• Spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone in Chesler Park (Needles District)

    Canyonlands

    National Park Utah

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  • Some unpaved roads are closed

    Recent rains have caused extensive damage to some roads in the Needles District and some of the roads into the Maze District. More »

  • Safety in Bear Country

    Black bears have been seen in the Needles, Maze, and along the Colorado River. Be alert and store food and garbage properly: in hard-sided, latched containers (or your vehicle) when not being prepared or consumed. More »

  • New backcountry requirements in effect

    Hard-sided bear containers are required for backpackers in parts of the Needles District. More »

Disturbed Lands

photo: Vehicle tracks damage soil crusts
Vehicle tracks damage soil crusts
 

Though much of Canyonlands remains undeveloped, its lands are not necessarily undisturbed. Much of the area is covered by biological soil crust, a living crust found throughout the world that plays an important role in the ecosystems in which it occurs.

Unfortunately, many human activities negatively affect the presence and health of biological soil crusts. Compressional stresses placed on them by footprints or machinery are extremely harmful, especially when the crusts are dry and brittle. Tracks in continuous strips, like those produced by vehicles or bicycles, create areas that are highly vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Rainfall carries away loose material, often creating channels along these tracks, especially on slopes.

Wind not only blows pieces of the pulverized crust away, thereby preventing reattachment to disturbed areas, but also disrupts the underlying loose soil, often covering nearby crusts. Since crustal organisms need light to photosynthesize, burial can mean death. When large sandy areas are impacted during dry periods, previously stable areas can become a series of shifting sand dunes in just a few years. Air pollutants, both from urban areas and coal-fired power plants, also adversely affect the physiology of these crusts.

A great deal of research about biological soil crust has been conducted at Canyonlands. Soil health and chemistry are measured at transects throughout the park. Certain relict areas, where human impacts (including livestock grazing) have been minimal or nonexistent, are closed to entry and provide crucial control areas to which disturbed areas can be compared.

Did You Know?

Rapids in Cataract Canyon

The highest recently recorded flow in Cataract Canyon is 114,900 cfs in 1984. However, scientists dating driftwood piles estimate that in 1884, the river may have reached 225,000 cfs. More...