Monday, June 29, 2009

Orange Crush Part 3 of 4, Plants that freakin’ rock, desert southwest

Before we begin with the plants, a gratuitous collared lizard shot (Chaco Canyon, AZ)
Now then, on to the desert plants!
(file under: Plants of the Week #9: Trees and Shrubs of the Desert Southwest)

I won’t list everything that we saw, just the cool stuff or plants for which we got great photos. And, sorry this took so long to roll out. Seeing all of these plants again takes us right back though!

The Cactus:

Cane Cholla, Cylindrapuntia spinosior (Chaco)

Brown spined prickly pear, Opuntia phaeacantha (Everywhere)

Claret cup, Echinocerus triglochidiatus (Everywhere, this specimen Chaco)

And cactus-like Narrowleaf Yucca, Yucca angstissima (mostly AZ)

The Trees: Everyone has seen the first two, but they have special significance since I spent a good chunk of my childhood exploring beneath their scarce shade. Just the smell of a pygmy forest brings back a flood of memories. Oh, and you make Gin from Juniper berries, yo.

Utah Juniper, Juniperus osteosperma (Everywhere, this specimen Canyon de Chelly)

Pinon Pine, Pinus edulis (Everywhere)

And very occasionally, usually on north facing canyon slopes, good ol’ Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii (with a juvenile pinon pine in the background) (Canyonlands)

Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii (We forded this stream in the 2WD Element. Ginger was like "WHA?" and I was like "Chillax". Canyonlands)

Other trees we enjoyed: Single leaved ash, Fraxinus anomala; Box elder, Acer negundo

The shrubs: There are about ten shrubs that all look like sagebrush from the road, but get to know them and you’ll see they are each specially adapted to certain ecological conditions and have their own merit. And only sagebrush smells like sagebrush, so this is an easy way to tell what something isn’t. Just to keep us all confused, there are many varieties of sagebrush out there, but only Three Tip gets over 4’ tall.

Three tip sagebrush, Artemesia tridentata (either side of Ginger; everywhere, but this is in Canyon de Chelly)

Fendler bush
Fendlerbush, Fenderla rupicola (pretty amazing in bloom actually, Chimney Rock, CO)

Utah serviceberry, Amelanchier utahensis (San Juan National Forest, CO)

Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana (San Juan National Forest, CO)

Cliff rose, Purshia tridentata (Canyon de Chelly)

Fremont’s Mahonia, Berberis fremontii (Canyon de Chelly)

Mormon tea (caffeine free!), Ephedra viridis (Grows everywhere)

There were more but I'll spare you. I took note of these, but didn't get good pictures:
  • Greasewood, Sarcobatus vermiculatus
  • Shadescale, Atriplex confertifolia
  • Four winged saltbrush, Atriplex canescens
  • Mountain mahogany, Cerocarpus intricatus
  • Desert sumac, Rhus aromatica
  • Golden Currant, Ribes aureum (also grows in eastern WA, but looks completely different)
  • Longflowered snowberry, Symphorocarpus longiflorus (coolest of the snowberry clan)
Next week:
Perennials. Try to stay in your seats.

I love summer.

Point Forecast:
47.62°N 122.36°W (Elev. 105 ft) Seattle WA

72° | 50°

72° | 49°

77° | 54°

79° | 54°

78° | 55°

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Orange Crush: 2 of 4


Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a long way from Chaco on narrow, barely paved back roads through the Navajo reservation near Chinle, Arizona. We headed out w/ perfect weather and arrived once again at the ONLY place to camp for 100 miles in a blisteringly cold thunderstorm. The Canyon, a National Monument, is Navajo land surrounded by Navajo reservation. It’s their canyon and that much is clear from the start. The amazingly scenic canyon is surrounded by junk and trash and broken glass and 5 generations of cars and washing machines. When you’re in a National Park, you expect a certain cleanliness. Not so de Chelly. It’s a natural wonder surrounded by a dump with everything from the occasional McMansion to the rusty single-wide, sometimes right on the canyon rim and in the canyon itself. There is one trail into the canyon that visitors are allowed to take, otherwise if you want to get down there you have to hire a Navajo guide or go on a Shake and Bake Jeep tour for lots of $. We stayed on top and took pictures from the rim. I’ve photoshopped out the broken glass.


Yup, it was quite cold this day.



Juniperis osteosperma, Utah Juniper. Tasty.

The rain passed and then we passed out in the free campground and left early the next day for Pagosa to pick up the dog and take a shower - and watch the Nuggets lose again.

After cleaning up, repacking and restocking we headed out again, this time for more familiar territory, Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point. We camped in the BLM land on the east side of Canyonlands and encountered bugs for the first time all vacation. Hardly a stitch of vegetation and gnats, mosquitos, biting flies, no-see-ums, the whole deal. We figured it was the presence of grazing cattle, because there was very little water. Bugs aside, we found our own, personal box canyon complete with spring fed stream and lush (for the desert) vegetation, so thick we had to turn back on our trek to the pour-off. After the thunderstorm that mostly missed us, we relaxed, and then relaxed. I geeked out with my Canyon Country plant book and ID’d some cool (to me) plants, Lola ate various scat, and Ginger read a half-dozen books.



Hiking into our box canyon.

It was a pretty sweet camp spot.

The next day was going to be a long drive so we got up relatively early for camping, ate pancakes and hit the road again. We made a record short stop at Dead Horse Point (after the fee was paid to the state of Utah it was about a dollar a minute). Tangent: I reminisced about childhood visits here and have decided it’s about time to rent a Jeep and do the White Rim Trail again. That trip, 4x4 only down the Colorado and up the Green River, was one of the last camping trips I took with my dad. We packed too much gear, my sister Lisa, and barely enough gas, and took the 3 day drive across the vast valleys of the two great Utah rivers.

Minute 8 of 10 at Dead Horse Point.

So back at Dead Horse Point we took in Amazing View #20 of our trip, and headed north: destination Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho. It proved to be too ambitious as we hit a massive construction slowdown during rush hour south of Provo. We surprised the Christopherson’s with a call and they took us in, fed us and provided a TV to watch the final Nuggets loss of this season. Glad that’s over, maybe next year Carmelo. Thanks Mike and Kristina, we’ll make it up to you. Good luck with the Quercus gambelii.

Our next destination was supposed to be one last night of camping in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, but the pull to Seattle was too great. We’ll take the extra day to wash a million dead bugs off the grill and plan the next trip. Sandy, UT to Seattle is 875 miles. We did it in 13 blurry hours.

Stay tuned for all of the plant photos in the final vacation post! Plant geeks unite!

See more trip photos here on Flickr.