a subtle interplay between light and red color, it’s magical ! I understand the fame of this site that the Indians protect so much. Anyway, it would be dangerous to venture there alone.
The walls present us with sumptuous graphics that, in good weather, the rays of the sun sublimate. Grandiose spectacle !
She is a young Navajo Indian woman who, in 1931, went in search of one of her lost sheep, found this gorge. The temperature in summer is suffocating, I decide to continue my journey, staying in Utah, to go to Bryce Canyon National Park.
I am very lucky, the temperature is nice, it is not difficult to find a campsite to set up my tent. The geology of the Bryce Canyon area is marked by sediment deposition. The Colorado Plateau is made up of a multitude of sedimentary layers. This ensemble forms what is called the «Great Staircase of Geology».
It’s a feast for the eyes ! I undertake to make long walks in what is, (not to be confused with a canyon) a circus carved in the flank of the Plateau de Paunsaugunt. The rains and the wind dug deep and steep grooves and designed lace of towers, needles, festoons. Orange-pink geological turrets, created by erosion and covered by a thin white layer, rise towards the sky.
As I enter this territory, I encounter a tremendous biodiversity of flora and fauna that consists of 59 species of mammals and 164 species of birds ! Birds adapted to this wild environment, enjoy the freshness of the pine trees of Colorado.
Bryce Canyon… I like this place because its relief is incredible, as much by the multiple sculptures fashioned by the wind and the water, as by its vegetation, its animals, its climate. One can descend into the soft shadow of the winding gullies and walk infinitely through their maze. Of course do not forget to bring water to drink…
Nature is well made, although it sometimes seems unreal to me. These rocks are remnants of sediment deposits that have accumulated on the bottom of an inland sea that is now extinct. Liquid precipitation enters the rocks and when the frost appears, the water expands and literally explodes the rocks in places.
I have just spent a few unforgettable days, exploring every nook and cranny and yet I know that I have travelled only a tiny part of this territory. The approach of this nature deserves that one stays there more, to take the time to observe, to contemplate, to live with all the elements.
In front of a sea of clouds, my thoughts go to my new destination. I have to travel several hundred kilometers before arriving in Yellowstone National Park, northwest of Wyoming.
When I arrived at Yellowstone National Park, I had a choice of several entrances and finally decided to go through the north entrance. The temperature has dropped seriously, I know it is important to quickly find a location for my tent. The night arrives and it is forbidden to go camping wild in the national park, luckily there are still places in one of the campsites of the park with nearby showers and toilets.
The Yellowstone site was the site of gigantic eruptions. Accumulated during millennia under the earth’s crust, the lava then burst its envelope, projecting a thousand cubic kilometers of rocks. There are about 300 geysers that testify to the strength of underground activities.
Yellowstone contains two-thirds of the world’s geysers. Researchers from around the world use this site to study the origin of Earth. It is from this setting both apocalyptic and magical that my gaze cannot be detached… these shades of colors, these volutes of smoke, this eccentricity of lines and curves…
Thermophilic bacteria and cyanobacteria color the park’s hot springs around geysers. They give them colors ranging from blue to yellow to red. These bacteria are the most primitive life forms on the planet. I think I’m in another world, and it’s fascinating.
Natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions are common, but they raise questions. Why and how do they occur ? What roles do they play in the evolution of the species ? The most violent eruption known was 2.1 million years ago. It has released up to 2,450 kilometers of volcanic material. It took me more than 4 hours of patience to see the gushing of a column of water reaching a height of 30 meters. This Old Faithful geyser is one of the most beautiful in the park.
A Vulcanological Observatory (YVO) was established in may 2001. Traces of human presence dating back at least 11,000 years have been found. We know that the Indians used obsidian deposits, a very hard stone to make sharp tools and weapons. This environment seems hostile to me, i have difficulty conceiving the presence of man.
The climate of Yellowstone is mountainous, it is not uncommon to be very cold even in summer. The territory covers almost 9,000 Kilometers, i have to change camps often. Fortunately, they are not too far apart or I would have a hard time walking these vast expanses. I get closer to the forests and the river, and the park gets its name from the sources of the
“Yellowstone River” “Yellow Rock” was named by Canadian and French coureurs des bois and trappers in the 18th century.
Yellowstone is not only an observation ground for geysers, it is also a meeting place for different species of mammals, about sixty in the park, among which bison, elk, deer hemione, black bear or wolf. These animal species represent the wildlife of the North American continent very well. To have the chance to meet them, it took patience and I was well rewarded.
My greatest joy was to flush out this very sharp fox listening to the slightest noise. I used multiple strategists to finally take a picture of him. First I saw him in the distance, hopping in all directions, then I approached the wind and finally i crawled in the grass very slowly so as not to attract his attention. It took me several hours, but what a reward !
The environment, made up of about 1,700 endemic species of trees, plants and lichens, favourable to the presence of these animal species. It is important to preserve it because recently bison have been threatened with extinction. They have been exposed to brucellosis, a bacterium native to Europe that causes miscarriages in livestock. Fortunately, brucellosis can be eradicated through vaccination. There are currently 4,000 people in the park.
What a great time to spend among these bison, a life lesson ! They lead a family life, with well-established rules within the community and despite their appearance they are peaceful animals. I am pleased that this park is the heart of a vast preserved natural habitat. Yellowstone is the second largest park in the United States, outside of Alaska.
Yellowstone has been listed as a biosphere reserve since 1976. It is visited by about three million people each year, making it one of the busiest parks in the United States. I am one of the lucky ones and I congratulate all those who work for the proper functioning of this one. Everything is at our disposal, whether it is the reception with very good explanations, campsites, museums, and so on.
It is with regret that I must leave Yellowstone Park, this high plateau, at an average altitude of 2,400 mètres. It is certainly for me one of the most beautiful places to visit in the United States if you love nature. I’m now heading to a much warmer site at Petrified Forest National Park in north eastern Arizona.
What a change ! I go from a magical place, with an exuberant nature, to a desert place, «Petrified Forest National Park», where everything seems dead. About 225 million years ago, we could find large conifers. This arid high plateau was a vast alluvial plain crisscrossed with numerous rivers. But now hurricanes and terrible floods have uprooted these trees. Some of them have sunk deep into mud, sand and volcanic ash.
Underground, the scarcity of oxygen stopped the natural process of tree decay and decomposition, long enough for silica and other minerals suspended in water to gradually become embedded in woody cells and change the trunks and branches scattered into stone blocks. Traces of iron, manganese and carbon then adorned the silica of all the colors of the rainbow. A colorful spectacle on arid ground.
This vast area of dry land does not allow a long stay if one has not taken the precaution to equip oneself with solid reserves of water and of what to protect oneself from the sun. I admire the many colors of petrified wood. Between summer and winter, there is a significant temperature difference, it varies from +40°C to -6°C. It is in summer that there are violent thunderstorms, fortunately i have not had any. On the contrary, i was able to walk in these sets of another world. Only a few white clouds appear in the sky. This extraordinary phenomenon of Nature was discovered in 1851.
At the North entrance of the park is «Painted Desert», formations of sediments in pink red colors offer me a spectacle that I did not miss, just for the pleasure of the eyes. This time, i do not need to walk long, landscapes to infinity present themselves to me. Once my camping tent is parked in the car, i drive back to the Canyon of Chelly National Monument.
I’m still in the state of Arizona, in the “Canyon of Chelly”. It is located in the middle of a large Navajo reserve, the word «Chelly» means in Navajo «rocky canyon». This canyon has the shape of a Y, it is dug vertically in the sandstone beds and extends for 40 kilometers.
I settle down in a campsite near the canyon. The morning is probably the best time to catch a beautiful light and take pictures. I decide to walk the paths that lead me into houses, sheltered under the cliff. The «Anasazis» occupied the canyon continuously in the Christian era until around 1300. Subsequently, they deserted the region for reasons certainly ecological (drought), but also human (wars). Then the Navajos settled there from 1700. They grazed their herds and practiced rudimentary agriculture. I am surprised at the size of these vertical walls reaching more than 300 meters in height.
I didn’t want to go to the canyons of the United States without going through the Page region in Arizona, and more particularly a place that makes all photographers dream, «Vermillion Cliffs National Monument». “The Wave” is a national monument, but i wanted to look at places that are much less well known. For this i went to a guide who owns a restaurant in «Paria Outpost». He talks to me about other sites and gives me directions to go there while allowing me to pitch my tent.
“South Coyotte” and “White Pocket” are places i want to approach. They are very protected because they are very fragile and it is necessary to go early in the morning to the «Paria Contact Station» to have the authorization to enter this magical territory. Only ten people a day are allowed to enjoy these landscapes and a sort of lottery is set up with a draw. Unfortunately, i do not arrive on the first day of my arrival to be one of the elected officials. It is only part postponed, in the meantime i decide to go see a very beautiful place « Great
Staircase ». The weather is stormy, but the sun still makes its appearance with beautiful clouds, which amplifies the strange character of the place.
I observe here a fascinating universe, blocks of sediment are placed on each other with variations of colors, from white, through yellow to red. All under a blue sky that accentuates these contrasts. This first day in the region enchants me. I finish it at the restaurant of «Paria Outpost», or Steeve, the manager, offers me an excellent meal. I have to get up early the next morning to get a second chance to go to “South Coyotte” and “White Pocket”.
Up at dawn, i did well because already many people are waiting for authorization. This time i am lucky, i am drawn. Phew! Besides, the weather is perfect ! I hasten to go to my first destination, «South Coyotte». I walk in a desert environment composed of small bushes clinging to the ground, fine red sand and sediment formations, red too, that point to the sky. I explore this place in every detail, looking for the most beautiful picture.
Strange feeling to discover these decors with everywhere graphic elements, incredible curves, slender lines, at the same time a softness and a harshness and even a fragility. I feel a perfume of adventure floating in this desert, i imagine the action of the wind, of violent storms, of the hot, of the cold, a whole life in perpetual evolution.
This area is totally dry and sorry, i have difficulty walking in this deep and soft sand, because i came in the dry season. I climb on crumbly walls that can break at any time under my feet. I now understand why it is forbidden to come in large numbers and why the authorities of Arizona want to preserve this region from any tourist influx. Fortunately the difficulty of access facilitates this protection, in very dry weather, it is even sometimes impraticable in 4×4, on foot it takes several days of walking and it is not impossible to get lost. Only the rangers know the place perfectly. I now have to go to «White Pocket», a small plateau still little known to this day.
“White Pocket” is well known to local rangers because the water pockets there allow cattle to drink in the area. I discover a kind of whitish lava flow with multiple layers, a landscape tormented in an amazing way. I really think i’m on another planet.
This is certainly one of the highlights of my trip in search of beautiful photographs, this site is one of the absolute musts of the wild West. The erosion has realized one of his most beautiful works, i have a crazy pleasure to find the most delirious forms. These rock formations are all more strange than each other, i do not stop to contemplate them and i do not hesitate to take multiple shots. Nature gives me this beautiful gift, i’ll share it with you…
Unique, magnificent, a masterpiece of nature… Red tones appear on the borders of Arizona and Utah, in this incredible site in the middle of the desert. Protected as a jealously guarded secret, the incredible White Pocket fills the senses beyond the imagination ! Hiking in this masterpiece composed of rolling and swirling multicolored rock forms is an adventure in its own right and the exploration on foot is endless. White pocket will surely become “top of the top” on the list of places out of the ordinary but it is an extremely fragile area and the greatest care must be taken to preserve it…
These landscapes could be called “White Pocket”, but colors from a paint palette appear on rock sediments ; a phantasmagoric collection of colorful cliffs where the formations rise and form a few geological ice cones that melt in the sun. The carved erosion, painted with warm shades is breathtaking !
We must preserve this fragile environment so that future generations will find the same feeling, the same feeling of sharing a great moment with nature. I find it hard to leave this unreal world, but i decide to go to the southwest of the United States, to «Joshua Tree», in California. A day’s drive on these multi-lane highways is enough to get there.
Joshua Tree Park will give me many surprises, unexpected encounters but also unexpected bad weather not planned. That’s the charm of the United States. At this time, in may, the temperature is high during the day but rather cool in the morning and evening. It is very easy to camp, places are set up for that, just fill a paper, have the requested amount, put it all in an envelope and place it in a mailbox.
The park is named after some amazing shrubs. When you see them in the distance, in the middle of this desert, you look like ghosts coming out of the ground. Joshua trees can grow from a seed or underground rhizome of another Joshua tree. The Ocotillo, no less strange, is a typical plant of the Colorado desert, with beautiful red flowers. I contemplate with emotion these “living creatures” and I think of the current climate change that will probably lead to the disappearance of these shrubs.
Of course one does not walk in the desert without seeing a cactus. Pointed towards the sky, this plant fascinates me. Quiet in appearance, yet naughty, watch out for its thorns ! Many varieties of cacti are hidden here and there in the world. Cacti are almost all fatty plants that store reserves of “juice” in their tissues to cope with long periods of drought. They are adapted to survive in arid environments. As for thorns, their function is multiple: protection against animals, but also capture of dew. As for our skin, they protect it from the heat of the sun, the drying wind or the cold altitude.
At the bend of a road, i discover another species that i did not know. It is called Agave, an unusual plant used by the Indians, it flowers only once in its life. I delicately observe this natural beauty, she gives me all her charms, i find her very beautiful. The sky, of a sustained blue, is laden with clouds, i believe that a storm is preparing. I have come to know this country and to pay attention to climate change. It is better to return to his camp as soon as possible, which i do immediately. Thunderstorms are often extremely violent, but they do not last. On the contrary, they make it possible to give way to a radiant sun immediately afterwards.
Tonight wasn’t supposed to be like any other night. Usually I prepare my meal around 7pm, then, when it is finished, I will contemplate the sunset. This time the weather plays tricks on me and the wind becomes more and more violent. I check that my tent has all its hooks firmly fixed to the ground, and I sneak inside. My meal is quick, I decide to read a book while waiting for a lull, but little by little it turns into a nightmare; the wind increases again, I risk an eye outside and notes with fear that a real storm is coming! I put a maximum of weight on the ground distributed over the width of the tent and i place myself in the middle, lying down position. Throughout the night until 8:00 in the morning, i felt that my tent could give way and fly away, of course with me. The walls of my tent deformed under the gusts and came to stick to me, i heard the hooks digging up and disappearing one after the other. Finally the wind gradually decreased, fortunately my tent held up! And when i came out, i could see that no hook had stood still.
What a night !
A sunny day follows this Dantesque night and i take this opportunity to continue my investigations. Only a few clouds scattered in the sky offer a beautiful composition to my images. The Joshua tree is beaten by the winds, it does not worry him, it is prepared to endure this harsh and arid climate. The roots of this tree collect every inch of rain and feed desert animals.
Now the weather is with me, these are beautiful days that will parade with an ideal temperature to make long walks. I watch for the slightest movement around me and i track the animals at the end of my lens. I observe a pair of crows who seem to reign in this unusual place in the middle of these rock hills, «Skull rock», (the rock with the skull). I feel like I’m not disturbing them, they’re not moving.
What a lovely couple ! It is the period of the lovers and i have this privilege to be able to approach them. Nothing bothers them, i have to be part of the set. Of course, i took time and precautions to move forward and stay at a distance that allows me to make photographs. An unforgettable show, i remain under the charm of this meeting, a great moment of emotion and a life lesson… I find it difficult to leave this place, but new horizons and new encounters await me.
I am standing here in the middle of a cactus tree and i see a hare living on this land, a place hostile to man.
The steps are long, but «Joshua tree» has many surprises in store for me. I play hide-and-seek with a squirrel who takes advantage of these many gigantic rocks of rough granite. What an excess ! However, these blocks serve as shelters for these squirrels against all aggression. I am thinking particularly of raptors. The natural parks of the United States are an example in the perfect balance between the animal world and the plant world. The biotope is respected and it is a real pleasure to enjoy this nature.
The park is populated by birds of remarkable adaptation to their environment. They are lively and i have trouble following them with my goal.
A new life! An improbable encounter in this new place. Through perseverance and after many climbs, i was able to approach from an ibex mom who just gave birth to a little cabri. Calving usually takes place around mid-June, after 170 days of gestation, in an inaccessible place. One young ibex at a time is born, standing from the first hours, so that the females resume their seasonal migration after one week, even if the goat is not actually weaned until mid-September, with breastfeeding for two to three months.
With great agility on the rock walls, the ibex has a large swollen hoof at the heel, with a soft part called the sole. In the steep slopes, at the back of its heels, pins protrude and increase the surface of adhesion to the rock.
The little cabri seems lost and his mother, patient, encourages him to climb on these polished rocks. It is the learning of life … The ibex is a mainly diurnal animal, active before sunrise and the first hours of the day, and in the evening before nightfall. The rest of the time, it basks on grassy terraces well exposed to the sun. Ibex drink very little, often content with morning dew. These wild goats take advantage of the rugged terrain composed of numerous holes and cracks that provide shelter against possible dangers.
The cabri managed to climb in the middle of this chaos and joined his mother, together they observe this crow, in the distance, perched in one of the boulders. I finally stayed with them all day knowing that my journey ends here. My trip to the United States will remain an unforgettable memory, in these settings more sumptuous than each other, i hope with all my heart that tourists will continue to preserve this beautiful nature so that our children can in turn enjoy the grandiose shows it offers us.