Douglas Fir in the Desert- A Relict Population

Canyonlands National Park



Welcome to Canyonlands National Park. I'm Ranger Tim.

All of our National Parks have surprises to offer, and Canyonlands is no exception. I'm standing at Shaffer Canyon Overlook and with a keen eye you can see one of the surprises that this park has to offer amidst all this sandstone and high desert vegetation.

Tucked into that alcove about a mile behind me, is what is known as a relict stand of Douglas fir tees. These trees are a remnant of a much larger forest better represented on the cool slopes of the La Sal Mountains about 20 miles away to the east.

How do these trees survive in such a challenging location? Well, several thousand years ago at the tail end of the last glacial period, this was a much wetter and cooler location. As the climate warmed and dried, that alcove behind me became the last place they could survive in Canyonlands National Park. This north-facing alcove and a substantial spring in the Navajo Sandstone provides a relatively cool and damp micro-environment.

The Colorado Plateau is experiencing accelerated warming and drying associated with global climate change. The climate trend may mean that even this refuge is not enough to sustain these trees but, for now, we can enjoy these ambassadors from a cooler and wetter time.


Ranger Tim shares insight into climatic change with a relict population of Douglas fir in Canyonlands National Park


2 minutes, 17 seconds


NPS/Tim Giller

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