NPS photo Dale Dombrowski
The "lumpy" dark soil areas you see off of the trails at El Morro are "biological soil crusts," also referred to as "cryptobiotic soil". The microorganisms that comprise the crust include slow-growing cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae), mosses, lichens, fungi, bacteria, liverworts and other types of algae. Cryptobiotic soil is important because it helps to hold soil together and prevent erosion, and improves the germination rate and survival of plants re-colonizing disturbed areas. Biological soil crusts are well adapted to arid conditions, but they are very fragile and are destroyed when they are stepped on by animals and humans. Cryptobiotic soil is slow to regenerate; if damaged, it can take decades to regenerate. Please remember to stay on trails at all times to avoid damaging this important part of the landscape.