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.
In a cold, high-elevation Colorado valley, a food renaissance is taking place. The Mountain Roots Food Project aims to create a resilient local food system through which a diverse community can learn, participate—and be fed.
The Grand Canyon has always attracted people who fall deeply in love with the landscape and its lessons. One of those who made the place his life’s work was Edwin Dinwiddie McKee.
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1906, McKee was influenced by his scoutmaster Francois Matthes, an early Grand Canyon mapmaker. A summer paleontology internship at the canyon was all it took to ignite young Eddie’s life-long love affair with geology.
From rodents to bats, many mammals that live in cold climates make it through the lean days of winter by hibernating without food. They find a safe place to rest, lower their body temperature and breathing rate, and wait for milder conditions. Most birds that rely on an insect diet, on the other hand, head south.
But the open mesas and canyons of the American Southwest are home to an odd exception. It’s the common poorwill, a highly camouflaged insect-eater no more than seven inches long.
Over the past hundred years, people have introduced dozens of non-native fish species into the Colorado River and its tributaries. During that time, populations of native fish species have dropped, in some cases dramatically. It’s easy to guess at the causes of native species decline, like predation and competition for food. But it’s far more difficult to prove.
In the depths of the Great Depression, the nation’s unemployment stood at 25 percent. With people hungry and desperate for jobs, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a law in March 1933 creating the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC gave jobs to single men 18 to 25 years old, with most of their thirty-dollar-a-month paychecks returned to their families.
Fewer than five percent of the more than 550 U.S. wildlife refuges are located in urban areas. In New Mexico, another is joining the list as the former Price’s Dairy near downtown Albuquerque is slated to become the Middle Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge. At almost 600 acres and only five miles from downtown, it is the largest farm left in a metropolitan area now home to nearly one million people.
When summer’s flashy circus of wildflowers has passed and the last browned autumn leaf has fallen, an eye looking for signs of plant life is left with the conifers, those stalwart trees that stay green all year long.
Conifers do drop their needles and replace them with new ones—just not all at once. Their ability to photosynthesize all year long gives them a built-in advantage in living in places with a relatively short warm season. So does their natural chemical antifreeze, which prevents needles from freezing even in frigid conditions.
This week Earth Notes concludes its series on the sun with a look at how to use a backyard solar oven. You can use one anywhere there’s a few square feet of sunny exposure on a backyard or balcony.
And yes, you can use a solar oven on some winter days. Even when it’s cold and the ground is covering with snow, a cooker will work if you have enough sunshine and your solar oven is well insulated. But you’ll need to use the midday hours when the sun is at least 45 degrees above the horizon—that means your shadow is shorter than your height.
This week Earth Notes continues its series on the sun, with a look at turning your backyard into a kitchen
Just as the inside of a parked car heats up on a sunny day, a solar cooker traps the sun’s rays in its enclosed interior, causing water, fat and protein molecules in the food to heat up. The molecules vibrate vigorously, and the food cooks.