Rio Mesa and Canyonlands, Utah

Sponsors and Partners:

National Science Foundation, University of Utah, Great Basin Native Plant Program, Joint Fire Science Program, USDA NIFA Program, US Geological Survey, Northern Arizona University, Desert Botanical Garden, The Nature Conservancy

Project Duration: 2013 to Current

Project Overview

Rio Mesa and Canyonlands, Utah

The Land:

In the canyon country of southwestern Utah, the Delores River rips through sandy peaks to create stone pinnacles, sand stone mazes, and wide flood plains. On one of these river terraces is the former Entrada Ranch, now the Rio Mesa Field Station – a restoration field laboratory managed by our close partners at the University of Utah. We are also working on the historic Redd Ranch, now managed by The Nature Conservancy near Monticello, Utah. This property is surrounded by Canyonlands National Park and is bisected by several small streams that we are working to restore.

The People:

Rio Mesa is a research station managed by the University of Utah. It is an ideal site to bring students for field courses and train restorationists. Several well-kept housing and semi-permanent tents, in and out-door kitchens, a yurt classroom (furnished with ping pong table) and volley ball and horse shoe pits – plus a river to swim and raft – motivate hard work during the day.

The Restoration:

We are primarily conducting applied research at the Rio Mesa Center.  Projects include:

  1. Sagebrush restoration field experiments including a provenance test to examine climate and biotic adaptation of sagebrush and an experiment to examine applied nucleation effectiveness. These experiments include planting of over 5,000 sagebrush and squirrel tail plants.
  2. Sexual variation in adaptation of riparian plants to climate change using four common gardens of Fremont and Narrowleaf cottonwoods, Goodding willow, and Box Elder for a total of 4,000 trees planted.
  3. Experimental test of appropriate seed mixtures to use for promotion of pollinators in Colorado Plateau restoration. This includes species and genetic mixtures examined for climate change adaptation and community interactions among neighboring plants. This experiment includes planting of 50,000 forbs.
  4. Riparian restoration on the Delores River by removing exotic species and planting native ones. We have treated several acres of exotic vegetation and attempted to catalyze natural regeneration of native species.


We offer a leadership program, the Restoration Certificate Field School in ecocultural restoration through the Coconino Community College to encourage career pipelines in the conservation industry for youth. The youth that we are working with are part of the Ancestral Lands conservation corps program for Navajo and Hopi youth working on conservation of southwestern landscapes.