earth notes

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. 

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.

The Fort Valley Art Barn, located just north of the Pioneer Museum on Highway 180 in Flagstaff, has had a long and varied life. Originally constructed in the late 1880s to house cattle, hay and farm equipment, by the 1960s it had fallen into disrepair.

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.

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.

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. 

The Baca Ranch was long a landmark of northern New Mexico—a swath of high-elevation forests and open parks that sprawled across 89,000 acres. But for a long time, too, it was a landmark that was hard to get a look at because it was closed to most public access.

It’s an iconic southwestern scene: the glimmer of green or yellow cottonwood leaves fluttering against the backdrop of Zion Canyon’s tremendous red- and cream-colored cliffs. Along southwest Utah’s Virgin River, groves of cottonwood trees please the eye, offer very welcome shade, and provide habitat for numerous types of animals.

But Zion’s cottonwoods are in trouble. Big as they are, the cottonwood trees along the river aren’t particularly long lived. Worse yet, as they die they are not being replaced by younger trees.