Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sometimes nature suggests human activity when there has been none.

with 16 comments


Sometimes nature suggests human activity even where there has been none. As soon as I saw these natural patterns at the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada on October 24th they reminded me of the petroglyphs you looked at last time.

Thanks to three commenters on that previous post, I now know that the darker markings on the stone shown here are likely to be desert varnish. The areas that tend toward black would have more manganese in them, and the reddish areas more iron. Live and learn.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2016 at 5:00 AM

16 Responses

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  1. I appreciate my “continuing education” received by enjoying your postings each day.

    esther wilson

    December 6, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    • Glad to hear it. Once a teacher, always a teacher. I’m racking up plenty of continuing education credits myself.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2016 at 7:47 AM

  2. Strangely mystical and tranquilizing–nature’s abstractions.


    December 6, 2016 at 7:46 AM

    • I can imagine how the ancient dwellers there would have found the whole place mystical. I know I found it magical.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2016 at 7:49 AM

  3. Very interesting information of Desert Varnish. Thanks for writing about it. Always something new to learn. When I took geology at the University of Texas back in the 1950s, we were taught about it.

    Frank Wiseman

    December 6, 2016 at 12:35 PM

    • Interesting indeed. I wish that when I was in college a decade after you I’d taken a basic geology course.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 6, 2016 at 3:02 PM

  4. Desert Varnish is a very clever phrase to describe the way rocks become coated with a film over many years. Last summer in the European Alps I found and photographed something a little similar that I am sure was related to Iron deposition. But that could merely be staining and there is a world of difference in the two.


    December 7, 2016 at 2:20 AM

    • You’ve opened up the possibility that some of the markings in a given place could be desert varnish, while other markings there could be the result of staining.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2016 at 7:54 AM

  5. Perhaps these natural patterns inspired humans to have a go at making their own marks.


    December 7, 2016 at 6:09 AM

  6. I wondered if the lighter, vertical streaking was a result of rain. Apparently the park receives only four inches of rain a year, although some comes in thunderstorms, so perhaps water does play a role. In any event, I like the combination of the vertical streaking and the horizontal layers of purer red sandstone. It’s very attractive.


    December 7, 2016 at 8:14 AM

    • Of the many rock formations that called out to me at Valley of Fire, I’d say this one has the greatest contrast between horizontal and vertical patterns. I’ll bet geologists know whether your speculation about the vertical markings is correct. Or maybe they don’t. After writing that last sentence, I found the site at


      which says, with regard to a different geological feature there: “The multiple small hollows called tafoni are thought to form as salts crystallize and flake off bits of the sandstone surface.” Note the wording: “are thought to form.” It seems geologists haven’t yet figured it all out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 7, 2016 at 8:29 AM

  7. Beautiful. I love the range of tones you captured here.

    Pablo Buitrago Ángel

    December 9, 2016 at 2:22 PM

    • For those of us who love patterns in nature, Valley of Fire is a fantastic place to visit. I hope you make it there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2016 at 2:29 PM

  8. I’m loving this series of geological images – a subject I’m becoming increasingly interested in too as these basic infrastructures largely determine the local flora and fauna.


    December 11, 2016 at 7:16 AM

    • And I loved taking all these geological pictures. What a change from my normal fare in Austin.

      I’ve been aware from books and native plant people that geology plays a big role in determining botany, but I know so little about both fields. On a hunch, I searched for the word geobotany and confirmed that it exists:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2016 at 8:04 AM

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