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



One thought on “All Over the Four Corners in a Day”

  1. I loved the pictures of the hanging garden and the many species of plant that live there! Just because a place is a desert doesn’t mean that things don’t grow there. The plants just have to be very resourceful in their use of water and how they obtain it.

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