Sagebrush Steppe And Mixed Grass Prairie
Characteristics - Sagebrush Steppe
Elevations range from 4,000 to over 5,000 feet. The normal full pool elevation for Bighorn Lake is 3,640 feet and the Madison Limestone cliff is 400 feet high through most of the area north of Barry’s Landing to the Monocline, the large uplifted fold of the rock layers. Thus the Sagebrush Steppe extends from the canyon rim west. Some of the soils are quite rocky and thin.
Mixed Grass Prairie - Location And Characteristics
The effect of the Pryor Mountains and the north end of the Bighorn Mountains on orthographic lifting has a significant influence on the amounts of precipitation. Topography always has to be a major consideration when studying the distribution of plant habitats. The soils here are deeper than on the Sagebrush Steppe. Fire is important here to prevent the incursion of shrubs and trees. Grasses are able to come back quickly after fire sweeps through.
Distinctions And Similarities - Plant Life
Other plants in these two habitats include spreading juniper, lanceleaf sage (also called silver sage), yucca, plains prickly pear cactus, blue flax, lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot, larkspur, sego lilies and sticky geranium. Many of these flowers can be seen on the drive up to Ok-A-Beh.
The flowering stems, often 3 to 5 of them per plant, are over twice the height of the leaves. The 2 to 3 inch long creamy or greenish white flowers are arranged in a very conspicuous raceme heavy with all the abundant pendant flowers. The yucca has a special, mutualistic pollination system. The yucca moth does the transfer of pollen while also laying its eggs in the yucca flower. The moth larva then feeds on some of the developing seeds.
The developing fruits look like large green peanuts. Even the previous year’s dried flowering stems with their brown, open, and empty seed pods still attract attention. Of course, a hundred and fifty years ago they just might have been over-shadowed by a wandering herd of bison.
Did You Know?
The 10,000 year old Bad Pass Trail, marked by rock cairns, was used by American Indians as a trade/travel route, then by mountain men, early settlers, and today by Bighorn Canyon visitors. More...