Wednesday, January 23, 2013

San Rafael Swell

A typical gorge type canyon in the San Rafael.
Running in a north to south pattern in central and eastern Utah is the San Rafael Swell. The area is an upthrust in the Colorado Plateau which has caused many canyons, slot canyons, buttes, mesas, arches, and large valleys to be created.

Located primarily in Emery County, Utah the San Rafael Swell is traversed by Interstate 70 from Salina, Utah on the west to Green River, Utah on the east.

The area has had many special proposals to preserve it including the making of a national park.

Anasazi and Fremont Indians lived in this are from 3,000 to 600 years ago at various times. These tribes were hunter gatherer and agricultural based tribes. Many of their villages, pueblos, and grave sites mark the area where these civilizations thrived. Indians left petroglyphs and pictographs behind on the stone cliffs as to their day to day life stories.

Later when white settlers came the Spanish used the area as part of the Old Spanish Trail for trading and exploring. Other whites came through to explore such as John Wesley Powell on the Green and Colorado Rivers.  The Mormons after several unsuccessful attempts settled the area from 1870s through 1900.

Outlaws such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used the canyons as hideouts from the law due to the mazes and labrynths of canyons were a natural obstacle to any law enforcement. The Mormon Settlers established towns such as Richfield, Salina, Castle Dale, Emery, and Green River as farming and ranching communities. The desert terrain was good for running cattle due to high plateaus that had numerous natural pastures in the Spring and Summer. Cattle rustlers also used this land to steal and conceal bovine quarry.

This vast expanse is traversed by many slot canyons which can be deceiving to the unprepared hiker.
The San Rafael Swell is home to a variety of cacti such as the hedgehog cactus, fishhook barrel cactus, and the prickly pear.  It also has the Harriman's Yucca and the Spanish Dagger yucca as well.  The summers are mild to hot ranging from 80s in the highlands to well over 100 degrees in the gorges and larger canyons. Lows are in the 60s to 70s Fahrenheit depending on elevation.

Winters are often at freezing or below in the higher elevations during the day time and the valleys are in the 30s and 40s Fahrenheit. At night winters can be below freezing in the valleys and colder in the highlands.

Buttes, mesas, hoodoos, arches, free standing rocks, rock fins and other strange formations are concentrated more here than many areas of the Colorado Plateau due to the folding action of the earth's crust.

Much of the San Rafael can be viewed by driving Interstate 70 from east to west or vice versa. The rest is accessed by dirt road, OHV, horseback or hiking. Due to the deceptive terrain and numerous slot canyons it is wise to know your route and prepare for the unexpected if going into the deep back country.  Typical animal life is that of the west including desert bighorn sheep, pronghorn, deer, cougar, and bison to name a few.

There is much debate over natural resource development vs leaving the San Rafael as it is. As such it appears a multiple use land policy will need to arise with stakeholders of all sorts giving up something in order to utilize the rich energy and the scenic wilderness that is the San Rafael Swell.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

War on the West

Castle Gate Power Plant near Price, Utah
The deserts of the American Southwest  are amazing places. They are known for their wide variety of climates from the Great Basin of the north central Southwest, The Colorado Plateau of the central Southwest, the Mojave, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran of the southern Southwestern United States.

All of our deserts have an abundance of resources in them. We enjoy plant life, wildlife, stunning colorful vistas, and countless recreation opportunities.

But our deserts are more than just a natural wonder and recreational hot spot. They are home to some of the greatest resources that we have as Americans.  The Hoover Dam and Glenn Canyon Dam provide control so the Colorado River can be used for irrigation and culinary uses as well as Lake Mead and Lake Powell for recreational purposes. Both giant dams provide clean hydroelectric power to the western power grid serving all the Southwest from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.

But beneath the deserts are valuable resources such as coal, uranium, natural gas, oil, and other minerals. Coal and natural gas fired power plants provide most of the United States' energy and even a higher percentage in the West.

But over the years all mining activity has come under attack, especially coal and oil. Extreme environmentalists say that the desert lands are being ruined by extraction methods from strip mining, underground mining, hydraulic fracturing, and drilling. Even natural gas is under attack when it comes to exploration and extraction of this cheap fuel source.

Companies have spent billions to make mineral extraction cleaner and more environmentally friendly over the decades. But modernizing power plants with technologies, reducing mining footprints, environmental restoration, and clean up from years past are not enough to stop the whining and moaning.

The truth is that big environment, which consists of groups like the Sierra Club, politicians, and left leaning no growth crowds have created American dependence on foreign oil and other commodities used for fuel.

The Keystone Pipeline from Canada has been stymied in Washington, DC by the political interests and the politicians on both sides of the aisle and President Obama. America has not been allowed to exploit the desert's vast resources due to misinformation and half truths.

Yesteryear examples such as Uranium mining are brought up and propagandized as dangerous today like they were in the 1950's. Coal faces the same attacks in spite of evidence to the contrary. Even our great dams like Glen Canyon are seriously considered being torn down in the name of restoration and conservation.

Our coal fired power plants are having EPA regulations placed on them so as to shut them down under the false disguise of "greenhouse gasses" killing the planet and other pollutants. The purposes are not environmental, but political.

California, a leader in this fight against resource development still imports a quarter of it's power from coal fired power plants in surrounding states, while banning coal fired plants in California. But threaten to pull California's coal fired power lines they are ready to sue.

The war on American desert resources is a problem that has global impacts. The power grid is being shut down in the name of wind and solar power which are over advertised as "alternatives" to other forms of power, especially fossil fuels.

But I live near wind farms. Sometimes the wind does not blow. When there is no wind, no electricity.  Solar power is great when it is sunny.  Cloudy days reduce solar cells ability to capture sunlight. So does winter which reduces daylight hours. Solar power cannot be obtained at night, but must use the battery stores accumulated during the day. Sometimes these batteries aren't charged fully and run out of power.

I am no enemy of wind and solar power, but they are supplemental at best and cannot replace fast producing power plants like coal, gas, and hydro power.

Our deserts are the battleground where the public policy wars are carried out. Just as in real war propaganda, misinformation, and ignorance are vital to winning. He who controls the knowledge, controls the power, literally.

In an economy where jobs are needed in these industries, the very people are claiming to befriend these hard working men and women while destroying their livelihoods and the potential for more income to be generated.

Green jobs have not produced what the energy market needs to thrive. Private land holders and leasers of federal lands already in production have stepped up to keep up with demands, but government also goes after private landowners, state lands, and the like in the name of saving planet Earth.

Did you know that nuclear power, the same power that ended World War II, can produce clean energy with  enriched uranium from our own deserts?  Some will claim cancer causing radioactivity, but miners are kept away from the harmful levels by machines, better outerwear that is radioactive proof, and mining practices.

Yet unlike Europe, most of the United States remains tied to coal and other fuels for power majority. This is not bad, but a nuclear power development in the West could lead to job creation and enhance our energy portfolio. Wind and solar are needed to supplement the electric grid, but supplement, not replace proven, reliable sources of power and energy.

Where is that electric car going to take you? I'll buy one when I can charge it in the time it takes to fill a gasoline powered car to recharge the battery. That technology is not on the market.

In summary we can have beautiful deserts and exploit the resources under and above the desert floor. We have more oil under our soil than Saudi Arabia does. Our friends in Canada are more than happy to send cheap oil to America, but the Obama Administration is more interested in golf than energy policy.

Many of my counterpart desert bloggers argue against development of desert resources. I support their responsible extraction, refinement, and shipment to market to be consumed. We are not in danger of running out of resources. We are discovering new one's all the time. The same politicians that won't allow NASA to send us back to the Moon and on to Mars are the same one's who "just say no" to development of our natural resources. I pray that education and not indoctrination can get passed the media and out to the public.

If we as the American People and the States do nothing the no growth and flat earth lobbies will sell the people a bill of goods based on half truths and outright lies.

Deserts are multiple use places. It is time to put them into production and protect them as good stewards at the same time. It can and eventually will be done. Will we get ourselves ready in time? That is the question.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Keeping The Italian Cypress Alive

Happy New Year! 2013!

I have an Italian Cypress tree out on my patio. The temperatures have been very cold and the tree so far, has fared very well.  One thing I have learned in raising cacti, yucca, palms, and other plants is location, location, location is key.

A microclimate is an area that is protected somehow by a sheltered area. It can be the side of a house or a mountainside.  The prevailing climate has a certain season such as winter, a barrier or weather phenomenon keeps certain areas at a higher temperature or protects them from such things as snow and windchill.

Two years ago by this time my Italian Cypress that died showed bad signs of winter burn. It was out in the open in my yard. The cold winds from the north got at it and it freeze dried. It was a fighter but alas spring thaw left little of the tree to recover.

This specimen is doing very well. Just a few feet away my cold hardy cacti are taking the cold and snow near the patio opening. If you have a plant you can't bring inside and want to protect find a microclimate. You may increase the area a whole zone just in one spot and protect your otherwise doomed plant.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cacti in Landscaping

Cacti indoor landscape at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah

 When it comes to using cactus there is no better way to make your yard, apartment, or even office a better place when it comes to introducing cactus into your landscape.  Cacti, yucca, and other desert plants make great landscaping plants because they require so litter maintenance. They also can go about anywhere.

If you have little kids they will quickly learn that cacti landscaping is not for play. Having raised three boys and no a little girl she knows that the cactus says "ouch."

Cacti can be arranged like any other house plant inside. They need a good source of light, usually a window that faces the sun, and regular maintenance.  Using cacti inside may require slightly and I underscore, slightly, more water. Air inside homes usually tends to be dryer.  There is also more heat generated by windows, central heating, space heaters, etc.

Cacti, even during the winter, require light. They still carry on photosynthesis all year round. They tend to go "dormant" during the winter months even inside. This means major growth stops and metabolism slows down. But like all plants during a winter season "dormant" is a loosely used word. Even trees with leaves that are lost in the fall will carry on photosynthesis, just to a lesser degree.

Cacti are good for indoors because they clean the air, replenish oxygen, and can produce nice flowers.  Many if potted and you have a true four season climate in northern regions can be moved to outside between April and October. Cold hardy cacti are good year round in USDA Zones 5 and above due to the fact they are buried in deep snow during the winter and can be very high in altitude, 8,000 feet in elevation.

Warm desert cacti should be brought in to a nice mild spot with light. You can add plant lighting as well if windows are not sufficient.  While outside cacti can be arranged in pots, put into the ground for the season, or left above it. Make sure they continue to be well drained wherever they are.

Microclimates are great for some borderline cold hardy cacti. The sun facing side of the house near a foundation is great due to radiating heat and can raise temps both day and night. So a cacti that would succumb to cold out in the open could easily survive in the right microclimate.

Cacti gardens outside are beautiful, even to cactus haters, when the flowers bloom on the plant. Good flowering cacti such as barrels or prickly pear can produce a number of beautiful colored flowers over the July weeks, earlier in some cases depending on heat and season.

For example I had a large barrel that in the Mojave would have flowered in late April or early May. Instead, it flowered in June or July and did produce seeds.  Prickly pears flower anywhere from May to August depending on the species and location.  Cholla are excellent for landscaping.

Fast growing cacti should be trimmed back like cholla and prickly pear. Throw away extra pads, but always leave new growth as well. Soil should be a mixture of soil, rocks, and sand. This is true if you live in clay soil areas where water retention is greater.

Flowering cacti in Lehi, Utah

Also the soil should be stirred up once a year to put nutrients on top of the soil down under and aeration purposes, just as with any other plants. If you have kids, teach them that cacti are pretty, but not to play with them. Many barbs can be a nightmare to your kids, let alone you. 

Treat your cacti nice and they will produce great flowers. Some species produce edible fruit as well that can be harvested for eating or making jams or jelly.  Enjoy the show and have fun!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Welcome Indian Summer

Daniels Summit, Wasatch County, Utah
With the advent of the Autumnal Equinox we have the beginning of "Indian Summer" or the first part of Autumn late September and October.

This is the time when temperatures are relatively comfortable in Zones 5-7. The leaves change in the mountains of the Northern Hemisphere(March, April in the Southern Hemisphere). Of particular interest are the Rocky Mountains, Alps, Himalayas, and Appalachians among others.

The Rocky Mountains are surrounded on all sides by desert or semi-desert  areas. The mountains of the Great Basin, high Mojave, Sonaran and Chihuahua Deserts in the United States all have "islands in the sky" of color. This is especially true when the colors peak in October. This year the colors will peak earlier it appears than other years. Leaves around my area were well changed before summer ended.

Alpine Loop, Mount Timpanogos, Utah.

If you hit the high country before the snow flies you can catch more than scrub oak, maples, aspen, and cotton wood changing. Ferns also provide a large ocean of color. Especially on the eastern or southern slopes where rain gets dumped  before hitting the rain shadows of the desert. These ferns are beautiful and deserve a look. Though short in life sometimes not coming out until June, they provide a great backdrop to the trees and surrounding countryside.

Many foothills of these mountains are also covered in Opuntia (prickly pear) in the drier locations. The Rocky Mountain Prickly Pear can withstand temperatures far below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The surrounding desert areas have sagebrush, yucca, Mormon Tea, and mesquite depending on the desert ecosystem below the high elevations.

The Grand Canyon is a great example of this. At the North Rim it is 8,000 feet above sea level with Aspen, and pine. At the bottom the Canyon resembles the Mojave Desert and can reach summertime temperatures well over 100 degrees.

So if you get a chance to get out and drive, especially is less green areas to the mountains to get some pictures of color before it all goes gray and brown and the snow settles in for the lifeless winter.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kirk's Photo's on Our Facebook Page

Here are some photos Kirk has updated on our Facebook page. Click "Like us." We wont mind.

Old Man of the Andes

This cactus is one that is just sitting there. It hasn't grown much, but it is alive. It sits in my office window getting some sunlight in the morning hours until noon.

It makes a cool part of my collection. The white "beard" on the cactus is clearly a plus. At first it was hard to tell if the cactus was alive or dead. So I dug through the beard and got green flesh.

The cactus is very much alive.  I bought it at a Home Depot or Lowes on sale.  It just kind of sits there living up to its namesake.

The Old Man of The Andes is native to the highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. It might be better as an outdoor plant. For now though it sits in the office window.

I would recommend at least watering every other week. Some Miracle Gro Plant Food is good with a watering.

Let the soil dry out to avoid rot. It is good to mix in newer soil with the old, especially for an office plant. You are not looking for Arnold Schwarzenegger biceps or pecs here.

It it is suspected that the cactus may be on the downward spiral pull back the hair and using scissors or a knife pull back the hair to get at the green flesh. This can be hard as the needles make it a bit tricky.

The flesh should be bright green and roots firm in the soil. Normally one would repot each year or two. But why repot if the cactus is slow growing?  Take an envelope opener and mix in the top layer of soil. Then add a cup or so of new soil, water and thoroughly dry between watering.

You can also pull on needles to check for health. But that is not necessarily a good sign in and of itself. You may get a chunk of flesh on needle and think you have rot.  That's why I recommend  going straight to the stem. If the wound you make in the cactus heals then you are okay.

I have so many cacti in my office I don't know what to do. Some ladies hoard cats and men hoard old junk cars. I hoard cacti. If you have any tips on how to get stumpy here to grow I'm all for feedback.

Cactus Ring

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