Flagstaff, AZ – In the chilly autumn of 1851, the Sitgreaves expedition crossed the parched cinder field of northern Arizona. Dry-mouthed and desperate for water, the men and mules followed the base of the San Francisco Peaks. To their great joy, they discovered a flowing spring there.
They lingered for two days, enjoying the sweet, fresh water flowing amid basalt boulders and ponderosa pines. Naturalist Samuel Woodhouse collected a toad that would bear his name. The springs themselves would be named for their able guide, Antoine Leroux.
As resource managers work to stem the tide of dying aspen trees across the West, they may do well to look at a small grove tucked away at Navajo National Monument, a remote park on the Navajo Nation about 30 miles west of Kayenta.
The grove is only about four acres in size, nestled under red sandstone cliffs in the back of Betatakin (Beh-TOT-a-kin) Canyon. The aspens are rare for such low elevations, unique relicts of a cooler and perhaps wetter climate.
Flagstaff, AZ – Mother Nature has been beating up on the Southwest's aspen trees but people are helping soften the blow.
Coconino National Forest silviculturist Patty Ringle has started a program called Adopt-an-Aspen Fence. The concept is simple: build fences around aspen groves that are already hammered by drought and disease. That way elk, deer and livestock can't munch new sprouts before they're tall enough to survive.
Flagstaff, AZ – Aspens are among the West's signature trees. Their heart-shaped leaves rustle in the slightest breeze, filling the forest with a gentle shhhushing sound. In autumn, those leaves form a golden contrast with the dark green of high-elevation conifers.
Aspen groves are resilient. They send up new trees when they're singed by fire, withered by drought, or attacked by insects. But lately, something's changing. Biologists began to notice in 2004 that aspen groves all over the west were dying at unprecedented rates.
Flagstaff, AZ – A venerable timberline tree of the Colorado Plateau holds secrets to a long history of environmental change. Bristlecone pines cling to the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks and other high places. And the harsher the conditions, the longer these elegantly sculpted trees live.
Have you noticed the world getting noisier? Even in wild places the sound of silence is becoming scarce.
People who record natural environments for a living lament the intrusion of noise from airplanes, gunfire, all-terrain vehicles, and distant highway traffic. The result, says recordist Gordon Hempton, is that "quiet is going extinct."
They're the American West's most enduring symbols of open lonely spaces and of the pioneer urge to wander restlessly and, like many such symbols, they're fairly new here. In fall and winter the dried-up, skeletal remains of tumbleweeds can be spotted rolling across highways and piling up along fencelines throughout the West's arid regions, reminding residents and visitors alike of the iconic images that have appeared in countless movies.
Some of the Colorado Plateau's longest-established farmers, members of the Hopi and Pueblo tribes, have been cultivating food here for millennia. But they're worrying for their crops, especially their corn, in the face of a very recent threat: genetically modified organisms.
Dams like those on western rivers may be generating more than just hydropower. It turns out that large dams can do more than just store water and spin electric turbines. New research suggests they can, in some cases, increase local rain, perhaps even triggering extreme precipitation events.
What's done with used glass depends in part on where you live. Flagstaff's eight glass drop-off sites collect about 70 tons of mixed glass each month. But there's no glass manufacturing plant in the area. Instead, the glass is crushed into tiny pieces at a recycling center.