As I said in the last article, you will notice that here in the Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park area of Southern Utah, the country from around 5,000- 8,000 feet above sea level tends to be a “Juniper-Pinyon Woodland” and everything from around 8,000 feet and above tends to be a “Coniferous Forest.” However, as you descend into Zion National Park, there is plenty of country around that is below 5,000 feet and will tend to be a “Sagebrush Desert.”
The “Sagebrush Desert” I am describing is the United State’s largest, highest in elevation and most frigid desert and is known as the “Great Basin.” This desert covers the vast majority of Nevada, the entire western half of Utah, much of Southern Oregon, as well as small parts of Southwestern Wyoming, Southeastern Idaho, and the eastern border of California.
For so many hundreds of miles the desert extends, with its sagebrush and nearly barren ground. It is not uncommon for the cattle ranchers to require 20-40 acres of country per single head of beef for grazing, which is the reason the cattle ranches must be so vast in order to keep in business and keep America fed. This is not to say that there is no diversity of plants and wildlife within the Great Basin’s Sagebrush Desert. There are plenty of areas where the seemingly endless sagebrush will yield to a stream with its long line of cottonwood trees following the water, or to a mountain ridge full of snow in the winter and full of pine trees and aspen, or to a Joshua Tree Forest.
For some small animals, the endless sagebrush provides both food and shelter. So dependent upon the sagebrush are some animals that they are even named after it, such as the Sage Grouse, the Sagebrush Lizard, or the Sagebrush Vole.
Due to the heat, most animals in this terrain are most easily found in the early morning or at dusk, though in the winter the mammals will be out during the entire day. If you ride here at Rising K Ranch enough times, particularly if you take ongoing horseback riding lessons, we will very likely end up loading the horses into the trailer and taking you down into the Great Basin area at least a few times during the winter to explore some of the ancient, and almost entirely unused trails that are all over the desert. The wildlife most likely to be seen while horseback riding through the Sagebrush Desert are Jackrabbits, Kangaroo Rats, Badgers, Foxes, Coyotes, Pronghorn Antelope, Mule Deer, Hawks, Falcons, Eagles (especially Golden Eagles), Sage Grouse, Burrowing Owls, and many small reptiles, birds and rodents.