Friday, August 1, 2014

Cedar Breaks

This post would have been up days ago but for the completely inadequate internet here. HH and I had been doing very well at Petrified Forest with a Verizon add-on through a third party that gave us decent service. Well, that requires actual Verizon service and to that the North Rim says Ha!, so we had a satellite dish installed behind the house and thought we were covered, but it works when and how fast it wants to. 

We can get only 10 gigs a month, daytime, and another 10 at night which is defined as something like 2am-8am. If we use up the 10 daytime gigs we're not cut off but it slows to less than dial-up speed for those of you who remember that (and remember how we thought that was the cat's meow, just to have internet?). The night gigs are supposed to remain at full speed even if we go over but there's not a lot of interneting going on during those hours anyway. If there's a cloud in the sky somewhere in Arizona or if the wind blows or if a tree drops a needle, service slows. I couldn't get any work done on the blog because, I admit it, I don't have the patience to wait 3 or 4 minutes for a photo to upload and then be told over and over that my Save isn't working. Right now I can't see a preview of the post, only the draft version, so I have to publish without that final proof I do. Let the reader beware.


Here is Cedar Breaks, finally.  To get there, to get anywhere, as I've said before, you have to drive through Jacob Lake where there's a cookie-magnet phenomenon going on. I was strong and just kept driving. I was so, so strong.

I headed north on Highway 89A, a dotted (scenic) road on my map. Even with three stops for road construction and the fact that this was my third or fourth time driving it, it's a lovely road to travel. There aren't more than a couple dozen camping spots at Cedar Breaks, some reservable and some held for walk-ins, so I left home early to better my chances. This is the spot I got, primary considerations being the view of the meadow and in deference to my age, its proximity to the loo.

Cedar Breaks National Monument kept the name given to the area by Mormon pioneers. They saw all the junipers and thought they were cedars, and the word breaks was commonly used as another term for badlands.

Note: Anywhere there's a description of the flowers that sounds like something I wouldn't normally know, which is mostly all of it, it's because I copied it from the Monument's website.

I got set up after considerable references to the directions for putting on the rainfly, and headed out for a ranger-led wildflower walk. Aspen bluebells were going strong along the trail. According to the park's wildflower identifier, these bluebells are favorite fodder for cattle and sheep. The reason they're abundant here is because there aren't any sheep or cows.

I've seen what I thought was this same purple penstemon at the Grand Canyon, but the species at Cedar Breaks, the Markagunt Penstemon, is endemic to Utah’s Markagunt Plateau. Here's something I learned: The scientific name Penstemon refers to the fact that the flowers have five stamens. Another common name for this group of plants, beardtongues, refers to the fact that one of the five stamens does not bear pollen but is covered with hairs or is bearded.

The butterfly was so busy feeding that it didn't startle away even with people moving all around it. The flower might be a showy goldeneye.
It's not all about the flowers here, although they steal the show for a good part of the summer. The canyon reminds me quite a bit of Bryce Canyon, just on a smaller scale.

I don't know about this one at all.

Shrubby cinquefoil, low-growing, and a member of the Rose family.

There are so many of this kind of flower in bloom that I can't tell them apart. It may be Orange Sneezeweed. As with other members of the Aster family, the flower heads are actually a composite of many central disk flowers surrounded by petal-looking ray flowers. In other words, the petals aren't petals.

Some kind of larkspur. The one listed on the Monument's website is called Subalpine, but I can't tell from their photo if it's the same flower as this.

A stand of larkspur with a backdrop of canyon.

This is another penstemon, a Rydberg. The genus Penstemon is one of the largest in the US, with about 100 species found in Utah alone.

Mountain deathcamus, highly toxic but apparently not to pollinators. The flowers are about the size of my fingernail.

This species of Colorado Columbine occurs throughout the Rocky Mountains where flowers are typically blue and white, hence the name, caerulea, from Latin for blue. Many of the plants at Cedar Breaks, however, have flowers that are completely white. The petals of the Columbine flowers have long spurs that contain nectar as a reward for pollinators such as bumblebees and hummingbirds. Some insects that don’t have tongues long enough to reach the nectar, however, will steal it by biting a hole at the back of the spur and get the reward without doing the work of fertilization. I saw a bee doing exactly that.

Lupines and columbine at the side of the path.

The bright red color of Paintbrush “flowers” is actually not from petals but from specialized leaves called bracts (like poinsettias) that surround the obscure, light yellow-green flowers inside. The red bracts do a good job of attracting butterflies and other pollinators to seek the nectar reward at the base of the tubular flowers.

Paintbrush species are known as hemi-parasites. While the plant’s leaves and stems contain chlorophyll and photosynthesize, their roots also can graft themselves to those of their neighbors and steal nutrients.

Richardson's geranium, very common.

This dragonfly stayed put long enough for me to get a few shots. This is one of my favorite photos of the trip.

This moth was the same, not moving much at all on the thistle. Another thing I learned is moths tend to pollinate white flowers, hummingbirds red, bees will do anything, and flies go to stinky ones.

These might be asters. The color!

The one road cuts around meadows, under a wide blue sky.

Elkweed grows as a rosette of leaves for years until it stores enough energy, and the growing conditions are right, for it to bloom. Like agave, once they bloom, they die.

The stalk is about 3 or 4 feet tall.

The flowers grow all up and down and around the stalk.

I'm fascinated by all the insects so intent on their work, except for one gigantic, threatening monster that landed on me at Bryce Canyon. Thankfully there was a teenager there who, although freaked out by the whole episode (and if anyone should have been freaked out it should have been me, don't you think?), brushed it off my shoulder before it could attack. I don't care who you are, that thing's scary.

 Another view of the hoodoos.
Evening primrose.

I went walking to see the Monument's bristlecone pines. They live on the rim here, under harsh conditions at 11,500 feet, growing very slowly. They're like junipers in that they allow parts of themselves to die off to direct energy toward survival of the rest of the plant. I took the photo below to say, "I didn't go there," but I actually had to because the pines are at the end of the peninsula.

In 1964 scientists cut down a bristlecone in Great Basin National Park, not far from Cedar Breaks, for study. It turned out to be 4,900 years old, probably the oldest living thing on the planet. Explain that to your supervisor.

This is the cone from the tree, the bristles giving the tree its name. Its needles are in clusters of five, just like limber pines that also grow nearby, but limber pines' needles are longer. They get their name from the flexibility of their branches; a ranger said they can be tied in a knot.

 Almost there on the trail that skirts the canyon.

This is one of the largest one I saw, about 1,500-1,800 years old. A two-foot sapling is thought to be about 200 years old.

 This is fireweed, common as anything, but just beautiful.

And, finally, my two other favorite photos from the trip. The twist in the log that makes up the top rail of this fence caught my eye just as it was reflecting the light from the setting sun.

The visitor center was built in 1937 by the CCC and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As I said, I was so, so strong on my way to Cedar Breaks, driving past Jacob Lake cookies with determination. Well, I did the same on the way back, exhibiting such control I would have wondered who I was if I hadn't already stopped at Dairy Queen in Cedar City for a Peanut Buster Parfait (with caramel sauce added). One can be only so strong.

Thought of the day:

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end. - Leonardo da Vinci