The Natural History of the San Francisco Peaks by Gwendolyn Waring


Gwendolyn Waring is an artist, writer and ecologist in Flagstaff AZ, where she has been based for the last 40 years, after a lifetime of traveling. She has a strong background in science, focusing on the ecological workings of systems and their evolutionary stories. Working in most types of ecosystems in Arizona has provided her with amazing opportunities to experience this region on many levels. Her writing now focuses on natural history. A fascination with the stories of the larger processes that drive ecosystems defines the narrative in her writing. As a painter, Waring’s subject is the American Southwest and the Colorado Plateau, the western landscapes. The open places, like the high desert and big sandstone walls of the Plateau, are the most evocative for her


The first telling of the natural history of this northern Arizona volcano, our mountain. It is a sky island of the American Southwest. Sky islands, with their cold-loving mountain populations, often support rare and isolated flora and fauna. They often are isolated from related populations by hundreds of miles of inhospitable habitat, including the Cold Desert. This book is organized by time; it begins with the geologic formation of western North America more than a billion years ago, followed by the building of the Peaks, over the course of 2.8 million years of lava flows. This mountain is a child of the Pleistocene Ice Age, and the Peaks, the region and the world were greatly affected by many, many bitterly cold glacial phases and then warm and dry interglacial climates during this ice age epoch. The Peaks book describes the glaciers that occurred in its Inner Basin during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), and what the world around this mountain was like through this wild time. Sources come from 1,500 year old bristlecone pine tree rings, 35,000 year old lake cores from nearby Potato Lake, and a Paleoindian point which provides the earliest human record on the mountain. It dates to between 9,000 and 7,000 years ago. Apparently, this point was large enough to hunt Pleistocene megafauna, including mammoth and bison. Many Native American tribes revere the Peaks today. The Peaks book describes the region and the mountain through the Pleistocene and the drier and warmer Holocene Epoch of today. The Peaks book describes the different life zones or communities and how they change with increasing elevation. Originally described by C. Hart Merriam in 1889, zones of plants and animals change with elevation, with a particularly diverse community of plants occurring above treeline, above about 11,500 ft (3,505 m). Ponderosa pine forests surround the Peaks, with Mixed Conifer forests above, followed by spruce-fir forests, with lots of aspen stands between them. Above treeline, the tundra or subalpine takes over. This very diverse habitat has more than 90 species in its 1,200 acres. The book includes lists of plants, fungi and various animals, and a 16-page color section that features many of them. The days ahead, in the face of serious climate change projections for the Southwest, are discussed.