5 of our research sites were south of Cliff, near the town of Redrock (link is a pdf of a map). Because it takes a couple of hours to drive down there we (Q, K, and myself) camped out on Tuesday night. To get to the sites we drove over the Burro Mountains. As someone who grew up in the midwest, I am always amazed at how quickly the habitat changes as you go up or down in elevation. This is true even if you travel just a few miles. Going up the mountains, we went from pinion-juniper grasslands to Chilopsis forest to Ponderosa Pine. On the other side, we found very desolate and dry conditions - mostly mesquite. After sampling the first two sites we headed over to our camp site in Nickel's Canyon.
After setting up camp, we set off to survey the third site of the day. One the way there we saw this really awesome plant called sand verbena.
It is in the Nyctaginaceae family (the same flowering tobacco family, or sometimes called the four o'clock family). The flowers are not really showy (but I like them).
What really stands out are the fruits. Here are developing fruits and "ripe" fruits.
Apparently, this species was really common last year in the plots, but I did not see many at all (in or out of our sampling plots). Last year it was a much drier year.
Another common plant species that we saw, both in an out of the plot was prickly poppy (Argemone sp.)
We had a visitor at the campsite - a lovely scarab beetle.
Photos of the campsite. For dinner we had tamales cooked over the campfire.
That evening, I had one of those perfect moments in life. The men (Q and K) had decided to hike up the cliffs behind our campsite. I was tired and knew that the next day would be hard. So I decided to stay behind and hang out at the campsite by myself. While they were gone, rain clouds moved in. I took a few pictures, but then it started raining (I have been to the desert twice in my life and it rained both times).
After packing up my camera in the truck, I went over to watch the sunset on a huge fallen cottonwood tree. Sitting on the trunk, with my back against a branch I was probably 5 feet off of the ground. Those moments were perfect - the sun was setting between two hills, the colors of the sky were changing, I could see the rain falling in the distance and feel it falling on my face, and the temperature was perfect. It was a moment of perfect peace, and my favorite experience of the whole trip.