The next time you find yourself hiking in Red Rock Canyon, take a moment to closely inspect the ground. You might notice brown to blackish biological soil crusts, also referred to as cryptobiotic soil crusts, covering open portions of the desert floor. These crusts are composed of cyanobacteria, lichens, fungi, algae, and other microorganisms that attach to barren soils throughout the desert. Biological soil crusts stabilize soil to prevent wind & water erosion, retain moisture & fix atmospheric nitrogen for plants to use, capture & store carbon, and much more. The desert would not be able to support plant and animal life without these crucial ecosystem services!
Unfortunately, these long-living biological soil crusts are fragile and can be easily destroyed by visitors walking, biking, camping, or driving on top them. It can take several years to several decades for disturbed biological crusts to recover, so we encourage visitors to travel on developed trails & roadways. Don’t bust the crust!