A Subtle Kind of Wilderness

Last Saturday I was able to join 30 enthusiastic hikers  to explore a kind of wilderness that is different than what we often think of as "wilderness" – the subtle, enigmatic hills and valleys of the Adobe Badlands. The Adobe Badlands are unique in many ways, a maze of soft yellow shale that supports extremely rare plants and creatures that survive the harsh conditions in this starkly arid landscape.

Adobe Badlands is also a Wilderness Study Area quite close to the western Colorado town of Delta. The area’s proximity to a population center makes it both highly valuable for nearby quiet solitude. It also means this area is vulnerable to human impacts of dumping and unauthorized motorized use. Primitive hiking opportunities include a trek to the geologic formation aptly named “Devil’s Thumb.”

Formed from Mancos Shale deposited in an ancient inland sea, the Adobe Hills are hotspots for globally rare plants. The clay-loving wild buckwheat is an Adobes plant found only in two counties in the world. Sensitive wildlife including burrowing owls, pronghorn, white-tailed prairie dog and kit fox inhabit this mysterious ecosystem.

Saturday’s educational hike featured intriguing desert plants like the desert trumpet, and the federally threatened Colorado hookless cactus. As the Dolores River Basin Wildlands Coordinator I led a chat with the hikers about many of these plants. They also heard from Andrea Robinsong from the Western Colorado Congress and additional hike participants with expertise in geology and biology.

The Bureau of Land Management will consider management of the larger Adobe Badlands landscape in their Resource Management Plan due to be published in draft form in late 2012. In addition to the Wilderness Study Area, several Areas of Critical Environmental Concern have been proposed to protect environmental resources. Public comment will be important to encourage preservation of the special and unique values found in the Adobe Badlands.

Desert Trumpet. Photo by Barbara Hawke.
Schlerocactus glaucus in Badlands. Photo by Barbara Hawke.