Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Flora and Fauna of Southern Utah

For all of the wilderness which we have seen in the past couple of days, one would think that we would a lot of wildlife.  Unfortunately all we saw were a few deer and lots of lizards.
We saw this lizard at Arches park.   It seemed that he was posing for me, but from information which I found in the visitor's center, that is "freeze behavior" which they do when threatened.  Most common lizard in the park is the leopard lizard, not sure if that is one of them.  They are endangered because of  farming, mining and off road riding vehicles.  The latter are quite popular in the national parks of Utah.
I know, what is there exciting about a raven?  We had one as a dinner guest during our lunch stop in Canyonlands.  During the meal he sat in a tree with his back to us, pretending to ignore us.  While we ate we accidentally dropped a few minuscule crumbs of chips and cheese.  We were tempted to leave bread crumbs but know that it is best not to feed wildlife.  After our meal, and once we left the picnic table, the bird came down, checked the bench and table.  He found the small crumbs and ate them.  He seemed to know exactly where they were.  Another car drove up to have lunch at the same table, and the bird returned to his vigil in the tree.  Ravens seem to be as smart as crows, which is how they are good survivors in any environment.
A not so common bird we saw were chukars.  I could not get a picture of them because they were busy scurrying across the road.  They are a type of quail brought in from the old world to America as game birds in the 1930s.  Another unusual sighting we had was that of a great blue heron sitting in a shallow area of the Colorado River.  He is the only one we have seen in Colorado so far.
As I wrote in another posting, this part of Utah is desert.  To see the delicate dwarf primose in this harsh setting of scrub land is a joy to behold.  They open in the earlier hours of the day, and we had arrived in the Canyonlands in time to see them in their full beauty.
Actually the desert is quite pretty at this time of the year, as there are many plants blooming now.  The Utah juniper is covered with modified cones (they look like wax-coated bluish berries), and reminded me of a Christmas tree with blue lights.  The waxy-greenish yellow foliage and cones help this shrubby tree conserve moisture.  As to flowering plants, yellow seems to be the dominant color in the desert at present.  Pictured below is the rabbit bush.
In Arches and Canyonland parks there are many signs warning people to stay on the paths.  The reason is to protect the black biological soil crust pictured above.  It is a complex living mixture of organisms made up of cyanobacteria, lichen, algae, fungi and moss.  Plant seeds that land on this mixture have a greater chance of germinating than those that land in loose, dry soil.  The signs posted in the parks warn that those black spots are very fragile, one careless step can destroy decades of growth!
Today we left Moab, crossing the Green River as we left town.  We are now in northern Colorado, and as we came into Grand Junction we started seeing the Colorado River, it feels like we have come full circle.  Fortunately here it is a bit cooler, and we are seeing a lot more green foliage in the way of grass and trees.

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