Scouting New Territory: From Shale Ridge to Deep Drainage

I have been covering a lot of ground the past few days, returning at last to the vegetation mapping project that led to all the prairie-finding and restoring.  Some it is ground that I am re-scouting, having first looked at it back in February before I’d really gotten any sense of the terrain.  And some of it is completely new;  and, as with the prairie region, much of it is so steep, or remote, or brushy, or just plain unknown, that it looks as though I may be the first person through in quite a while.

The photo above is of a very large, healthy, and completely solitary manzanita on the west-facing slope of the East Ridge not too far from Big Prairie and Owl Clover Prairie.  I spent a couple of hours exploring this general vicinity, including seeking out seemingly likely spots for manzanitas, but saw no others.  And, though I am not practiced at locating the seedlings, nevertheless I did take a good look around about the big plant in the picture but found no young ones.

I do not know manzanitas well enough to key them out with certainty, but records indicate two species that frequent this general area:  the brittle leaf manzanita and the highly endangered (and federally listed) pallid manzanita.  It is not a pallid, as compared with the known pallids a mile or two north of here, so it seems likely to be a brittle leaf.

There is only one other similar manzanita that I know of anywhere along the ridgetop or west-facing slope in this general region, and that is the well-known individual right by the East Ridge Trail a few hundred meters away. The soil, microclimate, and general feel of the vegetation suggest that there likely were more here formerly, but, though now returning to a wild state, there is strong evidence of a heavy human hand on this place in former decades and this may well have diminished their number. This would seem to make these two fairly important individuals, worthy of aiding in their seeding efforts.

And, as the next photo indicates pretty clearly, this plant is about to be encircled by a curtain of young French broom plants.

A short ways north of this spot there is what looks to be an actively down-cutting gully, at least judging by the verticality of the walls and the apparent freshness of the exposures.  I did not track it uphill to the crest but it might be worth doing that at some point, as the Monster Gully at Prince Prairie (the subject of several posts!) doubtless got its start in similar fashion. And here, too, the broom is taking advantage of the situation.

This next image struck me as being somewhat unusual, at least in my experience, and set me to wondering what the subsurface moisture is like in this area. Seemed like an unusual place to find an elderberry, and a tree at that.


And right next to this unusual tree, a new and largely intact prairie! Broom is gnawing around the margins but it can be stopped.

To be continued…



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