A Grand Old River

A Grand Old River: The Island Acres Part of James M. Robb Colorado River State Park Fruita, CO Courtesy Daniel Smith, Photographer
The Island Acres Part of
James M. Robb Colorado River State Park
Fruita, CO
Courtesy Daniel Smith, Photographer

The Colorado River from Dead Horse Point State Park, near Moab,Utah, USA Courtesy Phil Armitage, Photographer The Colorado River from
Dead Horse Point State Park,
near Moab,Utah, USA
Courtesy Phil Armitage, Photographer

Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers in Canyonlands National Park Courtesy USGS Photo by Marli Miller, Photographer Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers
in Canyonlands National Park
Courtesy USGS
Photo by Marli Miller, Photographer

Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers in Canyonlands National Park Courtesy National Park Service Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers
in Canyonlands National Park
Courtesy National Park Service

Map of the Colorado River Watershed by Karl Musser based on USGS data This file is licensed under the CCA ShareAlike 2.5 License. Map of the Colorado River Watershed
by Karl Musser based on USGS data
This file is licensed under the
CCA ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The Colorado River is the largest waterway in the southwest. 1,450 miles long, the Colorado River basin drains 248,000 square miles in 7 large states. In Utah, the river enters near Cisco south of I-70, winds its way through Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, then flows through Glen Canyon and exits south into Arizona.

Less than 100 years ago, the Colorado River wasn’t in Utah or even in Colorado. Until 1920, “Colorado River” referred only to the river section downstream from Glen and Grand Canyons. Upstream, it was called the Grand River all the way up the headwaters in the Colorado Rockies. Thus we have Grand County in Utah and the town of Grand Junction in Colorado.

According to Jack Schmidt, professor in Utah State University’s Department of Watershed Sciences and a longtime scholar of the river, the good citizens of the state of Colorado weren’t pleased with the Colorado River’s location.
So in 1920, the Colorado Legislature renamed Colorado’s portion of the Grand River, with a somewhat awkward result: The Colorado River began in Colorado, became the Grand River at the border with Utah and then became the Colorado River again at the confluence with the Green.

This arrangement did not last long –again because of a Colorado legislator. U.S. Representative Edward T. Taylor, petitioned the Congressional Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce to rename the entire river as the Colorado. Despite objections from Utah and Wyoming representatives and the U.S. Geological Survey, the name change was made official by the U.S. Congress on July 25, 1921.

The objections were legitimate: In the 1890s the Federal Board on Geographic Names established the policy of naming rivers after their longest tributary. The former Grand River of Colorado and Utah was shorter than the Green River tributary by quite a bit. So the Green river should have prevailed and the Colorado should have been one of its tributaries.

However, if you judge tributary primacy by volume, the Colorado wins hands down. 100 years ago, the upper Colorado (or former Grand River) had a significantly higher total flow than the Green.

But what’s in a name? Prior to widespread European settlement, the Grand River was known as Rio Rafael and before that, different parts of the river had numerous Native American and Spanish names. A thousand years from now the rapidly evolving Colorado could have an entirely different identity. The main thing is that Utahns can enjoy and appreciate the habitat, scenery and many resources that this important waterway provides.

Thanks to the USU College of Natural Resources and the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

 

Images:

JamesMRobbColorado_riverDanielSmith.jpg: Taken in the Island Acres Part of James M. Robb Colorado River State park by Daniel Smith and released into the Public domain.

DeadHorsePtSP_UtahPhilArmitage.jpg: The Colorado River from Dead Horse Point State Park, near Moab, Utah, USA. Photo by Phil Armitage (May be used for any purpose)

ConfluenceUSGSMarliMiller.jpg: Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers in Canyonlands National Park. USGS Photo by Marli Miller.

ConfluenceNPS.jpg: Confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers in Canyonlands National Park. National Park Service.

Colorado River Watershed Map, by Karl Musser based on USGS data, licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License: In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license


Text: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Holly Strand, Content reviewed by Jack Schmidt of Utah State University’s Department of Watershed Sciences and a longtime scholar of the Colorado River.

Sources & Additional Reading:


Benke, A. C., and C. E. Cushing (editors). 2005. Rivers of North America. Academic/Elsevier. Amsterdam/Boston, 1168 pages.

Casey, Robert L. Journey to the High Southwest. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2007, p. 20.

Colorado Historical Society, Frontier Historical Society, www.bioguide.congress.gov

https://www.postindependent.com/article/20080325/VALLEYNEWS/68312863

”First Biennial Report of the Utah Conservation Commission, 1913,” Salt Lake City, Utah: The Arrow Press Tribune-Reporter Printing Co., 1913. p. 131.

McKinnon, Shaun. “River’s headwaters determined by politicians, not geography.” The Arizona Republic, 25 July 2004.

James, Ian, Scientists have long warned of a Colorado River crisis, The Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-15/scientists-have-long-warned-of-a-colorado-river-crisis

Stromatolites

Stromatolites in Hamlin Pool
Shark Bay, Austalia
Courtesy Wayne A. Wurtsbaugh

Exposed stromatolites in the
Great Salt Lake
Courtesy
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program

Stromatolites in Shark Bay
(Hamlin Pool) during low tide.
Courtesy Linda L’Ai

Hi I’m Holly Strand.

Shark Bay in Northwest Australia is on my “places to see before I die” list. In a section of the bay called Hamelin Pond, colonies of microbes form hard, dome-shaped, deposits. Called stromatolites, these structures embody one of the oldest forms of life on earth. The fossil record of microbes in older stromatolites date back 3.5 billion years. Their antiquity, abundance, and persistence to modern times make stromatolites a fascinating subject for scientific inquiry.

Basically, stromatolites are layered structures formed primarily by cyanobacteria. This photosynthesizing bacteria changes the pH of the water causing calcium carbonate to precipitate over a mat of bacterial filaments. The minerals, along with grains of sediment in the water, are trapped in a layer of goo that surrounds the bacterial colonies. Then the lower layer bacteria grows upward and penetrates the most recent mineral and sediment layer. When this process is repeated over and over, a stromatolite is formed.

For over 2 billion years stromatolites dominated the shallow seas and formed extensive reef tracts rivaling those of modern coral reefs. However, today, stromatolites are relatively rare. You will usually find them growing in extreme environments, such as hypersaline water or thermal springs.

While Shark Bay boasts a stunning example of a modern stromatolite colony, you don’t have to go all the way to Australia. When lake levels are low, you can easily see them in the Great Salt Lake. They span hundreds of square kilometers in shallow shoreline waters. Some say that the Great Salt Lake contains some of the most extensive areal coverage of living stromatolites in the world.

One of the best places to view them is from the shore near Buffalo Point on Antelope Island. When conditions are clear, you can see them underwater at the mouth of the Great Salt Lake Marina.

More than just memorials to ancient life, the stromatolites also play a vital role in Great Salt Lake ecology. They are the principal habitat for the brine fly larvae and pupae. In turn, brine flies are a critical diet for goldeneye ducks, American avocets and many other water birds.

Thanks to Wayne Wurtsbaugh, from Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources for his support in developing this Wild About Utah episode.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Wayne A. Wurtsbaugh and Linda L’Ai
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

National Park Service. Stomatolite Fossils. https://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/stromatolite.htm [Accessed August 16, 2011]

Schopf, J.William. Anatoliy B Kudryavtsev; Andrew D Czaja; Abhishek B Tripathi. 2007. Evidence of Archean life: Stromatolites and microfossils. Precambian Research, 158. No. 3-4 pp. 141-155.

UNESCO Shark Bay Western Australia https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/578 [Accessed August 16, 2011]

University of California Museum of Paleontology. Cyanobacteria: Fossil Record https://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/bacteria/cyanofr.html [Accessed August 16, 2011]

Walter, M R. 1983. Archean stromatolites – Evidence of the earth’s earliest benthos
Earth’s earliest biosphere: Its origin and evolution. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.

Wurtsbaugh, W.A. 2009. Biostromes, brine flies, birds and the bioaccumulation of selenium in Great Salt Lake, Utah. Pp. 1-15 In: A. Oren, D. Naftz, P. Palacios & W.A. Wurtsbaugh (eds). Saline Lakes Around the World:Unique Systems with Unique Values. Natural Resources and Environmental Issues, volume XV. S.J. and Jessie Quinney Natural Resources Research Library, Logan , Utah. URL: https://www.cnr.usu.edu/quinney/files/uploads/NREI2009online.pdf

Oolites

Utah’s Oolitic Sand, Photo Courtesy and Copyright Mark Larese-Casanova

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

Imagine if prehistoric brine shrimp were responsible for one of the finest examples of architecture in Salt Lake City today.

Okay, so it may be a bit of a stretch, but let me explain. In a previous episode of Wild About Utah, I discussed the life cycle of brine shrimp and the important role that they play in the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem. Well, as the billions of brine shrimp feed on bacteria in Great Salt Lake, they excrete waste in the form of tiny fecal pellets. These pellets, along with sand grains and other bits of debris, eventually settle to the bottom of Great Salt Lake.

In shallow areas of the lake, where wind and waves routinely mix the water, these small particles gradually accumulate layers of calcium carbonate, forming an oolite (spelled o-o-l-i-t-e). This is very similar to how a pearl, also layers of calcium carbonate around a small particle, is formed within the shell of an oyster or mussel. The main difference, aside from a pearl being much larger, is that oolites are typically oblong, rather than round. The beaches on the west side of Antelope Island are a great place to find oolitic sand, which will look and feel as though you have a handful of tiny pearls.

Utah’s Oolitic Sandstone
Photo Courtesy & Copyright
Mark Larese-Casanova

Around 50 million years ago, large fresh- and salt-water lakes covered parts of Utah, and in these areas, vast amounts of sediments, including oolites, were deposited. Over time, these oolites were compressed and cemented together into limestone.

A quarry near Ephraim in Sanpete County supplied oolitic limestone for the construction of the Governor’s Mansion in 1902 and the original Salt Lake City Public Library in 1905. The Library building, located at 15 South State Street, eventually housed the Hansen Planetarium and is now home to the O.C. Tanner flagship store. The building underwent an extensive restoration just a couple of years ago, and now serves as a shining example of neoclassical architecture in our capitol city.

The truth is, there are tens of millions of years separating oolitic limestone from our modern-day brine shrimp. So, we can’t exactly say that prehistoric brine shrimp were responsible for the existence of the O.C. Tanner building. But, it’s fun to imagine precious gems from around the world housed in a beautiful building constructed from the ‘pearls’ of Great Salt Lake.

Historic OC Tanner Building
(formerly the Salt Lake Library
and later the Hansen Planetarium)
Photo Courtesy & Copyright
Mark Larese-Casanova

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

Images: Courtesy and copyright Mark Larese-Casanova

Text:     Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.
Additional Reading:

Utah Geological Survey https://geology.utah.gov/utahgeo/rockmineral/collecting/oolitic.htm

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program
https://wildlife.utah.gov/gsl/facts/oolitic_sand.php

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

The Brine Shrimp of Great Salt Lake

Brine shrimp life cycle, Courtesy University of Utah<br/>Genetic Science Learning Center https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/gsl/foodweb/brine_shrimp/index.html
Brine shrimp lifecycle
Courtesy University of Utah
Genetic Science Learning Center

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

I can still remember the colorful advertisements for Sea Monkeys in the back of comics books that I read as a child. For just $1.75, I could have a “bowl full of happiness!” It wasn’t until I visited Great Salt Lake thirty years later that I realized what sea monkeys really were. They certainly weren’t tiny, web-footed humans, and they definitely didn’t have little crown-like antennae. But, it was exciting to think that we have an enormous Sea Monkey aquarium right here in Utah.

Sea Monkeys are actually brine shrimp of the genus Artemia, and Great Salt Lake is full of the species Artemia franciscana. These tiny crustaceans, along with the brine fly’s aquatic larvae, are the foundation of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem. Millions of birds visit Great Salt Lake each year to feed on brine shrimp during migration or while nesting.

Brine shrimp nauplii from the Great Salt Lake, Courtesy USGS see https://ut.water.usgs.gov/shrimp/
Brine shrimp nauplii
from the Great Salt Lake
Courtesy USGS

Not much can live in Great Salt Lake, with its salt concentrations as high as 25%. But by adapting to these conditions, brine shrimp avoid many predators and have little competition for the abundant algae and bacteria that grow there.

Beginning in late winter or early spring, as the water temperature increases and there is an influx of fresh water to the lake, brine shrimp hatch from cysts, which are hard-shelled dormant eggs. The brine shrimp larva, also called a nauplius, survives on a yolk sack for the first 12 hours, but then feeds on algae as it grows into an adult.

Some species of Artemia have only females, but the Great Salt Lake population has both males and females. The male can be distinguished by his ‘grasper’ antennae, which almost look like a giant handlebar moustache, and the female can often be seen with two small, orange or pink egg sacs at the base of her tail. When conditions in the lake are good, such as with high oxygen and relatively low salt concentrations, female brine shrimp will give birth to live nauplii. But, if salt concentrations increase due to drought in summer, or when water temperature drops in late fall, females switch to making more cysts to ensure the survival of future generations. As winter passes, and spring starts to make an appearance, the life cycle of the brine shrimp starts all over again.

To learn more about brine shrimp, be sure the visit the Great Salt Lake Institute’s web site at greatsaltlakeinstitute.org. I encourage you to visit Antelope Island State Park where you can catch brine shrimp from the marina on the north end of the island. All you need is a bucket… and a little sense of adventure.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy USGS https://ut.water.usgs.gov/shrimp/
Brine Shrimp Lifecycle, Courtesy University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center
Theme: Courtesy & Copyright Don Anderson Leaping Lulu
Text & Voice: Mark Larese-Casanova

Additional Reading:

USGS, Utah Water Science Center, Brine Shrimp and Ecology of Great Salt Lake. (Courtesy Internet Archive Wayback Machine, Apr 15, 2008) https://wildaboututah.org/wp-content/uploads/080415-Wayback-USGS-Brine-Shrimp-and-Ecology-of-Great-Salt-Lake.pdf Formerly: https://ut.water.usgs.gov/greatsaltlake/shrimp/

Brine Shrimp, Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah, https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/gsl/foodweb/brine_shrimp/

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