Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Flora & Fauna

Life is abundant along the banks of the Fremont River. Cotton-woods, willows and tama-risks mingle and compete. All must have enough water, but the exotic tama-risk, introduced into the Southwest from the Mediterranean during the 1930s, is more aggressive. Stealing water from the native plants, the tamarisk crowds them out and diminishes ecological diversity along the river.

Though signs of life are obvious along the Fremont River, scores of plants and animals live in drier areas as well. Pinion pine and Utah juniper grow wherever conditions allow them to gain a foothold. Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs and bristlecone pines grow at some of the higher elevations, often wedging themselves into just a narrow shelf in a stone cliff face.

Mormon-tea, Indian ricegrass, round-leaf buffaloberry, yucca, Gambel oak, virgin's-bower, Utah serviceberry, squawbush and box elder are just a few of the hundreds of plants that can be found within Capitol Reef National Park.

The water pockets themselves are home to numerous plants and animals and things really come alive after a heavy rain. Hours after a flash flood, sandstone pockets, now filled with water, swarm with fairy shrimp. These and other small creatures have hatched from eggs that have been waiting in the dry sand for possibly a year or more. Then begins a seemingly accelerated life cycle. Within a week, the shrimp have hatched, matured, mated and laid their eggs. When the water evaporates, the basin is studded with the dead bodies of shrimp whose lives consisted of growing up at breakneck speed and reproducing themselves. Then their eggs lie dormant for months or years until the rain returns and the cycle is repeated.

The spadefoot toad somehow seems to get more out of life. It too, must mature with lightning speed to reach adulthood before its water source dries up. If water lasts long enough, the lucky, mature toad can bury itself in the sand, protected by a mucous coat, and wait until the next rainfall to get at least a second chance at feeding, mating and loud croaking.

This fleeting, watery community also attracts larger animals that feed and drink here. Especially at night, the ringtail cat, fox and coyote emerge in search of food and water. During the day, lizards, deer, chipmunks and squirrels are commonly seen. Mule deer graze on the orchard grass and trees in the Fremont River Valley, attracting present but seldom-seen cougar.