October 29, 2013

Desert Life

In between competitive events at the Moab Canyons Endurance Ride, we spent one day at a slower pace, adventuring.  Above, Steve and Coco traverse the blackbrush desert.
We traveled past Navaho sandstone formations adorned with the bright yellow autumn leaves of single leaf ash.
Where the Green River carved a path 1000 feet below us, Coco and I looked down in awe.  "Huh?" Coco was thinking. "I've jumped a few gullies, but do they really think I can jump this?  Give me a break!" 
Across the deep canyon, the peninsula of land is a point of the Spur, where we have ridden in previous years.  The silted area on the inside of the oxbow is called Cottonwood Bottoms.  You can see that some of the cottonwood trees, far, far below, have begun their autumn change.  To the left of the oxboy, you can see Horsethief Trail, once used by outlaws, but now mostly a Jeep trail.
We encountered several unexpected pools of water, all very close to the overlook.  These are called tanks, or potholes, or ephemeral pools.  I like the latter name.  It sounds more impressive.  The horses didn't care what they were called, but they did enjoy a good long drink in each one. 
This one had tall grass.  Boss almost slipped off the sandstone into the pool as he stretched his neck to bite off every possible stem.  He even stuck his nose underwater to get at more grass.  It must've been pretty sweet stuff.
Another pool was especially deep, with vegetation around it.   
The amazing thing about these pools was that they teemed with life. 
In the above video, taken at the first pool, you can see fairy shrimp swimming around, and clam shrimp scuttling.  These creatures lay eggs that are dormant when the pools dry up, then hatch when rain fills the pools.  They have to  mature and reproduce quickly, before the pools dry up again, or freeze during the winter months.
Fairy shrimp have a long fossil record, evolving over the last 500 million years.  They are left over from the time when inland seas covered the Great Basin. 
Fairy shrimp Anostraca with green eggs in egg sac

Clam Shrimp Conchostraca

This video, taken in the pool with the tall grass that Boss liked so much, shows a long tail tadpole shrimp Triops longicaudatus scurrying through the water. 

"The longtail tadpole shrimp is considered a living fossil because its basic prehistoric morphology has changed little in the last 70 million years, exactly matching their ancient fossils. Triops longicaudatus is one of the oldest animal species still in existence."  - Wikipedia

With all of our desert riding, we had never seen any of these shrimp species before.  There's always something new to be found if you look closely enough.
On the way back to camp, we stopped to let the boys munch some Indian rice grass.  Coco seemed to want a little bit of loving.


  1. Great post. Just cannot get enough of the beautiful red rock country.

  2. I learn so much from your posts! I never would have imagined finding shrimp in the desert. And, of course, your photos are always gorgeous.

  3. Gorgeous ride--and places you visited…Interesting about the shrimp… Amazing what one can find in the desert! Who would have thought???????

    Loved seeing the sandstone formations, and where the Green River carved a path… Gorgeous!!!

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Amazing to see all the green grass and little creatures in the pools. Beautiful desert, gorgeous pictures!

  5. Life is truly amazing and especially the survival tricks in the desert.
    Nice horseshoe bend.

  6. wow, what a ride. Is that Horseshoe bend in Canyonlands? Your videos were very interesting. I love that country. It is so beautiful.

  7. What a great ride and so very interesting to read what you found in the pools. Fun videos also. Thanks Janie!

  8. The terrain makes me homesick, especially images 3 and 4! Awesome, awesome panorama! Looks like it was comfortable weather, too. Quite interesting finds in the pools!


  9. Thanks for these amazing and incredibly beautiful desert shots.

  10. Shrimp in the desert?! And how amazing they lay dormant when the pool is dry but hatch when there's water!

  11. What a stark, forbidding yet beautiful landscape. It would take a while for a green grass, lots trees and lakes guy to feel totally comfortable in that kind of environment...:)

  12. so that's the shrimp you were talking about. Very cool! and you have have missed Day 2 of the ride, but you had your own spectacular scenery!
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  13. We are heading out to that area in a few weeks, and you are making me really look forward to it! Gorgeous photos of the landscape and the shrimp.

    We found those pools one year, and we let the dogs jump into them. Only later, we read that it's really bad to do that because it hurts those rare shrimp and other animals that wait all year long for the potholes to fill up so they can live, ever so briefly.

    You've inspired me to look more closely in the pools on our next visit!

    (I love your Horsethief photos).

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  15. Wow, amazing! what the landscapes. love the photos.
    Indeed, Great tour.

  16. Sometimes I think you guys have too much fun. Great post.

  17. The shots with the Green River are magnificent!!



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