Gypsym Addiction

For Endangered Species Day we want to highlight the dwarf bearclaw poppy, which has been a federally listed endangered species since 1979. A plant or animal is listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 when it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. 

The dwarf bearclaw poppy (Arctomecon humilis), is a gypsophile or gypsum-loving plant, having a distinct preference for the gypsum rich soils found in the upper layers of the geologic Moenkopi Formation. It is endemic- or found only in a certain locality or region – to Washington County, Utah, growing at elevations between 2,600 and 3,300 feet. Today, there are only five small populations of dwarf bearclaw poppy remaining, all within a ten mile radius of St George, Utah! 

Photo: Melissa Buchmann, Recreation Intern for BLM-Utah

What Public Lands are You Grateful For?

I am grateful for my ‘happy place’ — a shady beach-like area near the base of Lower Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where many break for lunch or play in the water nearby. Here you can just close your eyes, feel the mist on your face, and listen to the sounds of solitude. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this!

-Chad Douglas, Public Affairs for the Utah State Office


(Accidentally) Lost in the Wilderness

My ego will take a hit, but I will share with you a recent escapade, when I got lost in the Red Mountain Wilderness. I was completely prepared for a full day hike, with a good amount of water, some snacks, and a couple of maps. I had, on the other hand, forgotten my cell phone in the car and my hiking partner had left the GPS unit behind.

We swiftly walked down a well trampled sandy path for a few hours when it abruptly disappeared. We knew our placement on the map from point A to point B and the general direction we should take, but apart from that, there were absolutely no indications of other human passage. That is to be expected in Wilderness, I know, but we anticipated to at least catch glimpses of footprints scattered here and there (a common mistake). Nothing.

 We are atop of a mountain and just see other mountain tops as far as the eye can see, but we know that there is a way back down closer than the four hour return trip. So, we march on–up and down steep cliffs and deep sandy channels between the brush, getting our hopes up at every potential opportunity to just as quickly feeling betrayed by Mother Nature and fearful that we might have to spend the night a la belle etoile.

 As the sun was threatening to fall, our pace quickened and our spirits dampened. Were we really going to have to sleep up here? My legs started to numb as I repeated in my head, like a mantra, “you will continue on, you will continue on…” The sky darkened and thunder rumbled above the not-so-distant Beaver Dam Mountains. After what seemed like an eternity, we came across some teenagers who were familiar with the area and pointed us in the right direction: down a steep rocky mountain side–which I do not recommend doing, even in broad daylight! With the help of my hiking partner’s phone flashlight we managed to make it down with just a few scratches and bruises, and immediately vowed to be way more prepared for our next adventure!

Lesson Learned:

  • Don’t skip the planning stage! What are the area and weather conditions?
  • Always bring the 10 essentials: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid kit, fire starter, multi-tool or knife, food, water (one gallon per person per day), and an emergency shelter.
  • Tell someone exactly where you are going, with whom, and when you will return. If your plans change, let them know. This can save valuable time in case of a search and rescue operation.

-Iris Picat


Hop Valley Trail

After being held captive in the truck for a half hour or so, as the rain played a private concerto on our windshield, we tramped off, grateful that the shower had hardened the deep sandy path before us. As we approached the descent into the valley, a striking backdrop unfolded before us: salmon-colored cliffs towered above some of the greenest meadows I have ever witnessed!

We zigzagged through the canyon, breathing in the clean air, and listening to the passing chirps of the birds as they chased one another through the pines. Tadpoles had made the small streams their home, and small orange and sky-blue butterflies playfully fleeted around, taking short breaks on the various wildflowers in bloom. Lizards fled from our encroaching shadows only to scurry back into the sun once we’d ambled on. It seemed to me to be a perfect wildlife refuge.

Despite spending an entire afternoon exploring Zion’s west side, we did not come across another soul. Yes, I am talking about the Zion; the nation’s 6th most visited National Park. How did we manage to escape the summer crowds? Kolob Canyon is the lesser-known and less-visited portion of the park, separate from its main area surrounding the visitor center, and mostly has trails that take a considerable bit more time to explore.

We left as the sun was starting to wane, glowing from our successful hike, and savored the landscape that never ceases to impress on the windy road back to Highway 9. Hop Valley, a hop and skip away from the main road leading to Zion NP from Hurricane, UT, truly provided the solitude and serenity I was after. 

What better time to go explore one of the National Parks near you?!

-Story and photos by Iris Picat 


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I often tell people that “I’ve been on skis ever since I could stand up on my own.” In France, schoolchildren are given 2 weeks off around February and many families zoom off to the ski slopes. My family was no different, and so every year we would head to some of our favorite resorts in the Alps and ski to our little hearts content, eating hefty cheesy meals after our exhausting days. When I moved to the States though, that opportunity wasn’t so readily available to me, so whenever it presents itself I jump on it.

This past holiday break I went to visit my parents in Seattle, where they’ve recently moved to, and we jogged up the forested canyon to Steven’s Pass, a ski resort within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Our second day, we had some of the most incredible weather, paired with fresh powder snow—if these photos don’t make you want to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, go sledding, or simply get out in the snow, I don’t know what will!

Story and Photo Credit: Iris Picat

Red Mountain Wilderness 

Wilderness is a place of untouched beauty, where its organic community is naturally interwoven, and its heart beat is untrammeled by man. Red Mountain Wilderness is about 18,700 acres, with a portion in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Parts of Snow Canyon State Park wrap around its southern and eastern boundaries. This photo shows a portion of the Wilderness that is made up of immense sandstone mounds, with endless outlooks on the flat expanses below, and the Beaver Dam Mountains in the distance.
In 1964, Congress established the National Wilderness Preservation System and designated the first Wilderness Areas after passing the Wilderness Act. The uniquely American idea of wilderness has become an increasingly significant tool to ensure long-term protection of natural landscapes. Sprawled over about 8.7 million acres in 10 Western States, there are ample Wilderness Areas for you to explore, each with a very unique character.
Photo by: Melissa Buchmann; Story by: Iris Picat


Pine Park Getaway 

It has been a couple of months, but I still daydream about Pine Park, situated within Dixie National Forest. Growing up mushroom hunting in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye forest, west of Paris, France, I was ecstatic to find Alice in Wonderland sized mushrooms here. Granted these were non-edible, and made out of tuff (formed by volcanic ash flows 18-14 million years ago), but the moody sky contrasted beautifully with these gargantuan figures. As we made our way further down the road, smaller hoodoos poked their heads up among the pinyon pines, until we fell upon a child’s paradise; a picturesque viewpoint was perfectly framed by pine trees, and let the mind wander into another dimension, a fantasy world where cats can talk, rabbits can tell the time, and you can dig for apples. About two hours North of St George, Utah, Pine Park provides a variety of shaded dispersed camping sites, and is well worth the detour.

-Story and photos by Iris Picat 


Red Butte Wilderness: Step into Nature

A cloudless blue sky stretches out before us as we roll down the maroon-colored Kolob Reservoir Road on our way to Utah’s Red Butte Wilderness, managed by the BLM St George Field Office. We turn off onto an unmarked dirt road, and Red Butte, known for its sandstone spires and domes, looms larger. 

“Bang.” The shutting of the truck’s doors is the last man-made sound we hear. The silence is deafening, creating an air of tranquility that even the birds try to mimic.

Stretching from a low of 5,600 feet to a high of 7,400 feet, the steep grade begins to take its toll. Short of breath, we struggle to traverse through prickly shrubs and escalade what seems like vertical slickrock (alright, I’m exaggerating a little), but as the expansive views unfold before us, thoughts of scratches made only moments before, dissipate entirely. This 1,500 acre wilderness ranges from a sandy wash, which takes us down a slot canyon and ends in a brilliant sandstone amphitheater, to a forested mesa top perfect for picnicking while basking in the sun. We have arrived. Not at our destination exactly, but we’ve succeeded in leaving the hustle-bustle of daily life behind, and entered one of Earth’s natural treasures. 

-Iris Picat


Eagle Scout Signs Technical 4x4 Trails

If Kyle Miller, of Boy Scout Troop 1670, was looking for a challenge, he sure got what he was looking for. Supervising an army of volunteers, Kyle orchestrated the marking of three highly technical four-wheel drive trails in the Sand Mountain OHV Area, successfully completing one of the most innovative and difficult Eagle Scout projects attempted in the St George Field Office!

Kyle and his volunteers used white paint and stencils with a jeep graphic to mark the technical trails known as Double Sammy, East Rim, and Sliplock. The project included organizing 20 four-wheel drive vehicles to navigate the terrain and complete the work.

“Without a doubt, this was one of the most impressive Eagle Scout projects ever done for our office. All the four-wheelers who like to play on Sand Mountain will truly benefit from Kyle’s work.” said Dave Kiel, BLM Recreation Planner.

When asked what he found most challenging about the project, Kyle replied, “For me, it was finding out what it really means to be a leader.” Talk about learning the hard way – orchestrating a full fleet of vehicles while successfully completing such a challenging project is no easy feat!

Story: Dave Kiel, Outdoor Recreation Planner for the BLM St George Field Office

Photos: Justin Lunceford, Project Volunteer 


Yellow Knolls is 1.9 mile long single track trail that winds its way to and through a gap between sandstone hills and shimmering basalt cliffs. Only a few miles north of St. George, Utah, the reptilian-like checkerboard sandstone, an imitation of Zion’s Checkerboard Mesa with its crisscrossing fissures, is definitely a sight worth detouring for!
Photos by Iris Picat and Darren Chase


Full Moon Hike

It is incredible what your body can do. I was camping on BLM land, on the outskirts of Great Basin National Park , NV, when the “super moon” was out last month.  That was also the first full-moon hike being offered by the park this season, and I was sure to jump on the occasion.

We started our trek to Stella Lake, a 2 mile easy-moderate hike round-trip, with the 33 other visitors who’d signed up for the free event. We’d met the Ranger at the Summit trailhead and briefly introduced ourselves, learning that our hiking companions spanned from coast-to-coast with visitors from California to North Carolina, despite placing in the top 10 least visited National Parks in 2012. The Ranger also politely asked us to refrain from using any flash photography or flashlights during the hike, and although there were some slipups, this made all the difference!

As the sun went down and the moon came up, my eyes effortlessly adjusted to the darkness, swiftly spotting deer and the roots protruding from the trail. The full moon helped 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak gaze at itself in the still lake, helped me imagine the times before artificial light came to be, and reminded me of truly how amazing our bodies are.

Great Basin National Park’s next Full Moon Hikes are scheduled for July 22, August 20, and September 30th, but you can take advantage of the full moon glimmer wherever you may find yourselves!

-Story and photos by Iris Picat


Welcome Springs

In the past year, Welcome Springs saw about 2,000 visitors. It is one of the St George Field Office’s more popular climbing walls, with limestone cliffs ranging from 5.7 to 5.14 in difficulty, and is accessible year-round. The best seasons remain fall and spring, as for most other outdoor activities in Southwest Utah. Please be prepared and take a look at these area-specific considerations and climbing ethics before you go.

 Photos: Todd Goss


What did Santa bring you this year? Two New Mountain Biking trails!

Nothing compares to an invigorating winter ride, so take your bike out, and feel the wind rush by as you roll down the 7.2 miles of new singletrack in the popular Hurricane Cliffs Trail System, managed by the BLM St George Field Office (SGFO), in Washington County, Utah. Thanks to a collaborative effort between the BLM, the Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association (DMBTA), and the American Conservation Experience (ACE), two brand new trails have been added: Goosebumps and Cryptobionic.

The first trail follows technical, undulating terrain along the base of Gooseberry Mesa which was the inspiration for it’s name, “Goosebumps.” The second trail is a powerful, high-speed track which parallels the popular JEM trail and threads it’s way deftly through a rugged landscape; sure to be an instant classic, it is called “Cryptobionic.”

“The ACE crew performed admirably, completing the trail construction in brutally cold and snowy conditions which are rare in Southwest Utah!” said Dave Kiel, SGFO outdoor recreation planner who worked on the project.

“It’s pretty amazing what can be accomplished when there’s a shared vision. The Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association volunteers worked really hard on designing a high quality singletrack experience. I won’t give away too much, but there are some unique terrain features that will make riders stop and say ‘whoa, that was awesome.’ Truly, a worthy addition to an already great trail system,” he added.   

-Iris Picat

Photo credit: Dave Kiel, SGFO Outdoor Recreation Planner, and Melissa Buchmann, SGFO Recreation Technician

In the same year the United States declared independence, a trek was taking place in the Colorado Plateau region. The Dominguez-Escalante expedition was carried out in 1776 to find a route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Southern California. The expedition was challenging, and due to hardships the explorers never reached their destination.
The above photo was taken on Sand Mountain in the St George Field Office. The sandy conditions made it difficult for travelers. Escalante wrote about staying here in his journal before continuing into Northern Arizona. Today, this area is popular for off-highway vehicles, and tough hikers who walk the vertical red cliffs like the Dominguez-Escalante party did over 235 years ago.
Just down the cliff face is the Warner Valley Dinosaur Track Site. If you ever visit the dinosaur tracks, look up on the cliffs above and you will see this 4 foot tall monument.
Story and photo: Braden Yardley, Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash NCA Park Ranger


Harrisburg, a Pioneer Community

Red Cliffs Recreation Area is immensely popular for its easy access to water, and spectacular landscape. Once upon a time, in 1859, water was also one of the primary reasons Moses Harris founded Harrisburg in this small valley, now know as the Red Cliffs Recreation Area, within the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.
In 1862 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “called” the Adams family, among others, to settle in Harrisburg. Quail and Leeds Creek, through a system of ditches, delivered enough water to sustain them until Leeds Creek was diverted to the new settlement of Leeds, further up the road. Water became scarce and the population of Harrisburg began to dwindle. Church meetings ended by 1891, but the Adams family remained until 1892, when Orson Adams moved to Leeds following the death of his wife.
The Orson B. Adams House is the most intact structure remaining of this small pioneering community as it was the last inhabited. In 2006, the BLM St George Field Office completed a rehabilitation of the structure.
This beautiful sandstone block house, and other stone remnants, have a red cliff backdrop making it one of the most attractive ghost towns around!
There are on-site interpretive signs that help tell the community’s story, or CLICK HERE for more information.

-Iris Picat

Spring is here and the Joshua Trees are blooming! 

The Joshua tree typically grows in the Mojave Desert, in southwestern North America. They grow on average 3 inches a year, although because its trunk is made of thousands of small fibers, it lacks the typical tree rings, making it tough to determine its exact age. We do know that it can live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

The flowers don’t bloom every year, but when they do they can be seen at the ends of the sword-like evergreen leaves from February to late April. Once they bloom, the trees are pollinated by the yucca moth. Wildfires can be devastating, since the moth will not find it advantageous to pollinate trees left isolated by fires, but prefer instead to pollinate within tree clusters.

Story:  Iris Picat; Photo: Lynne Scott, St George Field Office Landscape Architect

Students Experience a “Day in the Desert” On April 4, teachers and fifty-eight 7th graders from Sunrise Ridge Intermediate School traded their brick and mortar classrooms for the vibrant landscape of southern Utah. The Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) was one of the chosen venues for the “Day in the Desert” event, sponsored by the Washington County School District, which allows middle school students to participate in “hands on” activities.
In the Red Cliffs Recreation Area, located within the NCA, specialists from the BLM Saint George Field Office, Washington County Administrators Office, and Southern Utah National Conservation Lands Friends (SUNCLF) group instructed students on ecological and cultural resources with curriculum-based workshops. They educated students about the life histories and adaptive mechanisms of native Mojave Desert species, like the desert tortoise and Gila monster; sampled and tested water quality in Quail Creek, and tried their hand at flint-knapping. They also identified native plants that were used as foods, medicines, or fiber sources by Native Americans and Anglo-European settlers, and visited the mid-19th century Orson B. Adams farmstead.
At the end of the day, “Day in the Desert” was a success with the children excitedly chatting about their experience on Public Lands as they marched back to the school bus.

-Story by Iris Picat; Photos by Iris Picat and Melissa Buchman

Have you been to the Gap? No, not the clothing store, the Parowan Gap! 

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Parowan Gap, managed by the Cedar City Field Office of the Color Country District, Utah, is a site of great significance. It is believed to house one of the most concentrated collections of petroglyphs in the West, with over 90 panels and 1,500 figures, some possibly dating back almost 5,000 years!

There, you can find a natural rock formation in the shape of a human profile with its mouth open, known as the Overseer. Two times a year you can see the sun enter and leave its sliver of a mouth. This phenomenon occurred earlier this month, March 7-9, when the Overseer spat out the morning sun; which according to some interpretations indicates that the summer sun has come out of its winter home, and warmer weather is coming.

You can witness the Spring Equinox with the Parowan Gap Heritage Foundation as they host their annual event on March 24. Experience this interpreted site for yourself by going to the Parowan Gap, located 15 miles North of Cedar City, UT, or learn more here.
Story by Yanavey McCloskey and Iris Picat