Ahhh...Sky islands in Arizona

Does it conjure a vision of something sci-fi? Landmasses floating in clouds?

In Arizona the sky islands are real, however, sorry to say, they are not islands that float in the air. So why are they so special then? These mystical sky islands are specific types of mountain ranges that are isolated from their surrounding landscape. They differ dramatically from the surrounding terrain due to their extreme changes in elevation over a short distance. These tall islands can reach over 10,000 feet high! So, in that sense, they indeed are very special. Especially in the middle of a harsh ocean of desert environment surrounding them.

How is this natural phenomenon possible? Glad you asked!
As elevation increases, temperature decreases. This means, due to the dew point being closer to the temperature, condensation is created. Condensation creates saturated clouds and saturated clouds create rain. Rain and cooler temperatures invite flora and fauna that are not able to live in the seas of the hot and dry deserts below.

These regions, located in southeastern Arizona, are some of the most biologically diverse areas of North America! As you ascend the slopes the flora changes quickly. From grasslands with cacti, through Arizona cypress, Arizona sycamore, oak woodlands, and juniper and up to the forests of pine and cypress. And wildflowers. Did we mention the wildflowers intermingled with mosses, mushrooms, and lichens?

Besides being home to over 150 species of birds, there are black bears, whitetail deer, box turtles, goshawks, coaties, turkey vultures, and tiger salamanders. This is just a small example.  According to the National Park Service, there are 71 species of mammals, 46 species of reptiles, 8 amphibians, 171 species of birds, and uncounted numbers of insects that regularly occur at sky islands of the Chiricahua National Monument alone. The sky islands in the Coronado National Forest are home to more threatened and endangered species than any other National Forest in the United States.

The Chiricahua National monument is home to the geological wonders of rhyolite rock pinnacles. What in the world are rhyolite rock pinnacles? Looking like giants standing guard over the landscape, these massive rock pillars with large boulders seemingly precariously balanced on top can rise hundreds of feet into the air. These were created by ash and other debris compacting forming rhyolite rock. Then erosion took place over time and formed the pillars but left the hardened rhyolite rock on top. Pretty amazing, huh?

These sky islands may not float among the clouds but they are truly amazing islands that contain unique and even endangered ecosystems compare to the surrounding environment.

16 August 2021

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