2022 Oklahoma Insect Collecting Trip iReport

Welcome to the 11th “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a very short (4 days) trip to northwestern Oklahoma on May 3–7, 2022. My collecting partner for this trip was long-time friend and hymenopterist Mike Arduser. Mike is one of the best natural historians that I know and, like me, has a special love for the often overlooked beauty of western Oklahoma and its fascinating insect fauna. It had been 13 years, however—too long, in my opinion, since our last joint field trip when we sampled the bee (Mike) and beetle (me) fauna at The Nature Conservancy’s Four Canyon Preserve in Ellis Co. Thus, I was happy for the chance to once again spend some time in the field with such a knowledgeable naturalist in an area we that both know and love.

As with all previous “iReports” in this series, this report is illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs (thus the term “iReport”). Previous iReports in this series include:
2013 Oklahoma
2013 Great Basin
2014 Great Plains
2015 Texas
2018 New Mexico/Texas
2018 Arizona
2019 Arkansas/Oklahoma
2019 Arizona/California
2021 West Texas
2021 Texas/New Mexico/Arizona


Day 1 – Gloss Mountain State Park (Major Co.)
It took most of the day to get here—Tulsa threw us a couple of obstacles in the form of a construction-mediated wrong turn and a motorcycle engulfed in flames. I’ve been to Gloss Mountain a number of times, but never this early in the season. Skies were sunny (unlike St. Louis when we left this morning), but temps didn’t get much above 60°F and even dropped down into the upper 50s before we finished up at sunset.

Gloss Mountain State Park – early evening view from atop the mesa.

Surprisingly, despite the earliness of the season and cool temps, beating was quite productive. Working the low areas around the parking lot, I beat a fair number and diversity of beetles and hemipterans—mostly chrysomelids—but only a single Agrilus sp. off of Prosopis glandulosa.

This must be Oenothera macrocarpa (bigfruit evening primrose, Ozark sundrop, Missouri evening primrose), though it looks very different from populations south of St. Louis.

I knew there were other trees, principally Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) and Sapindus drummondii (soapberry), on top of the mesa and wanted to see if anything was on them. Bingo! Even before reaching the top, I beat a few Agrilus (several spp.) from the Celtis, and up on top I beat quite a few more off the same. There were also additional mesquite trees up top, off which I again beat a single Agrilus sp. along with a few other things, notably a series of ceresine treehoppers. The Sapindus was just starting to leaf out, and I found nothing by beating them other than a single ceresine. A notable find was the pile of larval frass of Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer) at the base of a living Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia) tree—a sure sign of active infestation by a beetle I have yet to formally record from this place.

Frass at the base of a small Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia)—evidence of an active larval infestation by Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer).

On the way back down from the top, we hit the sunset perfectly as it “touched” a peak in the foreground! Despite my success here this evening, Mike saw no bees of interest on the few flowers that were found due to the cold temps and chilling winds, so tomorrow we will continue west hoping for warmer conditions on the western edge of Oklahoma.

Dramatic sunset “landing” on a small foreground peak.
The opportunity lasted for only a minute!

Back in town, we searched for an open sit-down restaurant—fruitlessly because of the late hour—and ended up with a mediocre breakfast burrito from a fast food shop I’ve never been to before. The local Buick dealership, however, with its 1950s neon lights shining brightly in the night sky, was a taste of Americana that makes these trips so enjoyable. Life on the road!

Jensen’s Buick, Fairview, Oklahoma.

Day 2 – Black Mesa State Park (Cimmaron Co.)
Welp! We awoke this morning to cold temps (low 60s), thick fog, and low hanging clouds, and the forecast for the area showed essentially no improvement through at least the day. Our plan had been to hit a spot about an hour southwest before heading back north to Beaver Dunes State Park, but the forecast for both those areas also was cold and wet. It was not until we looked at the forecast for Black Mesa—our last planned stop of the trip and a 4½-hour-drive to the west—that the forecast seemed to be in our favor, so we decided to blast on out there. We figured we would get there at about 2:00 pm and could spend the rest of the day there collecting, camp there tonight, and start heading back east tomorrow (assuming the forecast improved for the areas we missed).

Pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana).

Wrong! When we got there, it was not only cloudy and cold, but dry as a bone! Even if it had been sunny with warmer temps, there still would not have been any insect activity to speak of. The leaves of oaks and hackberries in the area were just barely starting to break bud, and the only flowers we saw at the park were a large willow in full bloom—but not a single insect visiting them. Knowing that there was no other place where conditions were better that we could drive to within the next couple of hours and collect for at least a short time, we instead decided to make it a hiking day and hike the High Point Trail at nearby Black Mesa Nature Preserve.

Black Mesa Nature Preserve (Cimmaron Co.)
When we arrived and looked at the signage, we learned that the hike to the oracle at the official high point would be a more than 8-mile hike! Just reaching the top of the mesa itself would be a more than 3-mile-hike, with the high point another mile on top. Not knowing if we had the appetite for such a distance (or time to do it before sunset) and with the wind cold and biting, we started out anyway and gave ourselves permission to turn around at any point if we felt like it.

View along High Point Trail.
View along High Point Trail.
Berlandiera lyrata (lyreleaf greeneyes).

Nevertheless, we persevered. We checked the cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) along the way hoping to see Coenopoeus palmeri (one of the cactus longhorns, which I’m not sure has been recorded from Oklahoma) or at least one of the more widespread Moneilema species, but none were seen (nor really expected). The trail up the side of the mesa was steep and spectacular, and the trail atop the mesa was surreal—especially given the cold winds and low-hanging clouds. Eventually, we made it to the official high point and enjoyed the fun facts carved into each side of the granite obolisk marking the spot.

View along High Point Trail about halfway up the climb.
Juniperus monosperma (one-seed juniper).
Oklahoma High Point obolisk.
Oklahoma High Point marker.
Mike (right) and me at Oklahoma High Point.

Coming back down was not much easier than going up, the steepness of the trail jamming my toes into the toe box of my new hiking boots (which performed admirably!), but I did find an insect—a largish black weevil torpidly crawling on the trail. Even on the relatively level lower portion of the trail once we got there was difficult, our legs really starting to feel the miles now. As we hiked the last mile back to the car, the temperature continued to plummet as it started to sprinkle, turning to rain soon after we reached the car and then heavy rain as we headed down the highway back to the east. The irony of the situation—rain coming to a parched landscape just when we are ready to leave—did not escape us. We’ll spend the night in Boise City and hope for a better forecast tomorrow!

Descending the upper slope on the High Point Trail.

Day 3 – Beaver Dunes State Park (Beaver Co.)
Temps were down in the mid-40s when we awoke this morning, but skies were sunny and we were heartened by a promising forecast of continued sun and highs in the low to mid-60s. Our first destination—Beaver Dunes—was a relatively short 2-hour drive further east, and when we arrived sunny skies still prevailed. Unfortunately, temps still hovered in the mid-50s with a biting wind that made using the beating sheet difficult to impossible.

Dunes at Beaver Dunes State Park.

That said, I managed to beat a fair series of Agrilus spp. (probably mostly one species) and a few other beetles off living Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) dotting the roadside along the entrance to the Picnic Area. Under the main group of hackberries I noticed new growth of Cucurbita foetedissima (buffalo gourd) along with last year’s dead stems. I’ve never collected Dorcasta cinerea (a longhorn beetle that utilizes buffalo gourd as a larval host), so I began splitting open the old stems to see if I could find unemerged adults. I didn’t, but what I did note inside the stems was evidence of boring by some insects and, eventually, the tiniest little scolytine bark beetles that I’ve ever seen. They were always found right at the node, usually in pairs (perhaps male and female?), and I ended up collecting a series of about a dozen specimens from two different stems.

Tradescantia occidentalis (prairie spiderwort, western spiderwort).

Also in the main group of hackberries, I noticed a dead branch hanging from the tree, which had fallen but gotten snagged on a lower branch to remain off the ground. The branch was obviously infested and showed a few emergence holes indicative of both buprestids and cerambycids, and when I broke into it I found two unemerged adult Agrilus (different species), which caused me to cut and bundle the branch to being back for rearing. At the entrance, I went to examine the stand of yellow flowers that greeted our arrival, determining them to be Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus (smallflower desert-chicory, Texas false dandelion). While I was on the ground photographing the flowers, I noticed a red and black hister beetle that proved to be Margarinotus bipustulatus—aptly named considering the two red maculations on the elytra. I also noticed a couple of tiger beetle larval burrows in the hard-packed sandy soil and found a long, thin plant stem to “fish” the larvae out. I managed to snag the larva in one of the burrows, which I believe is Tetracha carolina (Carolina metallic tiger beetle) by virtue of the thin white margin around the prothorax and the open habitat in which the larval burrow occurred. If this is true, then it is a second instar because it is slightly smaller than a typical Cicindela sp. third-instar larva.

Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus (smallflower desert-chicory, Texas false dandelion).
Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus (smallflower desert-chicory, Texas false dandelion).
Margarinotus bipustulatus (family Histeridae).

Afterwards, I went over to the dunes to see if Mike had found anything, but temps were still too cold to see anything flying. He did, however, show me an interesting stand of Penstemon that he’d found and that we determined to be P. fendleri (Fendler’s penstemon). The plants were all on the north side of the dune in apparently protected spots, and I noted that on iNaturalist our observation was the northernmost record for the species (save one suspicious, disjunct Colorado record).

Penstemon fendleri (Fendler’s penstemon).
Penstemon fendleri (Fendler’s penstemon).

On the way back to the car, I beat a few more beetles off living Celtis reticulata. By now, we’d seen all we needed to see here and decided to head southeast to one of the Brachys barberi locations (that were the reason for this trip in the first place).

5 mi E of Harmon (Ellis Co.)
This

Recently, another coleopterist collected Brachys barberi—more typically a southwestern species—on Quercus harvardii (shinnery oak) at this spot. I’ve not managed to find the species myself yet, and as it was collected on May 3rd last year I hoped the timing would be right. Quercus havardii dominated the landscape at this spot, mostly as thick stands of low-growing shrubs but also as a copse of small trees.

Quercus havardii (shinnery oak, shin oak, Havard oak).

At first, I swept the lowest-growing plants, collecting a variety of mostly chrysomelids and curculionids and even one Agrilus sp., before moving to beating along the sunny edges of the patches of taller shrubs and collecting similar species (but no Agrilus sp.). Just to the north, I noticed a stand of individuals tall enough to be considered trees (presumably a clonal stand) and began beating them. Immediately I began collecting not only the chrysomelids and curculionds that I was collecting before, but also several Agrilus spp. and what must be Agrilaxia texana—a species represented in my cabinet by just two specimens that I collected in northeastern Texas way back in 1984.

I worked nearly the full perimeter of the copse, noticing that most of the beetles were being collected only on the south-facing sunny (and leeward) side. When I was just about ready to call it quits, a much larger black and yellow beetle landed on the sheet. For an instant I thought it was a lycid, but it moved characteristically like a longhorned beetle, and I quickly realized that I had collected Elytroleptus floridanus—a quite rare southeastern U.S. species that I have only seen once before when I reared a single individual from dead oak that I collected in the Missouri bootheel (and representing a new state record). I wasn’t sure the species had ever been recorded from Oklahoma, so I found Gryzmala’s revision of the genus online and saw that it had been previously recorded from the state—but all the way over on the east side near the border of Arkansas. All records from Texas as well are from the eastern side of the state, so today’s capture appears to represent a significant northwestern extension of the species’ known geographic range by about 300 miles!

Sadly, I never saw Brachys barberi, but collecting Elytroleptus floridanus (in Oklahoma!) was a pretty good consolation prize.😊


Day 4 – Prologue (“Good to Go” coffee shop)
We awoke to bright sunny skies, and though a tad chilly it was still warmer than the previous mornings and with a good forecast to boot! It would take about an hour to drive to the day’s collecting spot—the one and only Gloss Mountain State Park (where we visited briefly a few days ago to start the trip), but not until after an unexpected and hilariously bizarre experience at a coffee shop in town called “Good to Go”.

“Good to Go” coffee shop lounge.

Mike was the first to notice the velociraptor in the lounge—saddled up for a ride! Okay, that’s cute. Then he noticed the sign on the outdoor display that read “Stegosaurs roamed the Earth about 5,000 years ago.” At first I thought, okay, they’re a little confused on the timeline, but what they’re trying to say is that dinosaurs lived a long time ago.

“Stegosaurs roamed the Earth about 5,000 years ago.”

Then I noticed a granite plaque in the background that clearly read “The Holy Bible”, and it dawned on me that we had entered a creationist’s den! Had we not already ordered our coffee, I might have surreptitiously tiptoed my long-haired hippy butt out of there before somebody pointed at me and began slowly chanting “Lucifer!”

Apparently this is overwhelming evidence that humans saw living dinosaurs.

Once we were outside the shop, our coffee secured and the need for hushed tones no longer muffling our reactions, we took a quick walk with the dinosaurs to admire their seeming scientific accuracy. I was impressed with the T. rex in particular, it’s body axis realistically horizontal with the tail straight and strong—not the lumbering, upright, tail-dragging version that I learned about as a kid. At least they were accepting some of the current body of scientific evidence on dinosaurs and ignoring only that dealing with their age—or so I thought…

A remarkably scientifically accurate rendition of T. rex with the more recently advocated horizontal posture.

The stegosaur as well appeared to be fairly accurately rendered, its tail also straight and strong and a youngster trailing closely behind, until I noticed something atop the adult—an angel riding it! ‘God’s creatures big and small’, I guess.

Note the angel riding the stegosaur!

The coup de grace was the information plaque behind the stegosaur. Rather than providing information on dinosaurs, I was instead treated to a barrage of hilariously unsupported claims advocating the idea that humans and dinosaurs once lived together. Each “factoid” on the plaque was more bizarre and quotable than the one before. Did you know that the adult stegosaur probably died 4,000 years ago in the Great Flood, but that the baby—happily—likely survived by getting a ride on the Ark with Noah! And all that scientific evidence that pinpoints the Cretaceous extinction to 65 million years ago? Apparently it has merely been fabricated as part of a global conspiracy because scientists just don’t want to agree with the Bible. I just about lost it, however, when I reached “It is uncertain if humans ever rode Dinosaurs, but there is overwhelming evidence that humans saw living dinosaurs.” I mean—What?!

I don’t even know where to begin!

Our unplanned morning entertainment now done, we hit the road for our next—and final—collecting spot for the trip.

Gloss Mountain State Park (Major Co.)
We arrived at about 10 am with a plan to spend the rest of the day there—whether the collecting was good or bad, this would be our final stand. We hiked up to the mesa, stopping at an accessible spot about halfway up to work the trees (me) or set out pan traps (Mike). Beating the Celtis reticulata (net-veined hackberry) yielded a similar assortment of beetles as last time—a couple of Agrilus spp. along with the occasional chrysomelid or curculionoid and a few other beetles, and the same was true with Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite), with the exception that I did not find any Agrilus this time.

Gloss Mountain State Park – view west from atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.

Atop the mesa, I decided to do an entire perimeter hike—something I’ve always wanted to do but never actually accomplished. The idea was to beat all of the C. reticulata, P. glandulosa, and Sapindus drummondii (soapberry) that I could find in an effort to “leave no stone unturned” in my quest for beetles. Soon after starting out, I saw a nice Pasimachus elongatus ground beetle running across the mesa top and “forced” it to cooperate for photos by pinning a hind tarsus to the ground with my finger tip (barely visible in the upper left side of the photo). I collected it, as well as another that I saw a short distance away, and then proceeded with the beatings! Beating the C. reticulata was quite productive, with perhaps three Agrilus spp. and numerous other beetles being collected off of nearly every tree that I beat. Beating P. glandulosa also was productive for various beetles, though again no Agrilus were encountered. The biggest surprise came when I started beating S. drummondii, most of which were still in the earliest stages of leafing out. I got nothing from most of the trees (the majority of which were clustered in a small copse near the front of the mesa), but in the back part of the cluster were a couple of trees with noticeably more foliage—beating them yielded perhaps a dozen Agrilus limpiae, a soapberry specialist that I haven’t seen in numbers since 1986 when I collected a series on soapberry in south-central Kansas.

Gloss Mountain State Park – view west from atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Pasimachus elongatus (family Carabidae) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.

I rarely get anything beating Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), but I beat most of the trees that I saw anyway and collected one cryptocephaline chrysomelid and two curculionoids. A single Eleodes hispilabris (apparently on its last leg) was seen near the north end of the mesa, which I photographed and collected, and on the way back I encountered a small patch of Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow) in bloom, from the flowers of which I collected a few small melyrid-type beetles and a small halictid bee for Mike. Also on the north part of the mesa I saw a young eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), who posed just long enough for me to get off a shot before blasting away from my approaching lens.

Eleodes hispilabris (family Tenebrioindae) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Crotaphytus collaris (eastern collared lizard) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.

Throughout the hike atop the mesa I kept my eye out for “new-to-me” plants (of which there are many), finding for the first time Toxicodendron rydbergii (western poison ivy) and blooming individuals of Chaetopappa ericoides (rose heath). Physaria gordonii (Gordon’s bladderpod)—a relative of the federally threatened P. filiformis (Missouri bladderpod)—was blooming abundantly atop the mesa. At this point, Mike and I rejoined and relayed to each other our more notable findings. For Mike’s part, he had seen a couple of cacti that I had missed—Escobaria missouriensis (Missouri foxtail cactus) and Echinocereus reichenbachii perbellus (black lace cactus)—and took me to the spots where he had seen them. While retracing our steps, we also found Gaillardia suavis (pincushion daisy, perfumeballs) and the strikingly beautiful Penstemon cobaea (cobaea beardtongue, prairie beardtongue, foxglove penstemon).

Toxicodendron rydbergii (western poison ivy) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Chaetopappa ericoides (rose heath) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Physaria gordonii (Gordon’s bladderpod) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Escobaria missouriensis (Missouri foxtail cactus) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Escobaria missouriensis (Missouri foxtail cactus) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Echinocereus reichenbachii perbellus (black lace cactus) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Echinocereus reichenbachii perbellus (black lace cactus) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Gaillardia suavis (pincushion daisy, perfumeballs) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Penstemon cobaea (cobaea beardtongue, prairie beardtongue, foxglove penstemon) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Penstemon cobaea (cobaea beardtongue, prairie beardtongue, foxglove penstemon) atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.

By this time, I had been on the mesa top for five hours, and even though temperatures were mild (mid-70s) I desperately needed food and water. Mike, for his part, had also had a wildly successful day with bees, capturing many at the flowers and many more in the various pan traps (both in top and halfway up the slope). I descended the steep slope with its mixture of metal steps, cut rock, and wooden planks and enjoyed a quick feast of sardines and Triscuits (a decades-long bug-collecting-trip staple) washed down with Gatorade before getting back to work on the mesquite around the parking lot. I was committed to trying to find Agrilus on the plants—a single individual of which I’d beaten from the plants three days earlier, and after beating several plants and seeing none (but collecting a great number of clytrine and cryptocephaline chrysomelids along with other insects) I finally found one! I continued to work the trees and collect primarily chrysomelids, but no more Agrilus were seen. I am hopeful that it will be a southwestern species not currently known from Oklahoma—a situation I have found with several other Prosopis-associated beetles in this part of northwestern Oklahoma.

Gloss Mountain State Park – view north from atop gypsum-capped red clay mesa.
Gloss Mountain State Park – history of the name.

I hadn’t intended to work any additional Prosopis beyond the road into the parking lot, but there were a few particularly large trees along the front of the park next to the highway rest stop. The first one I beat yielded a very large cryptocephaline that I had not seen on any of the other Prosopis, so I continued beating them and collected a nice series along with a few other clytrines, pachybrachines, and curculionoids. At the furthest point west, I recalled having seen during a previous visit a western diamondback rattlesnake a bit further to the west, so I continued to the spot hoping to see another. No such luck, so I tiptoed through the tall grass back to safety and made my way back to the car to wrap up seven and a half hours of collecting on a spectacular day—sadly, the last of the trip!


Epilogue
This trip was just a warm-up. In just over one week, I will head out again—this time to western Texas and southern Arizona for sure, and maybe elsewhere depending on how things go. At three weeks, it will be the longest collecting trip I’ve done since I went to South Africa in 1999 and Ecuador 10 years before that. I’m also looking forward to meeting up with a number of other coleopterists at various points during the trip—Jason Hansen, Joshua Basham, and Tyler Hedlund in Texas, and Norm Woodley and Steve Lingafelter in Arizona. If there is time, I may stop off at a place or two in northeastern New Mexico and at Black Mesa on the way back. Look for an iReport on that trip sometime in early-mid June!

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2022

Hughes Mountain redux

Despite the relatively long drive from St. Louis, a healthy group of 15 showed up for this past Monday’s WGNSS Botany Group outing at Hughes Mountain Natural Area; participation no doubt helped out by a spectacular forecast (sunny with highs in the 70s) and near-peak fall colors. Hughes Mountain is situated in the northern portion of the St. Francois Mountains. At its summit is Devil’s Honeycomb—a barren expanse of uniquely fractured Precambrian rhyolite formed by the gradual cooling of magma inside a volcano that was then exposed over 1.5 billion years of erosion. Devil’s Honeycomb is one of Missouri’s geologic wonders, and it’s rocks are among the oldest exposed rocks in all of North America.

Devil’s Honeycomb, summit of Hughes Mountain.

Rocks are not the only items of interest here; the igneous substrate results in acidic conditions that affect the flora in equally interesting ways. This is most pronounced in the igneous “glades” (more properly called xeric igneous prairies) where the soils are too thin and conditions too dry to support the growth of trees, offering refugia for grasses and other herbaceous plants more typical of the western grasslands to persist. Surrounding the glades are dry and dry-mesic upland deciduous forests of oak and hickory featuring a rich shrub layer and open woodland-adapted herbaceous plants.

Beginning on the trail from the parking lot, John Oliver pointed out a stand of tall, now leafless sumacs which nearly everybody (including this author) assumed to be Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) due to their size. In fact, despite their size, they proved to be R. copallinum (winged sumac), with the ID confirmed by a few persisting leaves and their distinctive axial “wings.” John pointed out that an easy winter ID tip for this species is the fruiting structures, which nod distinctively after first frost (those of R. glabra do not).

Post-frost “nodding” seed head of Rhus copallinum (winged sumac).

Ascending the trail through the dry-mesic forest towards the first set of glades, we noted the brilliant colors of small Acer rubrum (red maple) saplings in the understory. When their leaves finally drop, they will be more difficult to distinguish from A. saccharum; however, their rounded rather than elongated buds will still allow differentiation.

Acer rubrum (red maple).

Several of the oaks were examined, with most thinking they were largely Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) and Q. velutina (black oak)—both similar to each other but the latter bearing larger, grayer, pubescent, quadrangular terminal buds. Approaching the glades, Q. marilandica (blackjack oak), Carya texana (black hickory), and Ulmus alata (winged elm) became more abundant, all three much preferring the drier conditions found around the glade margins. An interesting feature of the latter (in addition to the distinctive, corky ridges on the twigs), is the leaves, which are smaller than those of most other elms but tend to grow larger towards the terminus of the twig. They also tend to be much less asymmetrical at their base than other elms.

Ulmus alata (winged elm) showing gradually larger leaves towards the twig terminus.

Very little was left in bloom, but the remnants of recent bloomers were still evident. Solidago petiolaris (downy goldenrod) and Symphyotrichum anomalum (many-rayed aster) were common along the trail and still recognizable, their showy flowers gone and replaced by developing seeds. Hieracium sp. prob. gronovii (beaked hawkweed) was found nestled among mosses perched on a rhyolite shelf, the flowers gone but the leaves still green and distinctively hairy. Hypericum gentianoides (pineweed) was found on the glades proper, most with their stems and leaves turning red but the occasional plant still green enough to allow crushing its stems and enjoying its orange-like fragrance. Bucking the trend, however, was a small patch of Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod), it’s yellow flowers fresh and bright in defiance of the calendar’s call to senescence. A small jumping spider in the genus Phidippus took advantage of the lingering greenery, hiding among the leaves in hopes of finding equally persistent prey.

Hieracium sp. prob. gronovii (beaked hawkweed).
Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod).
Phidippus sp. on Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod).

The benefits of management efforts by the Missouri Department of Conservation in the area’s forests were more evident than ever. Between the first set of glades and the main glades surrounding the summit, a rich shrub layer dominated by Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) stretched endlessly under an open woodland of oak and hickory, the latter turning the canopy bright yellow in vivid contrast to the orange and red shrub layer beneath. Such open woodlands were once common in pre-settlement Missouri but are now rare due to the elimination of fire in the landscape and its mediating impacts.

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac).

Entering the main glades, the group made their way up towards the summit and Devil’s Honeycomb, while Ted and Sharon stayed back to take a closer look at and photograph a robust colony of Cladonia cristellata (British soldiers) growing under Juniperus virginiana (eastern red-cedar). Lichens, of course, are unique in the world of vegetation in that they are a composite organism—a fusion between a fungus and another organism (usually a green alga or cyanobacterium) capable of producing food via photosynthesis. None of these groups of organisms are considered plants in the modern sense, and, in fact, fungi are more closely related to animals than they are to plants. Nevertheless, the convergence in appearance, habitat, and ecology of lichens with plants puts their study much more in the realm of botany than zoology.

Cladonia cristatella (British soldiers).
Cladonia cristatella (British soldiers).

The group arrived at the summit just in time to enjoy spectacular vistas under crystal blue skies with wisps of clouds and the balmiest temperatures one could possibly hope for in early November.

The group enjoys the view from the summit of Hughes Mountain.
L–R: Ted MacRae, Rich Thoma, Kathie Bildner, Michael Laschober, Tina Cheung, Kathy Thiele, Nancy Mathis, Sharon Lu, Alan Brant, Mark Peters, John Oliver, Larry Lindenberger, Burt Noll, Gwyn Wahlman, Keith Woodyard.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Orchids blooming at Victoria Glades Conservation Area

Victoria Glades Conservation Area.

The late summer explosion of yellow composites has subsided greatly over the past week—Missouri conflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis) and rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), and ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) have all gone to seed, and only sporadic still-blooming individuals of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) and goldenrods—including old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), stiff goldenrod (S. rigida), and Gattinger’s goldenrod (S. gattingeri)—can be found. Gattinger’s goldenrod, in particular, deserved extra attention, as this species has only a few known population centers and comes as close to a true Missouri endemic as any plant species in the state. It can be distinguished by its basally disposed, glaucus leaves which become very small on the upper stem and its pyramidal inflorescences radiating out from the stem in all directions.

Solidago gattingeri (Gattinger’s goldenrod).
Solidago gattingeri (Gattinger’s goldenrod).
Solidago gattingeri (Gattinger’s goldenrod).

The decline of the fall composites does not mean, however, that the glades are now without color, as vibrant purples still dot the glade perimeter in the form of Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).

Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).
Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).
Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).

Sumacs, as well—both shining (Rhus copallinum) and fragrant (R. aromatica), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) have already begun turning rusty to bright red.

Shining shining (Rhus copallinum).
Shining shining (Rhus copallinum).

Nor does it mean that nothing new is coming into flower—Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum) are blooming for the first time this week, and I saw numerous individuals still developing their inflorescences to suggest a fantastic October display is around the corner.

Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Glades of Jefferson County

We stood a moment to contemplate the sublime and beautiful scene before us, which was such an assembly of rocks and water—of hill and valley—of verdant woods and naked peaks—of native fertility and barren magnificence… – Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1818-1819

In the Ozark Border south of St. Louis, a series of natural openings punctuate the dry, rocky forests of Jefferson County. Commonly called “glades” or “cedar glades,” these islands of prairie in a sea of forest are home to plants and animals more commonly associated with the Great Plains region further to the west. Extending in a narrow arc from central Jefferson County east and south into northern Ste. Genevieve County, these glades occur most commonly on south and southwest-facing slopes below forested ridges and are characterized by thin soils and exposed dolomite bedrock of Ordovician age. Glades are, in fact, a common natural feature throughout much of the Ozark Highlands, an extraordinary plateau where the great eastern deciduous forest begins to yield to the western grasslands. A much more extensive system of dolomite glades occurs in the White River Hills of southwest Missouri, where they often extend up steep slopes and over the tops of knobs to form what Schoolcraft called “naked peaks” and are now called “balds” (and spawning the “Baldknobbers” of Branson fame). Additional glade complexes occur throughout the Ozark Highlands on different rock substrates – igneous glades abound in the St. Francois Mountains, sandstone glades dot the Lamotte landscape in Ste. Genevieve County and the northern and western Ozarks, limestone glades can be found in the northern Ozarks near Danville and Lake of the Ozarks, and chert glades occur in extreme southwest Missouri. These different glade systems share a common feature – shallow soils where tree establishment is limited due to summer moisture stress. They differ vegetationally, however, due to differences in hydrology and soil chemistry as a result of their different substrates. Floristically, dolomite glades exhibit a high degree of diversity relative to other glade types.

The term “glade” is derived from the Old English “glad,” meaning a shining place – perhaps the early settlers found their open landscapes a welcome respite after emerging from the confining vastness of the eastern deciduous forest. Whatever the meaning, the glades of Jefferson County hold a special place in my heart, for I “grew up,” entomologically speaking, in those glades. As a young entomologist, fresh out of school, I spent many a day scrambling through the glades and surrounding woodlands. It was here where my interest in beetles, especially woodboring beetles, was born and later grew into a passion. For eight years I visited these glades often – attracted by the extraordinary diversity of insects living within the glades and congregating around its edges. My earliest buprestid and cerambycid papers contain numerous records from “Victoria Glades” and “Valley View Glades” – the two best-preserved examples of the glades that once occurred extensively throughout the area (more on this later). My visits to these glades ended in 1990 when I moved to California, and although I moved back to the St. Louis area in 1995, the focus of my beetle research has more often taken me to places outside of Missouri. It had, in fact, been some 10 years since my last visit to these glades until last week, when I was able to once again spend some time in them.

Ozark glades differ from the true cedar glades of the southeastern U.S. in that they are not a climax habitat – they depend upon periodic fires to prevent succession to forest. Some recent authors have suggested the term “xeric dolomite/limestone prairie” be used to distinguish the fire-dependent glades of the Ozarks from the edaphic climax cedar glades of the southeast (Baskin & Baskin 2000, Baskin et al. 2007). Fires have been largely suppressed throughout Missouri since European settlement, leading to encroachment upon the glades by eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Pure stands of red-cedar have developed on many former glades, crowding out the herbaceous plants that depend upon full sun and leading to soil formation that supports further encroachment by additional woody plant species such as post oak (Quercus stellata), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) from the surrounding woodlands. Fire has returned to many of the Ozark glades situated on lands owned or managed by state and federal agencies such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Forest Service, as well as private conservation-minded organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. These agencies have begun adopting cedar removal and fire management techniques to bring back the pre-settlement look and diversity of the Ozark Glades. This is particularly true at Victoria Glades and Valley View Glades, the two largest and most pristine examples of the Jefferson County dolomite glade complex. Fires have been used to kill small red-cedars in the glades, as well as rejuvenate their herbaceous plant communities. Larger red-cedar trees are not killed outright by fire and must be removed by chainsaws. This above distant view of the TNC parcel at Victoria Glades shows many such burned red-cedars. The glades themselves are not the only habitat to benefit from this aggressive management – when I was doing my fieldwork here in the 1980’s the surrounding woodlands were a closed post oak forest bordered by fragrant sumac and with little or no understory in the interior. The photo at right now shows an open savanna with a rich understory of not only sumac and other shrubs, but also many herbaceous plants as well such as black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and American feverfew (Parthenium integrifolium). Such open woodland more closely resembles what Schoolcraft saw across much of the Ozarks during his journey almost two centuries ago.

Victoria and Valley View Glades are dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). A smaller but highly charismatic non-grass flora is also found on the glades – species such as Missouri evening primrose (Oenethera macrocarpa) (left), pale purple coneflower (Echinacea simulata) (pictured above and below), and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) not only add beautiful color but also support both vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife. The Fremont’s leather flower (Clematis fremontii) is a true endemic, occurring only in this part of Missouri and entirely dependent upon these glades for its survival. Less well studied is the vast insect fauna associated with the glades. It is here where I first discovered the occurrence of Acmaeodera neglecta in Missouri. This small jewel beetle is similar to the broadly occurring A. tubulus but at the time was known only from Texas and surrounding states. In collecting what I thought were adults of A. tubulus on various flowers in the glades, I noticed that some of them were less shining, more strongly punctate, and exhibited elytral patterning that was often coalesced into longitudinal “C-shaped” markings rather than the scattered small spots typical of A. tubulus. These proved to be A. neglecta, which I have since found on many glade habitats throughout the Ozark Highlands. Both species can be seen in this photo feeding on a flower of hairy wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) – the lower individual is A. neglecta, while the upper individual and two inside the flower are A. tubulus. Another interesting insect-plant association I discovered at these glades was the strikingly beautiful Dicerca pugionata – another species of jewel beetle – and its host plant ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). Only a single Missouri occurrence had been reported for D. pugionata, despite the common occurrence of its host plant along rocky streams and rivers throughout the Ozark Highlands. This plant also grows at Victoria and Valley View Glades along the intermittent streams that drain the glades and in the moist toeslopes along the lower edges of the glades where water that has percolated through the rocks and down the slopes is forced to the surface by an impermeable layer of bedrock. Unlike the tall, robust, lush plants that can be found in more optimal streamside habitats with good moisture availability, the ninebark plants of Victoria and Valley View Glades are small and scraggly, usually with some dieback that results from suboptimal growing conditions. I surmise these plants have reduced capabilities for fending off attacks by insects, including D. pugionata, and as a result a healthy population of the insect thrives at these glades. Some might be inclined to call this beetle a pest, threatening the health of one of the glade’s plants. In reality, the insect finds refuge in these glades – unable to effectively colonize the vast reserves of healthy plants that grow along streams throughout the rest of the Ozarks, it strikes a tenuous balance with plants that are themselves on the edge of survival.

Despite the success in moving Victoria and Valley View Glades closer to their pre-settlement character, the integrity of these areas continues to be challenged. Poachers take anything of real or perceived value, and ATV enthusiasts view the open spaces as nothing more than tarmac. Pale purple coneflower occurs abundantly on these Jefferson County glades (but sparingly in other habitats – primarily rocky roadsides), where they provide a stunning floral display during June and sustain innumerable insect pollinators. Plants in the genus Echinacea also have perceived medicinal value, as herbalists believe their roots contain an effective blood purifier and antibiotic. There are no conclusive human clinical trials to date that fully substantiate this purported immune stimulating effect (McKeown 1999). Nevertheless, demand for herbal use has skyrocketed in recent decades, prompting widespread illegal harvesting of several coneflower species throughout their collective range across the Great Plains and Ozark Highlands. I witnessed massive removals of this plant from both Victoria and Valley View Glades during the 1980’s, but the pictures I took this year suggest that such illegal harvests have been suppressed and that the populations at both sites are recovering nicely.

The same cannot be said for the practice of rock flipping. This was a problem I witnessed back in the 1980’s, and I saw fresh evidence of its continued occurrence at both sites. The thin soils and sloping terrain leave successive layers of dolomite bedrock exposed, the edges of which shatter from repeated freeze-thaw cycles to create rows of loose, flat rocks along the bedrock strata. Lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and scorpions find refuge under these loose rocks, only to be ripped from their homes by flippers and transferred to a dark, cold terrarium to endure a slow, lingering death. As if poaching the glade’s fauna and watching them slowly die isn’t bad enough, the flippers add insult to injury by not even bothering to replace the rock in its original position after stealing its inhabitant, amounting to habitat destruction three times greater than the area of the rock itself. Firstly, the habitat under the rock is destroyed by sudden exposure of the diverse and formerly sheltered microfauna to deadly sunlight. Next, the habitat onto which the rock is flipped is also destroyed, as the plants growing there begin a slow, smothering death. Lastly, the upper surface of the rock, sometimes colonized by mosses and lichens that might have required decades or longer to grow, usually ends up against the ground – its white, sterile underside becoming the new upper surface. Rock flipper scars take years to heal, and nearly all of the flat, loose rocks seen in the more accessible areas of the glades exhibit scars of varying ages next to them. If a scar is fresh (first photo), I generally return to the rock to its original position – the former inhabitants cannot be brought back, but at least the original habitats are saved and can recover quickly. However, if a scar is too old (2nd photo) it is best to leave the rock in its new position – replacing it only prolongs the time required for recovery.

Even more damaging is ATV use. Herbaceous plants and thin soils are no match for the aggressive tread of ATV tires, and it doesn’t take too many passes over an area before the delicate plants are killed and loose soils ripped apart. I witnessed this become a big problem particularly on Victoria Glades during the 1980’s – actually finding myself once in a face-to-face confrontation with an ATV’er. Fortunately, he turned tail and ran, and it appears (for now) that such abuses have stopped, as I saw no evidence of more recent tracks during this visit. But the scars of those tracks laid down more than two decades ago still remain painfully visible. I expect several more decades will pass before they are healed completely.

My return to Victoria and Valley View Glades was a homecoming of sorts, and I was genuinely pleased to see the progress that has been made in managing these areas while revisiting the sites where my love affair with beetles was first kindled. Sadly, however, the larger glade complex of Jefferson County continues to deteriorate. Restoration acreage aside, red-cedar encroachment continues unabated on many of the remaining glade parcels – large and small – that dot the south and southwest facing slopes in this area. It has been conservatively estimated that as much as 70% of the original high quality glades in Missouri are now covered in red-cedar. Many of these are privately held – their owners either do not recognize their ecological significance or are loathe to set fire to them. An example can be seen in the picture here – this small parcel is part of the Victoria Glades complex but lies on private land in red-cedar choked contrast to the Nature Conservancy parcel immediately to the south. Small numbers of herbaceous plants persist here, but without intervention by fire or chainsaw their numbers will continue to dwindle and the glade will die. Aside from the loss of these glades, the continuing reduction of glade habitat complicates management options for preserved glades as well. Many glade associated invertebrates are “fire-sensitive” – i.e., they overwinter in the duff and leaf litter above the soil and are thus vulnerable to spring or fall fires. While these fires are profoundly useful for invigorating the herbaceous flora, they can lead to local extirpation of fire-sensitive invertebrate species within the burn area. Recolonization normally occurs quickly from unburned glades in proximity to the burned areas but can be hampered if source habitat exists as small, highly-fragmented remnants separated by extensive tracts of hostile environment. Grazing also continues to threaten existing remnants in the Jefferson County complex. Grazing rates are higher now than ever before, with greater negative impact due to the use of fencing that prevents grazers from moving to “greener pastures”. Over-grazing eliminates native vegetation through constant depletion of nutrient reserves and disturbance of the delicate soil structure, leading to invasion and establishment of undesirable plant species. Eventually, the glade becomes unproductive for pasture and is abandoned – coupled with fire suppression this leads to rapid woody encroachment. It is truly depressing to drive through Jefferson County and recognize these cedar-choked glades for what they were, able to do nothing but watch in dismay as yet another aspect of Missouri’s natural heritage gradually disappears. The continued loss of these remnant glades makes careful use of fire management on Victoria and Valley View Glades all the more critical – ensuring that a patchwork of unburned, lightly burned, and more heavily burned areas exists at a given time will be critical for preventing invertebrate extirpations within these managed areas.

I close by sharing with you a few more of the many photographs I took during this visit – stiff tickseed (Coreopsis palmata), three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), climbing milkweed (Matelea decipiens – see the excellent post about this plant on Ozark Highlands of Missouri), downy phlox (Phlox pilosa), green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), and a “deerly” departed native browser.

Pipestone National Monument

Grandson, do not expect to accomplish much in this lifetime, for no one shares your vision… – The Oracle


Wednesday was my birthday, and it has been my custom for many years now to take the day off and go hiking/bugging somewhere. Coming as it does in early spring, it is usually the first real bug collecting trip of the year. This year, however, I was roped into a short business trip to visit a USDA lab in Brookings, South Dakota, so tradition would have to take a back seat. My visit at the lab ended early, though, and my flight back home from Sioux Falls didn’t leave until that evening, so I studied the map to look for any possible nearby points of interest in this landscape that has, for the most part, been unforgivingly converted to fields of corn, soybean, and wheat. I quickly noted a place called Pipestone National Monument just over the border into Minnesota. I love stopping at national monuments while traveling – they usually have some significant historical or geological interest, and their typically (though not always) small size means one can fully explore the area in a relatively short time. I did not know or had never heard of this place, but what I found was a charming little jewel tucked within a remnant of tallgrass prairie. At this far northern latitude, spring is still in its earliest of states. Few insects would be seen, but nevertheless I felt thankful for the chance to spend time outdoors and in a place of beauty where I could reflect on the years gone by and those (hopefully) still to come.

The area is named for a thin layer of catlinite – pipestone – exposed in this small area that has been quarried for centuries by Native Americans for carving into pipes (both war and peace). Quarrying within the monument continues to this day, with permission to do so reserved by law only to registered Native Americans. The area is identified as a sacred site associated with Native American spiritual beliefs and is preserved as a significant cultural and ethnographic landscape. Of particular interest to me was the site’s distinct hydrologic/geologic landscape and the native tallgrass prairie associated with it. A short ¾-mile trail loops through the area, providing a diverse glimpse of the area’s unique features. Pipestone may have provided the area’s namesake, but a narrow exposure of Sioux quartzite is the area’s most prominent geologic feature. Sioux quartzite is derived from billion and a half year-old layers of sand/silt sediments deposited thickly on the floors of ancient, Precambrian seas and compressed over the vastness of time into a hard, reddish metamorphic rock. Normally covered in this area by glacial till, the layers at this site are tilted upward 5–10 degrees towards the west and break through the surface to form a jagged, mile-long west-facing escarpment 23-30 feet high. Underneath the quartzite is the pipestone, a thin layer of metamorphosed shale. This fine-grained rock is derived from clay deposits, thus it is much softer and redder than the harder-than-steel quartzite. Pipestone Creek bisects the escarpment, giving rise to the lovely Winnewissa Falls, flowing over the escarpment and running down to a small, natural empoundment (Hiawatha Lake) before continuing its journey back into the glacial till and tallgrass prairie (for anybody surprised that there should be “falls” in this part of the country, it is interesting to note that nearby Sioux Falls is named after a grander example of of such flowing over quartzite exposures in its downtown).

Precious little remains of the expansive tallgrass prairie that once extended from horizon to horizon in this area. A few small parcels managed to escape the plow, but even in those tiny remnants dramatic alterations in plant communities have occurred due to fire suppression and the introduction of more than 70 non-native plant species. Prescribed burning programs are now being used at the Monument to restore the prairie’s native plant composition and appearance. Looking out over the tallgrass prairie remnants above and below the quartzite escarpment, it I was tempted to visualize circles of teepees on the higher ground away from the quarries (all Native American tribes worshipped this site and would never camp directly within it), with herds of American bison dotting the landscape in the distance. Contrasting with the openness of the prairie, the escarpment itself is densely studded with trees – American elm (Ulmus americana) along the top edge, and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in the escarpment itself. Unlike the large, sometimes towering examples of their kind found further to the east, the trees here are dwarfed and spreading, almost gnarled. Below the escarpment, woodland quickly gives way to pure stands of smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and choke cherry (Prunus sp.), which just as quickly yield to the surrounding sea of prairie. Along Pipestone Creek below the escarpment, lower layers of exposed quartzite provide nooks and crannys where enough moisture collects to support the growth of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) trees, until glacial till once again covers the quartzite, and riparian woodland yields to grasses and forbes. It’s not hard to imagine why this became a special place to the Native Americans, even before they discovered the pipestone that was to become so important to their culture.

The pipestone quarries are located a short distance to the west of the escarpment – where the hard quartzite layer is thin enough to break through – and, thus, have had little impact on altering the physical appearance of the escarpment itself. Winnewissa Falls (meaning “Jealous Maiden” in the Dakota language), lies at the center of the escarpment, providing a stunning centerpiece. Despite its beauty, it is but a shadow of what it was before early settlers in the area blasted away the top 18 feet of the ledge to create a reservoir for drinking water. A century of weathering and recolonization by lichens and mosses have softened the scars on the rocks, leaving little to indicate that such a dramatic alteration took place. However, standing in front of the falls, finding that “zone” where the temperature suddenly drops and cool wet mist blows on the face, and thinking about the significance of this place to the Native American tribes who held it so sacred, I was left feeling bewildered at how such drastic measures could have been contemplated for so beautiful a place.

In addition to the falls, nature has created some striking sculptures in the rock. “Old Stone Face” can hardly be mistaken for anything else – despite its human likeness, it was created entirely by natural forces. “The Oracle” is another naturally-formed human likeness found (though not as easily as Old Stone Face) in the outlines of the rocks. Tribal Shamans (Medicine Men) believed it served as a guardian of the valley and that voices issued from it’s cold stone lips. I stared for awhile and strained to listen, trying to imagine what words it might have spoken. At first, it seemed as if all was silent. Then I noticed the sound of the wind rolling over the prairie and twirling through the gnarled oaks. I heard the falls in the distance. I heard birds in the midst of frantic early-spring songs. I thought perhaps these might be the voices that guided the Shamans – spoken so loudly, yet so easily unheard.

The first U.S. government expedition to the quarry occurred in 1838 with Joseph Nicollet, a French scientist who was sent to map the upper Mississippi country. He and the members of his expedition carved their names in the rocks atop the escarpment, as did many of the early pioneers that first settled in the area. In studying the surface of these rocks, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible diversity of lichens to be found. Around 75 species are known from the area, and as shown in the photos I share below they come in a fantastic array of forms and colors. Lichens are primary colonizers of rock surfaces, able to do so as a result of their nutritional autonomy. Lichens are merely fungi that have evolved a specialised mode of nutrition: symbiosis with photosynthetic microalgae or cyanobacteria. Often, the algal component is capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, while the fungal organism attacks the rock with organic acids to release minerals. This is the basis of soil formation. Over time, enough soil accumulates in small depressions to allow mosses to colonize the rock surface. As successive generations of moss grow and die, more and more organic material accumulates on the rock surface, eventually supporting the growth of vascular plants (which extract nitrogen from the soil, rather than from atmospheric sources). These cycles of growth and death act in concert with the forces of erosion to ultimately convert barren rock to tallgrass prairie, hardwood forest, or other climax habitat. Mind you, this is an extraordinarily slow process – it can take a full century for a lichen to grow one inch! As I looked at the abundance and diversity of lichens on the rock surfaces, I tried to visualize the breadth of time encompassed by what was before me and quickly became lost in eternity.

While the trail that loops through the area is less than a mile in length, it took me an hour and a half to complete it. What started out as a few hours to kill ended as a hurried rush through the museum and interpretive center, trying to cram a few last morsels of knowledge into my head in those final moments before I would have to submit to the drive back to Sioux Falls. As I left the area, I noticed these oddly out-of-place boulders known as “The Three Maidens.”
Native Americans believe that these boulders shelter the spirits of maidens who demand offerings before permitting them to quarry the pipestone. Science tells us that the boulders are composed of granite and were likely carried here by glaciers during the past 1 million to 10,000 years ago. Originally a single boulder some 50 feet in diameter, repeated freezing and thawing over the millenia since it was dropped here have split the boulder into the several pieces seen here. Perhaps only The Oracle knows which is true.

For a more detailed, yet highly readable account of the geology of this area, please consult Minnesota Geology, Field Trip, Summer 2000 and Other MN DNR Workshops, by Arlyn DeBruyckere.