Audio: mp3They might catch your eye as they dart under sagebrush. Or maybe startle you with their pushups on a boulder. Odds are, you won’t leave Arches or Canyonlands national parks without seeing a Western Banded Gecko.
These lizards can grow to six inches in length, though that’s on the large side, and half of that length might be their tail. Pale-pink and brown-banded translucent skin distinguishes Western Banded Geckos from all other lizards that live in the same desert surroundings, and their heads and bodies are speckled with light brown. The brown bands are vibrant in young Western Banded Geckos, and then change into blotches, or spots, with age.
The small scales that cover their body are soft to touch, and their slender toes leave no room for pads. Movable eyelids and vertical pupils also set them apart.
The Western Banded Gecko typically are spotted in rocky or sandy desert areas in the American Southwest. They are fond of open, dry deserts, desert grasslands, and catching the sun in the canyons. You can spot them, or one of the eight subspecies, in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, as well as in Arches and Canyonlands.
Like other geckos, these lizards generally avoid the day heat and prefer the cool night air. They seek shelter during the day near or under rocks, burrows, and spaces beneath vegetative debris, and even trash piles if necessary. They frequent rodent burrows as they hunt insects, spiders, small arthropods, and baby scorpions.
The Western Banded Gecko stalks its prey, capturing and crushing it with its jaws in a final, fatal lunge. The small gecko is one of the few reptiles credited with controlling the scorpion population, by eating their young. The Western Banded Gecko can also mimic a scorpion, by turning its tail upwards, and waving it to repel predators.
In addition to this deception, Western Banded Geckos use other methods to divert predators. Be forewarned: if you plan on catching a Western Banded Gecko, be prepared to hear a squeak or chirp in disagreement. You may even see them detach their tail. Their tail has particular fracture planes, allowing the lizard to easily detach and escape, similar to other lizards. Blood vessels surrounding the tail rapidly close, so they can prevent blood loss. Regrowth of their tails happens quickly, as it is mostly made up of cartilage.
Though the tail serves as an easy escape route, it means a lot to a Western Banded Gecko: that’s where it stores its food and water. Their tail allows these animals to survive during lean times, up to nine months. As you can imagine, losing a tail puts their life in danger, so look but don’t touch.
For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text: Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.
Wilderness. The word conjures up romantic images of wide open landscapes teeming with birds, beasts, and plants. I imagine places untouched by human influence – truly wild and free. Places that are exotic and far away.
But wilderness exists much closer than you may think.
The United States Congress adopted the Wilderness Act with a nearly unanimous vote in 1964. Ours was the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas – lands valued enough to be set aside for the purpose of protection.
Currently, the Wilderness Act protects 757 individual wilderness areas across the United States – totaling more than 109 million acres. Thirty-three wilderness areas are found in Utah, and they protect a variety of unique landscapes from the red rock desert found in Red Butte Wilderness to the alpine forests of the High Uintas Wilderness. While the landscapes may look incredibly different from one wilderness area to the next, these lands share a number of qualities which can be described by adjectives such as peaceful, quiet, untouched, and pristine.
These areas protect some of the most unique and incredible landscapes that Utah has to offer, but that doesn’t mean they’re off limits. Our wilderness areas are just that – ours. They are public lands, accessible to anyone who wants to visit – so long as you tread lightly.
Areas that fall under its protection are described in the Wilderness Act as “lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…” which “…shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreation, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historic use.” These amazing lands were set aside in 1964 with an eye to the future and because of it, should still be around for your grandchildren’s grandchildren to enjoy.
There is an ongoing effort to educate Americans about the immense value of preserving wilderness areas. For without education, they may one day be selfishly reclaimed and lost. One of these educational opportunities is coming to Logan on April 13th and 14th. The Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center will be hosting a teacher training workshop in conjunction with the Stokes Nature Center and the Utah Society for Environmental Education. The workshop is aimed at teachers in grades 5-8, though anyone is welcome to attend. For more information, please contact the Stokes Nature Center at www.logannature.org
Not a teacher? The best way to learn about wilderness areas is to go visit one! Information, and photos of Utah Wilderness Areas, can be found at www.wildaboututah.org
For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.
Photos: Courtesy Wilderness.net, Steve Archibald, (Individual Copyrights noted)
Text: Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org
The Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center:
Wilderness Investigations teacher training workshop:
Audio: mp3Though another national park in Utah is famous for arches, Zion National Park has more than you might imagine.
Doubt it? Next time you visit the park, take a good look around. All the elements for arch building are readily on hand in Zion.
A natural arch is formed when deep cracks penetrate into a sandstone layer. Erosion wears away the exposed rock layers and the surface cracks expand, isolating narrow sandstone walls, or fins. Water, frost, and the release of tensions in the rock cause crumbling and flaking of the porous sandstone and eventually cut through some of the fins. The resulting holes become enlarged to arch proportions by rockfalls and weathering.
Worldwide, arches number in the tens of thousands, and probably no place is more suited for their creation than the Colorado Plateau, home of Zion National Park. The vast geology of Zion has created environments as widespread and varied as the topography of the park itself.
Hidden in its geologic grandeur are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of freestanding arches of all shapes and sizes. Although freestanding arches may be found in many different types of geologic formations, the Navajo Sandstone formation, which makes up the magnificent cliffs of Zion, provides a fertile setting for the creation of these ribbons of rock.
Among the many arches in Zion, two stand out: Crawford Arch and Kolob Arch. Crawford Arch is the most visible, clinging to the base of Bridge Mountain a thousand feet above the Zion Canyon floor. It’s frequently pointed out to casual observers by an interpretive sign located on the front patio of the Human History Museum.
The other famous arch in Zion is not so easily seen. Located deep in the backcountry of the national park’s Kolob Canyons District — it takes a seven-mile hike in to reach– Kolob Arch is hidden in a small side canyon, perched high on the canyon wall.
For most of the 20th century, many believed that Kolob was in fact the world’s largest freestanding arch, leading to years of debate and the motivation for various parties of adventurous thrill seekers to climb on and around the massive span in hopes of securing a defensible measurement.
The Natural Arch and Bridge Society long has pondered this question, and using lasers and an agreed upon definition of what should be measured says Landscape Arch is the world’s longest stone arch. But don’t be surprised if the debate continues.
The definition used by the society centers on the “maximum horizontal extent of the opening.” That opening beneath Landscape Arch measures right around 290.1 (plus or minus 0.8 feet) feet across.
The opening beneath Zion National Park’sKolob Arch, which long had been in the running for world’s largest, measures 287.4 feet (plus or minus 2 feet), according to the group.
Despite its isolated location, Kolob Arch has become a favorite backcountry destination for thousands of visitors to Zion. They discover what most arch seekers will tell you: while beauty awaits every seeker at the end of the path, the reward begins unfolding at the trailhead.
Anxious to see another arch, but not ready for a 14-mile roundtrip hike? Then head for Double Alcove ARch. A 5-mile roundtrip along the Taylor Creek Trail takes you into a narrow box canyon toward the Double Arch Alcove, where erosion has carved out natural openings in the Navajo sandstone.
For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text: Kurt Repanshek/, NationalParksTraveler.com.
The American robin with its abundance, red breast, and loud song is one of the most recognizable backyard birds in North America. For many of us the robin – or Turdus migratorius – is also thought of as a herald of spring. So why is it that we still occasionally see them in our wintry Utah backyards?
Seasonal bird migration can be triggered by a number of things, but the two main drivers are food supply and nesting habitat. In spring and summer the birds move northward to take advantage of insect hatches, budding plants, and the plethora of nesting sites. Then, as food sources dwindle in fall, the birds move southward to areas where the necessary resources are still plentiful.
The distances birds migrate in order to access these resources can range widely. Therefore, birds are generally categorized as being short-, medium-, or long-distance migrants. Robins are considered short-distance migrants. While their range spans all of Canada and the United States extending down into Mexico, most robins do not travel far from their breeding grounds in winter and may not leave at all. Only the populations that breed and reside on the edges of this range will migrate seasonally.
The robin’s varied diet and behavioral adaptability are the primary reasons these short-migratory or non-migratory patterns are possible. Robins are preferably ground foragers, feasting on insects and earthworms in the spring and summer months. Yet, during the fall and winter, robins eat a fruit-based diet. They track this seasonal food source in flocks, abandoning their summer individualistic and territorial behavior. These flocks – or roosting aggregates – also help them survive the cold winter temperatures. As a result, robins are able to cope with the ground freezing, the disappearance of their preferred food source, and the harsh winter weather.
Returning to our original question: is the American robin truly a sign of spring here in Utah? Is it strange to see this bird in our backyards during the winter months? The simple answer is no. Robins can be found year round almost anywhere south of Canada. While they may migrate nomadically, staying or leaving areas as weather and snow cover affect their food supply, there could be some keeping us company in Utah all winter.
For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson.
Image: Courtesy US FWS, Lee Karney, James C. Leopold, Photographers
Text: Anna Bengston
Sources & Additional Reading:
American Robin Profile, Utah Birds http://utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdIndex.htm
American Robin, Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_robin/id
American Robin, The Birds of North America Online http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/462/articles/introduction
Studying Migration, Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/studying/migration/
Migration Patterns, Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/studying/migration/patterns
Where Have all the Robins Gone?, Migration, Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/faq/master_folder/migration/document_view
Snow Depth Survey, The Great Backyard Bird Count http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/science-stories/past-stories/snow-depth-survey
Winter Robins, The Great Backyard Bird Count http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/science-stories/past-stories/is-that-winter-flock-of-robins-in-your-yard-unusual