By Pete Aleshire
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Extra info for Deserts (The Extreme Earth)
This refuge is nearly all that remains of a once sprawling grassland ecosystem that was consumed by a century of intense grazing, invading grasses, and smothered wildfires. The refuge lies in the long shadow of Baboquivari, which the Tohono O’odham believe forms the broken umbilical cord between Heaven and Earth where they believe the Creator, I’itoi, still lives. The refuge now harbors pronghorns, four sorts of quail, and a species count that includes 320 birds, 58 mammals, 42 reptiles, 11 amphibians, and more than 600 plants.
However, Apaches repeatedly killed first the Spanish and then the Mexican explorers, ranchers, and gold seekers who wandered into that sharp-edged landscape of dead volcanoes, looming lava flows, bizarre hoodoos of fused volcanic ash, and boot-piercing scatterings of cholla. No documents have emerged to back up the tales of a mine deep in the contorted heart or the supposed 1848 Apache ambush of a party loaded with gold. The Apaches wandered freely through the Superstitions and took a dim view of prospectors, believing that digging in the Earth for gold was profane.
Recent studies have demonstrated that this extravagant display of flowers actually helps maintain the boundaries of the desert. Desert wildflowers only stage their fitful riot of color in wet years, remaining coiled up in seed form for decades at a time. During such wet years, flowers blossom in such abundance that they soak up every excess drop of rain. As a result, even during wet years in the desert, virtually none of the rain that falls to the desert soil makes it past the root zone of the beautiful but thirsty flowering annuals.