CLIMATE & ECOLOGY
Blue grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) is the dominant vegetation on the ranch’s grasslands—but that is just the beginning. Surveys have identified grass species including ring muhly, bottlebruss squirreltail, western wheatgrass, wolftail grass, red three-awn, sideoats grama, buffalograss, alkali sacaton, winterfat, Baltic rush, New Mexico feathergrass, vine mesquite, big bluestem, cane bluestem, galleta, sleepy grass, and sand dropseed on the property!
The walls of the mesa or tableland extending behind the Marshall House compound consist of a geological formation known as the Dakota escarpment. Its vegetation consists mostly of open pinyon-juniper woodland with a dense understory of scrub oak and lesser amounts of three-leaf sumac. In Higgins canyon and farther north and west, Rocky Mountain red cedars and also invasive saltcedars, or tamarisks, also occur. Here and in the Turkey mountains grow many tall ponderosa pines. In the Turkeys Douglas fir and Gambel’s oaks also can be found. Along the banks of Dog Creek and Wolf Creek, as well as in the mountains, cottonwoods and Apache plume are common.
A distinctive feature of the ranch landscape is Baldy Mountain, otherwise known as Maxson crater, the “bald”- looking, low, rounded, long-extinct volcano at the southeast end of the Turkey Mountains hogback. Long-ago eruptions from Baldy were responsible for the layer of black volcanic basalt flows found to the southeast. A hike up Baldy is much more demanding than it looks from a distance—especially because of the altitude—but is well worth the effort for able-bodied climbers.
The grasslands, escarpments, mountains, stream beds, and bodies of water sustain a rich variety of wildlife. The bird life is extensive, particularly around the two small lakes: Wheeler Lake, which is normally wet, and Dry Lake, which is a spring-fed playa. Bird species found across the ranch include hummingbirds, swallows, horned larks, assorted warblers and sparrows, goldfinches, grosbeaks, tanagers, kingbirds, jays, wrens, woodpeckers, meadowlarks, ravens, magpies, hawks, owls, eagles, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, killdeer, mountain plovers, upland sandpipers, herons, and curlews—to mention a very partial list.
Among reptiles are various frogs, lizards, skinks, and snakes, including the prairie rattlesnake. Closed-toed shoes or boots are always mandatory outdoors at the ranch.
Mammals range from mice, rabbits, ground squirrels, and pocket gophers to badgers, porcupines, raccoons, pronghorn (“antelopes”), mule deer, elk, coyotes, black bear, and mountain lions.
Tucked between two mountain ranges, the ranch experiences all four seasons in its unique way. Winter brings freezing temperatures and sometimes snow, though snow rarely stays on the ground for long. Spring is our windiest season, but we are lucky enough to boast of a breeze all year round. And when the area is not suffering severely from drought, the summer “monsoon” season brings afternoon showers, including spectacular thundersqualls and frequent rainbows. Fall is lovely, with a growing nip in the air and changing foliage; most autumn days on the ranch are reliably warm in the afternoon and cold at night. The sun can be severe, and sunscreen and hats are advised year round. And at every season the night skies, free of light pollution, are dazzling.