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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Jan 2015

Welcome to the Badlands,

...pardner.” Or maybe, “There's some mighty mean hombres hid out in the Badlands." But not “The Morphology of southern Italian Badlands," the title of an article I ran across recently. 'Badlands' has always had a romantic sound to it—savage, stark, beautiful, all that. I didn't know that 'badlands' is the legitimate geological term used (in English) in many languages to describe some of the loveliest geology that our planet has to offer. Badlands are dry terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water. They are characterized by steep slopes, minimal vegetation, and lack of substantial top soil (called regolith) above the bare rock. From South Dakota to New Zealand, Argentina, Spain and the Cappadocia region of Turkey there are badlands. All badlands, big and small, around the world have certain things in common; they have canyons, ravines, gullies, knife-edge divides and, if you're lucky, things called hoodoos (also called tent rocks or fairy chimneys. They look like anorexic aliens wearing hats.). Physically, badlands are widely described as striking, even supernaturally so, potentially eerie and foreboding, but especially colorful. Poet Evan Harris says of them in Badlands Colors:

“...there are colors
that have traveled through time
And have carried the essentials only,
carried only what they need to identify themselves.
Sand tan; Xanthic beige; Washed bare bone rose;
Dreein silver, gold; Llipseirrod mauve;
Putty long asleep; Prehistoric sage green:
Colors so ancient they have forgotten what it was
to weep for their own gorgeousness."




Badlands exist in Italy at various points (all of the images on this page are in Italy). The folks over near the town of Atri on the Adriatic about 200 km north of Naples take their badlands seriously. They call theirs the Circles of Hell (from Dante's term—le bolge dell'Inferno in The Divine Comedy). They even have a 380-hectare (940-acre) Regional National Reserve dedicated to them). Elsewhere in Italy, they exist at Val d'Orcia in Tuscany and down near the town of Aliano in the Basilicata region, 160 km (100 miles) southeast of Naples.

The English word “badlands” comes from Spanish, malpaís. The Italian word is calanco, obviously kin to calanque in the langue d'oc (or Occitan) of southern France  and in Corsican , which describes similar geological formations along the sea-coast. Sources tell me that a calanco is similar to a biancane, but “...the origin of biancane is associated with highly dissected surfaces along a reticular system of small joints. In contrast, calanchi [plural] are formed on steep wall-like slopes along larger lineaments where the rate of incision into the slopes surpasses the denudation of the densely vegetated back-slope.” (from "The badlands of Italy: a vanishing landscape?" C.P Phillips, Applied Geography,Volume 18, Issue 3, July 1998, Pages 243–257.) I feel more educated after that, but maybe less romantic. In truth, the only thing I really knew about "badlands" until the other day was that you can't have just one of them.


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