The sight of a bighorn sheep poised on a narrow canyon ledge is always breathtaking. Muscular and lithe, these hooved mammals are majestic symbols of wilderness. But not so long ago, these native sheep were a rare sighting indeed in much of the Southwest.
In the 1840s, a young ornithologist named William Gambel traveled to the Southwest with noted naturalist Thomas Nuttall. Sadly, Gambel's promising career ended early; he died of typhoid fever in 1849. But his memory lives on in a tree that bears his name.
A common species, Gambel oak covers nine million acres across the West. On the Colorado Plateau, this deciduous oak forms the green understory in the ponderosa pine forest. It's also found in canyons like namesake Oak Creek.
Energy efficiency is in the news today, but it's not really new. For decades, buildings in one southwestern city were heated by plentiful, locally produced energy. The source was steam from a local utility, the Flagstaff Electric Light Company.
Sawdust, wood chips, and other waste wood from a local lumber mill fed the company's electrical boilers. For many years the steam had just gone up the stack, until someone thought to put it to good use.
In the woods and around town, crusty growths cling to bare rocks, hang from tree branches, and hug the ground. Painted in shades of dusty green, sulfur yellow, and pumpkin orange, these subtle organisms are lichens, hardy colonizers of some of the harshest environments on Earth.
Flagstaff, AZ – We all learned in elementary school that evergreen trees don't lose their leaves. Most conifers, including majestic ponderosa pines, are evergreens. By staying green all year long, these trees can photosynthesize anytime conditions are good. They don't have to spend valuable energy adding leaves once the weather warms.
Look closely at a detailed map of a southwestern forest, and you'll see numerous places labeled as "parks" or "prairies." They're openings in the woods, from the size of a baseball field to miles in extent, where the soil is generally too wet or too dry to support trees.
Flagstaff, AZ – The 1960s were a time of conflict. Among the decade's lesser-known controversies was one that took place in Arizona, where Daylight Saving Time was designated for the first and only time in 1967.
The idea wasn't new. Ben Franklin was an early proponent of adjusting clocks for long summer days so that evenings have more daylight and mornings less. Various U.S. states and cities tried out Daylight Saving Time beginning in World War One.
Flagstaff, AZ – It's tough, spare, and spiny, but the common mesquite tree is a nutritional wonder.
Ripening in summer, the dangling seedpods of mesquite trees are an important food source for humans and animals. They're rich in sugar and protein, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. During the Ice Age, camels and mastodon ate them. Today, deer, foxes, coyotes, and even packrats do.
Flagstaff, AZ – One hundred years ago, a 22-year-old tenderfoot and new graduate of the Yale Forestry School arrived in eastern Arizona. He came by wagon from the railhead in Holbrook. His job? To serve as assistant forester of the new Apache National Forest in the White Mountains. His name? Aldo Leopold.
On his trusty horse, Jiminy Hicks, Leopold rode for two summers through the verdant high-country forests. He learned quickly from the Southwest's places and people, and was soon promoted to supervisor of New Mexico's Carson National Forest.