A Tucson geologist has published a book about dryland farming in Southwest Colorado, with a particular emphasis on Montezuma County.
John Bezy has written several books about the geology of the Southwest, but this is his first published work related to agriculture. His new book, “The Dove Creek Loess: Wind-Deposited Silt and Dry Farming on the Great Sage Plain, Colorado,” is the result of about 50 years of on-and-off research into the history of the region’s unique soil and the ways different cultures have used it to grow food even without reliable irrigation. Bezy hopes to sell the book at Montezuma County locations like the Notah-Dineh Museum.
“Loess” is a geological term for the spongy, wind-deposited soil found all over the southwestern United States. Bezy said his research shows it has always been instrumental to both ancient Native American and modern farmers in the Great Sage Plain, which stretches from Cortez into Utah, and that understanding the soil’s property can help people understand the area’s cultural history.
“Loess is rich in minerals ... and it holds moisture very well,” he said. “For those reasons, dryland farmers like it, and even the people who lived in the ruins you see on the Great Sage Plain were able to make a living because of that soil.”
The book begins with an introduction to the unique properties of the loess.
“The ability of the Dove Creek loess to act as a giant sponge storing large quantities of soil moisture has made the Great Sage Plain the greatest expanse of dry farmed land in the Southwest–over 1,500 square miles,” Bezy wrote in the book.
It also includes an overview of farming practices by the different cultures in the Great Sage Plain, from the earliest days of the Ancient Puebloan civilizations to today’s farmers, and how those practices have affected the soil. Bezy argued many farmers use methods that contribute to erosion, like cultivating crops parallel to the slope of the land. But the book also includes sections praising groups like the Natural Resources Conservation Service for their work to prevent the loss of the loess.
Despite its long-winded name, Bezy’s book is brief, at only 87 pages. It includes several color photographs of the Great Sage landscape, and an index of books and scientific papers readers can go to for further research. Although it’s written from a geologist’s perspective, Bezy said he tried to make his research understandable to non-scientists, so all technical jargon is carefully defined in layman’s terms.
He hopes to sell the book at the Notah-Dineh Museum, the Anasazi Heritage Center and other local cultural centers, although right now it’s only available by mail.
“I think it’ll be of interest to many people who live in Montezuma County, as well as visitors,” he said.