Category Archives: Natural History

Condor Update from Marker Marshall of Grand Canyon NP

Have you ever seen a California Condor? They are simply spectacular. My best and favorite condor encounter was while biking on Gooseberry Mesa. We had stopped to rest and and snack along the cliff edge near The Point, and as we lounged and soaked in the sun, two condors floated in and rode the updrafts around us for a while. They were enormous, other-worldly, wild, free birds looking decidedly uninterested in us, but definitely purposeful on some mystery task. What a treat to see these rare birds, right there in front of us. I have seen condors other times, most reliable at the observation station in the Vermillion Cliffs area. When my wife and I first visited, we read the sign, which said we could expect to see California Condors above the cliffs, and thought that was ridiculous. Imagine being a few miles down a dirt road, with nobody around, in the middle of nowhere, and trying to believe a sign that says one of the rarest birds on Earth will show up sometime in the next hour or so. We went for a hike to find an old pioneer spring nearby, and lo and behold, on our hike back … Continue reading

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California Condors Over Marble Canyon

Tom went down to Lee’s Ferry on Sunday morning to see some friends off down the river. While he was down there, a number of California condors were breezing around overhead. They came in close only once, but Tom was waiting and snapped this shot of ol’ No. 73 and his compadre, No. 71. California condors, once on the brink of extinction, have enjoyed a moderately successful reintroduction in the Arizona Strip region, and we sometimes get to see these enormous, ancient birds up-close. Thanks to Tom for sharing the photo. If you’re interested in learning more about California condors, the Grand Canyon NPS site offers some good information.

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Wildflower Fans Predict Bountiful Desert Blooms This Spring

I once heard Navajo culture characterizes summer’s thunderous, pounding, here-and-gone summer rains as the “male” rains, while winter’s softer, longer, more consistent rains are the “female” rains. I don’t know whether Navajos actually do talk or think about rain this way, but such characterizations make a lot of sense to me. While summer rains get all the press, with their ominous cumulus clouds and their brash flash-flood inducing comings and goings, winter rain is what nurtures and propogates our plants, animals (including homo sapiens). Just like a real momma. Winter in the desert carries a big question mark, and that question mark belongs to precipitation. How much will fall? When will it fall? Will it fall as water, or as snow? How much water we receive, and the quality of that receipt, is perhaps the most significant factor in the desert year. While the hot, hard, baked earth of summer can’t hope to absorb the torrential blasts of the monsoon season, winter’s supple, porous soils soak up the water it receives to feed the plants, animals, and water table for the remainder of the year. One of many special interest groups focused on winter precipitation is the “wildflower lobby”. These … Continue reading

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Wildflower Walk In Lower Pine Creek with Tom

Once again, Tom takes us for a floral stroll to see what’s blooming. In this autumnal edition, Tom shoots Big Rabbitbrush, Silver Sagebrush, Saltbush, and “some kinda” Fleabane, amongst others, as well as a few larger-than-life arthropods. Enjoy!

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Look for Bighorn Sheep on State Route 9 in Zion

ZAC guide and canyoneer extraordinaire Tom Jones “shot” this herd of Desert Bighorn sheep on his way home recently, after yet another adventure off the beaten path. Tom’s picture illustrates 1) how easy and common it is to see bighorns along State Route 9 on Zion’s East Side, and 2) how lucky the locals are here to live in such close proximity to beautiful wildlife. Thanks to Tom for posting these bighorned beasts.

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Harvest Your Own Pine Nuts in Southern Utah!

We are all about adventure here at Zion Adventure Company, and what could be more adventurous than finding your own food? If you know me, I love to complement strenuous Zion activities like mountain biking, canyoneering, and rock climbing with good eating and cooking. And yes, even the desert gives a bountiful harvest this time of year. Autumn marks the Pinyon Pine harvest all over the Southwest U.S. (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico), and we have our very own Pinyons here in Zion. The Zion region is home to the world’s only single-needled pine, pinus monophylla, or simply the Single-leaf Pinyon. It grows from elevations of 4,000 feet to almost 9,000 feet and is found in the dominant Pinyon-Juniper “pygmy” forests in the mesas surrounding Zion. So how do you harvest pine nuts? Well, it definitely takes time and work, but I think it’s a very fun way to explore the forest. First, find an area with more pinyon pines than juniper trees. Pinyons tend to like higher elevations than junipers and often grow in groups. Pinyons start to “cone” in September and October, so you can harvest anytime in those months and sometimes even later in the year. The … Continue reading

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Anticipating Fall Colors in Zion

Autumn sneaks up on us in Zion. The temperatures stop breaking 100 sometime in early September, then the weather turns various shades of gorgeous for the next two months – highs in the 70′s and 70′s, crisp nights – while each day whittles back its daylight hours. For a hardwoods Midwesterner like me, it doesn’t really feel like fall until the leaves change colors, and on the canyon floor, this happens quite late.  Since the cottonwood trees along the creeks and rivers don’t take color until early November, it’s easy to forget about fall colors… sometimes I miss them altogether. But if you love fall foliage (and who doesn’t) it’s not too difficult to find it in spades around here… you just have to know where to look. Go up high. Leaves begin changing as early as mid-September in the highest regions of the Park. One of my favorite autumn drives is the loop from Springdale up to the Cedar Breaks high country and back, which typically packs a wallop of arboreal majesty. To make the most of this trip, don’t use the highway. Instead, take SR 9 from Springdale to Virgin, then turn up the Kolob Terrace Road, ascending … Continue reading

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Wildlife in Zion

I came across these images (below) by photographer Eric D. Brown today, and thought they would help illustrate a common topic of discussion here: wildlife in Zion. People often ask us, “What sorts of animals will we see in Zion?” I usually respond by highlighting the wonderful diversity of insects, birds, and small reptiles and mammals that are fairly easy to come across while hiking on Zion’s many trails. But typically, people want to know about the bigger, sexier beasts – lions and tigers and bears, oh my! So let’s talk about megafauna for a moment, shall we? While Zion does host a number of larger mammals, such as coyotes, foxes, beavers, elk, porcupines, mountain lions, ringtail cats, and an occasional visiting black bear, we rarely see these animals. The rare sightings stem from a variety of reasons: many larger mammals stick to remote habitats, some are noctural (active only at night) or crepuscular (dusk & dawn activity), and most prefer to avoid humans. The most common megafauna sightings are probably mule deer and wild turkeys, both of which frequently inhabit Zion Canyon, along the shuttle drive. In fact, mule deer are common visitors to Springdale, bounding regularly across Zion … Continue reading

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