The Mojave Desert is a place of incredible and fragile beauty. It is anything but an empty wasteland.
Crossing into the Mojave Desert at St. George, Utah was like entering a different country. It could have been Australia or North Africa or maybe Madagascar, it seemed so different. Not only was the landscape foreign, but the plants and even the wildlife were unique and amazing. Most decidedly, we were not in Idaho anymore.
The Mojave Desert is one of four official deserts in North America. The others are: The Chihuahuan, the Sonoran and the Great Basin deserts. Only the Great Basin Desert reaches into Idaho.
People usually assume that deserts have similar characteristics. The average person would likely describe a desert as hot, dry, full of sand and cactus. Those broad generalizations only hold for a few deserts. There are deserts that are frigidly cold like the deserts of Antarctica, deserts by the ocean like Chile’s Atacama Desert and others that hardly have a cactus or sand.
Scientists define a desert based on the most commonly used system for delineating climates, the Köppen system. Under this system, an area is a desert if the annual precipitation is exceeded by the annual water loss. For instance, Parts of the Mojave Desert receive only 3.5 inches of precipitation a year. However, because of the hot dry air, the annual loss of moisture would exceed 6 feet if that much water were available.
Why are certain areas deserts? One reason has to do with global weather patterns. At about 25 degrees latitude on both sides of the equator, high pressure systems allow high ground heating with little humidity. The Sahara and Kalahari deserts of the African continent are examples.
North American deserts are considered rain shadow deserts. Here, mountain ranges border the east and west sides of the deserts. Approaching storms drop their moisture on the side of the mountain opposite to the desert area, leaving the deserts parched. The Gobi Desert of China is also a rain shadow desert.
With so little water available, plants and animals in desert environments have had to develop strategies that either conserve water or reduce their need for it or both. Cacti thrive in some deserts because their modified stems can store plenty of water. The Joshua Tree has roots that can extend over 35 feet deep.
Growth is slow in a desert and browsing can sometimes kill a plant. Many desert plants are armored with sharp spines, points and other defenses. Others contain poisonous toxins.
Some desert plants only grow and bloom when conditions are right. In Death Valley National Park, many flowers wait for rare abundant winter moisture (about once every ten years) and when it comes, flower blooms can literally carpet the ground in what is called a super bloom.
Desert animals are also adapted to the aridity of the desert. Since surface water is often at a premium, desert-adapted animals typically obtain much of their moisture from the foods they eat. They use behavioral modifications such as feeding at night when it is cooler, live underground and may recycle and concentrate urine.
The Great Basin Desert, of which Idaho deserts are a part of, is referred to as a high desert, both because it is the highest elevation desert of North America and because it is also the most northerly in latitude. In high mountain deserts, much of the moisture occurs during the winter in the form of snow.
The one thing deserts are not, is empty vacant wasteland. They are full of very specialized lifeforms in what is often a brutal but fragile environment. If you spend time in them, you may find deserts more diverse and enchanting than you thought possible.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho