Ecologist Tim Graham talked about lizards and other tiny desert creatures during last year’s Canyonlands Field Institute “Creatures of Canyonlands Day Seminar.” This year’s tour will take place on Saturday, Sept. 12. [Photo courtesy of Linn DeNesti]

There are lots of creatures in those dry desert potholes on the Colorado Plateau, although it may not be apparent at first glance. Tiny critters lie dormant for years until the perfect conditions – including the right amounts of water and optimal temperature – bring the organisms to life.

Research ecologist Tim Graham will explain pothole ecology, along with other details of miniature wildlife of Canyonlands National Park, at Canyonlands Field Institute’s annual Creatures of Canyonlands Day Seminar on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Discussion topics may vary, depending on what they run into, Graham said.

“We’ll be looking at a variety of desert habitat, like sand dunes, grasslands, riparian zones, and, if it rains – potholes,” Graham said.

Graham will set up humane “pit fall” traps the day before to see who might be walking by – velvet ants, spiders, beetles and the sand treader camel cricket, for example. The insects are released from their jar traps after inspection.

Linn DeNesti and her husband Greg MacDonald attended last year’s CFI Creatures tour.

“It was a great trip,” she said. “I learned a ton. It gave me an appreciation for all those small creatures that we wouldn’t normally see or know how important they are to the desert ecology.”

She particularly enjoyed learning about the pothole ecology, she said. There had been a lot of rain, so the potholes were full of water, thus, brimming with tadpoles, fairy shrimp, mites and other life.

“They reproduce, and then go dormant again,” DeNesti said. “They don’t last long, but they support a lot of life.”

It’s important not to step in dry potholes because it would be akin to stepping on cryptobiotic soil, DeNesti said.

The group will also check out tamarisk where the tamarisk beetle is eating away at the invasive plant species. The beetle was introduced with the goal of controlling the spread of tamarisk. The group will look to see if the project has been successful, Graham said.

Graham retired from the U.S. Geological Survey, where his specialty was insect ecology. He’s worked with Canyonlands Field Institute since the nonprofit was founded in 1985. Though this seminar is for adults and teenagers, 16 and older, Graham has also taught ecology classes for kids at CFI, and Moab’s BEACON Afterschool Program.

The Creatures tour is an opportunity for people to come with their curiosity and ask questions and “see what we can experience,” Graham said.

Being able to ask questions in a small group environment is one of the things that DeNesti appreciated, she said.

The seminar is limited to nine participants for that very reason, said Stacy Dezelsky, of CFI. Graham gives a wildlife tour that varies from year to year, she said.

Participants will meet at Canyonlands Field Institute, 1320 S. U.S. Highway 191, and ride together in an air-conditioned van to the seminar site.

Sept. 12 seminar to explore park’s micro-organisms

“It gave me an appreciation for all those small creatures that we wouldn’t normally see or know how important they are to the desert ecology.”

When: Saturday, Sept. 12, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Canyonlands National Park’s Needles District. Trip begins in Moab at Canyonlands Field Institute, 1320 S. U.S. Highway 191

Cost: $135; includes transportation, lunch and expert guide


Information: 435-259-7750;