Friday, February 27, 2015
Barren Cliffs Reveal a Rich and Violent Past: Red Rock Canyon State Park
Upper Sonoran paleobotanical zone, with Black Locust, Mexican pinyon pine, cypress, California live oak, red-root, acacia, desert thorn and palm. Similar plants are found today in the high mountain ridges between San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Peaks in southern California (a region I explored often in my youth).
The steep cliffs have attracted filmmakers for decades, making appearances in all manner of movies, including a lot of westerns, and one of my favorites, the opening scenes of "Jurassic Park". But instead of dinosaurs, paleontologists have discovered a treasure trove of late Cenozoic mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. More than 100 species have been found thus far.
rather comprehensive list of the animals who lived here.
On the open plains, one would have seen two different rhino species, ten species of horse, four kinds of camels, three antelope species, two elephant-like gomphotheres, vultures, two large land tortoises, pika, two ground squirrel species, deer mice, and rabbits.
In the brush covered woodlands, one would have found two oreodonts (extinct sheep-like animals), peccary, three-toed browsing horse, short-legged camel, ringtailed cat, skunk, two weasel-like animals, wolverine, four distinctly different spiny lizards, night lizard, rosy boa, racer snakes, hedgehog, chipmunk, two gopher-like rodents, two different pocket mice, a bat, three small perching birds, mole, four different shrews, a small, rear-fanged snake, and two alligator lizard species.
This rich selection of plant eating animals represented a huge source of walking protein, so there were predators, lots of them. There were six different species of canids (ancestors to the wolves, foxes, and coyotes), a very large bear-like animal, and three large ancestors to the cats including a an early form of sabertooth.
This rich variety of animals in Miocene time occurred because the climate provided rich sources of food, and diversity of the ecosystem was the result. Today, if a climate is not to our liking, we alter the ecosystem to our own ends. We build our shelters, we travel in little cocoons with air-conditioning and stereophonic sound, and we import vast amounts of resources and fuels to maintain our chosen lifestyle. We tend to ignore the other elements of the ecosystem where we live and visit. We don't embrace our environment, we cut ourselves off from it. It's when I'm in a place like Red Rock that I am reminded of where we come from, our ultimate heritage. We are children of the Earth. And there are limits.