Water sources in the desert are rare and often critically important for wildlife. Streams and springs support lush, green vegetation, creating a stark contrast to the dry surrounding desert landscape. Perhaps the most unusual form of spring-supported plant community on the Colorado Plateau is the hanging garden.
Hanging gardens are spring-fed colonies of plants clinging to the vertical wall of a cliff. They often form in alcoves or “glens” where conditions are cooler and moister than in the surrounding desert. The contrast between the sunny, hot dry air of the surrounding desert and the cool shaded moist air in the alcoves makes these popular hiking destinations. The springs are derived from a local aquifer primarily supplied by winter precipitation. This water supply moves downward through the porous stone and cracks. In Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA) this is usually sandstone of the Navajo Sandstone formation. When the water reaches a less permeable layer of rock, such as the Kayenta Formation, it cannot move downward any longer and begins to flow sideways. If this lateral movement continues to the wall of a canyon, it begins to seep out of the stone and flow down the sides of the cliff. This water source allows a rich array of plants to grow directly on the cliff face and on the ground below the seep.
Did You Know?
Glen Canyon is no rainforest. It's a desert. Keep your body protected, and drink lots of WATER. Let friends know your plans.