Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Cheatgrass that Wasn't There

My first Land Lines column is in the June issue of Rangelands, a journal of the Society for Range Management.

“It looked like the ground was moving; there must have been millions of them. And they were eating every green shoot. It was dark, but I saw some on a light-colored rock. Then I saw 'em everywhere!”

I shivered in the chilly June evening as I listened to the rancher.

“It was warm in January, warmer than it is right now, and I saw the larvae in February,” he continued. “I collected some and took them in. The guy said they were army cutworms.”

Learn more about the culprit(s) in the Great Cheatgrass Caper on the SRM website.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Datil Well and the Wallow Fire

I added a third campground to my All Time Favorite list: Datil Well National Recreation Area, in western New Mexico, joins Natural Bridges and Lava Beds as the places I'd most like to spend the night.

All three campgrounds are located in arid PJ (pinon-juniper) vegetation and are small enough that large motor homes have difficulty navigating the roads between the trees. I rarely hear generators running in my favorite campgrounds and after the sun gets dark! I'm reminded how extravagant the Milky Way is when it's the only source of light. Natural Bridges National Monument, in southern Utah, is the first International Dark-Sky Park and is believed to be graced by the darkest night time skies in the National Park system.

Natural Bridges is also home to my All Time Favorite Day Hike: Drive to the far end of the loop drive and park at the Owachomo Bridge overlook. Walk back north, across the mesa, to Sipapu Bridge near the beginning of the loop. Follow the trail from the parking area at Sipapu Bridge down into White Canyon and then walk downstream to Owachomo Bridge. It's a relaxing hike in a canyon that shades you from the desert sun with trees and rock.

The campground at Lava Beds National Monument looks north to the wetlands of Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the California-Oregon border and the nearby the Tule Lake Japanese Internment camp. To the south of Lava Beds, the Modoc National Forest provides high elevation relief from the desert heat.

The water in Datil Well Campground still comes from the historic well. It was one of 15, spaced every 10 miles, that provided water for livestock on the Magdalena Stock Driveway. Cattle and sheep trailed along the driveway from Springerville, AZ to the railroad at Magdalena, NM during the 1800s. The Recreation Area is on BLM land and nestles against the eastern flank of the Datil Mountains and the Cibola National Forest.

I left Datil Well on June 6th and soon saw the smoke layer from the Wallow Fire burning in eastern Arizona. A few cumulus clouds peeked over the top of the smoke.

When I rolled into Aragon, NM, I realized that the puffy white formations weren't clouds; it was a convection column building above the fire, which was being fanned by unusually hot, dry weather and gusty winds.

By the time I stopped for an afternoon snack in Reserve, NM the convection column dominated the view to the west.

The Wallow Fire is the largest fire ever in Arizona. It started May 29th, southwest of Alpine, AZ and has burned 538,049 acres. It is now reported to be 89% contained. Although the news is encouraging, the fire still has a high potential for growth in difficult terrain.