When the Good Grass Goes
1880—Ten years ago the desert spaces . . . were covered with abundant grasses. Today hardly a blade of grass is to be found within 10 miles of [Pipe] spring . . . Even if there had been no drought . . . cattle would have . . . destroyed the grass by cropping it clean . . .
-Clarence Dutton, U.S. Geological Survey
High-desert grasses once covered the range before you, as far as the eye could see. For centuries Paiute people made the tiny seeds of those native grasses a staple of their diet. Even the animals hunted by the Kaibab Paiute, like grouse, rabbits, or antelope, lived on the nutrient-rich grass.
Then in the 1860s thousands of sheep and cattle were put on the range to take advantage of this sea of grass. Without warning, a 10-year period of cooler moist weather ended. Scarce rain and snow, combined with overgrazing, changed all the lives that had depended on the good grass—for the worse.
Tumbleweeds and sagebrush symbolize the West for many people today. These plants take over damaged rangelands, like the Arizona Strip, and displace the native grasses.