Earth Notes

Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed April 11, 2012

Earth Notes: What’s a Tree Worth?

Trees grace our sidewalks, house birds, feed squirrels, and furnish wood for everything from campfires to fences. And the oxygen plants emit allows us to live on Earth in the first place. But now tree huggers have a new way to assess the benefits our leafy companions provide.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed March 28, 2012

Earth Notes: Working, Worldwide, on Organic Farms

In spring farmers and gardeners feel that irresistible pull to get their hands in the dirt.

If you share that urge, a program exists to satisfy it almost anywhere you go. It’s called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or “WWOOF” for short, and it links willing hands with farms that host volunteer workers.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed March 21, 2012

Earth Notes: The Desert’s Crusty Nursery

Crusty Soil

Many parts of the Colorado Plateau are covered with distinctive soil crusts. Scientists are learning more about how they aid ecosystems—especially by providing good places for plants to grow.

Soil crusts rely on tiny organisms called cyanobacteria that are good at colonizing bare soil. In cold regions, frost heaving can give a dark, pinnacled appearance to soil covered with cyanobacteria. And that complicated micro-topography is key to what comes next.

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Earth Notes
4:00 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Earth Notes: Bumblebees on the Colorado Plateau and Beyond

Cockerell's Bumblebee, southern New Mexico
G. Ballmer, University of California, Riverside

With bee populations declining worldwide, news is often grim in the world of bee research. But last August, entomologists from the University of California at Riverside found something to cheer about: they spotted three members of a bumblebee species long feared extinct.

Last documented in 1956, the Cockerell’s bumblebee of south-central New Mexico is the country’s rarest bumblebee.

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Earth Notes
5:00 am
Wed March 7, 2012

Earth Notes: Blackbrush

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.

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Earth Notes
5:00 am
Wed February 29, 2012

Earth Notes: The Mountain Roots Food Project

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.

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Earth Notes
5:00 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Earth Notes: Eddie McKee

Ranger Naturalist Edwin McKee with pygmy nuthatch, circa 1929.
NPS photo by Ensor. Grand Canyon National Park #5988.

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.

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Earth Notes
5:00 am
Wed February 8, 2012

Earth Notes: The Bird that Sleeps Through Winter

Common Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttallii, offset reproduction of watercolor. Nominate race in foreground, Dusky Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttalli californicus, in background.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes (artist, 1874-1927) Bird Lore, 1926

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.

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Earth Notes
12:00 am
Wed February 1, 2012

Earth Notes: Exploring Fish Ecology in the Colorado River Drainage

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.

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Earth Notes
12:01 am
Wed January 25, 2012

Earth Notes: The CCC and the Colorado Plateau

Camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps at Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona. 1935
NPS Photo

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.

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