By knowing a little bit about the Smoketree one can learn a lot about the desert. This tree marks out many unique environmental features in the desert.
The first thing one wants to understand about the Smoketree is that it's name refers to the way the tree looks rather than the way it burns. While this tree is relatively small and irregular shaped it can usually be seen from a very long distance, partly because it grows in the very visible main channel of the wash
Today we see many large-scale solar plants and wind farms changing the ecology of the Mojave Desert, however there are many other changes being brought about that are not as well-known, such as the devastation brought on by the wild Burro and Tamarisk. Fortunately we have people and organizations that are working on these problems and I believe they are making a difference.
One of the more important changes in the ecology of the Mojave desert is the advent of the trail camera. With this new technology humanity has a tool that can investigate and experience wildlife without disturbing them. The impact of this knowledge is already being felt. These cameras allow decisions about the ecology and wilderness to be based on facts rather than opinions. The technology of these cameras is simply amazing, presently they can take pictures night and day and hold as many as 8 to 10,000 images. The growth of this technology is going in many different directions.
The creosote bush is truly the unnoticed elephant in the room. If someone were to weigh the biomass of the desert Southwest, this species would certainly possess the highest percentage of life and we would find that a high percentage of all other life in the desert is dependent upon it, yet its importance in the desert environment goes unappreciated by both scientists and artists alike. With the general public for instance, you'll find streets and cities named after the palo verde, the yucca, and the Joshua tree as well as many other plants and animals. However, I cannot think of any city or street or national park named after the creosote bush. No doubt this is because the creosote bush often looks like little more than a spindly olive colored pile of sticks that is dead and sterile. But if we take a closer look at the situation we will find that the creosote bush is neither dead or sterile but rather it is awesome; it has ability to live and thrive in the desert environment and provides for others. So if one wants to understand the environment of the desert Southwest, it is important to know the ways of the creosote bush.
To understand any environment on earth one must understand how the wind works its way through that environment because as the wind works its way through the environment it affects all things and in many ways. While the wind is often invisible, its effects are not; for example, it can scour away the soil from one place and deliver it to another. And this can dictate where various species of plants can live and cannot live. In turn, this will influence the forces of erosion and the behavior of predator and prey. With this in mind, we can see the effects of the wind in the Grand Canyon play out on a scale and complexity that is unique in the world. It is here that we can experience the grandeur of the earth and the infinite complexity of the wind such that one lifetime or one book is not sufficient to fully understand or convey the ways of the wind in the Grand Canyon. However, just recognizing some of the basics will give one a path to a deeper understanding of the Grand Canyon.
The Coso Mountain petroglyphs are the last remnant of a society that started thousands of years ago and lived almost to our present time. And through the artistry and symbolism of these petroglyphs we know that it was a hunter gather society that was based on hunting desert bighorn sheep, and so the desert bighorn sheep loom large in its everyday culture and mythology just as the buffalo hunting societies that once lived on the Great Plains centered their culture and mythology on the buffalo.
And while the rocks and bighorn sheep have changed little, the climate and the people have changed considerably; for one, the climate was wetter back then as the dry lakes that are scattered throughout the desert show, and this, in combination with other factors, allowed the bighorn sheep to become the dominant grazing animal of that time.
Petroglyphs prove that the beauty and thoughts of the human mind can travel immense distances in time and that the beauty can still be recognized and the thoughts still valued. Having a basic understanding of these petroglyphs will give us a pathway to travel back in time to the environment in which they were made and give us some understanding of it. Then we can take this pathway and travel back to our own time and understand some of environmental attributes that have survived through the ages.