Amateur Naturalist: Cerro Grande Peak – Five Ecological Settings As Parts Of A Play

Major ecological settings on the south slope are on a stage called Cerro Grande. Courtesy/Robert Dryja
 
Amateur Naturalist: Cerro Grande Peak―Five Ecological Settings As Parts Of A Play
By ROBERT DRYJA
 
The southern flank of the Cerro Grande Peak has five ecological settings in which plants and animals live out their lives. Exploring through these settings to the top of Cerro Grande is like watching the parts of a play unfold. This play is called “A Hike to the Top”.  
 
Scene 1 begins at the start of the Cerro Grande trail by Highway 4. The forest is dispersed among ponderosa pine trees and shrubs in a relatively level area. Scene 2 begins as the trail ascends into a denser, mixed conifer forest. An aspen grove is a part of this forested area. Scene 3 begins when the forest again disperses and an open meadowland appears. Scenes 4 and 5 occur along the western side of this meadowland while the ascent continues to the top Cerro Grande. Scene 4 is the forest of burnt tree trunks on the western slope. They are parallel to the meadowland and a tragic reminder of the Las Conchas fire.   
 
Scene 5 is a felsenmeer with its field of large boulders. It is set among the burnt trees and close to the meadowland. A felsenmeer may block or reduce the advance of a forest fire in the land adjacent to it. A felsenmeer also provides a safe home for small animals such as pika, protecting them from both fire and predators. The felsenmeer is a hero for this play.                  
 
The eastern flank is similar to the western flank with its stands of burnt trees. However it is the setting for another play called “Resilience: The Virtue of Moderation”. The eastern flank was burnt twice in 2000 and 2011. However conifers and shrubs are re-growing among dispersed burnt tree trunks, forming new groves. This is because the two fires were relatively moderate on the eastern flank. The fires thinned, rather than destroyed the land. Plants now can show their resilience by growing back in profusion. When considered as a play, the east flank of the Cerro Grande is a comedy with its variety of plant life. The west flank is a tragedy with its field of dead trees.          
 
We will consider Scene 1, the first ecological setting in our next essay.
 
Two major ecological settings are on the west slope of Cerro Grande. One setting is composed of the burnt forest trees. The second setting includes boulder fields called felsenmeer. Courtesy/Robert Dryja
 
The grassy meadow and dispersed forest of Cerro Grande are shown in the lower right half of the picture. The burnt forests of the western and eastern flanks of the peak are shown in the upper half. Four felsenmeer on the western flank appear in the left half among the burnt trees. Courtesy/Robert Dryja
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