Hooked on Relief

All regions of our magnificent planet harbor enough natural diversity to keep an avid naturalist engaged for a lifetime. Having had the opportunity to explore many of these areas myself, I must admit a preference for landscapes with vertical relief.

Perhaps my early discovery of a limestone gorge near our neighborhood (as described in my Wonderland blog) set the stage for this enthusiasm, which is now reflected by a keen interest in topographic maps. There is something about the raw manifestation of erosive power, so evident in mountain and canyon landscapes, that both invites exploration and ignites curiosity about the geophysical forces that produced the spectacular scenery.

As a naturalist, I am also drawn to the stacked life zones that characterize these vertical landscapes. The interplay of mean air temperature, sun exposure, precipitation, growing season and soil condition produces these vegetation zones, each of which attracts its unique cast of wild residents. Trails that lead upward or downward through vertical landscapes wind through a changing mix of flora and fauna and offer a series of unique perspectives on the regional environment. Finally, these geophysical barriers, by creating upslope precipitation, downslope warming, rain-shadow patterns and life-giving streams, have significant effects on surrounding ecosystems, further augmenting the natural diversity of the region.