Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Earth Notes

About This Section
The Colorado Plateau is one of North America’s human and environmental treasures. Ancient cultures have called this land of sun-baked deserts and lush mountain landscapes home for centuries. Earth Notes, KNAU’s weekly environmental series, explores the Plateau by telling stories of the intricate relationships between environmental issues and our daily lives.

Rooted in science and wrapped in human interest, the two minute long segments encourage listeners to think of themselves as part of the solution to environmental problems. Upbeat and informative, the program tries to foster hope and dampen despair about the environment, and motivate listeners to become more conscious and informed stewards of the Colorado Plateau.

  • AMetcalfe_June7_CliffSwallowNests.jpg
    U.S. Geological Survey
    In the fall, large flocks of cliff swallows take wing together, heading all the way to South America to overwinter. But they’ll be back in the spring, ready to breed and claim nesting sites.
  • A cross section of  a large tree with many rings labeled by dates going back to 1699.
    Ellis Q. Margolis
    Trees keep a record of the fires they survived. Their rings make a kind of library of a landscape’s history, going back centuries or even millennia—if you know how to read it.
  • In the summer of 1963, a cache of five intact pottery jars and bowls was discovered in what is now Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The discovery is unique because the pottery consists entirely of a type known as Hopi Yellow-wares, which is only made on the Hopi Mesas in northeastern Arizona, 200 miles away.
  • At dusk on summer nights, white-lined sphinx moths flutter like hummingbirds around flowers of datura and evening primrose. Their dark wings bear light bands, and the underwings are cotton-candy pink. They hover above a flower only long enough to dip their long hollow tongues deep into the sugar-rich nectar stores. Then they fly off to another source, exhibiting some of the fastest flying speeds in the lepidopteran world.
  • Most people think of a drought as a long, slow-moving disaster. But there is a growing number of “flash droughts” around the world. Like flash floods, these are short, intense events that arrive without warning. Flash droughts can develop in less than week and bring intense heat and dryness.
  • Members of the Hopi and Zuni tribes are working alongside archaeologists within the Bears Ears National Monument to preserve masonry structures built by their ancestors hundreds of years ago. Uniquely, they are using methods and materials that reflect traditional perspectives about these places.
  • The space beneath solar panels is often thought to be bare, wasted ground. But what if it could be used to grow crops and graze livestock? That’s the idea behind agrivoltaics.
  • No creature conjures up images of the burning hot desert better than the rattlesnake, with its venomous fangs, buzzing tail and ability to withstand extreme heat. But even rattlesnakes get thirsty, and they know an unusual way to quench their thirst: they harvest rainwater from their backs.
  • Pinyon jays are sky blue birds that live in large flocks in the pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Colorado Plateau. They are not officially endangered, but their populations have plummeted in the last half-century. The Audubon Society has found an unusual way to raise awareness about their plight: specialty brews from the Drinking Horn Meadery in Arizona, and the Bosque Brewing Company in New Mexico.
  • Four decades ago, naturalist and author Gary Paul Nabhan wrote a book called The Desert Smells Like Rain. The title came from the answer a young Tohono O’odham boy gave when asked what the desert smelled like to him.
  • The Grand Canyon was full of wondrous creatures during the last Ice Age, including enormous ground sloths and soaring condors. Now, scientists say they can add an unexpected animal to the list: the American cheetah.
  • “Taos” means "Place of the Red Willow,” in the Tiwa language spoken by the Pueblo people of New Mexico. Thus the name of the Red Willow Center at Taos Pueblo, a place designed to rekindle traditional agricultural knowledge.