Colorado Plateau

Earth Notes: The Southwest’s Nutritional Wonder Tree

Nov 25, 2015

It's tough, spare, and spiny, but the common mesquite tree is a nutritional wonder of the Southwest. 

The name is practically as long as the animal itself: the “chisel-toothed kangaroo rat.” It lives in desert landscapes from Oregon and California through Utah and into northwest Arizona. 

Among well-known western writers, the name Wallace Stegner ranks right at the top. He grew up western, and consistently and eloquently captured the region’s sense of place.   

The high plateau of Cedar Mesa in southern Utah is a stunning bit of scenery and archaeology. Early Puebloan farmers grew crops there and built stunning dwellings inside snug, dry sandstone alcoves. When they departed, they left behind tantalizing traces of their lives.

A walk in the woods doesn’t usually happen in a landscape of starkly beautiful desert mesas dotted with narrow-leafed yucca and rabbitbrush.

Sometimes what looks like a white plastic bag snagged in the top of a pine tree is only a plastic bag. Sometimes it’s something else – a bag of bugs, you might say.

National Park Service, Flickr

Scientists have a new worry about a special group of organisms that protects soil on the Colorado Plateau. They’re called “biocrusts,” and they’re easily destroyed when trampled—but new research shows there’s another menace: climate change.

Biocrust is created by mosses and lichens glued together with photosynthetic bacteria. It forms a kind of bumpy shield on the soil surface.   

In the global carbon economy, forests act like leafy savings accounts. They take carbon dioxide from the air during photosynthesis, convert it into biomass, and deposit it for years or even centuries in wood and soil.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing two Western minnows in the West as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The agency says human activity has caused the numbers of two chub species to dwindle. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports. 

Earth Notes: The Four Corners’ Methane Problem

Sep 30, 2015

The San Juan River Basin has a rich human history, visible in places like the ancient pueblo ruins of Chaco Canyon. But it is different relict of a much older history, rooted late in the Age of Dinosaurs, that is drawing attention to the basin these days: methane gas.