Single-image Sunday: Patterns in Sandstone   5 comments

Since the Foto Talk this week was all about not getting too caught up in the search for abstract patterns in your photography, I thought I’d post an image whose sole aim was to abstract the subject.  But is this really an abstract?  I could have made it more so, for example by moving the camera or otherwise blurring details and color.  Or by getting experimental in post-processing.  But I wanted the close-up features of this dune sandstone to be very clear.

The abstraction is created by simply getting  close with my macro lens and framing so as to exclude the tiny flaws that are scattered through the rock.  I captured this at the famous Wave in southern Utah’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.  The sandstone has been worn smooth by water and wind erosion, but up close you can see how rough it is, like sandpaper.

The tiny sand grains are frosted by winds that blew them into dunes during the early Jurassic Period nearly 200 million years ago when this whole region of the American southwest was a vast desert similar to the Sahara of today.

The thin layers (laminae) of alternating color are at an angle to the main sandstone beds.  This is called cross-bedding and is characteristic of dune sands.  The wind blew in grains that had been stained brick-red by iron.  Then it turned around and blew in cleaner, lighter-colored grains from a different source.  These grains would cascade down the steeper lee side of dunes, creating the cross-beds.

The flatter, thicker layers have been eroded into steps, a characteristic of the Wave.  Because of variation in their hardness, their ability to resist erosion, the layers stand out or are recessed.  This differential erosion is caused by variation in the amount and hardness of cement binding the sand grains together.

So what this image shows on a micro-scale is an ancient sand dune in cross-section that is now being sculpted by present-day winds.  In other words, it shows winds in a desert of the distant past, when early dinosaurs roamed the area.  And it shows what the desert of today is doing to those ancient dunes

So an abstract image can tell you something real about the subject.  I believe that’s the best kind of abstract in fact.  I’m hoping the image shows what nature can do, not what me or my camera can do.  Please let me know whether or not I succeeded.  I hope your weekend was a lot of fun.  Thanks for reading.


5 responses to “Single-image Sunday: Patterns in Sandstone

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  1. I for one LOVE the science talk! I went out to the John Day Fossil beds and Painted Hills recently because of your mention in a post. I am very interested in the geology of places and don’t know where to start to educate myself.

    Monica Joy Felt
    • That is very good to hear Monica! The way to start is exactly what you did. Seeing and touching the place is key to understanding its geology, and its natural history in general. Like everything geology has gone high tech., but it will always be necessary to walk it in order to understand it. There’s a truism in the field that all geology is local. The John Day area, by the way, also has an incredible ecosystem that is more subtle than its geology (often it’s the other way around). Stay tuned to this blog, and look for others written by people with an understanding of different aspects of the nature of places. I will do more geo-oriented posts. Also read some of John McPhee’s books (Annals of the Former World; Basin and Range). Good luck!

  2. Yes! Very effective. My favorite kind of shot – with texture & patterns. Love it. Am enjoying your photo discussions. I find that looking for the marriage between the subject that interests me and the abstract in its composition does help my photos. Thanks for your pictures and insights.

  3. Beautiful! I love the up close detail of the sandstone!

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