Friday, February 27, 2009

Stuff That Grows On Rocks 1: Moss Revisited (and corrected)

Yes, I know I said I was going to post about lichens today, but I changed my mind. I’m doing Moss first. Here’s why:

1- Lichens are so cool that I want to finish off this series with them.

2- Blogging about Moss will allow me to correct one of the biggest errors I’ve made in this blog.

Side Note: Last summer I established a precedent whereby I acknowledge, and- where feasible and practical- correct, errors in this blog. Though I suspect these corrections are a bit tedious for readers, hey, it’s my blog.

3- Lichens are more complicated, meaning that the Lichen post will take more work. And since today is my birthday*, I don’t really feel like working that hard on a post.

* Yeah, that’s right. Me, Liz Taylor, Ralph Nader and Chelsea Clinton all turn a year older today. Tonight the 4 of us are getting together and having a hootenanny. (Jodie: “Hootenanny” is your new word for the day.)

IMG_8159But first, some general thoughts about things that grow on rocks. Back a couple of years ago when I started getting interested in trees, and learning to identify them, it was like having a veil lifted from my eyes; all of a sudden I started seeing trees for the first time, and suddenly trees I recognized were everywhere.

This winter, something similar has been happening with moss and lichens. My whole life I never bothered giving these things a second glance, and since I started noticing them, suddenly they’re everywhere- I can’t walk 20 feet in the desert, foothills or forest without seeing Moss and Lichen!

IMG_8196 Last weekend around St. George, the Mosses were lusher and lovelier than I’d ever seen. Check out this wall along Zen Trail. In the middle of that harsh, rocky, gnarly, shrubby desert is this beautiful, lush green wall.

Sonoran Moss Wall Here’s another such wall, and this one is in Sonora, Mexico, just below the peak of Cerro El Volcan, high point of the Sierra Durazno range. Arizona Steve climbed it in January 2007 (probably the first gringos to do so in years, if not decades), and were amazed to find this lush wall just short of the summit.

MossyWall1 And of course, closer to home is my favorite “Mossy Wall”, which I blogged about in my previous Moss post, back in November. I have mixed feelings about that post. I liked that I covered some of the absolutely coolest things about Moss, but was disappointed that I botched the ID so badly. To review, 3 of the really cool things I highlighted in that post were:

Moss Repro1 1-Haploid Dominance. Mosses use a weird, alternating-generation reproductive strategy that is completely unlike anything in trees (with the technical exception of fern trees), flowers or animals (including bugs.) I won’t repeat it here, but it’s worth re-reading if you don’t know it. Additionally, a cool thing I’ve learned since about haploid dominance is this: some biologists suspect that it might actually accelerate evolution and speciation, the reason being that natural selection might exert greater pressure on an organism that has no “back-up” or alternative gene at any given locus. Moss Repro2In other words, in a haploid dominant organism, every chromosome is like the X or Y chromosome in a human male- there’s no back-up copy. And all the things I’ve mentioned that human males suffer from as a result, including color-blindness and hemophilia, are analogous to problems a Moss could suffer on any chromosome.

2- Mosses have no real vascular system- no xylem, phloem or roots. They’re bare-bones plants. They preceded vascular plants and colonized the land well before them. Without a complex vascular system to support, Mosses can efficiently photosynthesize at temps just a bit above freezing, unlike trees for instance, which generally can’t do so efficiently below about 50F. This is why mosses stay green all winter.

3- Another benefit o their bare-bones physiology is that mosses can survive long periods of dormant “desiccation”, dried up and brown, then springing back to life when moisture is available, and this is why so many mosses do well in the desert.

IMG_8141And so when we visited St. George last weekend, the temps were climbing, there’d been plenty of recent rains, but while the (vascular) Blackbrush was just starting to sprout leaves, the (minimalist) mosses were already photosynthesizing at full throttle, which made them so spectacularly, vibrantly green and lovely.

So the big mistake of that post was identifying the Mossy Wall moss as Sphagnum. It’s not. Since November, with the help of several friends, I tracked down one of the world’s finest bryologists, Lloyd Stark of UNLV, and his graduate student, John Brinda, and together Lloyd and John have helped me to identify the Mossy Wall moss, as well as the other mosses highlighted in this post.

The Mossy Wall moss is actually 2 different species. Since then I’ve seen these same 2 all over the Wasatch, so it’s worth remembering them. In the photo below you can clearly see the patchwork between the 2 different species.

Mossy Wall Mosaic The brushier, “fuller “-looking moss has what I’ve been calling “Bottle-brush” heads, which are visible in the photo below. This is a species of the genus Homalothecium, which is one of 135 genera in the order Hypnales. The Hypnales are known as “Feather Mosses”, which come to think of it, is a much better name than “Bottle-brush.”

Homalothecium Closeup The “lower” looking moss has what I’ve been calling “spiky/leafy” heads, and is probably Syntrichia norvegica. What I like about this photo is that you can clearly see sporophytes (the diploid generation) in the upper right.

Snorvegica Closeup Tangent: So although I suck as a wildlife photographer, can we just agree that these are some totally rocking moss photos??

The genus Syntrichia belongs to a completely different order- Pottiales- and so the Mossy Wall, which I thought was just one species of “moss” is actually a mosaic of 2, very different and distantly-related species.

Back to the Desert

OK, so now that I’ve been set straight on the mosses on my favorite rock wall, let’s get back to St. George. This moss, below, is all over the place down there (this photo is from the Church Rocks trail, right by the culvert that goes under I-15.). It belongs to the genus Grimmia, and is most likely Grimmia laevigata, commonly known as either Cushion Moss or Dry Rock Moss.

Glaevigata closeup G. laevigata is one of the toughest, most widespread, successful plants on the planet. It occurs on every continent except Antarctica, and in many areas in the Southwest- particular granitic boulders- it is the dominant plant. Despite its worldwide distribution, it shows little genetic variability across the continents, a characteristic that has made it the subject of much interest to, and study by, bryologists.

Grimmia Church Rocks G. laevigata is a “pioneer” moss, in that it is often the first thing to colonize exposed granite surfaces, frequently even before lichens. But the absolute coolest thing about G. laegivata is its desiccation tolerance; it can be completely dried out for 10 years or more, then spring back to life, green and soft, when the rains return. In fact what ultimately limits G. laegivata from growing in even drier, sunnier, hotter places isn’t the lack of moisture, so much as its ability to maintain an viable carbon balance under extreme cycles of rapid desiccation (caused by direct sunlight) and rehydration, which is why, in the desert, you generally find this moss on North-facing rocks.

Common as G. laegivata is, there are plenty of other mosses around St. George. Below is another Grimmia species, G. pulvinata. This is another great photo, with lots of distinctive, down-turned sporophytes visible.

Gpulvinata closeup Back on Zen trail, occurring alongside G. pulvinata, is another spiky/leafy-headed moss, and it turns out that this is another Syntrichia species, probably either S. papillopsissima or S. ruralis, and a close cousin of our Mossy Wall S. norvegica back home. I love this one; I think it’s the prettiest close-up moss- and maybe one of the best-looking plants overall- I’ve ever seen.

Spapillosissima Closeup The thing that fascinates me about these mosses is this: I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I like about trees is being able to look around and know where you are- region, altitude, etc. Spapillosissima2 A bryologist can do the same thing with mosses, but with a perspective that is an order of magnitude greater than a tree-lover because there are so many more species of moss around- almost like the difference between looking at the world in human (trichromatic) color vision and Pigeon (pentachromatic) color vision. In any given canyon in the Wasatch there are probably more species of moss than there are trees in the entire state of Utah, and while most of us amateurs can’t hope to recognize more than a handful of species, just some basic understanding of mosses can give you at least a glimpse of the amazing “smaller-level” botanical richness and variety all around.

IMG_8132 But cool as Mosses are, Lichens are even cooler and weirder. Because though they seem to spread and grow like plants, they’re not quite plants, but rather an amazing symbiosis of the most basic of all plants and that weird, so-hard-to-get-your-head-around, third great kingdom of multi-cellular life: Fungi.

Special Thank You: I am exceedingly grateful to Lloyd Stark and John Brinda, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for their time and efforts in identifying the species highlighted in this post, as well to Larry St. Clair of Brigham Young University for (repeatedly) forwarding my inquiries and photos to Lloyd and John. The assistance and courtesy extended to me repeatedly by botanical researchers and specialists has been, and continues to be, one of the most rewarding aspects of this entire project.

(Larry, by the way, is a lichenologist, and the star of my next post.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

All About Ski Bike Junkie’s Yard

So I’m just dying to dive into a geeky post all about Lichens following our St. George weekend (I am telling you, the desert is like Lichen City) but today I’m going to make a brief detour to address a (very good) question from a reader.

Last week, reader Ski Bike Junkie (SBJ) commented:

We live in Suncrest at about 6300 feet. The trees in our yard are six years old, but they look scrawny and pathetic. Probably something to do with the climate here. Please don't ask me to identify them. They're currently covered with snow, not that it makes any difference.

Anyway, supposing that I like trees and would like something to grow to the point of being reasonably large but more important, healthy, what should I plant?

Long-time readers may recall that last Fall I had a revelation whereby I realized that if I acted “nice” and “helpful”* towards commenters with questions, it might actually encourage more people to comment, or frankly just read**, my blog.

*This is somewhat in contrast to my general demeanor in the real world, which can be described as “snarky” and “unhelpful”.

**Like most bloggers, I always like to act all, “Oh it’s not important whether and how many people read my blog, that’s not the point…”, but secretly I’m always like, “Christ, I spend enough time on these stupid graphics, it’d be nice if someone actually read this thing…”

So in that continuing sprit, I’m going to answer SBJ’s question, and not just point him to one of my lame Tree-ID graphics. And SBJ’s question is a great one, because Suncrest is a tricky place for a yard, as we’ll talk about in a moment. But first, for non-Utah readers, what is Suncrest?

UT Valleys Caption Salt Lake Valley is bounded on the East by the Wasatch range and on the West by the Oquirrh range. On the South end the valley is separated from Utah Valley by a relatively low (by Utah standards) East-West ridge called the Traverse Mountains, which is actually geologically continuous with the Oquirrhs. The Western end of the ridge features clearly visible shorelines of ancient Lake Bonneville, and in fact much of this part of the ridge is an ancient sandbar, laid down by Lake Bonneville, and the several, similar lakes which preceded it during earlier glacial periods.

When I moved here the Traverse range was “wild”, but over the last several years a development- called Suncrest- has been built with a few thousand(?) homes. Suncrest offers both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side it’s almost always above the valley inversions in winter, and is often several degrees cooler in summer. It offers outstanding views, and access to a great trail network.

Tangent: One of the rare/ancient hybrid oaks I discovered and blogged about is located in this trail network.

SunCrest On the downside, it gets a good deal more snow than the valley, making commuting pretty hairy at times, and then, the wind… I don’t know how Suncresters tolerate the wind up there.

The native trees up there are almost all Gambel Oak, Bigtooth Maple, and some Mountain Mahogany, both Curlleaf and Alderleaf. None grow very tall.

Tangent: Down lower on the East benches, in neighborhoods like St. Mary’s and Olympus Cove, stands of Oak have been preserved in many yards and developed into nice shade trees. But the native Oaks up on Suncrest are much shrubbier, due to the tough climate. If you ever want to see what Gambel Oak looks like under ideal growing conditions, visit Red Butte Gardens, and walk through the groves just South of the mouth of Red Butte Canyon.

OK, so that’s Suncrest. So what should SBJ grow in his yard? My first inclination was to answer his question like I do pretty much all questions here at WTWWU, or at work, or when my kids ask me something hard- just wing it. But then I thought about SBJ spending a bunch of time and effort following my advice, and then everything dying, and then years later, him saying something like, “Yeah, I used to read that plant-guy’s stupid blog, till he ruined my yard. Now my kids just play in the dirt. Someday… someday I’ll get even…”

Am I Ever Going To Just Answer His Question Already?

So I consulted with an expert. My friend Janette Diegel is the owner/proprietor of Waterwise Design & Landscapes, a Salt Lake-area landscape design, consulting and installation company. Janette specializes in water-efficient landscapes designed for our high desert environment.

More About Janette: Janette is the spouse of my biking buddy Rainbow-Spirit Paul and the sister-in-law of Avalanche-Rescue-Hero Tom Diegel, both of whom I’ve mentioned in this blog. Janette’s done work for Awesome Wife and me, and we strongly recommend her services.

Janette’s done several jobs up on Traverse Mountain, and was a wealth of information for this post.

The first, very practical, piece of advice from Janette is to check the Suncrest regulations. In the past she’s found them to be very strict, and the approval process tedious when trying to do things like use native grasses.

Janette suspects a systemic problem, since all of SBJ’s trees are affected, and shared with me these possible problems:

Climate: High wind, low water, exposed in winter, hot sun in summer.

Soil: This was news to me- Janette says the soil is awful- rocky and sparse- and in many cases in the process of building, heavy equipment was driven around and compacted the soil around the houses. Many landscapers solve this problem by laying down 4” of new topsoil, then installing a sprinkling systems for the turf, and expecting the same system to water the trees and shrubs. But up on the ridge most of this sprinkled water gets blown away and fails to saturate the root-balls of any trees. The problem is compounded by most landscapers using standard trees off their “pick lists”, which do well down in the valley, but not up on the ridge.

IMG_8214 Critters: Deer, Elk, Porcupines (way cool critters, part of a group called Xenarthans, and a legacy of the Great American Interchange- I am so doing a post on them this year) are all bark-eaters, and can further damage stressed trees.

So what to plant? Native trees are great, but the Suncrest natives don’t get very big on a ridgeline. Here are some ideas, with pros and cons. For this section, the input is from Janette, with (probably not very) helpful additional comments from me in red italics. In addition I’ve provided links to Janette-recommended species that I’ve blogged about previously, in case you’d like more info. Here we go:

Evergreens. Only a few evergreens will tolerate SBJ’s environment. Their enemies are wind, lack of water in winter (assuming irrigation in summer) and antler-rubbing Mule Deer.

Blue Spruce Colorado Blue Spruce, Picea pungens. Grow slowly, but fairly easy to get a large tree established. You need to have it staked, though, and remove the stakes once the tree is established. (I’m down on Blue Spruce in the foothills. It is so over-planted, and looks weirdly out-of-place among the Scrub Oak.)

Limber in hand Limber Pine, Pinus flexilis. Native environment is more sheltered, so may not be ideal for Suncrest, and will probably need plenty of water. (I like Limber Pine. Good-looking, not so pointy-weird like Blue Spruce. Plus you could attract Clark’s Nutcrackers, the Coolest Corvid Ever.)

CMM Curlleaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius. Native, great option, grow well (but slowly). Only downside = deer browse them big-time, so you’d need cages around them till they grew out of browsing-reach. (This would’ve been my top-choice. Cool tree, looks natural, low maintenance- except for the deer thing-and foliage all year-round.)

Utah Juniper Juniper- Utah or Rocky Mountain, Juniperus osteosperma or monticola. Will do well, but also browsed by deer. (I like Juniper, but I don’t think it’s as attractive as some of the other options.)

pinon-pine-tree-web-photo Piñon Pine, Pinus edulis or monophyla. Not a tall tree, but better adapted than just about any other pine to that area. Hard to find a big one through a nursery. (I love Piñons- do this!)

Janet also shared some deciduous options.

Oaks Gambel Oak, Quercus gambelii. If well-watered can grow more tree-like. (Unless you still have some in your yard, the whole re-planting-exactly-what-the-developer-tore-out thing sounds redundant and boring.)

Acer Gr Leaves Bigtooth Maple, Acer grandidentatum. Janette warns that most sold through nurseries are grafted onto Silver Maple rootstock and so do lousy in our alkaline soils. But if you can get true native Bigtooths they could be a good option. (Big-tooth Maple = best fall foliage ever. I like this idea.)

hackberry Netleaf Hackberry, Celtis reticulata. Same size & shape as Mountain Mahogany, but has to be “trained” into tree form. (Sounds like a mega-hassle.)

AMMAlderleaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus montanus. Deciduous version of Curlleaf (above.) Solves the deer problem, but bare in the winter. (This could be the best, lowest-hassle choice overall.)

sl ash Singleleaf Ash, Fraxinus anomala. Janette hasn’t tried this tree, but says others have and like it.

On top of all these, Janette says there are a bunch of non-native trees that would work, but all would require some degree of care/hassle…

So SBJ, you’ve got plenty of options. My personal vote is a Mountain Mahogany-Pinon-Bigtooth Maple combo, but then I’m not the one maintaining (or paying) for it. My 2 cents: Get some professional advice before you start tearing stuff out. Get a pro like Janette to come over and have a gander at your yard.

A big thank-you to Janette for helping me with this post- you’re the best!

Of course, SBJ, another, extreme low-maintenance, option would be just to fill your yard with big rocks and watch the lichens grow on them…

Next Up: All About Lichen!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

St. George Weekend Part 2: Fun, Family and Fungus

So, like I was saying, we had a great weekend in St. George. I’m going to cover 3 things in this post: mtn biking stuff, family stuff, and plant/fungus stuff.

I left work early Friday, so we were able to drive down in daylight. As we descended past New Harmony and down towards Toquerville I was surprised to see snow levels extending down to 4,000 feet, ruling out Gooseberry and Little Creek. So my dawn rides were down on the Floor level, close in to St. George, which turned out to be a blessing because it led me to a new (for me) ride: Zen Trail.

Part About Biking

Zen Features OK, so why didn’t anyone tell me about Zen trail before? This trail is amazing! Fun combination of tricky technical, fast singletrack and killer views. And to top it all off is its convenient location- the trailhead is probably 10 minutes from I-15. I rode it shortly after dawn, and saw no one, except for this hiker/camper, whom I salute on his (or her, couldn’t tell) outstanding campsite selection.

ZenMap Side Note: implies that Zen Trail is tougher than Gooseberry- it’s not. Though there are a ½ dozen or so Gooseberry-like moves (which can easily be walked) the vast majority of the ride is ledgy singletrack, similar to the semi-technical sections of Barrel Roll, but maybe 25% more technical…

Zen View SW The riding was wonderful. It was my first aggressive riding on tubeless, and everything worked flawlessly. And yes, the ride felt a bit different, but since I’m running new tires (which I hadn’t previously run with tubes) this call is extremely unscientific, and I can’t honestly say whether tubeless has a different feel, or if this was just some “Emperor’s New Clothes” placebo effect…

Tangent About The Fat Cyclist And Tubeless: So when I was debating whether to go tubeless, I asked a number of tubeless friends about it, all of whom recommended it. One of them was my coworker, the Fat Cyclist. Fatty said, oh yeah, tubeless is great, no problem, you’ll love it, totally hassle-free. So I went for it.

I spent 4 frustrating nights in a row in my garage screwing around with sealant, a compressor and bucket of soapy water chasing down mystery leaks. Finally, after nearly a week, I got the first tire to seal and hold air reliably. A day or so later I saw Fatty at work and mentioned my experience. Fatty said, “Hey you’re a braver man that me!” Confused, I asked what he meant? He said, “Oh I never install tubeless myself- I always take my wheels to the shop! And yeah, it always leaks, I pump up my tires before every ride…” Uh, thanks Fatty- that would have been excellent information to have before I went tubeless…

Anyway, I’m happy to report that both tires are leak-free, though there is probably about a quart of sealant in my front tire now…

Part About Family

So it’s taken me 9 years, but I have finally actually come up with a bit of Genius Parenting Insight. Are you ready? Here it is: Kids Love Animals. That’s it, and yes it took me 9 years to figure it out.

Kids Love Animals This weekend we took the Trifecta to amazing vistas, a national park, and a volcanic lava field, but the absolute hits of the weekend were the 2 fenced fields we drove by: 1 with elk and bison, the other with ostriches and emus. Bird Whisperer was particularly enamored with the birds, both ratites, whose eating habits and Gondwanan origins he informed us of in detail. (Yes, my 9-year old knows about Gondwanaland and Ratites. How scary is that? Next year I may just retire and hand this blog over to him.)

Part About Fungus and Plants

My favorite desert rides are in the Spring, when there are all sorts of things blooming and flowering. IMG_8157 Nothing is blooming down around St. George yet, but the lack of “action” in the desert made me pay closer attention to some of the small-scale things going on. First, the Blackbrush, Coleogyne ramosissima. On close inspection, they’re covered with these light, green “proto-leaves”. In the coming weeks they’ll grow, darken up and acquire a tough, waxy coating. This is the first time I’ve seen them at this stage, and I think it’s one of the earliest indicators of Spring I’ve ever noticed in the desert.

IMG_8166 Second was this: a witches broom in Mormon Tea, specifically Ephedra viridis. I’ve seen plenty of brooms in both conifers and angiosperms, but never before on a gnetophyte. Whether this is a parasite or a mutation (either can cause broom-like growths), I don’t yet know, but I plan to return to brooms later this Spring/Summer.

IMG_8160 But the most interesting was this: all the stuff growing on rocks. I never saw desert mosses look greener, healthier or lusher, and the relative lack of other plant colors around, really made the lichens stand out, and it’s these guys- moss and lichens- that I want to dive into in the next couple of posts.

But first, a brief detour, as I address a reader’s urgent plant-related question.

Next Up: All About Ski Bike Junkie’s Yard

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

St. George Weekend Part 1: All About Lava

So we’re back from St. George, and as usual there’s a bunch of things I want to blog about, including biking, plants, fungus and a tangent on tubeless tires. But first, I want to talk about our rental condo.

IMG_8150 We stayed in the same condo as we did over Thanksgiving. We like this condo for a few reasons: it’s in nice condition, is in a great location, and includes access to a pool and hot tub. But the best thing about the condo from my perspective is the back yard. It’s a lava field, specifically the Santa Clara Lava Field.

I’ve lived in the West for close to 2 decades, and I think of all the things about the West that are hardest for a native Easterner to get used to, lava fields top the list. IMG_8147 When you grow up in Massachusetts, volcanoes are something you read about or maybe see on TV, but in pretty much anywhere in the West you’re less than a day’s drive from an actual lava field, or extinct volcano, or at least a cinder cone or two. In Utah it’s hard to drive more than 6 hours in any direction without running into lava in some form or another. Most lava fields don’t look like the photos you see from Hawaii, but rather like torn-up asphalt lots, with huge, jagged blocks of pavement turned this way and that.

SC FieldWhat’s really amazing about lava fields in the West is how recently they were flowing. The last of the eruptions of the Santa Clara Field were as recent as 10,000 years ago, meaning that there was a decent chance people were around to see it. The field was nearly 10 miles long, much of which is still exposed. Over the last decade developers have been diligently cutting into it with roads and cul-de-sacs, turning lava field into foundations and yards.

IMG_7486 The field is wonderful to explore, filled with all sorts of nooks and crannies that are home to various ground squirrels, finches and bats. The terrain is slow-going for larger predators, such as coyotes, and birds seem to favor it at as stopover. Here’s a Sandhill Crane I photographed on the lava back in November. (Yes I know it’s a lousy photo, but the setting is kind of “art-y” and I wanted to use it. Note to Newer Readers: I posted this defense of my lousy wildlife photos last year.)

IMG_8153 Tangent: The Santa Clara Field is only one aspect of St. George’s amazing geology, which I hope to better cover in a future post. In this photo, we have lava in the foreground. Behind the lava, the orange cliffs are comprised of Entrada sandstone, which is sedimentary rock formed from sea-bottom deposits roughly 170 million years ago, when Utah was partly covered by a shallow sea.

The mountains behind the sandstone, the Pine Valley Mountains, are even more interesting, as they’re a laccolithic range.

ContinentContinentConvergence Most mountain ranges in this part of the continent are formed by various crustal plates pushing against one another. The Rockies and the Sierra are the most spectacular examples, but the same thing is going on all over the Great Basin. Another kind of mountain is a volcanic peak, and many of the high Northwest peaks- Rainer, Shasta, Adams, Hood, and even Cerro Pinacate to the South, are all of this type- extinct (for the moment) volcanoes.

512px-Laccolith.svg But a laccolithic range is something altogether different; a laccolith is a huge pool of underground magma which is forced up between 2 layers of sedimentary rock. The pressure of the magma is so great that over time it forces up the overlying sedimentary layers, bending them as it does so. The underlying magma eventually cools and forms a solid igneous rock mass- the laccolith- which is typically flat on the bottom and domed on the top.

IMG_8142 The laccolith underlying the Pine Valley Mountains is thought to be one of the largest laccoliths in the world. Two other great laccolithic ranges in Southern Utah are the La Sals and the Henry Mountains (both of which I mentioned briefly in the Line-Of-Sight post, and both of which are well worth a long weekend visit.)

As recent as the Santa Clara Field is, there are much more recent easily-accessible fields within a day’s drive from Salt Lake. Trifect in Lava Cave 8 06 Craters of the Moon National Monument up in Idaho, with its fun caves and tubes, stopped erupting just 2,000 years ago. (pic right = Trifecta in lava tube there in August, 2006) Even more recent was the series of eruptions all over Southern Utah and Northern Arizona around 1070 AD. These eruptions left a series of real interesting cones and fields, the best known of which is Sunset Crater in Arizona.

sp_crater 2 other, slightly less spectacular, but more interesting, remnants from eruptions at that time are SP crater and Navajo Lake.

SP Crater (pic left, SP stands for “Shit Pot”. Hey, I didn’t name it), is near Sunset, but unlike Sunset you can scramble down into it, which I did in ’94 and it was a fantastic, albeit spooky, experience. Navajo Lake Lava Dam Closer to home, beautiful Navajo Lake on the Markagunt Plateau, East of Cedar City, was formed ~900 years ago when a lava flow blocked Duck Creek. (pic right = Navajo Lake with lava dam in foreground) The drainage and hydrology of Navajo Lake are absolutely fascinating, and a topic to which I plan to return come Summer.

Tangent: I should also mention the small cinder cone atop Little Creek Mountain. It’s small, and not worth a special trip, but is very obvious to anyone who’s ever driven out to ride the mtn bike trail. Unfortunately I can’t find any record of a date-estimate for it. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it’s less than 20,000 years old, just based on its “look” and the history of the area.

2408279349_7ecebf5001 But even more recent is the latest eruption in Utah, and this one is fascinating because it’s so close, so accessible, and yet so poorly known. Tabernacle Hill, just a few miles West of Fillmore, last erupted less than 700 years ago.

The area around it is littered with cinder cones, lava fields (pic above left, looking East), and a 2-to-3-story-deep lava tube that you can walk through from one end to the other. Fillmore FieldAwesome Wife (then Awesome Girlfriend) and I visited the area in ’97 or ’98.

IMG_1161This same area is still geologically active enough to heat Meadow Hot Spring, which though disappointingly cool from a soaking standpoint, is fascinating just to look at: clear blue water in a pool (pic left) that appears to be a narrow, bottomless pit.

IMG_1160 Tangent: The absolute weirdest thing about Meadow Hot Spring is… this sign. Gee, I’m not sure, is it OK to skinny-dip here?

So anyway, St. George has cool geology, which of course we already knew, but it was extra-cool to have it in our back yard.

OK, back to biking and plants! (Oh yeah, and fungus, too…)