Big Bend Ranch State Park, 311,00 acres, working ranch, longhorn cattle, horses,
The Amazing Creosote Bush
some plants use deep taproots to get water, others use shallow rots to quickly absorb rain, Creosote uses both, creosote can penetrate caliche,
stores water/etc for dry spells in crown, blooms with or w/o rain,
once flowers are fertilized, they turn a quarter turn to make them less attractive to pollinators,
most animals don't like to eat creosote, resins in leaves, young leaves taste worse, Kangaroo rats, starving wood rats, and desperately thirsty jack rabbits will eat the older leaves in a pinch,
grass/creosote don't grow together,
Once established, Creosote is practically impossible to remove, so to lose a range to Creosote is to lose it forever. [doubtful, keyline plowing would probably wreck it if it doesnt like too much water; while also putting down trees that will eventually shade it out]
clones itself, slowly, rings of 6 m may be 3000+ years old, oldest radiocarbon dated are 18,000 years old in Sonoran Desert, 11,700 in Mojave,
creosote is known to possess analgesic, antiseptic, antiviral, and antibiotic
NDGA is a potent antioxidant. It is believed to suppress the formation of free radicals in bodily cells and thereby promote longevity. It was widely used as a food preservative until the 1950s. NDGA has been shown in the lab to suppress HIV replication in infected human cells and to disturb the metabolism of some cancers.
The Papago indians considered Creosote a sacred plant. In their cosmology, Earth Maker took soil from his breast, scattered it about, and the first plant to grow was Creosote.
Creosote was often taken internally for gastrointestinal problems. People chewed and swallowed the gum to control dysentery and intestinal spasms. They drank infusions for bowel complaints and old men drank Creosote tea to improve the flow of urine. In cases of suspected poisoning infusions could also be used to induce vomiting.
treating respiratory problems. It's decongestant properties were relived symptoms of colds, asthma, and respiratory infections. Decoctions of the gum were often taken for colds. Horses with colds, distemper, or runny noses often found creosote in their feed.
Infusions, or teas, were made by soaking the Creosote plant and used to treat bowel complaints.
Parents washed children's impetigo sores with infusions while others used them as disinfectants, deodorizers, and a treatment for dandruff.
anti-inflammatory properties made it useful in poultices, infusions, and decoctions applied directly to aching joints to relieve the pain of rheumatism, arthritis, sprains and bruises.
Natives used decoctions of leaves, stems, and gum as an antiseptic - they gargled it for sore throats, prepared decoctions for collar sores on draft animals, and made poultices for scratches, wounds, sores, and bruises. It is particularly good for encouraging healing of difficult abrasion wounds.
Indians dried and powdered creosote leaves and rubbed them on infant's navals to promote healing. Women used decoctions to relieve premenstrual cramps and made beds of fresh branches and leaves to relieve birthing pains.
The FDA discourages the use of "Chaparral" (dried leaves ground to a powder) because of reported toxicity to the liver, people still make teas for arthritis, sore throats, and respiratory infections and use decoctions externally for the same purposes as natives used it thousands of years ago.
Photography in the Chihuahuan Desert
late summer monsoon is called the "Fifth Season"
most vegetated N. American desert,
hurricane winds for days on end, dust storms replace snowstorms
Some of my favorite movies set there: "Barbarosa," "Dancer, Texas Pop. 81."
Visiting the Chihuahuan Desert
continuously inhabited since the end of the last ice age over 10,000 years ago. The first Spaniards came to the already long-established town of Presidio in 1535, 67 years before the first pilgrim ship left Europe. Yet today, it is one of the least-inhabited and least-visited regions
When it rains, the area becomes incredibly green.
Texas hosts the three largest parks in the Chihuahuan Desert - the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Big Bend National Park, and the Big Bend Ranch State Park.
[lots of tourist info on where to hike what time of the year]
Lechuguilla: Short Plant with a Long History
The Splendid Ocotillo
The Texas Bluebonnets
Candelilla ~ The Small Plant with a World of Uses
Mesquite ~ The Wonder Tree
Maidenhair Ferns Always Live Where Water is Reliable
78 known species of ferns living in the Trans-Pecos area.
Desert ferns have one remarkable ability - they can completely dry out, and seemingly come back to life when water is again available.
Look for them growing from beneath rocks or in cracks and crevices of rocky hillsides. Once you begin to recognize them in their desiccated state, you'll soon discover that ferns grow almost everywhere in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Horned Lizards and Ants
slice, blanch, marinate, boil, fry, and pickle the pads
soups, stews, drinks and salads
fry them with other vegetables, and season them with chiles, onions, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and even chocolate
tunas are popular around the world. They are eaten fresh, dried, pickled, and fermented; they are reduced to make syrups, jellies and preserves. In Mexico they make a cheese called queso de tuna salsas, candies and alcoholic beverages
seeds are tiny, they too are collected, ground into flour or meal, and used in drinks, gruel, stews and tortillas
Sicily, it is known as the bread of the poor
insect is known as Cochineal
The Beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert</b>
In West Texas we have nothing like a Grand Canyon, no forests of giant cacti like the Saguaros, no massive snow-capped mountains, no limitless dunes, no vast areas of red rock, or wind-carved canyons - none of the icons that form the average American's mental images of deserts.
traditionally compelling attractions of space, silence, and solitude are here in abundance. Wearied spirits and frazzled nerves are quickly healed in the silence of this place.
You can travel for weeks here and never see a contrail
[clear views of milky way in unpolluted night sky]
Plant Adaptations to Desert Condition
most desert vegetation is well armed
In dry periods the land is brown and most of the plants look dead. But these plants aren't suffering. They're not "struggling to survive." They're just doing what desert plants do - quietly waiting for the next rain.
Succulent plants are water hoarders. They store water in stems, roots, or fleshy leaves in special structures that are good at retaining moisture.
Most succulents have roots less than 4 inches below the surface with feeder roots that lie within half an inch of the surface. They spread out far from the mother plant - for example a two-foot-tall cholla may have roots over thirty feet long!
CAM for Crassulacean Acid Metabolism. Instead of synthesizing carbohydrates, they synthesize Crassulacean acid during the day while their stomata are closed and store it in their tissues. At night, when temperatures are lower and humidity higher, they open their stomata and break down the acids into carbohydrates using carbon dioxide from the air. CAM is extremely efficient at using water. Plants that use it consume only about 10% of the water other plants consume to synthesize the same amount of carbohydrates.
An agave can sprout new roots within 5 hours of a rain, whereas dormant shrubs usually take two weeks or more to revive.
Colors of Bentonite</b>
particularly abundant in the Big Bend region of the Trans-Pecos because past volcanic activity
formed by mechanical and chemical weathering of volcanic materials such as glasses and tuffs. (Tuffs are made of volcanic ash.)
expands dramatically when wet, constant expanding and contracting destroys the root systems of seedlings and/or plants such as cacti that have widespread, shallow roots
almost devoid of life
readily adsorbs a variety of minerals which give it color
three important characteristics of bentonite: the ability to absorb large amounts of moisture, the ability to exchange ions of one element for another, and the property of thixotropy.
tiny flakes ranging in length from 0.01 micrometers to 10 micrometers. The flakes aggregate to form thin particles
Twelve grams of bentonite have the surface area of a football field. So bentonite can absorb huge amounts of water and other polar fluids.
Thixotropy is the property of certain gels or fluids that are thick (viscous) under normal conditions, but flow (become thin, less viscous) over time when shaken, agitated, or otherwise stressed.
sealing agent to seal landfills, tunnels, dams, and other water agents. It is added to concrete and mortars as an admixture. When used in drilling muds, bentonite lubricates cutting heads and seals cracks and other leaks
widely used in West Texas to line stock ponds, settling tanks, and other open-air fluid containers
cattle and oil industries are the largest consumers of bentonite in this area.
sticky when damp and very resistant to high-temperature degradation which makes it ideal a use as a binder in moulding mixes. The metallurgy industries are major buyers of bentonite.
plasticizer in ceramic materials and in the production of ointments, tablets, medications and cosmetic creams. It is used as a thickener in paints, as a binder in granulated feed-stuffs, as a strengthener in plastics, rubber, explosives, glass and mineral fibers and fertilizers.
food industry uses bentonite for cleaning, decolorizing and stabilizing vegetable and animal fats and oils. Wine makers, juice makers and brewers use it to stabilize and clarify their products.
nuclear industry [uses it to seal waste]
The Beautiful Texas Madrone
only few cm tall
"poor forage value."
The Collared Peccary
2-50/herd, avg 10
"piglets" are born in the spring (gestation is 145 days)
do not perspire and cannot evaporate moisture by panting , shade seeking
in the Chihuahuan Desert, cacti (especially prickly pears) and lechuguilla form the bulk of their diet
3 compartment digestive system, suggesting that their digestive physiology is more similar to that of ruminants than to that of swine, which are non-ruminants.
subsistence animals for several indigenous tribes in Central America
hides are thin, strong, and marked with bristle-holes that makes them useful for "pigskin" jackets and gloves
The Climate of the Chihuahuan Desert
"Fifth Season." West Texas receives between 50 and 75 percent of its annual rainfall during this period.
this arid zone does not have a winter rainy season like that of the northern Sonora and the Arizona Uplands. Their rains are equally distributed in the Spring and Fall. Our peak rainfall occurs between July and October.
Hurricanes often bring huge bursts of rainfall over short periods. In fact, floods are common throughout the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Recent examples in West Texas might include the Sanderson flood in 1965, caused by almost a year's worth of rain falling in 12 hours on the canyons around Sanderson Texas. The resulting flood killed 28 people - their bodies were found as far as 200 miles away. Twenty percent of the population was left homeless and half of all business was destroyed. More recently, flash floods claimed the lives of at least 34 people in northern Mexico and 6 people in Texas between April 3 and April 7, 2004. In 2008 flood waters breached levees around Ojinaga and Presidio.
1950-1956, annual precipitation was less than 12 inches. In three of those years (1951, 1953, 1956) the annual value was less than 9 inches, 8 inches of rain fell the entire year of 1953
Although the 1950s drought was unique in the 20th century, it was neither as severe, or as long as droughts that happened in the area around 1000 A.D. and in the late 13th and 16th centuries. Frequency analysis indicates that severe droughts occur at least once every century with an approximate average of 60-80 years between them.
2011 was the driest (and second-hottest) year on record in the state. Only 2.53 inches of rain fell at Panther Junction in the Big Bend National Park and barely over 1.5 in Presidio
drought extended throughout the Big Bend into northern Mexico and caused widespread plant mortality. Texas lost 5.6 million urban shade trees, roughly 10 percent of the state's urban forests. Probably around 500 million rural, park, and forest trees died, and the die-off will probably continue as many trees were stressed beyond recovery.
Dust storms, "walls" of dust over 2 miles high and along a front 50 miles wide that can move at speeds over 70 mph
Dust is so common around El Paso that highways are equipped with electric signs to warn of impending blowing dust and of sand drifting over the highways.
The combination of clear skies, high altitudes, and southerly location enable the Trans-Pecos to receive the highest mean annual solar radiation of any location within the United States.
Trans-Pecos enjoys some of the highest average maximum temperatures found in Texas during the winter (second only to the Gulf Coast) and some of the lowest average temperatures in summer (second only to the Panhandle). Of course, temperatures vary widely throughout the typical day, but on average, the Chihuahuan Desert climate is enviably pleasant for most of the year.
Note: This entry is not completely finished. I'm teaching a class this fall on Chihuahuan Desert ecology, and this will be the supporting text. I'm not a climatologist, so if you notice anything amiss, anything at all, please let me know. I don't want to misinform or mislead students. Thanks for your help.