Somewhere in all that, there’s a playa

This has been a good year for plants around the playa lake beside the county blacktop* on the way where I work. The playa and surrounding land really needs a good burn, or to be grazed down, or both, but the proximity to the road precludes that, at least for the moment. Plus a burn-ban, so now is not the time.

A whole lotta grass and forbs) and sky.

Those are four foot tall fence posts barely peeking out of the sward, between me and the playa. We had frogs this past spring, and after the last rain, the dragon flies emerged. Big ones, the kind sometimes called “snake-doctors” or “devil’s darning needles.” They have blue bodies. The mosquitoes are not too bad at the moment, in part because July turned dry, and then we got two hard, hot spells in early August to dry everything else that hadn’t baked. There is some water in the playa, but it is hidden by the grass and reeds and stuff. Unless I had snake-proof boots, I wouldn’t go tromping in there to do a survey.

Good grazin’.

We’ve gotten almost an inch of rain since I took these photos, and the birds are loving it. There’s a sorghum field that was either abandoned or grown just for bird cover, and it is full of birds, as it the strip of native sunflowers. The rest of the sunflower patch got plowed, but that’s not stopping the few that remain. I suspect, if the field is left fallow next spring, it will be half-full of sunflowers again.

The pale gold at the top of the photo, just before the land starts rising, is the heart of the playa. That’s where the pond is, and the area that is the wettest for the longest period of time. For reasons unknown to me, the county insisted on draining the playa a few years ago, just as it really got nice and full of water. I think they were afraid that it would fill enough to join a second one to the east, and cut off a major county blacktop, which would then cost a great deal to repair. The grasses and plants around a playa form a sort of bulls-eye, with those needing wet feet in the middle, and species that can tolerate greater and greater periods of dryness forming rings around the inner basin. at the bottom of the photo you see a blend of native grasses and some introduced forbs (aka weeds). The farther from the road, the higher the percentage of native plants, although this is not always the case. This area has not been plowed for a very, very long time, if ever.

You can very clearly see the edge of the mixed plants, and where the native grass has choked out interlopers. The green in the distance is either corn, or sorghum. The winter wheat has not been planted yet, and no one around here grows spring wheat.

I’ve not seen any smaller hawks in the area since the end of the last school year. I did see two large hawks or small eagles loitering in the area last week, keeping an eye out for small mammals, large insects, slow doves, and the occasional straying young sibling of students…


*Blacktop is a term for paved rural roads that are not Farm to Market routes or state highways. It’s also a generic term for a paved county road. For example, “School buses on blacktop only,” (often heard after a snow storm) or “We’re the second mail box after you cross the east-west blacktop. You can’t miss it.” (You will. Trust me, you will miss it.)

8 thoughts on “Somewhere in all that, there’s a playa

  1. I once had a summer job delivering items in the rural areas outside of a small city. I had numerous directions such as “It’s the third house after the blacktop ends on xxx road, it’s a white house with a white picket fence, can’t miss it.” Do you have any idea how many “white houses with white picket fences” there are in rural Eastern Idaho? At least 50% of them.

    • I have LONG been of the opinion that “You can’t miss it” is code. It really means, “You will drive right past it no LESS than three times.” I’m not sure if it’s better or worse than “The Old Johnson place” to someone who wasn’t there when Johnson (dead at least a decade..) was.

  2. $SPOUSE talking to her sister as they were planning for In-laws to come visit.

    SPOUSE: “We’re the last left just before the bridge just outside of $TINY_TOWN. Don’t miss it.”
    SIL: “Well, if we do, we’ll just turn around at the next town and come back.”
    SPOUSE: “That would add 50 miles to your driving. Don’t miss it!

    They didni’t miss it.

  3. “You can’t miss it.”

    The above is in my list of “Famous Last Lines”. 😆

  4. Agree with Paul… sigh… And black top started in the old days in the oil fields. They needed something to tamp down the dust over the tracks to the rigs and tanks. They had an ‘abundance’ of crude, and converted some of the water trucks to spread the crude over the dust. After a few years of doing that, you ended up with a pretty good road. Texas still does that on a lot of FM roads, putting down ‘asphalt’, then topping it with rocks.

  5. “When the grasses go sigh
    As the rain lashes by,
    In the playa …”

    When grass is so tall
    It itches elephant [redacted],
    That’s a playa.”

    Wow, web-assisted Smart Carp!
    Uh oh.

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