ELEMENTS: Do You Smell That? It’s the Desert…

Jul 19, 2013

ELEMENTS: Do You Smell That?  It’s the Desert…

Our Elements series is a close-up look at the natural world through the eyes of river guide Codye Reynolds. Read on to find out about the lush greens that invaded her senses along the Yampa River…

While rafting the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument in late April 2013, spring was young and green foliage was scarce. Tiny buds graced the skeletal riverside cottonwoods. Indifferent to the canyon’s season, the only lush greens were found emanating from plentiful and evergreen sagebrush and pinyon pine.

Sage – Artemisia tridentate

I walked by the large camp-side bush (Harding Camp #4) and caught a glimmer of silvery green leaves. I stopped to press the dusty oils between two fingers and brought my fingers to my nose, inhaling the intoxicating, bittersweet aroma. Ah—it smelled like desert.

Its Latin name comes from Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of wild lands, and tridentate, which means three teeth (in reference to three distinct lobes on the tiny leaves). Hence this plant could be the three-toothed goddess of wild lands. I guess it would be a goofy-looking goddess, but a goddess of desert country nonetheless.

sage on the yampa river

Leaves from the sagebrush were used by the Fremont Indians of Dinosaur National Monument (and other tribes across the American West) for treatment of colds and infection.

Sage is a food for many animals, including the sage grouse and pygmy rabbit who feed primarily on its leaves and seeds. I wouldn’t care to eat it, but the smell will put me into a delicious sleep.

Pinyon Pine (or Colorado Pinion or Pinon Pine – Pinus edulis)

This pinyon pine, on a small hike above Ponderosa Camp, was growing steadfast out of a large pile of boulders.

Native Americans in this area have, and still do collect and eat pinyon pine nuts in the fall. For that matter, many people living in Southwestern U.S. look forward to the season’s slightly bitter, delicate and delectable nuts. (They are amazing roasted and tossed in a green salad!) The key is to harvest them before the pinyon jays, turkeys, and bears.

pinyon yampa river

Looking down towards our riverside camp and then upriver toward the direction where we put-in on the 5-day Yampa River rafting trip, I was very pleased to see so much native foliage. With many Western rivers threatened by invasive plant species like tamarisk, this section of the Yampa was rich with pinyon pine and sagebrush.

The native greens were a welcomed sight.

 

Related Articles:

ELEMENTS: Spiny Discoveries in the Grand Canyon

3 Reasons River Guides are the Best Storytellers

Searching for Jim Moore’s Treasure

 

Codye Reynolds
Codye is a river guide of 13 years and freelance writer. She revels in starry skies, wild rivers, water ouzel watching, and working in canyon country. She hails from Durango, Colorado, rows Idaho rivers in the summer, and spends the winter months in Madison, Wisconsin. Yes, her old car has a lot of miles on its speedometer.