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Last weekend's diary on Canyonlands National Park touched upon an important subject relating to its terrain and typical climate. Thus the subject title of today's diary. For those who are interested in the science behind this fascinating subject, which also entails human history (particularly the Ancestral Puebloans and their successors, the Puebloans), what follows in this diary should also be of interest to DKos community readers. If nothing else, consider this offering another diary I have intended as building a continuing data base of relative subject matter to all the diaries thus far posted and for those still to come.

Prologue: North America's Southwest sector is predominantly a desert and desiccated environment. Characteristically, its landforms are mesa and canyon terrains surrounded by huge gulfs of deserts, with volcanic mountains punctuating the scenery throughout the Colorado Plateau’s expansive territory (130,000 square miles). Yet these predominantly arid environments are not, what some people consider, dead zones. Deserts are alive with life forms of all kinds, alive with myriad ecosystems. This means the ecology thrives, even though harsh environmental rules apply and govern what lives here.

Of course, some desert pavements are as dry as a dinosaur's bone. . .

While other desert landscapes teem with life, but mostly drought resistant life forms that can handle a sparsity of annual precipitation. . .

Of all the desert landscapes in the United States, the famed Painted Desert is considered the most engaging. Just ask one of these guys and find out what s/he thinks about this desert's aesthetics. . .

(Continues after the proverbial fold.)

Locations of deserts have changed throughout time and throughout the world. The change is the result of continental drift (plate tectonics) and the uplifting of mountain ranges, including volcanoes. Modern desert regions are centered in latitudes typically straddling the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (between 15 and 30 degrees north and south of the equator). Some deserts, such as the Kalahari in central Africa, are geologically ancient. The Sahara Desert in northern Africa is also ancient, some 66-million years old, while America'€™s Sonoran Desert reached its northern limits only within the last 10,000 years.

Because deserts are poised in such harsh extremes of heat and aridity, deserts are among the most fragile ecosystems on the planet. What follows in this diary are key factors that focus on why deserts are so-named; also, the differences in the Southwest'€™s three primary deserts compared to one another. Again, this background information relates to the Canyonlands National Park, primarily due to the nature of its environmental backdrop, the Great Basin Desert.


What Is A Desert And What Constitutes Desert Ecology? "Desert," as a noun, usually conjures up ideas of a barren, desolate landscape void of life; places with high temperature and no water. However, in the desert Southwest that'€™s simply not the case. Take for example the Great Basin Desert that encompasses featured settings like Canyonlands and Arches national parks. It'€™s the largest desert in the United States and covers an arid expanse of about 190,000 square miles. Bordered by the Sierra Nevada Range on the west, the Rocky Mountains on the east, the Colorado Plateau Province to the north, and the Mojave and Sonoran deserts to the south, its ranging terrain is as diverse as it’s home to a plethora of life forms, both plants and animals. Sometimes its landscape looks like this. . .

And sometimes looks like this. . .

Desert Ecology, as a scientific term, is therefore the sum of the interactions between both biotic (relating to, produced by, or caused by living organisms) and abiotic life forms (the interactions of plants, animals, even bacterial agents that share a desert habitat, its various ecosystems, and form an overall community). Some abiotic factors include latitude and longitude of a specific environment, along with climate and soil. Biotic and abiotic factors thus create adaptations to the essential environment of a region.

Compared to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the Great Basin is considered a cold desert€ due to its more northern latitude and higher elevations. This means its desert ecology is noticeably different from, say, Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert. With an average 7 to 12 inches of accumulated moisture on average annual precipitation, the Great Basin Desert is certainly wetter and cooler compared to a much drier and hotter terrain like the Gobi or Saharan deserts. However, compare the Great Basin'€™s neighboring environment to the Sonoran Desert, which is classified as one of the wettest deserts in North America (averaging from 3 to 16 inches of rain a year, though rarely snowfall). The higher precipitation is because its territory benefits from two usually reliable rainy seasons, one in the summer and another in the winter. By contrast, most of the Great Basin's moisture occurs during the winter, as snow, which is why it's classified as a cold desert environment. Even with this amount of precipitation the potential evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation. When considering crucial factors that constitute a desert, evapotranspiration is important to know and understand (see below for a more detailed explanation).

As previously mentioned, Canyonlands National Park (Moab, Utah) serves as an ideal backdrop for discussing desert ecology, at least this sector of the Southwest where three deserts are common. Canyonlands, the setting, denotes a classic high desert, where geographic landforms typically create a climate characterized by a minimal amount of accumulated annual moisture, also where potential evapotranspiration exceeds precipitation.

Its vast acreage lies at a latitude where dry air masses constantly descend toward the surface of the planet. The area is also in the interior of the North American continent and therefore far away from marine moisture, as well as in the rain shadow effect of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. These underlying main factors act to produce the arid environment of Canyonlands desert ecology. Apart from these typical aspects governed by precipitation and a desert environment, it’s the high elevations throughout the park (4,000 to 6,000 feet) and the winter snow that makes this region what it is: a cold and relatively dry biome. (A biome climatically and geographically is defined as having similar climatic conditions, such as various communities of animals, plants, and soil organisms which are often referred to as ecosystems.) The dryness of the air merely creates a situation where more moisture is evaporated from plants and the ground terrain than accumulates during the year.

Thus the potential for annual evapotranspiration is 8.5 inches. This figure translates to approximately 76 inches more than what'€™s actually available! Low moisture in the air also allows more sunlight to reach the ground, thereby raising daytime temperatures.

There is yet another distinguishing feature of a desert that must be considered: its life forms that thrive in the prevailing climate. In this case, the assemblage of flora and fauna throughout Canyonlands generates a lively blend of plants and animals not found in other deserts of the world.

Geomorphology Of Deserts: Three of the four major deserts of North America are contained within a geological region called the Basin and Range Province, lying between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Sierra Nevada range to the west. While the distinctiveness of each desert is based on the types of plant and animal life found there, the geological structures of these three deserts are rather similar.

The Great Basin Desert region is a series of many distinct basins which are separated by mountain ranges. The explorer, Captain John Charles Fremont, was the first to coin the term, Great Basin. Each range is roughly parallel and typically has a steep slope on one side and a gentle slope on the other. The basins, or playas as they are popularly called, have no drainage. Playas are also known as dry lakes, alkali or mudflats. If the surface is primarily salt, then these sprawling and sandy stretches are called salt pans, pans, hardpan, salt lakes or salt flats.

One of many Great Basin Desert playa landscapes:

During wet cycles they become shallow playa lakes which may last from a few months, a few years or even longer periods. During the Pleistocene interglacial period (intervals between 40,000 to 100,000 years), much of the Great Basin was flooded producing Lake Lahotan (located in present-day northwestern Nevada which extended into northeastern California and southern Oregon). The lake evaporated during the last 12,000 years, leaving only a few salty lakes between the Sierra Nevada range and the Rocky Mountains. Also known as Quaternary glaciation, this, the most current ice age, refers to the period of the last few million years in which permanent ice sheets were established in parts of the globe. Undrained basins are also characteristic of the Mojave Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert which straddles the Mexico-United States border (western Arizona, southern New Mexico and Texas). It'€™s also the largest North American desert covering some 175,000 square miles. Considering the focus on the Southwest, the Mojave is another classic high desert. Its sprawling terrain covers a significant portion of southeastern California, smaller sectors of central California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona. The Mojave'€™s landscape and topography displays typical Basin and Range topography. Receiving less than 13 inches (254 mm) of rain a year, the Mojave Desert is generally between 3,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation.

Unlike the Mojave or the Chihuahua deserts, the Sonoran Desert usually has hydraulic systems forming streams draining into the Gulf of California or the Pacific Ocean. There are also a few playas in the Sonoran Desert. One of these, called the Salton Sea, was filled by Colorado River flood waters in 1906 and its basin has remained fairly full. However, over the past twenty or so years water levels have substantially diminished due to a persistent drought throughout much of the Western territory. Its over-tapped resource of water is primarily caused by a heavy encroachment of people living in this part of the West.

Mohave Desert tableau with its common indicator plant in foreground––the Joshua Tree:

And who can forget that classic sci-fi movie filmed in this desert which featured gigantic people-eating ants?

For those who think all desert terrain looks about the same, think again. Here is a typical Sonoran landscape tableau:

Alluvial fans are common in the Mojave Desert and the California portions of the Sonoran Desert. These are formed through geologic time where an arroyo or wash drains a mountain range, depositing the detritus (nonliving particulate organic matter as opposed to dissolved organic material) in a semicircle at the canyon's mouth. In the Sonoran Desert, the linear ranges, which are usually formed by volcanic uplift, are often surrounded by an apron of detritus, €“boulders, rocks, gravel, sand, soils that have eroded from the mountain over time. Much of this material has been washed down during torrential summer downpours (a/k/a "€œmonsoons"€). In the Southwest, these detritus pediments are commonly called bajadas. The substrate is coarser, with larger rocks on the upper bajada and finer at the lower elevation. Deep arroyos may also slice through the bajadas. Unique plants such as the desert ironwood (Olneya tesota) and canyon bursage (Ambrosia ambrosioides) may grow along the arroyos, giving them the appearance of dry creeks.

Example of an alluvial fan:


Over the eons areas between the desert ranges have been filled with sedimentary material, namely water-washed alluvium. Alluvium, which is a fine soil, produces the extensive flat spaces one usually associates with deserts. This byproduct is relatively young material and is generally referred to as cover because these sediments obscure the underlying bedrock. In these places where alluvium is common, the water table may be high on the flatlands and the drainage is often slow. Poorly drained patches and larger playas become alkaline through accumulation of soluble chemicals. Special types of plants called halophytes (otherwise known as "salt lovers") can grow here. However, not just plants prefer alluvium which can anchor in its cover, but prospectors sought these places because alluvium sometimes contains valuable ores (gold and platinum) and a wide variety of gemstones. These concentrations are termed a €œplacer deposit.

Riparian Eden Zones: Desert streams and rivers are always a wonder to see and find. They form where there are grasslands, semiarid woodlands and forested uplands called watersheds. Like effective geological sponges, the upland watersheds collect and hold water throughout the year, while releasing it slowly into the desert below. These desert streams with their riparian woodlands of cottonwoods (Populus freemontii), willows (from the genus Salix) and other hydrophilic (meaning "water loving") plants are often centers for abundant wildlife, as well as native people. However, abuse to the watersheds through cattle and sheep overgrazing, timber cutting, mining and other manmade activities has dried up many of these resources. Regrettably, much of the water table, once just below the desert pavement, has been pumped lower and lower mainly due to agriculture and the fruit industry. In most places, the water table is now hundreds of feet below the surface and getting lower as the years pass and still the prolonged drought continues.

A Sonoran riparian scene like this. . .

Often means one or more of these guys show up. . .

Of course, everything eats everything else in one way or the other, and riparian locales tend to be, well, akin to local restaurants and such. . .

But once in a while the prey can turn predator. In this case, can he eat what's on the plate (or floor)? I'm betting he can!

The Sonoran Desert: Perhaps the most endangered desert of North America is the Sonoran. Due to over population and water-craving interests its fragile terrain is constantly in harm'€™s way, mainly due to over development and industries of all kinds. The Sonoran'€™s expansive and arid region covers 120,000 square miles in southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, most of Baja California and the western half of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Subdivisions of this hot and typically dry region include the Colorado and Yuma deserts. Modern day irrigation has produced numerous fertile agricultural areas, including the Coachella and Imperial Valleys of California. Warm winters attract tourists to Sonora Desert resorts in Palm Springs, California, as well as Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. Despite the excessive load placed on its turf, the stress on this desert environment continues and there is no end in sight. The unique feature of the Sonoran Desert is the fact it'€™s the hottest of the North American deserts. Yet there'€™s a distinctly bimodal rainfall pattern that produces a high biological diversity. Winter storms from the Pacific nourish many West Coast annuals such as poppies and lupines, while well-developed summer monsoons host both annuals and woody plants originating from the south. Freezing conditions can be expected for a few nights in winter.

Trees And Plants Of The Sonoran: Unlike other deserts, such as the aforementioned Gobi or Sahara, a variety of trees are usually well developed on the Sonoran'€™s desert ranges and bajadas. Often abundant on these well-drained soils are little-leaf palo verde trees (both yellow and blue varieties), desert Ironwoods (Olneya tesota), catclaw acacias (Acacia gregii), mesquites (Prosopis pubescens), and the giant and iconic saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea). The understory consists of three, four or even five layers of smaller woody shrubs. Tall chollas (Genus Opuntia) are also common and may occur in an almost bewildering array of species. On the alluvial lowlands, these sectors host communities of desert saltbush (Atriplex polycarpa), wolfberry (Lycium chinense) and bursage. Where coarser soils are found, creosote bush and bursage (Genus Ambrosai) communities may stretch for miles. If the water table is high, then honey or velvet mesquite may form dense bosques (Spanish for "woodlands"€). Other trees are restricted to alkaline areas. Stream sides may be lined with riparian woodlands composed of Arizona ash (Fraxinus velutina), Arizona black walnut (Juglans nigra), Fremont cottonwood and various willows, with a dense understory of arrow-weed (Pluchea sericea), seep-willow (Baccharis salicifolia) and carrizo (Ammophila arenaria). The Sonoran Desert is indeed abundantly rich in animal life as well, with many species in all groups derived from tropical and subtropical regions.

The western part of the Sonora Desert (sometimes called the "Colorado Desert") is closer to the source of Pacific storms and is noted for spectacular spring flowering of ephemerals when there'€™s ample winter-spring rainfall. However, the western portion is relatively depauperate (arrested in growth or development), and lacking many of the species such as the saguaro that depend on good summer rainfall.

Trust me, in this Colorado Desert or any other desert you do not want to accidentally run into this stuff––chollo. (Of course, it also goes by a lot of other expletive-deletives):

Facts Of Ecosystems Dependent On Available Moisture: Returning to the example of Canyonlands, typically its terrain denotes a hot, arid landscape during the warmer months of the years, while the Sonoran and Mojave deserts are areas of more extreme heat and dryness for most of the year. From a scientific perspective, deserts in the lower latitudes of North America characteristically receive less than 10 inches of precipitation a year, but more recently the figure is about 8 inches. In many deserts, the amount of evaporation is also greater than the amount of rainfall. Semiarid regions average 10 to 20 inches of annual precipitation. Generally, desert moisture occurs in brief intervals and is unpredictable from year to year. About one-third of the planet’s land mass is arid to semiarid (either desert or semidesert).

Effects Of Evaporation: Evapotranspiration and evaporation are therefore key terms that best describe the opening question, What is a desert? Evapotranspiration describes the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth'€™s land surface to the atmosphere. By itself, evaporation accounts for the movement of water to the air from sources such as the soil, canopy interception, and waterbodies. Transpiration, however, is what accounts for the movement of water within a plant and the subsequent loss of water as vapor through stomata (a microscopic pore) in its leaves. Yet it'€™s the evapotranspiration characteristic that is the pivotal aspect of the water cycle. Both are important factors contributing to aridity.

Although deserts have other means to add to the amount of precipitation (plants and dew), from the above explanation and diagram we see how the amount of water evaporation still exceeds the amount of precipitation. There is also the importance of how temperature affects these arid regions. For instance, rising air cools and can hold less moisture, thereby producing clouds and precipitation. By contrast, falling air warms and absorbs moisture. Regions like Canyonlands having few clouds, bodies of water and little vegetation also absorb most of the sun's radiation, thereby heating the air, but at the soil surface. Compare this to more humid areas that deflect heat in clouds, water and vegetation and remain cooler. High wind in open country also contributes to evaporation.

Flora: Desert plants, since they are rooted in place, must be able to deal with variations in temperature and amounts of available water. Intense sunlight can also be extreme and harmful to these varying life forms. Again using Canyonlands as an ideal model and example, temperatures here fluctuate greatly, both daily and annually. In summer, highs climb well over 100 degrees (all readings given in Fahrenheit), while winter temperatures often drop below zero. On a hot summer day the temperature may fall 30 - 50 degrees as night approaches. Chiefly, it’s the low humidity and lack of cloud cover that governs this usual pattern. As the sun sets, rock and sand, which are both poor capacitors for retaining heat, release almost ninety percent of their captured solar energy back to the atmosphere. Without clouds to contain the heat the air temperature rapidly cools. Surface temperatures in direct sunlight are commonly 25 - 50 degrees warmer than the air temperature some 6 feet above the ground. Temperatures in the shade may also be cooler by twenty degrees or more. Compare the Great Basin's temperature to the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran’s seasonal temperatures range from an average of 52 degrees in the winter, to 86 degrees in the summer. In some seasons the temperature can reach 32 degrees at night! In some portions of the desert, for instance near the tip of Mexico, the temperature can reach a high of 134 degrees in the shade!

Speaking of heat, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where I have spent many, many years hiking and teaching, the inner canyon temperatures reflect the Lower Sonoran Desert temperatures (because at the bottom of the canyon the climate is the same, and the same goes for typical plants and animals. This temperature reading taken at the Bright Angel Campground (about a twenty minute walk from Phantom Ranch) indicates a mid-morning temperature (from around April thru September). By mid-afternoon the gauge will easily read 120 degrees. For you folks from Missouri, no kidding!

And here's a hiker to prove the point. (He's also standing and grinning near Indian Garden, which is about 4,500 feet above sea level (Phantom Ranch is 2,400 feet). Of course, the deeper into the canyon you go, the warmer it gets.

P. S. This man is not one of my backpacking students. How do I know this? Because he or she would be more stoic looking! (You know, having to listen to all my chatter, jokes and trail humor!)

The Ingenuity Of Plants: Winter snow and violent thunderstorms also fall on thin, sandy soils that can'€™t retain too much moisture. So, how do desert plants survive these extremes? Some plants, referred to as drought escapers, make use of ideal growing conditions found in the spring when temperatures are cooler and moisture is more abundant. These annual plants also have a short life cycle. They germinate, sprout, grow, bloom, seed and die in a matter of days or weeks. Their rotation is predetermined, in that the life cycle is completed before the hot, dry days of summer arrive. An example of escapers are the spring wildflowers that occur in showy abundance early each new year.

Perennials, which are plants that live longer than one year, must also contend with desert extremes in other ways. The so-called drought resistors among them are hardy plants that have made adaptations to endure harsh extremes. For example, cacti store water within their spiny forms, blackbrush drop their tiny, leathery leaves in dry weather, and yucca plants have extended tap roots. These slender tentacles can reach depths up to 30 feet, and therefore find deeper water sources underground. Many desert plants also have lightly colored, highly reflective leaves that add to the plant'€™s defense mechanisms. Such mechanisms is really what's behind all the greenery and life forms.

This is a typical garden-like scene where water in the desert is ample:

This scene, however, is where humans have messed about with the water table and seemingly brought Eden to the desert. Ultimately, such landscaping will fail because the water table is over tapped and getting deeper below the ground. Not good!

Another adaptive technique is found in life forms that are classified as €œdrought evaders.€ These softer plants have even more radical adaptations. Moss, for instance, is a plant not commonly associated with deserts. Moss thrives because it can live through long periods of extreme drying. When water is unavailable, it literally dries up. Conversely, when water is plentiful, it soaks up moisture. The green tincture happens almost immediately. Mosses are usually found growing in the shade of larger plants or in cryptobiotic crust (see below). Meanwhile, do you know what this life form is having for its meal?

You guessed it: a big rock. Isn't it neat how Nature continues to both feed and dissolve its workers? I'm thinking.

Another extreme adaptation can be found in the Utah juniper tree (Juniperus osteosperma), one of the most common trees in the Southwest. The juniper tree, also commonly (and erroneously) called a cedar, requires copious amounts of water. During drought conditions, however, it shuts off water flow to one or more branches. Although this strategy kills only particular branches directed affected by a lack of water, the juniper tree preserves enough water to allow other parts to survive. There are also other desert plants that may likewise grow only in specialized habitats. For instance, moisture dependent monkey and Easter flowers and ferns thrive in well-shaded alcoves with dripping springs, while cottonwood, willows and cattail, which require copious amounts of water, thrive on river banks.

A tree with numerous purposes, the Utah Juniper:

Nature'€™s Most Fragile And Useful Desert Pavement Life Form: A unique desert plant community throughout much of the Great Basin Desert canyon country is the aforementioned cryptobiotic crust (a/k/a “biocrust”). This crumbly and crusted black soil is made up of fungi, lichen, algae, moss and bacteria. These life forms all live together in a symbiotic relationship, meaning all the members benefit from their communal coexistence. Cryptobiotic crusts are very important to the desert community for many reasons: it stabilize the soil, prevent erosion, retain water, and provide important nutrients such as nitrogen to plants. Additionally, a plant seed that lands in cryptobiotic crust has a greater chance of survival than a seed that lands in loose, dry sand. Unfortunately, cryptobiotic crusts are extremely fragile. One misplaced footstep can quickly turn crust to dust, then recovery and regrowth may take decades.

I know, this stuff doesn't look like much, but it truly is extraordinary and very fragile. Hence, do not walk on such a black pavement for reasons just mentioned.

Note: Biological soil crusts are also known by other names. For instance, cryptogamic, microbiotic, microphytic and cryptobiotic. These designates are all meant to indicate common features of the organisms that compose the crusts. The most inclusive term is probably biological soil crust which distinguishes this soil stabilizer from mere physical crusts, while not limiting crust components to plants. Whatever name is used there remains an important distinction between these formations and physical or chemical crusts. The key factor to know about crusts is that they are primarily composed of cyanobacteria which formerly is known as blue-green algae, green and brown algae, lichens and mosses. Other important components can be fungi, liverworts (a division of bryophyte plants commonly referred to as hepatics) and a variety of bacteria.

Got blue-green algae? It's what's good for you!

The Significance Of Lichens: Exposed rock surfaces are often covered in part by lichens, especially the shaded north side. A lichen is essentially a simple community of at least two mutually dependent organisms: fungi and green algae. When both organisms are dependent on the other, they are said to be symbiotic. Green algae requires a photosynthesis process to produce food for the fungus, while the fungus protects the algae from the elements and extracts nutrients from soil and rock. The lichen structure is more elaborate and durable than either fungus or algae alone. Lichens are well adapted to arid climates and therefore thrive throughout the deserts of the Southwest. They can continue food production at any temperature above freezing. They also absorb more than their own weight of water, even ephemeral water (dew) that almost passes directly into their cells. Ergo, the moisture doesn’t need to pass through roots and stems as it does in vascular plants.

I'm thinking these lichen are liking this rocky surface. What do you think?

Many other plants benefit from the presence of lichens as well. One example is how the green algae component of lichens transforms nitrogen in the air, which is unusable to most organisms, then into a process and means which is essential for life. This is especially important in arid climates where lack of nitrogen is known to limit productivity. Because lichens take everything they need from the air, they are dependent on good air quality. Scientists therefore favor lichens as reliable indicators of air quality, much like the proverbial canneries in coal mine scenarios that once gave warning to miners if the air was bad or lethal.  

Plant Dependency: Symbiosis in the plant community is indeed a gift of nature. Consider how the yucca plant and the yucca moth have a fascinating dependency on one another which includes trysts in the night. After mating, the female moth gathers pollen from a yucca flower and packs it into a ball. She then flies into the night until locating another yucca flower. Yucca flowers are only pollinated by yucca moths and yucca moth larvae only feed on yucca pollen. These kind of established symbiotic relationships for the benefit of the whole ecosystem works brilliantly, from the smallest life forms to the largest.

The Seasonal And Transient Beauty Of Wildflowers: Wildflowers have adapted to the desert arid climate in many unique and different ways. Thick, waxy coverings on leaves and stems reduce evaporation, while small leaves reduce the effects of solar radiation and water loss. Deep taproots also reach far into the soil to find water sources, while shallow, widespread roots catch and absorb surface water. Despite these adaptations, wildflowers avoid drought and heat by literally hiding in the soil as seeds or bulbs, sometimes for decades. Germination only occurs after significant seasonal rainfall.

While most wildflowers bloom during the day, some take advantage of cooler night temperatures to open their flowers. Late afternoon or evening-blooming plants include sacred datura (Datura wrightii), sometimes called jimsonweed in the West, sand verbena (Abronia ammophila), evening primrose (from the species Oenothera) and yucca (from the family Asparagaceae). April and May, following winter snow and rain, are generally the best months to see wildflowers throughout the Southwest. Beginning in late August, and if the summer monsoon season has brought significant rainfall, various species bloom and color the landscape. Not only is the blooming and color show appealing to the eye, but the pollinators also favor the seasonal show.

Fauna: A few drops of water, a patch of shade or an underground retreat are seeming small things afforded by nature, yet these chance opportunities and hiding places just might provide the lifesaving edge for desert animals. Like plants, most of these critters have special and unique adaptations to cope with temperature and moisture stresses. Since animals are mobile, they can also deal with their environment through behavioral adaptations. Some even have physiological changes as well.

For instance, adapting to a microclimate is one way desert animals adjust to their environment. Lizards and snakes retreat to shady areas or underground burrows during the heat of the day. They may even mimic the spade foot toad and become dormant during unfavorable seasons. A jackrabbit is another prime example. It will rest during the day and seek food at night. Jackrabbits also roost in a slight hollow in the shade with their big ears lying flat along their back. The ears are not just for show, but display a high reflectivity to light. When the jackrabbit gets too hot, blood vessels in its long ears dilate, causing heat in its body to radiate back into the air. This species in the family Leporidae is also a good example of both behavioral and physiological adaptations.

And, yes, this dude is as big as he appears; like a medium-sized dog (or larger):

Considering a much smaller species, the kangaroo rat (genus Dipodomys) lives its entire life eating only dry plant food and never drinks water, because its body produces water by metabolizing the dry food it eats. Active only at night, this clever creature spends the day sleeping in its cool burrow underground, but first plugging the opening with dirt which keeps the heat out and the moisture in. The other unique feature about this species is that it doesn't need to urinate. Instead, it deposits uric crystals, thus preserving its energy even more.

Waste not, want not and that way I get to keep all the moisture for myself. I never even wet the bed!

Water, of course, is the elixir of the desert, especially when it's hot. Some large animals are more dependent on this invaluable resource, solely relying on their mobility to reach water sources. Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), especially the Desert Bighorn genus (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) and mule deer (Odocoileus heminus), for example, must have access to water. Their powerful bodies provide the energy to transport them many miles to the river, a rain-filled pothole or perhaps a spring. In addition, a considerable amount of water is derived from the plant food they eat. It follows how bighorn and species of deer are able to go several days in between drinks. Carnivores, like the coyote (Canis latrans), bobcat (Lynx rufus), cougar (Puma concolor), commonly called mountain lion or cougar, and birds of prey all rely heavily on the fluids found within the animals they eat to supplement the water they drink. Fur and feathers can also play a dual role in some animals by shielding them from the sun during the day and insulating them from the cold at night. Animals with a short and sleek pelage are still able to lose heat fairly easily after exertion simply by laying the hair down flat against their bodies. Birds can droop their wings down and away from their bodies allowing heat to escape from their thinly feathered undersides. Birds and large mammals also commonly pant as a means to increase heat loss.

Come out, come out wherever you are. . .I'm hungry!

Conclusion: From the general information explained in this diary it'€™s noted how deserts really are not dead, sterile zones devoid of life. They are, instead, thriving regions that demand adaptation by plants and animals that depend on such environs and whatever the general climate. The interdependent ecosystems, many of which are symbiotic, produce a plethora of life forms. . .€“plants, animals, trees, including the smaller, though still important, contributors, such as lichens and cryptobiotic soil. But like any desert, common sense is called for when exploring these ranging realms. Mainly, knowing where water is and how to protect one'€™s self from the elements. Knowing how desert ecology works is also like understanding the mind of the desert. This is how all life forms function in these more demanding environments.

Since this diary entails what lives where and who eats whom I thought I'd leave you with this handy illustration, which shows all the main players in the scheme of things:


In other words, this explanation says it all:

As always, the community's thoughtful commentary is greatly appreciated.


A parting shot of canis latrans. . .the "trickster" of folklore and a true wonder to hear and behold in his or her domain!

Originally posted to richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 01:36 PM PST.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks, National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, Community Spotlight, and Phoenix Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Uh oh, (8+ / 0-)

    small mistake Rich. You've got a cholla up there (Kofa maybe?) labelled as a Joshua in a Mojave desert tableau.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 01:49:48 PM PST

    •  And thanks. . . (10+ / 0-)

      I had a note to correct it, but you know how it is when we go a-rushing to get something posted, well, me, at least. Kofa, it is. I will send you a bunch of cholla in the mail so you know I know the difference. . .well, maybe not. I mean, I swore by all things holy I would never ever get around 'jumping cholla' again. I still feel some of its battle scars. Pretty, though. As always, thanks for being there and that's just part of what I love about this community: it speaks right up and helps a fellow diarist. Sine qua non!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 02:58:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We have a nature center on a school campus with (4+ / 0-)

        a "desert wash" section. I included a "teddy bear" cholla
        (Opuntia bigelovii) in the garden but put it well out of the way of student traffic. Love the look from afar!

        "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

        by Wildthumb on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:15:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Question (5+ / 0-)

        how do you pronounce "cholla?"  My name is Happy and I carried a leatherman constantly for about nine years after my last run in with jumping chollas...

        the purpose of the second amendment is to promote a well-regulated militia, in the same sense that the purpose of the first amendment is to promote a well-informed electorate.

        by happymisanthropy on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:50:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  CHO-ya, double L makes a Y sound in Spanish. (6+ / 0-)

          The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

          by Azazello on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:42:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I always laugh at people (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            driving into San Diego from the north, and talking about that nice little town, "La joe-La"

            We've been spelling it wrong all these years. It's actually: PRO-GOP-ANDA

            by Patriot4peace on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 02:46:19 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  On the other hand, I was surprised to hear (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              the locals talk about their beautiful town, Paso "Robe-uls".

              To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

              by sneakers563 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:16:36 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  You bring up an interesting point. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                What's correct ? I say go with whatever the locals use. I had an argument with a Mexican once about a local video rental place. I called it Casa Video, pronouncing casa in Spanish and video in English. No, no he said it's Casa Bee-DAY-oh. Maybe in Guadalajara sez I, but here it's Casa VID-ee-oh. Or that town in Pinal County, if the locals call it CASS-uh-grand, who am I to argue ?

                The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

                by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 11:03:44 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Lol! I've called it Bee-DAY-oh since college (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Azazello, copymark

                  But only to be ironic.

                  I agree with you about local pronunciation.  After all, I grew up in a part of the country where Worcester is pronounced "Wooster", and Quincy is "Quinzy"    

                  To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

                  by sneakers563 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 11:48:12 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  I hear it more like CHOY-ya nt (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            To believe that markets determine value is to believe that milk comes from plastic bottles. Bromley (1985)

            by sneakers563 on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:14:40 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  I just wanted to say. . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          a Letherman (sp?), yes, but a fine-tooth steel comb works wonders for removing most of the cholla barbs. And 'jumping' chollas are aptly named. . .because I swear those daggers release on their own and track whomever is targeted. I once got a load full in the middle of my butt and lower back and I was leading a desert trek for a group of Elderhostel students in tow who thought that was kind of funny. I did, too. Taught me not to kid around with 'em so much. Damn chollas anyway. Ah well. They're just part of Nature's arsenal and if a cactus wren can handle 'em, by squatting on the branches, then the rest of us can find a way to get along, too. I see someone already mentioned how to pronounce the name. Thanks, again, for posting your comment.

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 06:02:51 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  thank you. . . (8+ / 0-)

      and this 'book,' as you call it, Mae, will continue to continue, because there are good folks, like you, in this exceptional Dkos community, I offer these writings to. . .free gratis. More on the way; much, much way, starting with this weekend's posting on Arches National Park (and a separate diary on hikes at same), and next week a very special 3-part series on archeoastronomy: the entire enchilada this time. Thanks for your positive feedback and comment.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 02:55:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Good Life For Me (3+ / 0-)

      It would be summer in the mountains, fall in the maple-yellowed hills of the Northwest, winter on the rugged Northwest Coast, and spring in the grasslands and deserts of the Basin and Great Range, where the wildflower displays are truly stunning.

      Governments care only as much as their citizens force them to care. Nothing changes unless we change -- George Monbiot.

      by Nulwee on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:46:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Such beautiful country. . . (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        that you describe, Nulwee. I once saw one of the most dazzling wildflower displays laid out below the Great Range, and that was the time I never traveled without my cameras! And lo and behold there were no fisticuffs and such from other pushy photographers (in those days), such as has happened fairly recently in time when such outrageous shows are advertised. Thanks for posting your comment. It brought a special memory back to me, that rugged Northwest Coast you describe so beautifully and aptly.

        Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

        by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:56:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I was about to say the same thing, Mae. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There's enough great info and gorgeous photography here for at least 2 or 3 posts.  Wonderful!

      Thanks, Rich.

  •  The Sonoran Desert (15+ / 0-)

    I spent a couple decades of my life living out in the Sonoran desert, part of that in a small travel trailer with no power, no water. It was an interesting experience.

    Thanks for posting.

  •  Fantastic diary. Thanks! (9+ / 0-)

    Scripture says "resist not evil", but evil unresisted will prevail.

    by Boreal Ecologist on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 02:52:48 PM PST

  •  Cryptobiotic soil (10+ / 0-)

    Good lesson on the importance of cryptobiotic soil and its fragility. Until I ventured into the southwest I had never heard of it, but a National Park Service ranger friend taught me to recognize it and not to walk on it. Sometimes that takes a bit of creative leaping and hopping.

    I first learned of it as "cryptogamic" soil, and to remember not to step on it I decided the best way was to rest in the air above it:

    Here I am in my hammock
    far above the cryptogamic
    so I won't harm those critters in the soil.
    No I won't wreck their evolution
    I've found myself a swing solution
    And to the cryptogamic I'll be loyal.

    Heh. Thanks for more great desert travels, Rich.

    Resist much, obey little. ~~Edward Abbey, via Walt Whitman

    by willyr on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 03:04:57 PM PST

    •  WOW! (8+ / 0-)

      and thanks for the posting, willyr. You are a poet but don't know it, though your feet. . .probably show it! And what a fun and sensitive way to show support for the 'black crust' as I call this living mat stuff. The next time you get close to such, or even moss and such, pour a little water on the surface, then reverse your field glasses and take a look at what you see. It is amazing how everything comes alive with a kind of renewed energy and color. I won't go so far as saying god-like, the perspective and such, but oh my. . .some of us little people get a big kick out of such silly stuff. As always, I thank you for witty and insightful comments which they usually are.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 03:14:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well done! I always learn a lot from your posts. (10+ / 0-)

    Am just back from a desert hike. I was laid up for months, so it's extra special to get out on the trails again! Thanks for all the work you put into this.

    stay together / learn the flowers / go light - Gary Snyder

    by Mother Mags on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 03:28:48 PM PST

  •  Thanks for another sterling diary!! (7+ / 0-)

    Someone above said that the diary is like an entire website or a book, and that is the feeling I got as well. As usual, I have skimmed this for the moment, but I will be back to study in detail. I spent a few years living in the Mojave Desert (along the Mojave River) and some of the pictures, animals (big, big jackrabbits), and rock formations bring back memories. I wish I had this "book" when I was 14. No one was very interested in such things in those days. Thanks to you and others, that won't happen again!  

    •  Forgot! (5+ / 0-)

      I actually remember going to see "Them" in 1954. We were all very excited because we lived in the Mojave Desert among the Joshua trees, and so it especially played to our fantasies. This was when the UFO craze was just getting off the ground.    If memory serves, we had just been revved up by the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" which gave all of us kids bad dreams afterwards. Anyway, thanks for putting in that funny picture!

      •  That movie. . . (5+ / 0-)

        one of my all-time favorite sci-fi flicks. And look who shows up: that tall drink of water, James Arness. Sure came a long way from his first starring role in "The Thing!" Ah, the Mojave. One of my favorite weird deserts, mainly because Holly-weird made it seem as such. But I don't think even the Creature from the Black Lagoon could make it that far inland. Which reminds me, I think that was one of the movies Clint Eastwood had somewhat of a speaking part. Thanks for posting the comment, Don Enrique. Trust the information will be worth plowing through the verbiage. I was actually surprised I could downsize the diary to relate what I thought were the key points.

        Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

        by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 04:03:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  well. . .now there is a book of sorts. . . (5+ / 0-)

      which can, at least, build interest in a reader to find and learn and study more from bigger books. It's just that this particular diary is encapsulated and has to focus on key elements of all three deserts that encroach or are part of the Colorado Plateau, thereby keeping the original narrative and purpose of these diaries thematic. Thanks for the encouragement, as always. I love composing these epistles or missives for the community. There are so many different interests and intellects to appeal to, and it generally means I am working with the 'crap shoot' theory (only I never played the game, much less would waste money on gambling).

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 04:06:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  wonderful (5+ / 0-)

    The Mojave and Sonoran deserts are the places I love best.  It pains me how much 'development' of them there is now when I visit.

    •  thanks. . .and that pain you speak of. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      also pains quite a lot of us about over zealous development of what has to be the most sensitive ecosystem of all terrain. The Mojave and Sonoran deserts have become a developer's aim and zeal without forethought of what all this housing and industry really is doing, and all for the sake of "people storage." Bullshit. The real problem is WE THE PEOPLE, a viral plague released upon a planet that can barely support so many of us and more coming all the time. Thanks, again, killjoy, for posting a very insightful point about the fragility of deserts at the expense of over development.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:52:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another great diary Rich. (5+ / 0-)

    I've got all your diaries hot listed.  Great diaries to go over again on rainy, snowy days.  Thank you.

    I am a work in progress. Still.

    by broths on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 04:25:45 PM PST

  •  Another winner. (3+ / 0-)

    Extra tips for that last pic. ;-)

    "I'm all dry, fluffed off and happy to be a hominid" - Bill Foster, scientist and new IL-11 Representative, when asked if he was fully evolved in support of gay marriage.

    by CoyoteMarti on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:04:21 PM PST

    •  Mucho gracias. . . (4+ / 0-)

      and I am humbled by the response to this last minute diary I thought might be interesting to the community. I very appreciate appreciate your support, CoyoteMarti, and to all the receptive minds in the DKos community. I am nearly speechless (except for the fact. . .well, I have more to say and write, so stay tuned. . .new subject matter forthcoming, folks.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:09:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Outstanding. When I see "desert ecology" my (5+ / 0-)

    interest immediately skyrockets. I often drive out to the Western Mojave on a Saturday in spring to check out the wildflower displays. I used to go out to Anza-Borrego for a weekend every spring but haven't been out there for years. I really miss it.

    Love the deserts! I think they're my favorite spots in nature.

    "They come, they come To build a wall between us We know they won't win."--Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over."

    by Wildthumb on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:19:54 PM PST

    •  Me, too... (4+ / 0-)

      your thoughts on the wonder and beauty of the desert country, Wildthumb. I've been to that Anza Borrego country a few or more times, especially when I lived in Tucson, and just drove west. The ardor I feel for the desert is something I have never been able to explain to myself, though I am sure the explanation is likely related to my other spirit being namesake of a past coyote or puma or bobcat or fox or redtail hawk, or some such. Thanks for the support and I am very glad to hear you also love desert ecology. It is such an intricate dance of life and balance, is it not?

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:24:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Brilliant (6+ / 0-)

    You description is clear and informative, and the photo's make want to get in the car and travel about. Thank you.

    "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

    by US Blues on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:27:25 PM PST

    •  And I hope that you do... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, greengemini

      get in the car and travel about, US Blues. I am very grateful, also, for your support of these diaries and I hope I will continue the trend. I thank you very much for posting your comments. Really!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:21:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  ...absolutely amazing!!!... (5+ / 0-)

    ...I love your diaries...

    Ignorance is bliss only for the ignorant. The rest of us must suffer the consequences.

    by paradise50 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:35:40 PM PST

    •  makes me glad. . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, RiveroftheWest

      to know how you feel about these diaries, paradise50, and I hope to continue garnering your support. I have quite a few different themes coming up over the next few weeks, and beyond that. . .well, there's always something new that I want to write about...and share. Thanks, again, for the lovely compliment and posting of same.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:20:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you (5+ / 0-)

    I see a little of these places from the seat of a motorcycle.

    Over the next few years I hope to see a good bit more ... Including the Mojave.

    Your Diaries let me anticipate.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 05:43:56 PM PST

    •  lucky you. . . (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, twigg, RiveroftheWest

      you can get off the road and get off-road and see even more. I mean, when riding a bike. So that's what you're going to do when you hit the road again, twigg. . .see lots of country, and oh my, the Mojave is such an extraordinary desert based on the usual Basin and Range geologic structuring surrounding its huge parcel. Thanks for the support and I hope my future posted diaries will keep you anticipating and coming back for me. Very much appreciated, twigg. . .your support.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:18:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  um.... (3+ / 0-)

    sorry, rich, but your illustration of the signature plant of the mojave that you call a "joshua tree" way up there in the discussion, looks more like a cholla cactus....
    you sure?
    sorry if i'm wrong.  i love your series, it makes me so homesick for nevada and the desert.

    If stupidity was a felony, half of this country would be locked up.

    by oysterwitch on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 06:06:22 PM PST

    •  I think that picture works... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, RiveroftheWest

      the embedded link about the josuha tree I wanted to put there, and thought I did, only the darn cholla picture never got rid of. Doh to me and Homer. Anyway, I, like you, am enamored with the desert scene. Always have been. Love mountains and oceans, too, but to me there is nothing like being a desert rat in a desert-canyon topography. Thanks for keeping an eye on me (knowing my plants and trees and all) and the support. Really.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:16:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Desert Ecology (5+ / 0-)

    Fascinating again! I love the information about the yucca moth and plant, the jack rabbit and the kangaroo rat. Great information. We have "crusts" in many areas we hike (Yellowstone, Shoshone National Forest) upon which we must avoid walking. Unfortunately, many cut the trails and destroy these fragile crusts. Lazy people drive me crazy. I can't wait to see the desert flowers blooming in the Spring. Thank you again for educating me about the desert.

    •  and I thank you... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, RiveroftheWest

      as always for your support in my posting these diaries, wynative. Very happy to know someone gets a kick out of these things, but also learns a thing or two or three. I love zoology and all the fascinating things that are discovered about various critters, including plants. We won't have too much of a bloom in this desert country this spring; dry, dry as a dinosaur's bone, I'm afraid. La Nina is every bit of a be-atch given her thrice-returned in row unprecedented stingy precip. Where is her sibling, El Nino, when we really need him. Badly.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:13:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  doh! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    i was in such a hurry to be smart about the cholla, that i didn't read the previous comments and just hurried down here to post and be smart...doh.
    so sorry.
    you really make me so homesick.
    keep up the good work.

    If stupidity was a felony, half of this country would be locked up.

    by oysterwitch on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 06:35:31 PM PST

    •  Doh, to me. . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, RiveroftheWest

      osterwatch. . .I thought I had reinserted the correct image in that particular faux pas image, but it didn't happen. Maybe I can show you a smaller version of what should have been there instead, as an embed, or some such. Let's see. . .

      and let me know if that works for ya. Sorry about making you homesick. Sometimes, though, it's good to feel this way just to get you back to where you think you want to go next. Thanks for your support on these diaries, by the way. Much appreciated.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:11:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  lovely series, lovely picture (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, ybruti, RiveroftheWest

    thank you for that!  the mojave is the most beautiful place in the world: stark, sparse, clear and clean.
    it took me 20 years to think so--and leaving it--but i want to go back.
    thanks rich, for what you do.

    If stupidity was a felony, half of this country would be locked up.

    by oysterwitch on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:29:41 PM PST

  •  Enjoyed very much! (4+ / 0-)

    I enjoyed your discussion a lot.  My only close encounters with the desert were brief pre or post meeting trips--like to the Sonoran desert museum, which was totally fascinating.

    A neat diary would be the changing ecosystems with elevation--I think ascending Mt. Lemon there were at least five very distinct ecosystems.  How the desert recovers from fires would also be really interesting.

    Thanks for a very entertaining read.  Only suggested correction is that lichens are like "canaries" in coal mines, not "canneries."

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 07:34:08 PM PST

    •  ah yes. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      those non edited spelling errors! Again. Thanks, barbwires, for your comments and support on this diary. I lived in Tucson for a bit and think the Desert Museum west of the city is one great place for people to invest their minds and spirits into a live desert setting. I also like your idea of changing ecosystems. I have such a writeup in my Grand Canyon material, using C. Merriman Hart's old sketch model, though with revamped 20th Century thoughts on all aspects of elevation changes and what affects life forms that adapt to same. Your other idea of how deserts recover from fires is also fascinating. You have just put me on a new path and I will look into this. Thank you for the idea. Canaries, indeed. Very much appreciated hearing your comments on this diary.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 08:08:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a fab diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, RiveroftheWest

    You are brilliant and this diary is so informative!  As a
    resident of the Sonoran desert, I come to love it more
    with each passing decade that I live in it. I am
    horrified at how we are all taking it for granted by living
    in such a fragile place with so little regard for its delicate
    balance.  I saw a pair of beautiful coyotes running across
    four lanes of traffic on my way to work last month and
    hoped they weren't after some hapless house pet.
    We need to learn a hell of a lot more about co-existing
    and honoring the species that were here first.

    •  your comments. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and your attitude about the desert and all creatures great and small (and here stressing "coyotes" since you brought them up). . .you and I are in total alignment given our POV on such matters. Thank you so much for posting this meaningful commentary and why we should re-think our positions about learning how to get along with this greater Organism, this Mother Earth if you will, instead of constantly raping her. Sorry, it's the only term I can think of that accurately describes what our species tends to do in the name of so-called progress and settlement based solely on our needs. Thanks, again, Debs2, for posting your comment. P. S. I pray to the fiber of my being those coyotes you mentioned safely got across the highway and traffic.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:49:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you, richholtzin! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I feel a growing sense of panic at the senseless waste
        and attitude of "there's always more".  I've watched
        Phoenix double in size in the last 24 years, and seen
        more golf courses spring up, guzzling water and displacing
        natural species, and for what?  None of us are going to
        get to live here once we crash the ecosystem.  There is
        no water rationing here.  I live in a ridiculous little gated
        community that has actually BANNED any desert plants
        from the front yards!  They don't want it to "look" like the
        desert!  How completely ridiculous.

        I also hope that the coyotes made it through their adventure.  I saw them make it safely across the street, and even though there was a lot of traffic, cars actually stopped for them.  It is a grace and privilege to be able
        to witness the stark natural beauty here.  It wounds my
        soul to know I'm part of the desecration of it just by being

        •  your added comments. . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          denote the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I mean, that 'blob that ate Arizona, as Ed Abbey aptly called the city's sprawl. And gated communities banning desert plants from front yards. And the entire idiotic mindset of outsiders moving in and demanding their new environment be changed to suit the needs of interlopers. You could write a diary on this, Debs2, and I think the community will be supportive of its message. Go for it! I'll be the first to recommend such a requisite diatribe that needs to put fingers and help raise what has to be a very low consciousness promulgated by the City of Phoenix government. You and others will need to get at least 50 miles from that invasive mass of humans and urban and rural sprawl before getting close to what used to be the case of a pristine desert environment. There seems no way of stopping our viral plague and intrusion on the environment. Walk softly in the wilderness, indeed!

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 07:01:00 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Very fine diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


    There's a great book out there, A Desert Calling, in which the author notes that the total biomass in the desert is much higher than most people realize.

    So here's a question: Australia's an odd place, biologically speaking (kangaroo, platypus, etc). And ecosystems are defined as much by the flora and fauna as by physical parameters, which may be affected by the fauna and flora. Are Australian desert ecosystems distinctly different from other desert ecosystems?

    •  having been to Aussie land. . . (0+ / 0-)

      and traipsing across the Nullabar Desert, from my experience the ecosystem may be akin to a "desert," alefnot, but it's not the same as we know and see and understand here in the higher northern latitudes. Let me look into it. Meanwhile, contact me via my profile's email and we can continue what appears to be a very good chat in the making. And I thank you very much for starting same. I will also put "A Desert Calling" on my Amazon Wish list and get to reading it. But your point, or else it's the author's, of the total biomass in the desert being much higher than some folks realize. . .this observation does not surprise me. Then again, I have heard and read this same charge from other ecologists who should know truth from fantasy.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:41:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  P. S. (0+ / 0-)

      Duh. . .I have two brains on some days: one lost and the other one out looking for it. I already have "A Desert Calling" on my Wish list, and was in fact previously recommended to me by someone in the DKos community, who also sent me this ad-notice:

      For most of us the word "desert" conjures up images of barren wasteland, vast, dry stretches inimical to life. But for a great array of creatures, perhaps even more plentiful than those who inhabit tropical rainforests, the desert is a haven and a home. Travel with Michael Mares into the deserts of Argentina, Iran, Egypt, and the American Southwest and you will encounter a rich and memorable variety of these small, tenacious animals, many of them first discovered by Mares in areas never before studied. Accompanying Mares on his forays into these hostile habitats, we observe the remarkable behavioral, physiological, and ecological adaptations that have allowed such little-known species of rodents, bats, and other small mammals to persist in an arid world. At the same time, we see firsthand the perils and pitfalls that await biologists who venture into the field to investigate new habitats, discover new species, and add to our knowledge of the diversity of life.

      Filled with the seductions and trials that such adventures entail, A Desert Calling affords an intimate understanding of the biologist's vocation. As he astonishes us with the range and variety of knowledge to be acquired through the determined investigation of little-known habitats, Mares opens a window on his own uncommon life, as well as on the uncommon life of the remote and mysterious corners of our planet.

      Ergo, how could I not put this fine work on my Wish list, alefnot. But thanks for the second nudge.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:44:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Lava Beds National Monument (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in northeastern California is one of my favorite places. Definitely desert, but full of life. Imagine the great inland sea that used to be nearby, with Mt. Shasta reflected in it. Now Tule Lake, having been largely drained for its rich agricultural land producing horseradish, is a mere sixth the size it was when it supported the Modocs and the millions of birds on the Pacific Flyway. I've heard about Great Basin from some rangers at Lava Beds and hope to go there soon.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Wed Feb 13, 2013 at 09:18:40 PM PST

    •  thank you. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      for your comments, ybruti. That is one big beautiful country you have in that neck of the woods, but draining lakes for horseradish seems a bit closer to horseshit to me. There is something wrong with this concept. And the diminishing avians, like Modocs and zillions of Pacific Flyaways. . .that's worth having a cry about. Anyway, the Great Basin is a place you should put on your list. Who knows. . .some idiot may decide to turn its terrain into something wholly alien.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:37:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  An Amazing Story! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Margd

    Thanks for doing all that research and putting this together for us!

    •  you are welcomed. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Liberal Thinking

      and I love putting these diary-missive-themes together for you and all the rest of the DKos community. And I thank you for your support, Liberal Thinking!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 05:34:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another great diary. One weather note: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It's common for Southwesterners to refer to summer thunderstorms--especially stronger ones--as "monsoons" but this is inaccurate.  The word monsoon refers to the seasonal wind shift that changes the moisture level, not the individual storms it generates.  I think people, hearing that it's "the monsoon season" interpret that as meaning, "it's the season of monsoons."


    That golf course looks like it might be Rio Verde.  Made a delivery out there once, when the 4 Sisters were snow covered & gorgeous as in that photo.  Of course if they keep using up the water on greens, neither the river nor the course will remain verde.  Grrr.  Can we haz a water depletion tax on golf courses??

    Anyway, thanks for your continued efforts; I'm already looking forward to your next diary.

    Before elections have their consequences, Activism has consequences for elections.

    by Leftcandid on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 06:56:21 AM PST

    •  Thanks for the insight. . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Azazello, Leftcandid

      your remark about the inaccuracy of calling our summer precip by the common moniker, "monsoon." But people here do not want to rid their heads of such a term, even though you are expertly correct in what you point out. Oh, I have tried to change this term many times, but it's no use. Some folks just like the exotic "monsoon" over the reality of what happens. Honest, I did try. Even I find myself using "monsoon" to describe what has to be the most stingy 'rainy' season over the past 30 or so years. I think the correct term for it is "drought." Not sure what golf course that is, Leftcandid, but you're probably right. . .Rio Verde. Imagine that: a living green mat in all this sandstone country. I second the notion, "Grrrrr!" Do I hear a third or fourth or more? As always, I look forward to your insights and commentaries. Up next, Arches NP (this weekend, both days).

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 07:53:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's Tradition dammit. (0+ / 0-)

        We've been calling the summer rains monsoons for as long as I can remember. Most of us know that it's technically incorrect and there have been many attempts by scientists and crusading weather people to get us to use a different term, but the tradition persists and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

        by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 08:19:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree. . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          moisture in the winter pumps down from the Northwest, the snow season, and rain during the summer, from the Gulf. Monsoonal rains, actually, but by any other term it's still a dual-seasonal flow of moisture. . .though since the 1990s the spigot of Nature has been rather fickle, and downright stingy. Maybe monsoonal rains isn't a good term any more. What about just old fashioned rainfall or rain storms? Do you think?

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:16:05 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'll stick with monsoons. (0+ / 0-)

            It's part of our culture. We grumble and grouse and curse the heat and then, towards the end of June, we start praying for the monsoons and watching for clouds to the south. When will they start ? Will they be good this year ? And when we get that first rain, it's magic. Is there anything on the planet that smells better than wet creosote bush ? Monsoons, glorious monsoons, there are so many sensations and emotions tied up with that word. It is so much more than just "rain."

            The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

            by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:35:18 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  you hit the proverbial nail. . . (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              on the head: Is there anything on the planet that smells better than wet creosote? Nope. Well, except for the Reina de la noche, or in American, the "Queen of the Night," the night-blooming cactus flower. . .I would hike miles in the night whenever I caught the fragrance. Seriously. It is to die for (but do not hike around cholla, because I ended up walking into a big patch of the stuff. Still, I got to see the plant and smelled fresh as a daisy for doing so. And quite prickly in that other sense. Anyway, the rain on desert terrain is nothing less than heavenly. Thanks for reminding me, Azazello.

              Here. . .see if you can smell this picture. . .


              Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

              by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 03:19:14 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Diary sayz: "Thus the potential... (0+ / 0-)

    ...for annual evapotranspiration is 8.5 inches. This figure translates to approximately 76 inches more than what'€™s actually available! Low moisture in the air also allows more sunlight to reach the ground, thereby raising daytime temperatures..."
    Should that be 7.6 inches as how can it be almost 10x higher than precipitation?

    Very educational diary. Nice photos and graphs. Love the Southwest. Memories here in Boston with 3 feet of snow.

    •  Your figures and research. . . (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      are right on, Notreadytobenice, and that is precisely what happens given the 'actual' rainfall compared to the residual moisture given off by dew and so on. Yet it's the actual count that is drained off so quickly by the masses. The ecosystems cannot risk losing what is badly needed. Speaking of which, send us some of that extra moisture you folks got from that last big snow dump. Geesh! Three feet of snow? Well, a few years back, when I lived in Flagstaff, in three days we had five and a half feet of snow. No kidding! Serious. I got so mad shoveling and ruining my back I finally had the sense to get out of that neck of the woods. Enough's enough, you know? Thanks for posting your comments. You know your stuff (like most of the DKos community that comments on such levels). I'm in esteemed company, looks like. Always.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 03:12:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  No horny toads? (0+ / 0-)

    I grew up near Mojave Desert, and we kids were always thrilled to come upon the hard-to-spot toads in the open spaces between residential sections of town (back when there were more open spaces.)

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 10:58:35 AM PST

    •  Indeed! (0+ / 0-)

      back when there were more open spaces. Seems this is the crisis in continuance for this country and we are the viral plague that causes it. How does one or the many even make a stand? Got any ideas on that, FoundingFatherDAR? Sure like to start hearing something constructive instead of all the pissing contests and pundits that clearly show the problems, yet no resolution. Be nice, huh? Well, as long as there are thoughtful folks out there like you. . .guess it's gonna have to do for now. And thanks for posting the comments, but no horny toads. How sad!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 02:53:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I used to live in Phx and hiked... (0+ / 0-)

    ...Squaw Peak (now Piestewa Peak) several times a week, all year long.  The hottest it got in Phx when I lived there was 122 and although I didn't hike Squaw Peak that day, I did the next day when it was 120.  I routinely hiked in temperatures over 110 in the summer for 10 years.  My body was used to the heat and it is absolutely amazing how efficient the body is at cooling off.  (There's no way I can do this now!)

    I hiked in the Sonoran Desert most weekends for the 10 years I lived in Phx and although I now live in and love the mtns, I miss the desert.  It's a very unique ecology and a great place to experience nature.  I'm glad I get to visit my Phx friends every year!

    As always, thanks again for the diary Rich.

    •  Thanks and you are welcomed. . . (0+ / 0-)

      for yet another positive commentary that is greatly appreciated. I used to live in Tucson but never Phoenix. Had to commute, though, for my field institute treks, and the worst part of it was getting through that madcap traffic and ka-razy drivers. I've done a lot, as you have, in that marvelous Sonoran that has been so fouled by humankind and its development it is truly a crying shame. AND there appears no way to stop the destruction of a former pristine ecosystem. R.I.P. looks like for that entire Phoenix area, and now I'm told the same for Tucson. And the temps are only going to get hotter, people meaner, and maybe that's what it'll take to mount an offensive and turn this crisis around. We'll see.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 02:46:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for a very interesting post . . . (0+ / 0-)

       I'm amazed how various life forms find their niche. I went to high school in West Texas just a few miles from New Mexico at Kermit. I was astounded to find red horse minnows in concrete cattle troughs out in the desert.
    I'd previously lived in E. Texas so I was familiar with them as fish bait, but I couldn't imagine how they got out in the desert. I took a couple home for my aquarium, but unfortunately they ate all my store bought fish overnight.
        I also found amphibians in stock tanks up in the Davis mountains close to the observatory resting on the vegetation growing there showing their delicate external gills.

    •  Where this is water. . . (0+ / 0-)

      there is always life, lorell, especially in the desert. I loved reading this comment you posted. Isn't Kermit fairly close to Big Bend? The name sounds familiar, as a place I once stopped, had some Tex-Mex, gas, and headed for another part of Texas further east. . .that wonderful 'little canyon' you folks have. I'm sure you know the name and I'm sure you know the relative canyon sizes in the West. . .which was not to dare downplay that famous saying y'all have. . .EVERYTHING'S BIG IN TEXAS. Thanks for posting your comment.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 11:39:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  build it and they will come (0+ / 0-)

    i lived for a long time in a very tiny town west of las vegas, fortunately inside a national conservation area (red rock canyon); no "development" possible because of encircling federal land--how absolutely fortunate we were!
    i built a pond, an 8 foot stock tank sunk in the ground, with a couple of concrete pools descending into it and a recirculating pump.
    somehow, the woodhouse toads, the red-spotted toads, and the pacific tree frogs found my pond.
    they all squawked and trilled and sang in their season.
    i have no idea how they found this little bit of water in the mojave desert, they must have trekked long and hard, but they added such beauty to my life...especially the woodhouse toads, they sound like dying sheep   :>)
    plus they ate roaches.
    but my real loves were the tiny red-spotted toads who have such beautiful round black eyes and soprano trill.
    the only thing better was the wind, the high, sweet lonely, sneaking sound of it, whistling through the tiniest cracks in the dessicated wood around doors and windows.
    i live in the northwest now--washington state--and the wind is swishing through trees, totally different.

    If stupidity was a felony, half of this country would be locked up.

    by oysterwitch on Fri Feb 15, 2013 at 07:24:44 PM PST

    •  your mini Walden Pond. .. (0+ / 0-)

      in the desert, oysterwatch. I once lived in Blue Diamond, in the neck of the woods/Red Rock Canyon area where you lived. Your testimony is something I relate to. Ever notice how those toads could squirt blood in the eyes of their potential devourers? Very handsome critters, toads, like frogs, and some of my favorite 'little guys' who are huge in the way of ecologists. Thanks for sharing this story. Living in the Northwest has to be great considering all that wonderful moisture you folks get, which we here in the Southwest seldom get any more. Thanks for posting the comment. Really.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 11:36:41 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  oh wow! really??? (0+ / 0-)

        you lived in blue diamond?  when?  i'm so freakin' excited about this!!!
        that's, of course, the tiny town i'm talking about!
        i lived there from october 1986 until october 2002.
        do i know you?
        love, annie.

        If stupidity was a felony, half of this country would be locked up.

        by oysterwitch on Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 07:58:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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