Sunset at Little Painted Desert Park near Winslow, Arizona.

Beauty hides itself in many ways. The most famous examples of natural beauty are usually hidden behind a mass of visitors who traveled from halfway around the world to – apparently – visit the gift shop after standing around obscuring vistas for a few minutes. I don’t begrudge them their tourbus lifestyles, though they do sometimes complicate my objective of taking pictures while just soaking it all in – often for hours at a time.

Thus, I was happy to run across the Little Painted Desert only about 13 miles North of I-40 outside of Winslow. It’s a county park — an almost forgotten county park. This brings many advantages. Not only are there no crowds to speak of, but admission is free. Even at that low cost, tourbus companies know better than to take their customers to anything called “Little” when the real one is just over yonder.

But Little Painted Desert park is as real as it gets. It’s part of the same Painted Desert that Spanish explorer Coronado discovered and named in 1540 on his fruitless search for the Seven Cities of Cibola. It was gold he was after, but he didn’t find it here. What he did find was a geological formation tinted over the eons by iron, manganese and other minerals that give off fascinating hues. These deposits are embedded in a rippled foundation of siltstone, mudstone, and shale that tend to catch the rays of the setting sun just so.

It’s a beautiful place made all the more beautiful by its accessibility. Finding hidden beauties like Little Painted Desert excites me more than I can explain to most people – especially those waiting in line at gift shops.

Little Painted Desert and Humphreys Peak