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  • Writer's pictureMatt McGee

Bentonite Hills Utah... Oh The Places You'll Go

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

An aerial photograph of the bentonite hills in southern Utah by landscape photographer Matt McGee
This is an aerial photo of the bentonit hills in souther Utah

I'm sure you've read or had read to you books by Dr Seuss, right? Well, I went to a place that felt like it was right out of once of his books, specifically Oh The Places You'll Go.

Let me begin by saying that I've never seen a place like this. No place I've been looks anything like it, and it's located right here in America.

The Bentonite Hills in southern Utah look like someone took a giant paintbrush and painted big circular patterns on the hills in different colors. Then, in other areas, it looks as if paint just spilled out across the landscape. It is truly amazing and beautiful.

The bentonite hills look like you're in a Dr Seuss book

So what are the Bentonite Hills? Yeah I was wondering the same thing. These hills are softly rounded, and have bands of colors that are various shade of gray, green, purple, red, blue, and brown. According to the National Park Service website, these hills were "formed during Jurassic times when mud, silt, fine sand, and volcanic ash were deposited in swamps and lakes".

You can find these colorful hills in southern Utah, east of Capital Reef National Park and west of Hanksville on UT-24. You can see the Bentonite Hills on the 70-mile scenic Cathedral Valley Loop. You'll need a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle to go this route. The loop starts about 12 miles east of the Capital Reef National Park visitor center on UT-24, and crosses the Fremont River ford, following Hartnet Road to Cathedral Road/Caineveille Wash Road, and then looping back to Highway 24 about 18.6 miles east of the visitor center. This 58-mile dirt road portion of the Cathedral Valley Loop leads to massive monoliths such as the Walls of Jericho and panoramic overlooks of the Upper and Lower Cathedral Valley. While this is a popular way to see the Bentonite Hills, I honestly just pulled off the road on some small dirt trails of UT-24. You can see the hills from the road, so it's a lot easier than driving Cathedral Valley Loop.

The bentonite Hills in Utah look like an abstract painting when shot with a drone
These hills when viewed from above look like an bastract painting

The Mars Research Station located near Hanksville
The Mars Research Station near Hanksville, UT. Note the bands of color in the Bentonite Hills in the background

If you do decide to get off road in a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle, be sure to check out the Mars Research Station. It's located about 7 miles northwest of Hanksville, UT. Built in the early 2000's the Mars Research Station is used to gain knowledge about the surface of Mars for use in human exploration of the planet. Uh, yeah, this place totally looks like Mars. I've often said that landscape photography has taken me to places that look like another planet, and this is no exception.

Speaking of photography, I'd recommend photographing the Bentonite Hills with a drone. As is always the case when flying a drone, you need to be aware of where your drone is, and the rules and regulations in that area. Even though the Bentonite Hills are located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, some of them are adjacent to Capital Reef National Park, and drones are not allowed to be flown in National Parks, so exercise caution.

The Bentonite Hills are best photgraphed from the air with a drone

Once you've established that flying a drone is legal in your location, I'd recommend putting that drone in the sky, and pointing the camera straight down. These top down images are beautiful, and look like a painting to me. You'' also want to shoot some video, if for no other reason to show your friends that this place is real, and you didn't just whip up a cool image on Photoshop. As far as the best time of day for photogaphy, I don't think it matters that much for aerial top down photos (at least it didn't to me), but maybe blue hour is a little better than golden hour. Either way, these hills are so incredibly unique, that you should be able to get some great abstract photos of this geological wonder.

Check out some more images from the Bentonite Hills in the gallery below. Click an image to enlarge.


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