The Desert's Living Skin

Communities of tiny plants and organisms protect arid landscapes. Now their survival is threatened.

On a cool September morning, a caravan of international scientists rumbles past the iconic formations of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Over the eons, wind and water have carved this landscape into a maze of stunning red sandstone arches and spires. The researchers marvel at the formations, so different from their own backyards — places as distant as China, Niger, Australia and Spain. But when they pull into the parking lot for a short hike to Pothole Point, their attention goes straig...

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