There are at least two Blue Canyons in northern Arizona: A lovely lava field near Fort Defiance I haven’t yet photographed, and the otherworldly monument to the power of erosion and the colorful effects of minerals you see here.

This Blue Canyon is a part of Moenkopi Wash about 30 miles from Tuba City on the Hopi reservation. It’s one of the most challenging destinations I’ve photographed.

Blue Canyon Arizona
Blue Canyon Arizona
Blue Canyon Arizona

There’s nothing nearby, and you’ll need four-wheel-drive and a hired Hopi guide to get there. It’s not a casual photo-op, but more of an expedition. One look above should tell you if it’s worth it or not.

After seeing Michael Fatali’s astounding work immortalized all over the web, I just had to make my own trip.

Blue Canyon Arizona
Blue Canyon Arizona
Blue Canyon Arizona

As in the Painted Desert to the southeast, these hoodoos are the remnants of the floor of a vast river delta where minerals and organic material gathered on high spots over millions of years. Thanks to the magic of plate tectonics, and at a speed too slow to even be described as “glacial,” those once-submerged spots rose up. The wind did the rest.

Blue Canyon Arizona
Blue Canyon Arizona
Blue Canyon Arizona
Blue Canyon Arizona

Spanish explorers called this part of Arizona “Mesa de las Vacas,” at last partially because the hoodoos resemble cows from a distance. Right down to the colors, they might have been mistaken for happy, grazing cattle by tired explorers. Maybe they were hungry as well.