Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Flora & Fauna

Above all, it is the availability of water that determines the species of plants and animals that can exist in a given location. And water, or the lack of it, has had a profound effect on Canyonlands. Aside from the Green and Colorado rivers and the few springs, water is in very short supply in the park. Rain is infrequent and due to rapid evaporation and runoff, much of what does fall is unavailable to plant life. Despite all of this, some plants do quite well here. Indian ricegrass, needle and thread, galleta and grama are the most conspicuous grasses. 

Blackbrush, shadscale and Mormon-tea (or squaw tea) cover large areas of the park. Pinion pines, junipers, cliffrose, mountain mahogany, barberry and snowberry, which need more water than grasses, flourish in rocky crevices where the rock has fractured. These crevices collect rain or melted snow and provide moisture for plants whose roots can twist down to where the water has settled.

Big sage, rabbitbrush and greasewood inhabit the sandy-soiled benches of the park that have a larger groundwater supply. 

The continuous supply of water adjacent to the Green and Colorado rivers gives rise to communities of cottonwood, willow and tamarisk.

Even the soil has special significance. What may first appear to be just a blackish-gray, lumpy crust is actually a microscopic plant community made up of cyanobacteria, lichens, fungi and algae. Called cryptobiotic soil, it grows among sterile grains of sand, binding them together to retard erosion and add nutrients that will help larger plants survive. Cryptobiotic soil is very fragile. A footstep can destroy it and decades will pass before it can reestablish itself. So remember to stay on designated trails and roads only. 

As in the plant kingdom, animal life at Canyonlands is diverse. From tiny, biting midges to the rarely seen bighorn sheep, animals in the park have adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions. Some are fairly stationary, while others move from one microclimate to another in search of food, shelter and refuge from predators.

Birds in Canyonlands include turkey vultures, golden eagles, ravens, white-throated swifts and violet-green swallows. Swifts and swallows fly more than 100 mph and can be seen performing aerial acrobatics in the updrafts around Grand View Point in the Island In the Sky District and among the formations in the Needles District. Near the Needles District are herds of antelope who can be seen grazing in the early morning and evening hours. In the winter, Mule Deer spend time near the park as well.

The area supports an active reptile community, from the small side-blotched lizard and tree lizard, to the foot-long leopard and collared lizards. If you are quiet and look carefully, you can sometimes see them on top of a rock, basking in the sun, warming up enough to go out hunting. From these exposed locations, they claim their territory, attract mates and search for food. There are also various snakes in the area, but seeing them is very difficult.