Northward: Turkey Prairies

Some ways north of Big Prairie is a place I call Turkey Prairie, as it is a favored stomping ground for them. And is the first place in which I have encountered, not one, but two turkey dust baths!  These photos were my very first view of this spot, in early April, but it is still lush and lovely and the turkeys are still there.  As always, clicking on photos expands them greatly and shows more detail.

I returned today to explore further, now that I have visited several of these prairies and become more familiar with their unique characteristics; I also returned to map and photograph the broom, which is rapidly moving upslope into the lower of what are actually two fairly distinct prairies here.  The upper, larger prairie is on the Pinehurst Shale, as are many of the prairies I have written about in the past few weeks.  The lower, however, is on soils that have a few shale bits in them, as this grassland  extends steeply downhill from the area of the shale outcrops, but are mainly underlain by sandstone.  And the vegetation is markedly different between these two prairies, even though they are only a stone’s throw apart.

Here is a view of the lower prairie, with the West Ridge visible in the distance and the encroaching broom visible at the bottom.  Such views, from these sunny little grasslands!  This is only a portion of it, as the slope curves here and some is not visible.

What is striking about this lower prairie, as opposed to the upper one, is that there are no owl’s clover and no tomcat clover.  None.  And very few Brodiaea.  And as soon as you stroll back uphill to where the soils are clearly shale-derived these flowers appear everywhere!

There is also something very interesting going on with some of the soils in the highest, driest, rockiest part of the shales here.  First thing that occurred to me was that this reminds me of crustose lichens in the desert.  Whatever it is, there is a fair bit of it, though deer hooves and turkeys scratching the ground appear to be breaking it up of late.

There are also signs that people were once here, as of course they have been at times throughout the past century and a half, from the logging and ranching days onward.  This appears to be a square, handmade nail:

And as always, the rocks in these shale areas are fascinating.  And three of these next photos are of a rock that is very similar to those unusual rocks I found in the southern prairies last week, with a dark exterior and a bright, yellowish interior.  I wonder–could this be the result of heating the local rocks to very high temperature?

j

There are a few more things to post from yesterday (for it is Friday morning now) but I need to head back up there.  More soon!

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