Have you ever been to the theater? No, not a movie theater, a theater where plays are performed. There are live actors, scenes that change slowly, sometimes music and above all, a very interesting story. Well, my fellow naturalists, your life is about to have a serious improvement because we are all going to create a play! I will supply you with the theater (AMPHI-theater to be exact), scenery to choose from, and a list of actors.
Your job: write a story and assign the parts! Sounds fun, right? You’ve always wanted to do this. And what does this have to do with being a naturalist? Well, we are going to be in a very natural place to do it...Bryce Canyon National Park!
AMPHITHEATERS ARE NOT CANYONS
First off, we need to get something straight: Bryce Canyon National Park is NOT a canyon. It's really a series of amphitheaters (Haha! Perfect for a play!).
An amphitheater is a theater that is shaped like a bowl. We could call Bryce Canyon “Nature’s Super Bowl”. The audience sits up in the sides, and the acting happens way down at the bottom. This play is going to be AMAZING. No one has ever been able to use such wild scenery, and such unique actors. Get your naturalist notebooks and several well-sharpened pencils because this is gonna take a marathon’s worth of finger muscles- you’ll be writing your heart out! Your fame will last hundreds of years.
I’m beginning to think that Bryce Canyon should become a hyphenated name. I feel like the amphitheater park is getting cheated. We’ll call it Bryce Canyon-Amphitheater from now on. Or just Bryce C-A. Sound good?
BRYCE CANYON GEOLOGY 101 : THE POWER OF HOODOO? YOU DO.
The first, most obvious thing you will notice once you get out on a trail is that you are seeing a valley of fire right below you. Help! But no, as you take a closer look you will see that what you really see are fire-colored, flame-shaped rocks stretching out in many directions. Orange! Pink! Cream! Red! Weird shapes! Know what they're called?
Hoodoos. Now aren’t they the coolest-looking and coolest-named rocks ever? And they make superb actors in a play. They act right where the audience is sitting. Maybe they could be the choir. They can be scary or mysterious or friendly. They were not made by magic though. They were made using only two main ingredients:
Hoodoo Ingredient #1: Limestone (specifically the Claron Formation)
This is a kind of rock made out of stuff you’d find under water--especially sea or ocean water. Sometimes it has seashell fossils in it. It’s easy for water to “dissolve” it. It makes lots of cool formations, including caves. Here at Bryce Canyon, it makes the hoodoos.
Hoodoo Ingredient #2: Water
Two kinds of water: liquid and solid.
The liquid kind of water comes mainly in the form of rain. Each drop wears away some of the rock. The solid kind comes as ice. When water freezes it flexes its muscles out so much that it makes the rocks crack. Soon the rocks start to fall apart bit by bit. And that’s how it works my friend.
The Hoodoos can remind you of many things such as fire (thanks to their colors), mysterious creatures or mythical places we read about in books. They “grow” in maze-like formations--a maze might be good in a story. That’s why the hoodoos will be so great for our play--so many options!
Naturalist Activity: Draw the hoodoos. Try to draw them in different lights such as morning sun, mid-day sun, evening sun and moonlight! Do they stay the same? See if you get inspired for the story of the play as you draw them in their different moods.
BRYCE CANYON BOTANY 101 : ENCHANTED FOREST BACKDROP
The plants at Bryce Canyon National Park will also be great contributors to our scenery, and even, our acting. I’m only going to tell you about 3 plant things. A better name for “plant thing” is FOREST. Forests always turn up in a good story. There are 3 kinds of forests at Bryce Canyon.
01. Dwarf Forest
We’ll start right at the bottom of the bowl (amphitheater). This is the lowest forest and is called the Dwarf Forest (you see how everything here just says “I want to be in a play”?). Things are short and stumpy here. The trees are either the Utah Juniper or the Pinyon Pine. Junipers have “leaves” that neither look like a leaf nor like a needle, but they frequently have greenish-blue berries on them. Pine trees have the long needles instead of leaves. Closer to the ground you have bushes like sagebrush, service berry, and rabbitbrush.
02. Ponderosa Pine Forest
As you walk up from the bottom of the amphitheater you will start to enter the second forest called Ponderosa Pine Forest. Ponderosa Pine trees are very tall and slender- especially the ones that grow in between high rock walls. Ponderosa Pine trees have reddish-brown bark and grow lots of pine cones and have lots of long needles. Tons and tons of these trees as you emerge from the amphitheater and approach the parking lot. These are all over the top of the bowl.
The highest and third forest lies in the Outer Realms, high above the park (but not in the sky). You may not see them until you get to a wide open space up on top. Its name is not so well known, but it is made of Douglas fir, White fir (fir trees look like Christmas trees), Aspen trees (they have white tree trunks and circular leaves), and Spruce trees (also like Christmas trees). They can be the silent watchers in our play--or just some good background scenery--whatever you decide.
Naturalist Activity: Draw good detailed pictures of the trees you see in the first two forests. (the third forest will be too far away). Give them names that match their forest name--for example, some good dwarf names for the juniper and pinion pines would be Floi, Frar, or Dain. And good elf names for the Ponderosas might be Thurindil or Luthien.
BRYCE CANYON ASTRONOMY 101 : THE UNIVERSE IS YOUR STAGE
Besides our three forests and our hoodoos, there is another commonly forgotten part of our scenery--perhaps the most mysterious of all! It is the night sky. Bryce Canyon is known for its spectacular night skies thanks to two things:
Thing #1: clean air
Thing #2: the absence of large, highly-lit places like towns and nearby cities
These two things make it SO MUCH easier to see things like the Milky Way Galaxy and planets and constellations. There is even a special Astronomy Festival (June 1-4 2016) all because of this unique night sky! They can play a special part in your play--Mystery, Darkness, Stars, The Universe!
Naturalist Activity: Beg and plead with your parents to take you out after it gets dark. Gaze and gaze at the sky. Afterwards, write a poem or song about what you saw, and draw an accompanying picture that represents the colors and patterns you see.
BRYCE CANYON WILDLIFE 101 : NARNIA-LIKE ANIMALS COME TO LIFE
Now that we have our unforgettable scenery, let’s move on to the actors of this play! Anybody can act, right? And so we will include our feathery and furry friends. Beginning with the feathery…
BIRDS - ORNITHOLOGY
We’re going to stick with just one kind of bird that comes in two different types. It is highly likely that you will see this bird--hawks. You’ll either see a Red Tailed Hawk or a Cooper’s Hawk. Now hawks are biggish, large-winged birds that fly high up in the sky with their feathers all spread out. They soar and soar, looking with their amazing powers of vision for yummy things to eat (like deer mice). You can tell the difference between the two hawks by their tails.
Red Tailed Hawks have a rusty red tail (just like their name).
Cooper’s Hawks have a brown tail with wide black stripes on it.
They both have whitish bellies.
Naturalist Activity: When you see them, imagine what part of the story they will have. What are their personalities? Will they be bad or good or both? Write your ideas down in your notebooks. Also write down when and where you saw them. If you see them getting a meal, write down what they got if you can!
SMALL FURRY FRIENDS - RODENTOLOGY
Now for the furry contestants. We’ll start with one animal that comes in two kinds, chipmunks. Chip and Dale were great chipmunk actors for Walt Disney! I’m sure they’ll do just as well here at Bryce Canyon. The two kinds are: Least and Unita.
The Least Chipmunk is the smallest, and it has more stripes on its back--five stripes.
The Uinta Chipmunk is bigger, and it has only 3 stripes on its back.
These two buddies are gonna make our play crazy!
Naturalist Activity: Watch them and see what they eat. They usually just eat things like seeds, and stuff their cheeks full of ‘em. Make sure you don’t feed them though. No unemployed chipmunks for us! They are called “chipmunks” because of the “Chip!” sound they make. A very high repetitive sound. Listen for it!
UTAH PRAIRIE DOGS - TO THE RESCUE!
Another animal needs to be on our list. And it’s because it’s been called a “Keystone Species”. It’s also “threatened” (which is almost as bad as “endangered”). It’s almost like a pet, but not quite. DON'T feed it or try to pet it! It’s
The Utah Prarie Dog. They don’t even look like dogs, but they bark like dogs! They bark to warn their family when danger is approaching. They take turns being the “watchdog”, and sort of pop up out of the ground to watch for predators. That’s how you might see one out in a meadow or field. They look like either small weasels or large squirrels. Brown colors with nice eyebrows over each eye. They build actual factual towns underground full of tunnels and chambers--like the Rats of NIMH, only out in the desert! Their large families are called clans, and sometimes they fight each other. Clash of the Clans!
Naturalist Activity: Count up how many Prairie Dogs you see and write down where you saw them. Did they bark? And then, what kind of parts will they take for our play? Prairie Dog Clans? Family feuds? Hopefully it doesn’t get as tragic as MacBeth or something serious like that.
Now, dear naturalist, I’ve given you several raw materials for this play that I’m sure you are convinced to write. Make a few copies and give them out to your friends, relatives, school teachers and acrobat coaches. Remember, a good naturalist always has eyes, ears, and noses open, and fingers ready to take notes! They are also well-rounded in the fine arts, such as theater plays! TTFN!
Come visit Bryce Canyon with your naturalist notebook soon!