Capitol Reef

Fruita and the Wingate Cliffs
Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Early settlers to the landscape we know as Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah planted cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, and walnut trees as a cash crop for survival along the Fremont River bottoms. Visitors today are often surprised by the fruit trees in light of the surrounding desert climate, and campers can pick apples and peaches from their campsites in the orchards. But the green fields and fruit trees also attract deer, marmots, and other small critters, which are easy to spot and are comfortable with humans in their environment.

Though the deer roam free in the tall grass between apple trees, there are other species that are a bit more dangerous lurking nearby. Mountain lions and black bears skillfully stalk around this historic district of Fruita without being seen. Mountain lions have been spotted within a half-mile of the popular campground, yet little is known about the species within the confines of Capitol Reef. With so many questions unanswered about the predator and prey relationship in the unique landscape, the park has received a Disney Nature Impact Grant to enlighten us.

Lori Rome, the park’s chief of interpretation, says, “We are setting up 10-20 infrared motion detected camera traps in surrounding areas. This is a non-invasive way to learn basic information about the species.”

The cameras will provide useful evidence and reveal the patterns of the quiet predators in the park. The public will be engaged through a citizen science project using social media and public interpretive programming, for example helping to survey deer populations.

If you’ve seen Disney Nature’s movie Bears, you, too, helped contribute to the Disney Nature Impact Grants program. Fourteen national parks are receiving funding via proceeds from the movie. Disney Nature has pledged a contribution to the National park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, for each person who saw the film during its first week in theaters.

This type of support helps preserve and protect Capitol Reef and the rest of the National Park System. The Disney Nature Impact Grant enables parks to conduct much-needed conservation projects, such as studying mountain lions at Capitol Reef.

Each park selected to receive a grant through this program had to demonstrate a clear need for the money, and how it would make a profound difference in habitat restoration, wildlife protection or conservation research. With this assistance, we should be able understand predator’s actions in Capitol Reef National Park.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek,

Additional Reading:

Capitol Reef And 13 Other National Parks Receive Impact Grants From Disney Nature’s Movie “Bears”, Submitted by Carli Jones, June 26, 2014, NationalParksTraveler.com

Capital Reef National Park,

Capital Reef National Park,

Mammals in Capital Reef National Park,
Amphibians in Capital Reef National Park,
Fish in Capital Reef National Park,
Birds in Capital Reef National Park,
Reptiles in Capital Reef National Park,

Great Basin Bristlecone Pines Utah’s Mountain Sentinels

Bristlecone Pine
Photo Courtesy & Copyright
Mark Larese-Casanova, Photographer

Bristlecone Pine Grain
Compared to a Dime
Photo Courtesy & Copyright
Mark Larese-Casanova, Photographer

Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.

Utah’s cold mountaintops, like its hottest deserts, are rather inhospitable to most plants. Although more precipitation falls at higher elevations, colder temperatures prevent much of the water from being used by plants, since most of it falls as snow in winter. High winds also inhibit growth and can contribute to frost or wind damage to plants. Any plants that grow here must be especially hardy.

The Great Basin bristlecone pine is a grand sentinel of our rocky, high mountain ridges. Its shorter needles are grouped in bundles of five, and grow densely at the end of the branches, creating a ‘bottlebrush’ or ‘foxtail’. However, the growth of the wood is the most interesting aspect of the Great Basin bristlecone pine. For a tree, each ring represents one year of growth. Because of the colder temperatures and shorter growing season, each growth ring of a bristlecone pine is particularly small, usually around 1/32th of an inch. The tight growth rings result in especially dense, resinous wood that is resistant to decay and insects.

At higher elevations, a bristlecone pine’s growth form becomes more twisted and contorted by the wind. Over time, much of the tree may die, and the living portion may simply be a strip of bark up the trunk and just a few branches.

These adaptations allow the Great Basin bristlecone pine to live an exceptionally long life despite such harsh conditions. It is common for a bristlecone pine to live for thousands of years, and the oldest recorded specimen was aged at approximately 5,000 years old. That means it germinated from seed a few hundred years before the first Egyptian pyramid was even built! Bristlecone pines can even remain standing for thousands of years after they die. Growth ring patterns can be compared between living and dead bristlecone pines to reveal a chronology of our climate for the past seven, eight, maybe ten thousand years!

To see bristlecone pines in Utah, hike the Bristlecone Pine Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park or the Ramparts Trail at Cedar Breaks National Monument. Be sure to take only photos, and not wood or cones. Bristlecone pines will be around a lot longer than we will, and they could use all the help they can get.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Mark Larese-Casanova
Text:     Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.

Additional Reading:

Lanner, R.M. 2007. The Bristlecone Book: A Natural History of the World’s Oldest Trees. Mountain Press Publishing Company.

Cohen, M. P. 1998. A Garden Of Bristlecones: Tales Of Change In The Great Basin. University of Nevada Press.

Autumn Colors

Autumn Colors: Fall Colors in Cache County Photo © 2006 Bridgerland Audubon Society
Fall Colors in Cache County
Photo © 2006 Bridgerland Audubon Society

In autumn, our days shorten noticeably and frosty dawns become the norm across most of Utah. Now leafy plants must be preparing for winter. Their summer of intense metabolic activities must gradually give way to winter’s dormancy. Photosynthesis and respiration are gradually shut down as nutrients and sugars are withdrawn from leaves, to be shunted to the stem and roots for storage.

The brilliant autumn yellows of our aspens, ash trees and cottonwoods, as well as the crimsons of our maples and sumacs, are all indicative of leafy plants frugality with their valuable nutrient stores. The foliar pigment phytochrome first registers the lengthening nights, initiating the cascade of physiological events that prepare a tree for the icy blasts of winter. Before discarding their leaves, deciduous trees and shrubs rescue and store what they can of sugars and nutrients found in their leaves.

The key photosynthetic green pigment, chlorophyll, and its attendant enzymes are all broken down, their components moved to storage for recycling next spring. Essential nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are likewise extracted from foliage for later reuse. With chlorophyll gone, the other colorful leaf pigments are revealed in all their glory. These accessory pigments have been there all along, they just have been masked by the dominant green of chlorophyll.

These accessory pigments serve several functional purposes for the leaf. Some pigments protect the leaf from sunburn, some scavenge free radicals, but most capture energy from wavelengths of light missed by chlorophyll. The multi-hued spectrum of sunlight, as revealed by a prism or a rainbow, not only allows us to see splashy fall foliage colors, it is the reason for their existence.

For the plant physiologist and chemist, then, the palette of colorful leaf pigments have complex functional explanations. More mysterious psychological stirrings accompany the aching beauty of our autumn foliage, but it gives an undeniable tug at my heart. Standing before a blazing yellow stand of aspens, I smile to think that recycling can be so beautiful.

Photo: Courtesy
Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society – Jim Cane, Linda Kervin

Additional Reading:
Utah Scenic Byways,
Utah Fall Colors,