Thursday, July 12, 2007

BBNP Photo Report ~Scrub Desert Part One

Edward Abbey wrote of the desert, "it is a dangerous and terrible place. Enter at your own risk. Carry water. Avoid the noon day sun. Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently."

The majority of land in the Big Bend is scrub desert of the Chihuahuan variety. Most persons drive through this ecosystem and thank the good Lord for air-conditioning. But, I think, to really see it, one must walk through it. Spend some time. Get scratched and poked. Wonder at the emptiness.

Agave lechiguilla or simply Lechiguilla is from what we could tell, the most common plant in the low desert. It is also called Spanish dagger, for obvious reason.

I've now been able to hike around three of the four great North American deserts. I'm amazed at the great variety in the genus Opuntia. Here is Opuntia engelmannii or Golden-Spined Prickly Pear.

Opuntia arbuscula or Pencil Cactus

We ran into many insects that call the desert home. Here is a rather large katydid who has found some shelter in the spear-like leaves of a Torrey's Yucca (Yucca torreyii).

Ancistrocactus tobuschii or Fish-Hook Cactus

Echinocereus pectinatus or rainbow cactus

The Star Cactus (Astrophytum asterias) is one of the coolest plants I have ever seen. The majority of biomass is underground. One has to have a fairly good search image to find it. It is fairly rare and designated endangered by the federal government.

In addition to being fairly sharp and pointy, the desert is often very poisonous as well. Here is one of two Mojave rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutalatus) we saw on the road in the late evening. This snake is one of the deadliest in the country. Unlike most rattlesnakes, the majority of it's venom is neurotoxin.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is one of the neatest plants in the Chihuahuan desert. It looks like scrunched up pipe cleaners that someone has tried to straighten out. This shrub is drought deciduous, meaning it looses it's leaves when conditions become too severe. If the summer monsoons are strong enough though, it will leaf out again in late summer. Here is one with a Perigrine falcon (Falco perigrinus) sitting among it's thorns.

The desert can seem a hostile and unforgiving place. Indeed it is, however, there is great beauty to be seen as well, as long as one is willing to get overheated and scratched up a little.