Bev and I were reluctant to leave Utah a couple of weeks ago. The southern part of that state has so many interesting places, but the weather was becoming onerously chill and the relative warmth of southeast Arizona beckoned.
We decided to camp for one more night before heading south. Near Kanab there is a BLM campground which we had visited last spring called Ponderosa Grove. This site is appealing to us because off-road vehicles are prohibited, unlike that reputedly cacaphonous site a few miles farther south, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
Ponderosa Grove is located next to a wildlife study area, possibly one reason the BLM forbids off-road traveling. The campground is surrounded by BLM land with more relaxed standards, as the agency’s maps show over one thousand miles of trails open to rec vehicles.
I should mention that I have nothing but contempt for off-road vehicles and their devotees. They tend to be noisy and tear up the ground. The vehicles too! Recovery from an onslaught of such machines can take hundreds of years.
The Ponderosa Grove site lies in an area with finger-ridges of sand dunes interlaced with areas of typical Utah desert. Sagebrush, piñon pines, and alligator juniper even ventured into the dunes along with the ubiquitous scrubby oaks.
Groves of tall Ponderosa Pines graced the lower areas which presumably collected more run-off moisture. These groves could be seen from some distance away, being the tallest organisms in the district, and I think they helped me find the camp-site when I had wandered off into the brush.
Ponderosas are the commonest pines in the West and I enjoy being in their company. These trees have richly-colored thick bark which resists all but the most intense fires. Here’s a shot of one of them, a Utah inhabitant not included in the census:
The night we stayed at the Ponderosa Grove campground was a cold one. I woke up just after dawn and hurriedly put some coffee water on the propane stove to boil. I needed to walk, and walk quickly, in order to get warm. Accompanied by the collie Sage, I walked through the pine grove towards the nearest dune, hoping to catch the first rays of the sun.
The view from the high dune was more than adequate compensation for the frigid air:
In the distance the cliffs at the edge of the Bryce Canyon park were visible:
The low rays of dawn side-lit the numerous tracks of nocturnal rodents and other small creatures. One species of little plant seemed to have an unusual affinity for frost. These modest sand-dwellers were just four inches tall and had long since gone to seed, but they seemed to be the only plants exhibiting bladed frost crystals. Before the sun caused that ephemeral ice to sublimate in the dry atmosphere I snapped a few photos while Sage bounded up and down the dunes:
As I descended a dune slope I noticed some Utah Junipers with some sort of colored pendulous growths attached to the foliage. When I got closer I recognized the growths. They were parasitic clumps of mistletoe, and the white berries were ripe. Birds will feed on those berries over the winter. I had never seen mistletoe growing on junipers before, but at this site half the trees were afflicted, if that’s the right word. Though the mistletoe is parasitic, the plant does attract birds which also feed on the juniper’s berries. The association might be more mutualistic than parasitic.
Sage and I returned to the campsite and I warmed and stimulated myself with hot coffee. While the light was still so favorable I thought I’d photograph some ancient sage shrubs which had been protected from the trampling of cattle. These gnarled plants continue to put out new growth even when most of the trunk is dead. The twisted contortions of their trunks are truly a marvel to see; here’s one which had captured snow in one of its gnarly crotches:
I wonder how old these sage plants might be? Has anyone ever taken core-drill samples?