Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Environment
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Glen Canyon National Rec Area
Glen Canyon National Rec Area (courtesy, NPS)

The spectacular landscape dominating this canyon country is the product of eons of geologic activity: shifting of continents, global rising and falling of sea levels, and creation of highlands now worn and redeposited. At times, desert dominated the landscape; sometimes, freshwater or saltwater seas invaded, leaving rivers to erode the most recently deposited layers. Prevailing winds abetted the process. Periods of erosion account for missing rock strata, layers appearing elsewhere in sequence. The last uplift of the Colorado Plateau began about 60 million years ago. Uplift made meandering streams of the Colorado River run faster and cut the canyons that are Lake Powell's basin. Navajo sandstone, the dominant formation, is made of sand dunes hardened by pressure from deposits above them. The deposits eventually wore away and exposed today's sandstone. Other layers contain sea-deposited sediments; still others hold fossils of land or marine organisms that lived millions of years ago. Petrified wood and fossils of dinosaur bones, seashells, and small sea creatures are found in several rock strata in this area.

Wildlife: Animal inhabitants include coyotes, foxes, rats, mice, lizards, and insects. In startling contrast, shaded spring-fed alcoves in side canyons provide suitable habitat for deer and beaver, ferns and sedges, reeds and cattails, and cottonwoods and willows. Ravens, eagles, hawks, owls, sparrows, and swallows are regular residents of the canyon country, where canyon wrens sing their unforgettable song.

The rather sterile appearance of canyon country belies the wealth of animal life that it hosts. Blacktailed jackrabbits, ravens and other birds, and a variety of small lizards are the most common animals encountered. Watch for collared lizards, which are very patient and offer unusual photo opportunities.

Large mammals, such as mule deer, beaver, and coyotes may be spotted occasionally. A small population of desert bighorn sheep inhabit the rugged canyons and slickrock mesas east of the river, but they are rarely seen.

While not frequently seen, scorpions and rattlesnakes are present. The best precautions against an unpleasant experience are to avoid reaching into piles of leaves or under logs or rocks and to check your boots and pack before putting them on each morning.

Wildflowers: Most plants and animals found here are typical of desert species. Cactus, yucca, blackbrush, rabbitbrush, and grasses dominate desert plant communities. Spring or summer precipitation prompts sand lilies, fleabane, evening primrose, lupine, Indian paintbrush, and globe mallow to bloom. Pinyon and juniper trees grow at higher elevations. Plant communities vary from pinyon-juniper woodlands in higher elevations to riparian zones where Fremont cottonwoods and willows predominate. In between are blackbrush/Indian rice grass, shadscale, and sagebrush communities. Among the most unique sights are the "hanging gardens" found clinging to sandstone walls where seeps provide plentiful water. Delicate maidenhair fern is the most common plant found here.

Springtime presents delightful opportunities to photograph and enjoy such wildflower species as the claret cup, cliffrose, and Fremont barberry, while shooting stars, scarlet gilia, and bearded beardtongue bloom through the summer.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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