The high mountain districts are characterized by a heavy growth of giant pines, with firs and spruce in the highest parts, and many groves of scrub oak. The pines are abundant and make excellent lumber. Going downward they merge into pinons, useful for firewood but valueless as timber, and these in turn give place to junipers and cedars, which are found everywhere throughout the foothills and on the high mesa lands. The valleys proper, and the low mesas which bound them, are generally destitute of trees; their vegetation consists only of sagebrush and greasewood, with a scanty growth of grass in favorable spots.
To the traveler in the valley the country appears to consist of sandy plains bounded in the distance by rocky cliffs. When he ascends to the higher plateaus he views a wide landscape of undulating plain studded with wooded hills, while from the mountain summits he looks down upon a land which appears to be everywhere cut into a network of jagged canyons—a confused tangle of cliffs and gorges without system.
For a few weeks in early summer the table-lands are seen in their most attractive guise. The open stretches of the mesas are carpeted with verdure almost hidden under a profusion of flowers. The gray and dusty sagebrush takes on a tinge of green, and even the prickly and repulsive greasewood clothes itself with a multitude of golden blossoms. Cacti of various kinds vie with one another in producing the most brilliant flowers, odorless but gorgeous. But in a few weeks all this brightness fades and the country resumes the colorless monotonous aspect which characterizes it.
July and August and sometimes part of September comprise the rainy season. This period is marked by sudden heavy showers of short duration, and the sandy soil absorbs sufficient moisture to nourish the grass and herbage for a time; but most of the water finds its way directly into deep-cut channels and thence in heavy torrents to the deep canyons of the San Juan and the Colorado, where it is lost. A small portion of the rainfall and much of the snow water percolates the soil and the porous sandstones which compose the region, and issues in small springs along the edges of the mesas and in the little canyons; but these last only a few months, and they fail in the time of greatest need—in the hot summer days when the grass is dry and brittle and the whole country is parched.