Desert Desserts

Desert Desserts: Sacred Datura Moon Flower Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Sacred Datura Moon Flower
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Prickly Pear Cactus Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Prickly Pear Cactus
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Mormon Tea (Ephedra) From Comb Ridge Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Mormon Tea (Ephedra) From Comb Ridge
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Limestone Crinoids Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Limestone Crinoids
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

My proofreader’s eye has often spotted “dessert” misspelled as “desert,” and to some, those two concepts couldn’t be more dissimilar. During my three days in and along a short 27-river-mile stretch of Utah’s San Juan River this month though, I marveled at the menu.

Terry Tempest Williams captures what she calls “small devotions of the desert alphabet” in her book “The Illuminated Desert.” She lists lizards languishing in desert heat, ravens and rattlesnakes amid the red rocks. A fascinating one, the Sacred Datura, blooms only at night and attracts pollinators like the hawkmoth with its showy white blossoms in the moonlight. If it is food you are after, however, avoid this poisonous temptation. Instead, try a juicy prickly pear cactus pad once you have removed the long, sharp spines. Some say it tastes like watermelon, but it tastes like a banana to me.

Along the path to San Juan Hill atop Comb Ridge, I also find ephedra, a shrub that carries out photosynthesis in its green branches, that has traditionally been said to have been used medicinally and brewed, hence the common name Mormon tea. Some, like Brock Cheney who has researched the claim that Brigham Young advocated drinking tea made from boiling the stems, argue that Young’s “composition tea” was not made from the Mormon tea plant, and once you try it, the bitterness will tell you why. Having not ever had a sip myself, I can say that the Mormon tea shrub does sprinkle brilliant green to the landscape like a garnish.

“Lie down on your backs and try to feel what is special about this place.” That’s the challenge in Joseph Cornell’s book “Sharing Nature with Children,” but it is equally rewarding to do as an adult. Lounging in the raft as another rows, I look from the sediment-laden river that reminds me of watery chocolate pudding thanks to recent rainstorms, to the great blue heron standing as a guide, flying ahead and waiting for us to catch up, just to fly ahead again. I watch with wonder as the western tanager males, songbirds with yellow bodies and black wings, heads aflame with red-orange, flutter among the salt cedars.

This oasis offers a promise of quiet away from the commotion of my city life as the desert bighorn sheep nod from the coyote willow. Even after studying the scorpions in the sand illuminated by flashlight, I stretch out and nibble at the buffet of constellations above me in the sky.

The crinoids encased in the limestone boulders along the riverbank the next morning remind me that this place was once for millions of years, actually, an ancient inland sea. I find deliciousness here in the dry heat, the muddy grit, as a guest who will return, hungry for more.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Cheney, Brock. 2009. Mormon Tea! Plain but Wholesome: Adventures in Mormon Pioneer Food. http://pioneerfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/02/in-news-mormon-tea.html

Cornell, Joseph. 1998. Sharing Nature With Children. DAWN Publications. https://www.sharingnature.com/sharing-nature.html

Eldredge, Sandra. 1992. Geologic Resources of San Juan County. Department of Natural Resources Utah Geologic Survey. https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/public_information/PI-14.pdf

Larese-Casanova, Mark. 2011. Amazing Adaptations of Utah’s Desert Plants. https://wildaboututah.org/amazing-adaptations-of-utahs-desert-plants/

U.S. Forest Service. Sacred Datura. https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/beauty/Sky_Islands/plants/Datura_wrightii/index.shtml

https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/ethnobotany/Mind_and_Spirit/datura.shtml

Utah State University Extension. Salt cedar and coyote willow. https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/shrubs-and-trees/Saltcedar

https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/shrubs-and-trees/CoyoteWillow

Williams, Terry Tempest. 2008. The Illuminated Desert. Canyonlands Natural History Association. https://www.amazon.com/Illuminated-Desert-Terry-Tempest-Williams/dp/0937407119

Grandaddy Basin

Grandaddy Basin: Oft Have We by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Oft Have We
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Oft have we, my friends and I,
Left cares of home, and work day woes
To find a haven, there cast a fly;
And where we’ll camp–God only knows.

Oft have we hiked the trail uphill
To see it pass, and again return–
Walked mile on mile, to get the thrill
Of a meadow lake and a creel filled.

Oft round the lake we’ve cast and fussed
And wished it something we might shun;
But something deep inside of us
Just holds us fast till day is done.

Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Utahn Alfred Ralph Robbins loved exploring the Grandaddy Basin in northeastern Utah’s High Uintas with a group he called The High Country Boys. He compiled his labeled-and-dated sketches of camp and lake adventures among a sprinkling of black-and-white photographs in a scrapbook spanning the 1920s through the 1960s. They were casting at Governor Lake in 1927 and resting at Pine Island Lake in 1952 with 125 trout strung between the trees. I know they fished Pinto Lake, Trial Lake, Betsy Lake, and just about every lake in the area for 40 years. I know they, outfitted by Defa’s Dude Ranch, even stopped “on top of the world” on their way to Hatchery Lake with Alvis Newton Simpson, Robbins’s son-in-law and my grandfather, because he captured and preserved it.

Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
As my father handed down copies of this family fishing scrapbook to his grandchildren, my sons and daughters, after what they called a Fishing-with-Grandpa Simpson Saturday, he included a cover photograph of his Grandaddy Robbins, in his fishing waders, holding five-year-old grandson’s hand. My father added, “I only made one horse pack trip to Grandaddy Basin with Grandpa Robbins, but it was a very eventful week. It stormed one day and we could hear the rocks tumbling down the mountain when the lightning would strike and dislodge them. Another day there was a mayfly hatch as we were fishing one of the lakes. When that happened, the fish would bite on anything that hit the water. The mosquitoes just about ate us alive, and repellant didn’t help much. We saw some fish about three feet long near the rocks on shore, but we couldn’t get them to bite. We caught plenty of other fish and ate fish for supper most days that week.”

Do you have similar memories in the wild with your grandparents recorded somehow? Turning to one of my favorite books, “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,” I read again how Terry Tempest Williams described the memories with her grandmother among avocets, ibises, and western grebes during their outings in Utah’s Great Salt Lake wetlands. Grandmother Mimi shared her birding fascination with her granddaughter Terry along the burrowing owl mounds of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Williams wrote, “It was in 1960, the same year she gave me my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds. I know this because I dated their picture. We have come back every year since to pay our respects.”

I’m not a grandmother yet, but I will one day make a trek over Hades Pass again, gaze at the Grandaddy Basin below, and capture nature’s poetry with pen, camera lens, and little hiker hands in mine. Bloggers have technologies today to share instantly with me and the rest of the world their adventures in this Grandaddy Wilderness region. Documenting autobiographical history has evolved from dusty diaries and scrapbooks with black-and-white photographs to today’s digital image- and video-filled blogs in exciting ways that can include the places in Utah you love with the generations you love. Consider it your contribution to history.

Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

I would not miss the Oh’s! and Ah’s!
I’ve seen in Doug’s and Noel’s eyes,
When first they saw Grandaddy Lake
From the summit, in the skies.

They are thrilled I know, and so am I.
They show it in their face;
While I just swallow hard and try
To thank God for this place.

I am Grandaddy Basin poet Alfred Ralph Robbins’s great granddaughter Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Williams, Terry Tempest. 1992. Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place. New York: Vintage Books. https://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Unnatural-History-Family-Place/dp/0679740244

Andersen, Cordell M. The Grandaddies. 2015. http://cordellmandersen.blogspot.com/2015/06/photoessay-backpack-1-2015-grandaddy.html

Wasatch Will. Fern Lake: Chasing Friends in Grandaddy Basin. 2018. https://www.wasatchwill.com/2018/06/fern-lake.html

Delay, Megan and Ali Spackman. Hanging with Sean’s Elk Party in the Uinta’s Grandaddy Basin. 2015. https://whereintheworldaremeganandali.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/hanging-with-seans-elk-party-in-the-uintas-grandaddy-basin/

Rhodes, Shannon, Wild About Nature Journaling, Wild About Utah June 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-about-nature-journaling/

The Great Salt Lake’s Importance for Birds

Decreasing water levels in the southern arm of the Great Salt Lake expose microbialite communities that are normally underwater. Courtesy USGS, Hannah McIlwain, Photographer
Decreasing water levels in the southern arm of the Great Salt Lake expose microbialite communities that are normally underwater.
Courtesy USGS, Hannah McIlwain, Photographer
I first met the Great Salt Lake in 1964 with two Central Michigan University college buddies on our way to Los Angeles. We heard you could float in its magical waters. Sure enough- it worked and we bobbed in its gentle waves oblivious to the many other virtues of this extraordinary water body. The Great Salt Lake’s Importance

This saltwater marvel is the largest wetland area in the American West. Its 400,000 acres of wetlands provide habitat for over 230 bird species traveling from the tip of South America, north to Canada’s Northwest Territories and as far west as Siberia. These wetlands and surrounding mudflats are vital habitat for 8-10 million individual migratory birds with many species gathering at the Lake in larger populations than anywhere else on the planet.

In 1991 the Great Salt Lake was declared a site of “hemispheric importance,” the highest level of designation given to a site by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. The Reserve conserves shorebird habitat through a network of key sites across the Americas. Salt Lake receives the largest percentage of the world’s population of migrating Eared Grebes, nearly one-third of Wilson’s Phalaropes, more than half of American Avocets, and 37 percent of Black-necked Stilts. The lake’s shoreline, playas and mudflats also support 21 percent of the North American breeding population of Snowy Plovers, a species identified as one of greatest conservation needs by Utah’s Wildlife Action Plan.

These shorebirds are among nature’s most ambitious, long-distance migrants. But their numbers are dropping quickly. Shorebirds are showing the most dramatic declines among all bird groups. Species that undertake hemispheric migrations rely on specific habitats and food sources to survive, but these resources are increasingly under threat from human disturbance including habitat loss and degradation, over-harvesting, increasing predation, and climate change. As humans have continued to alter the landscape, shorebird populations continue to drop, with accelerated declines in recent decades.

Of 52 shorebird species that regularly breed in North America, 90% are predicted to experience an increase in risk of extinction. This includes 28 species already considered at high risk, and 10 imperiled species that face even greater risk.

At the base of Salt Lake’s food chain are microbialites, underwater reef-like rock mounds created by millions of microbes. These structures and their microbial mats form the base of the entire Great Salt Lake ecosystem, serving as a primary food source for brine shrimp and brine flies, which are the main food source for these aquatic birds. Falling water levels exposing the microbialites to air could trigger a collapse in the lake’s food chain according to a July study by the Utah Geological Survey.

So we humans aren’t the only one’s suffering from our disappearing Lake. Thank goodness we have awakened to this extraordinary resource found on our doorstep with many organizations and agencies attempting to save what remains for our health, wealth, and for the millions of threatened feathered friends that grace our skies, and our lives. Last May, Utah Governor Cox declared 2021 the year honoring shorebirds. We can do our part by taking action on conserving water and energy.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I’m wild about Utah and its magnificent great lake.

Credits:
The Great Salt Lake’s Importance
Picture:
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Strand, Holly, Important Bird Areas, Wild About Utah, October 21, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/important-bird-areas/

Strand, Holly, One of the World’s Largest Shrimp Buffets, Wild About Utah, June 3, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/one-of-the-worlds-largest-shrimp-buffets/

Chambless, Ross, When the Great Salt Lake we know is gone, what shall we name it?, Commentary, The Salt Lake Tribune, August 19, 2021, https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2021/08/19/ross-chambless-when-great/ [Accessed September 19, 2021]

Shorebirds are among nature’s most ambitious, long-distance migrants. Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), https://whsrn.org/about-shorebirds/shorebird-status/

Drought Negatively Impacting Great Salt Lake Microbialites and Ecosystem, Utah Geological Survey (UGS), Utah Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, July 15, 2021, https://geology.utah.gov/drought-negatively-impacting-great-salt-lake-microbialites-and-ecosystem/

Chidsey, T.C., Jr., Eby, D.E., Vanden Berg, M.D., and Sprinkel, D.A., 2021, Microbial carbonate reservoirs and analogs
from Utah: Utah Geological Survey Special Study 168, 112 p., 14 plates, 1 appendix, https://doi.org/10.34191/SS-168

Riding, Robert, Definition: Microbialites, Stromatolites, and Thrombolites, Encyclopedia of Geobiology, SpringerLink, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Part of Springer Nature., https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4020-9212-1_196

Romero, Simon, Booming Utah’s Weak Link: Surging Air Pollution, The New York Times, Sept. 7, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/07/us/great-salt-lake-utah-air-quality.html

2015–2025 Wildlife Action Plan, Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, July 1 2015, https://wildlife.utah.gov/discover/wildlife-action-plan.html

Governor Cox Declares 2021 as Year of the Shorebird at Great Salt Lake, Declaration celebrates 30th anniversary of Great Salt Lake as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site, Western Water News, National Audubon, May 12, 2021, https://www.audubon.org/news/governor-cox-declares-2021-year-shorebird-great-salt-lake
See also: https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1182-cox-declares-2021-year-of-shorebird-great-salt-lake.html

Gov. Cox Issues Drought Executive Order, Governor.utah.gov, March 17, 2021, https://governor.utah.gov/2021/03/17/gov-cox-issues-drought-executive-order/


Written by Hall Crimmel & Dan Bedford, Filmed and Edited by Isaac Goeckeritz, iUtah EPSCor, Rachel Carsen Center Environment & Society,
Based on the book Desert Water; The Future of Utah’s Water Resources edited by Hall Crimmel and published by University of Utah Press, 2014

Carney, Stephanie, Vanden Berg, Michael D., GeoSights: Microbialites of Bridger Bay, Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake, Survey Notes, Utah Geological Survey, State of Utah, January 1, 2022, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/geosights/geosights-microbialites-of-bridger-bay-antelope-island-great-salt-lake/

Salt Lake Brine Shrimp, https://saltlakebrineshrimp.com/harvest/

Grandaddy

Granddaddy: Oft Have We by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Oft Have We
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Oft have we, my friends and I,
Left cares of home, and work day woes
To find a haven, there cast a fly;
And where we’ll camp–God only knows.

Oft have we hiked the trail uphill
To see it pass, and again return–
Walked mile on mile, to get the thrill
Of a meadow lake and a creel filled.

Oft round the lake we’ve cast and fussed
And wished it something we might shun;
But something deep inside of us
Just holds us fast till day is done.

Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Breathtaking Beauty by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Utahn Alfred Ralph Robbins loved exploring the Grandaddy Basin in northeastern Utah’s High Uintas with a group he called The High Country Boys. He compiled his labeled-and-dated sketches of camp and lake adventures among a sprinkling of black-and-white photographs in a scrapbook spanning the 1920s through the 1960s. They were casting at Governor Lake in 1927 and resting at Pine Island Lake in 1952 with 125 trout strung between the trees. I know they fished Pinto Lake, Trial Lake, Betsy Lake, and just about every lake in the area for 40 years. I know they, outfitted by Defa’s Dude Ranch, even stopped “on top of the world” on their way to Hatchery Lake with Alvis Newton Simpson, Robbins’s son-in-law and my grandfather, because he captured and preserved it.

Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Alfred Ralph Robbins and Grandson Jerry Newton Simpson 1947 Utah
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
As my father handed down copies of this family fishing scrapbook to his grandchildren, my sons and daughters, after what they called a Fishing-with-Grandpa Simpson Saturday, he included a cover photograph of his Grandaddy Robbins, in his fishing waders, holding five-year-old grandson’s hand. My father added, “I only made one horse pack trip to Grandaddy Basin with Grandpa Robbins, but it was a very eventful week. It stormed one day and we could hear the rocks tumbling down the mountain when the lightning would strike and dislodge them. Another day there was a mayfly hatch as we were fishing one of the lakes. When that happened, the fish would bite on anything that hit the water. The mosquitoes just about ate us alive, and repellant didn’t help much. We saw some fish about three feet long near the rocks on shore, but we couldn’t get them to bite. We caught plenty of other fish and ate fish for supper most days that week.”

Do you have similar memories in the wild with your grandparents recorded somehow? Turning to one of my favorite books, “Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,” I read again how Terry Tempest Williams described the memories with her grandmother among avocets, ibises, and western grebes during their outings in Utah’s Great Salt Lake wetlands. Grandmother Mimi shared her birding fascination with her granddaughter Terry along the burrowing owl mounds of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Williams wrote, “It was in 1960, the same year she gave me my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds. I know this because I dated their picture. We have come back every year since to pay our respects.”

I’m not a grandmother yet, but I will one day make a trek over Hades Pass again, gaze at the Grandaddy Basin below, and capture nature’s poetry with pen, camera lens, and little hiker hands in mine. Bloggers have technologies today to share instantly with me and the rest of the world their adventures in this Grandaddy Wilderness region. Documenting autobiographical history has evolved from dusty diaries and scrapbooks with black-and-white photographs to today’s digital image- and video-filled blogs in exciting ways that can include the places in Utah you love with the generations you love. Consider it your contribution to history.

Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs by Alfred Ralph Robbins Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Grandaddy Ohs and Ahs
by Alfred Ralph Robbins
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

I would not miss the Oh’s! and Ah’s!
I’ve seen in Doug’s and Noel’s eyes,
When first they saw Grandaddy Lake
From the summit, in the skies.

They are thrilled I know, and so am I.
They show it in their face;
While I just swallow hard and try
To thank God for this place.

I am Grandaddy Basin poet Alfred Ralph Robbins’s great granddaughter Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Williams, Terry Tempest. 1992. Refuge: an unnatural history of family and place. New York: Vintage Books. https://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Unnatural-History-Family-Place/dp/0679740244

Andersen, Cordell M. The Grandaddies. 2015. http://cordellmandersen.blogspot.com/2015/06/photoessay-backpack-1-2015-grandaddy.html

Wasatch Will. Fern Lake: Chasing Friends in Grandaddy Basin. 2018. https://www.wasatchwill.com/2018/06/fern-lake.html

Delay, Megan and Ali Spackman. Hanging with Sean’s Elk Party in the Uinta’s Grandaddy Basin. 2015. https://whereintheworldaremeganandali.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/hanging-with-seans-elk-party-in-the-uintas-grandaddy-basin/

Rhodes, Shannon, Wild About Nature Journaling, Wild About Utah June 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-about-nature-journaling/