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The Colorado Plateau

The Vast and the Intimate
Suspended in Time
A Textbook of Geomorphology

Maps

Arizona
Colorado
New Mexico
Utah

Places

Aquarius Plateau, Utah
Arches NP, Utah
Arizona Strip
Black Mesa, Arizona
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
Canyonlands NP, Utah
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Chuska Mountains, New Mexico
Dinosaur NM, Colorado/Utah
Glen Canyon/Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand Canyon-Parashant NM, Arizona
Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah
Upper Gunnison Basin, Colorado
Kaibab Plateau, Arizona
La Sal Mountains, Utah
Lees Ferry, Arizona
Little Colorado River, Arizona
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Mogollon Rim, Arizona
San Francisco Peaks, Arizona
White Mountains, Arizona
Wupatki/Sunset Crater, Arizona
Zion NP, Utah

PlacesKaibab Plateau, Arizona

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River lies atop the broad upwarp of the Kaibab Plateau. The plateau, rising to over 9,200 feet, supports a rich mix of flora and fauna. Sufficiently high to capture occasional heavy winter snows and far enough south to garner significant summer monsoonal moisture, the Kaibab Plateau is surprisingly lush. Despite the cool temperatures and moisture, surface water is not common due to the porous nature of the Kaibab Limestone which caps much of the plateau.

The crest of the plateau is heavily forested with spruce-fir, aspen, and mixed-conifer forests. Occasional subalpine grassland parks are scattered throughout the forests generally above 8500 feet. Stands of ponderosa pine and at lower elevations pinyon-juniper woodlands stretch from about 8000 feet down to about 5500 feet. A notable inhabitant of the plateau's ponderosa pine forests is the Kaibab squirrel, found only on the Kaibab Plateau. This tassel-eared squirrel differs from its more common counterpart--the Abert's squirrel--by having a darker body and white tail.

The southern end of the Kaibab Plateau, the North Rim area, is within Grand Canyon National Park. Most of the plateau, however, is a part of the Kaibab National Forest, managed by the U. S. Forest Service. The Forest Service lands on the plateau have been extensively roaded and heavily logged. Grazing, another major human land use, occurs throughout the area, particularly in mountain parks and meadows atop the plateau.


Research:

Restoring Ecosystem Health in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Southwest. Previous research has established that forests of ponderosa pine in the Southwest were much more open before Euro-American settlement. Restoration of ecosystem structure and reintroduction of fire are necessary for restoring rates of decomposition, nutrient cycling, and net primary production to natural, presettlement levels. The rates of these processes will be higher in an ecosystem that approximates the natural structure and disturbance regime.

Paleobotany and Paleoclimate of the Southern Colorado Plateau. The biota of the Colorado Plateau during the middle (50,000-27,500 B.P.) and late (27,500-14,000 B.P.) Wisconsin time periods was dramatically different from that seen today. Differences were primarily a result of major climate changes associated with the last major glacial period. This site examines the environment of the southern plateau during this time. Adapted by R. Scott Anderson from his journal article.

Changed Southwestern Forests: Resource effects and management remedies. Over 150 years of occupancy by northern Europeans has markedly changed vegetative conditions in the Southwest. Less fire due to grazing and fire suppression triggered a shift to forests with very high tree densities, which in turn contributed to destructive forest fires. Options to deal with these changes include prescribed fire, thinning and timber harvest to mimic natural disturbances and conditions. However, there are barriers to implementing these activities on a scale large enough to have a significant benefit. Adapted from a published journal article by Marlin Johnson.

Where have all the grasslands gone? Numerous ecological studies across the Southwest have documented the decline in herbaceous vegetation (grasses and non-woody flowering plants) while forests thicken and brush invades. Documenting the changes in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, ecologist Craig Allen considers the evidence that these patterns are tied to changes in land use history, primarily livestock grazing and fire suppression.


References:

Schmutz, E.M., Michaels, C.C., Judd, B.I. 1967. Boysag Point, a relict area on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Journal of Range Management 20: 363-369.

Weng, C., Jackson, S.T. 1998. Late-glacial and Holocene vegetation history and paleoclimate of the Kaibab Plateau, Arizona. Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology.

Rasmussen, D.I., 1941. Biotic Communities of the Kaibab Plateau, Arizona. Ecological Monographs 11: 229-276.