Sitting high and mainly dry, residents of the Colorado Plateau don’t have to worry about rising sea levels as the Earth’s climate warms. But in recent years parts of the plateau have experienced record warming and low moisture, damaging winter storms, and severe wildfires and flooding.
Whether these are short-term weather events, or signs of a longer-term change in climate, remains to be seen. But some in the region are already adapting to what they fear could be even greater impacts caused by an altered climate.
For many residents of the mountain west, warmer temperatures may not sound too bad.
But small differences in temperature can make a big difference.
Consider bark beetles. They’re native to the region’s conifer forests. Normally, the insects emerge in summer. Females bore into the cambium layer of trees and sever vessels that contain resin, releasing a sticky flow that “pitches out” the beetles. But in weaker trees that lack sufficient resin swarms of beetles can quickly chew enough wood tunnels to kill their hosts.
As the weather gets warm, it’s an inviting time to get out and observe wildlife. In other seasons too there are creatures to see and hear—ducks nesting on summer lakes, elk bugling in the fall, and bald eagles overwintering.
The cool pine-scented air of the Kaibab Plateau at 8,000 feet is a respite on a hot day. You might want to stop at Jacob Lake Lodge for one of the best chocolate milkshakes this side of Grand Canyon. Stretch your legs, take a last slurp of that ‘shake, then pedal on down the hill on Highway 89A.
The road’s fairly level at first, but heading east it plunges downhill past yellow-belly ponderosas, through pinyon and juniper, toward sagebrush below, dropping three thousand feet in a hurry. The reason for this impressive hill--the East Kaibab Monocline.
They’re sometimes called fish eagles, for good reason: their diet is almost all live fish. They’re big raptors, hard to miss soaring above the scattered rivers and lakes of the Southwest’s high country. They’re ospreys, birds that belong to the summer skies of the Colorado Plateau.
At Navajo National Monument up in northeast Arizona, soaring rock alcoves provided shelter for Pueblo people in the thirteenth century. Many alcoves also hold springs, lush with plants. Today on Land Lines, we visit a well-known site, Betatakin--set like a jewel in one of those alcoves.
"The name for this place is Talastima, place of flowers, or corn tasseling. This is where we came from," says Lloyd Masayumptewa, a Hopi and a park archeologist.
Trees grace our sidewalks, house birds, feed squirrels, and furnish wood for everything from campfires to fences. And the oxygen plants emit allows us to live on Earth in the first place. But now tree huggers have a new way to assess the benefits our leafy companions provide.
Montezuma Well is easy to find down in the Verde Valley–it’s located right at the intersection of geology and biology. The blue-green pool–120 yards wide, cupped in a perfectly round sinkhole–is startling in the middle of a mesquite desert.
What can a small, inconspicuous shrub tell us about climate change in the Southwest? That’s the question researchers are asking about blackbrush.
Most people don’t take a second glance at this compact, slow-growing shrub bristling with spiny, gray-black branches. Yet it grows across several million acres in the Mojave Desert and up onto the Colorado Plateau, sometimes in nearly pure stands. You can see extensive swaths in Arches and Canyonlands, and over the Tonto Plateau in Grand Canyon.