Colorado Plateau

Earth Notes: The Southwest’s Armored Anteater

Aug 26, 2015

With spikes rimming its head and spines flanking its body, the horned lizard of the West could be a fearsome sight, a sort of modern-day dinosaur. That is, if it were any larger than a human hand. 

We tend to think that rivers flow in a consistent direction: downstream. But over geologic time “downstream” can change. That’s why a place like Unaweep Canyon in western Colorado is such a good place to think about long-term time travel.

Melissa Sevigny

The City of Williams west of Flagstaff is in the process of drilling a new well. Like many places in the Southwest, it’s facing drought and rising demand. But there’s another reason water supply is a challenge in Williams.  A fluke of geology has forced the city to take the lead in the hunt for groundwater on the Colorado Plateau.    

Earth Notes: Returning Grass to the Grasslands

Jun 17, 2015

The back of its wings glinting rust-red in the sun, a ferruginous hawk scans the grasslands below for ground squirrels and jackrabbits, two choice meals. These hawks rely on broad vistas to catch prey. But shrubs and juniper trees have steadily invaded many of their hunting grounds in the Southwest.

Earth Notes: Utah’s Bison

May 13, 2015

Above Moab’s Mill Canyon, a sandstone cliff holds an art gallery. Its images range from petroglyphs left by the ancient Fremont people to cowboy inscriptions. One stands out—a bull bison, complete with hump and horns. Nearby, painted Ute warriors carry shields, a form of body armor crafted from the animal’s skin.

On Sept. 3, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Wilderness Preservation System Act. With the stroke of a pen, 9 million acres of federal land in the United States was designated as wilderness — with a capital “W.”

Clay Martin/USGS

Herbert Ernest Gregory isn’t exactly a household name among Colorado Plateau residents. But, for more than 40 years, Gregory spent several months each summer exploring and explaining the plateau’s geologic wonderland.  About all that commemorates him here now is his weathered canteen hanging in the visitor center at Zion National Park.

Earth Notes: Early Cotton

Jan 22, 2014
National Park Service

A thousand years ago, farmers on the Colorado Plateau were known for their classic crop trio of corn, beans and squash. But, in some places, they were also growing, using and trading cotton.  

Many parts of the Colorado Plateau are covered with distinctive soil crusts. Scientists are learning more about how they aid ecosystems—especially by providing good places for plants to grow.

Soil crusts rely on tiny organisms called cyanobacteria that are good at colonizing bare soil. In cold regions, frost heaving can give a dark, pinnacled appearance to soil covered with cyanobacteria. And that complicated micro-topography is key to what comes next.

Michael Collier

Every month this fall, KNAU has been taking you to places on the Colorado Plateau. They may be places you know, they may be places you've only heard of. It's a series we call Land Lines and today we're visiting Monument Valley. People come from all over the world to see this valley, one of the most evocative landscapes in the southwest. But at least one rock feature doesn't quite fit the mold of the mesas and buttes. In today's Land Lines, Rose Houk and Michael Collier explore the origins of El Capitan.