Monday, April 23, 2007

Colorado Plateau

The middle of the Colorado Plateau, near Kayenta, Arizona
N36.56761 W110.48766

Q: What region has the highest concentration of parklands in North America?

A: The Colorado Plateau, with nine national parks, 16 national monuments, one national historic park, many state parks, millions of acres of national forest, and many other protected lands.

The Colorado Plateau is a physiographic province in the western United States covering an area of 130,000 square miles. Not one single plateau, it is in fact a huge basin ringed by highlands and filled with plateaus. What makes it unique? Well, compared with the regions that surround it, the Colorado Plateau has been remarkably stable. While the Rocky Mountains to the east and the basin and range country to the west were being thrust, stretched, and fractured into existence, the Colorado Plateau earned a name for itself by the simple device of remaining structurally intact.

All of my posts from Flagstaff to Zion Canyon (upcoming) are set against the backdrop of this sprawling region. Here are some photos I took of typical plants one sees in the Colorado Plateau...

PiƱon Pine. This often stunted tree has many uses. The seeds (nuts) are a rich source of protein, riboflavin, niacin and potassium. There is as much protein in a pound of pinyon pine nuts as an equal amount of beef. The pitch mixed with red clay and mutton tallow made a salve similar to Vaseline and was used to treat skin irritations. Pitch was also used to fasten arrowheads and knives to wooden shafts, to waterproof baskets, cement turquoise stones to silverwork, repair sandals or pottery and as a source of chewing gum. Warmed pitch was used to remove splinters. The rotted wood was ground into a talcum powder and boiled leaves were used to control diarrhea. The easily carved wood was used for ceremonial objects.

The Datil Yucca. Indians used just about every part of the yucca plant. The fleshy fruit was eaten green or dried for winter meals. Baked, it tastes like a potato. Mixed with berries, the pulp was made into a cake. The young stalks were eaten like asparagus. As an ingredient in root beer the plant creates the foamy, white head.

Utah Juniper. Juniper logs were used as roof beams in ancient dwellings and store houses. The wood was used for fence posts and implements like digging sticks. Shredded bark could be used as tinder, diaper pads, and braided into rope. A brew made from juniper was used as a laxative.

Rabbit brush. This plant was used to treat coughs, cold and headaches. The mature blossoms make a yellow dye. The seeds can be ground and baked into a bread or mush. The branches were used for baskets, mats and arrows. Root concentrates were used for internal injuries.

Mormon Tea. These have a variety of medicinal uses and have been used by many cultures for centuries. The pioneers brewed a tea-like beverage from the stems as a diuretic and for bladder and kidney problems. Dried and ground, Mormon Tea is made into a bitter-tasting bread.

Prickly Pear cactus. Spineless prickly pear pads were used to stop bleeding. The fruit can be eaten dried, fresh or cooked with dried peaches and used in stews. Rolling the fruit in sand or singeing it in hot ashes removes the spines.

Thanks to the National Park Service for their descriptions of traditional plant uses.

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