Earth Notes

  This year, Walnut Canyon is celebrating a hundred years of protection as a national monument—protection that came none too soon because its prehistoric sites were being seriously damaged.

It was people known to archaeologists as the northern Sinagua who built some three hundred rooms in the limestone alcoves of this hidden canyon near the San Francisco Peaks. They lived, farmed, and hunted in the canyon and on the rim from the 1100s into the mid-1200s.

National Park Service

  It was a long way from the civilized college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Mexican Hat, Utah, back in the summer of 1937. But Dr. Elzada Clover made the trip.

A botanist at the University of Michigan, she had an ambitious dream to explore the little-known plant life of the Colorado River region. Cacti were her specialty. Where better to find them than the Southwest deserts?

National Center for Atmospheric Research

  For generations western farmers have worried about getting enough water from the sky to nourish their crops. Some have tried to do something about it.

A century ago farmers in places like the Great Plains and California hired specialists who claimed they could water the land by shooting explosives into the sky or by releasing secret mixtures of chemicals. Sometimes it did rain then. Sometimes it didn’t—in which case the would-be rainmakers typically left town fast.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

People in New Mexico pay close attention to the sky this time of year, watching and listening for flocks of sandhill cranes flying in graceful V-formation.

Each winter, ten to twenty thousand sandhills arrive, spending the days resting and feeding along the Rio Grande around Albuquerque and south. Others winter in southeastern Arizona.

Earth Notes: All the Poop on Rarely Seen Animals

Feb 4, 2015
Northern Arizona University

For wildlife biologists, animal droppings are like nuggets of gold, packed with what they value most: information. Rather than spending weeks lurking in bushes hoping to dart an elusive animal with a tranquilizer gun, setting traps, or trying to catch it in a net, researchers have become poop detectives.

Arizona wolf biologists have even used specially trained tracking dogs to sniff out the information left behind by these secretive animals.

Utah State Parks

  Many visitors discover Goblin Valley by chance on their way between marquee national parks like Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. But this Utah state park received unwanted publicity in 2013 when two men were caught on video toppling rocks off the weirdly rounded hoodoos that give the park its name.

That act of vandalism spurred a big idea: why not expand the park? Goblin Valley currently consists of about 3,500 acres of outlandish geology. But that may soon grow to about 10,000 acres under a State Parks plan.

  No one is neutral about snow. Depending on whether we’re planning to play in it or drive in it, go shopping or skip school, we hope either that it’ll fall or that it won’t.

The higher elevations of the Colorado Plateau can get lots of snow, with more than 200 inches recorded in a single winter at many mountain locations.

Major winter storms can pose big problems for animals such as deer, elk, and pronghorn, which can be trapped by heavy snowfalls and driven to starvation. But for smaller animals snow can be a blessing.

Earth Notes: Climb On!

Jan 14, 2015
National Park Service

  “The most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth” is how author Edward Abbey described the colorful wilderness of gorges, mesas, and buttes that is Canyonlands National Park, one of the last relatively undisturbed parts of the Colorado Plateau. That landscape also represents a special place of emotional healing and rejuvenation for returned combat veteran Michael Cummings. Haunted by traumatic memories after two tours of duty in Iraq, Cummings was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt, alcohol abuse and thoughts of suicide.

National Park Service

  When chill winter winds buffet the juniper trees and sigh among the boughs of the piñon pines, the merry song of the Townsend’s solitaire rings out as cheerfully as any spring lark’s. Is the Townsend’s solitaire simply a jolly fool, drunk with Yuletide cheer, or perhaps befuddled by the way climate change is threatening western forests?

California Academy of Sciences

  In the late nineteenth century, it would have been a brave undertaking for a woman to tromp around the wilds of the Colorado Plateau. But that is what Alice Eastwood did, in long skirt and fine flowered hat, following her passion for plants.

Born in Canada in 1859, Eastwood grew up in Denver and was a high school teacher there for a time. Armed with field guides and a plant press, she spent vacations exploring all over the West. An energetic woman, she traveled by foot, horse, and rail, and eventually won welcome to an all-male hiking club.