All Over the Four Corners in a Day

Hello from the Four Corners! I’ve been out here in the Southwest for almost 6 weeks and have seen many natural wonders, but best by far was my trip to the Hanging Gardens and Monument Valley. What is a hanging garden you ask? Well, just the coolest vegetation type in the southwest! In an arid landscape such as the Colorado Plateu, hanging gardens represent “a boreal oasis in the midst of a Sonoran desert” (Alice Eastwood, 1896)

There are three levels to this Hanging Garden near Bluff, UT

Hanging gardens are associated with sandstone formations, and it is the erosion of the stratified sedimentary rocks and concurrent entrenchment of the river system into those strata that have exposed the water-bearing sandstones . The vegetation type that characterizes hanging gardens is considered mesic and is created when water is available continuously through cracks and crevices of rock. Water percolating through the porus sandstone, contacts the impervious stratum below it, accumulates, and finally, flows laterally along the impermeable stratum until it reaches the edge of the member, or is exposed along a sandstone cliff. Where this exposed water accumulates, so do the plants.

Facing wall of a hanging garden near Bluff, UT

The Plant communities associated with Hanging Gardens differ in composition and kinds of species. Although the process of creating these hanging gardens is dynamic, and structurally differing in forms, the most common form is the Alcove-type. In general, alcove-like hanging gardens contain three types of surfaces for plants to grow, the hanging wall, the face wall, and the foot wall.

View from inside an Alcove-type hanging garden, showing the hanging wall, face wall, and foot wall.

The hanging wall will be well developed, and provides shade for the alcove during the day. The face wall will be arching in both the horizontal and vertical plane, or nearly perpendicular. Plants residing here are considered ‘clingers’ and are usually some of the following species: Primula specuicola, Mimulsu eastwoodiae, Adiantum capillus-veneris, Petrophytum caespitosum. Lobelia cardinalis, M. cardinalis, Dodecatheon pulchellum and Zigadenus vaginatus.

Oenothera longissima, with the vertical and foot wall in the background

The foot wall is below the angle of repose and is usually covered by detrital colluvium that is constantly moist. Many common riparian and mesic species can be found here including: Calamagrostis scopulorum, Muhlenbergia curtifolia, M. andina, Carex bicolor, Cladium californicum, Panicum lanuginosum, Habenaria sparsifola, Epipactis giantea, Primula specuicola and Celtis retiulata.

Mimulus eastwoodiae, Eastwood’s Monkey Flower, with Maden hair fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris

These hanging gardens are truly a sight to see! Alice Eastwood, famous curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences was one of the first people to describe this plant community, and subsequently found new species include this beautiful Aquilegia micrantha

Aquilegia micrantha, Mancos Columbine

Eastwood’s monkey flower (Mimulus eastwoodiae) was named after Alice Eastwood, in honor of her ferocious botanical spirit. She was one of the first women botanists in the west. I may have even visited the same Hanging Gardens that she herself visited! I can only hope to follow in her botanical footsteps.

On the same trip that I went to visit the hanging gardens, I also went to Monument Valley! We drove past the mexican hat on our way.

Mexican Hat, Utah

The Mexican Hat formation is considered to be a Hoodoo, which is a spire of rock that is formed through the various processes of weathering of the rock.  I wonder why they can it Mexican Hat…

After driving for a time, we finally made it to Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park.

The Mittens, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

It was astonishingly beautiful! We got there just as a monsoonal storm was coming in, making for beautiful views!

Three Sisters, Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park

Here is one last pic from Monument Valley, right before my camera died!

Totem pole and Yei Bei Chei

I have had such a great journey so far, and I still have 4 more weeks to go! Can’t wait to see what adventures I get into next. Stay tuned, as always, stay green!

The author, Jessica Orozco, at a hanging garden



Cultural Immersion not Introversion

Salutations from the Southwest! The monsoon season out here is almost over out here, bringing lots of rain and making for a second spring!

Near the southern Chuska Mountains

I have been staying with Arnold Clifford and his family out here in the community of Beclabito, NM for the past 4 weeks, near the Carrizo mountains.  I have been fortunate enough to learn about the culture of the Dine’ people by being totally immersed in the culture! I have been invovled in the local community by going to the Northern Dine’ Youth Committee meetings and I have even been going to a Zumba class here on the reservation! I am so grateful to be accepted by so many people. This speaks to the inclusive nature of native communities.

Carrizo Mountains, near Beclabito, NM

During the course of my time here, we visited the Navajo Dam. This land is considered to be part of the ancestral Navajo lands known as Dinetah, and is administered by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Dam was created in 1962 at the convergence of the San Juan and Los Pinos rivers.


Navajo Dam

According to Arnold Clifford, the convergence of these two rivers, and the surrounding area (now under water) is a place of the ‘Whirling logs’.

The place of the whirling logs is a sacred place where people went to gain wisdom and knowledge. The symbol of the whirling logs may look similar to the swastika, a symbol known the world over because it represents Hilter and the genocide of the Jewish people, but with key differences. The whirling logs symbol has the protrusions of the log turning clockwise, whereas the swastika is counter-clockwise.

Anytime Will do My Love By Melissa Cody

Additionally, the whirling logs symbol has been around for thousands of years before Hitler, and has always represent the search for wisdom and knowledge. It’s unfortunate that most people mistake this sacred symbol for a symbol of genocide. That is why it’s important to know your history!

Navajo Nation Council Chamber, Windowrock, AZ.

This time of the year is fair season in Navajo Country. There are 9 fairs that take place throughout the month of September, and ending with the last fair in Shiprock, NM which takes place the first weekend of October. The 68th Annual Navajo Nation Fair took place in Windowrock, AZ the capital of the Navajo nation.These fairs are a way for the Navajo people far and wide, on and off the reservation, to come together and promote family values through culture and tradition. While at the main fair in Windowrock, I was also fortunate enough to see the Miss Navajo contest.

The Miss Navajo contest was created in 1952 and far from a beauty pageant, the Miss Navajo competition is one of tradition and culture. Miss Navajo is an ambassador for the Dine’ people, and should know the traditional values of the culture, and be fluent in the Dine’ language. Contestants accrue points throughout the 4-day competition, which includes contests in traditional talent, contemporary talent, frybread making and sheep butchering. The butchering is by far the most difficult and most important of the contests. (Warning: the following pictures contain cultural values that include butchering sheep in a sacred way. Please be advised)

2014 Miss Navajo contestants butchering sheep at the 68th annual Navajo Nation Fair, Windowrock, AZ.

Contestants are paired up and have one hour to skin and butcher a whole adult sheep. This is important because to the Navajo People, sheep are life, and are  important food, and provide wool for weaving. Use EVERY part of the sheep, including the blood to make blood sausage, a traditional Navajo food! Butchering an adult sheep is no easy task, it takes alot of muscles and knowledge to know where to break the bones and butcher the sheep, using simple knifes. It was so cool being able to witness culture in action!

I am here at a good time botanically. Because it’s the tail ending of monsoonal season, the four corners area has experienced alot of rains, making for a beautiful fall flora!

Ipomopsis multiflora, found near the southern Chuska mountains

I have been learning so much both about botany and geology, as well as culture. I am excited to see what the next 5 weeks will bring! Stay tuned, and as always, stay green 🙂

The author (Jessica Orozco) at the Windowrock at the Navajo Nation capital.