Saddle Mountain Wilderness Area/Cocks Comb Area

Scutellaria potosina var. kaibabensis

Fritillaria atropurpureum




Coordinating Botanist:  Wendy Hodgson

Status:  In Progress

Started:  2005

Taxa List:  Being compiled.





The Saddle Mountain Wilderness lies in the southeastern corner of the North Kaibab Ranger District and abuts the eastern edge of the Kaibab Plateau. The area contains approximately 40,610 acres characterized by narrow drainage bottoms adjacent to steep and very steep ascending slopes. The main ridge falls off into sheer walls on the south to form the Nankoweap Rim. Elevations range from 6,000 feet to over 8,000 feet. The name originates from the profile of a prominent ridge that appears from the distance as a "saddle". Vegetation ranges from pinyon pine - Utah juniper in the lower areas to mixed conifers in the higher elevations. Several springs below the rim provide water for the lower regions; four are year-round springs, with three in North Canyon and one in South Canyon. In 1960 a fire impacted approximately 8,000 acres; regrowth of vegetation includes dense masses of Robinia neomexicana, Quercus gambelii, Populus tremuloides, and various conifers. 


A number of roads provide access to the wilderness edge and several trails lead into its inner reaches. Trailheads accessing the wilderness originate at the top of the Kaibab Plateau and at its base in House Rock Valley. The North and South Canyon trails follow canyon bottoms.


The Cocks Comb Ridge is an unusual, narrow and sharp ridge resembling a rooster's comb running north and south between North and South Canyons, in the eastern edge of the Kaibab Forest north of Saddle Mountain.  Much of it lies within the Saddle Mountain Wilderness Area. Unlike the Kaibab limestone substrate that characterizes the east-facing slopes of the Kaibab monocline, soils of the Cocks Comb Ridge area is derived from Coconino Sandstone, Hermit Shale and Supai Sandstone, the latter two contributing to the characteristic red color of the soils found in this area. The area is dissected by drainages such as Wildcat, Fence, lower North and South canyons and several unnamed drainages.  Except for North and South Canyons, where perennial streams flow in its upper reaches (and tapped by pipeline in the latter), all are only seasonally wet following rainfall or runoff from heavy winter snows above.  Elevations surveyed ranged from approximately 6200 ft to 6900 feet, within areas dominated by Juniperus osteosperma, Pinus edulis, Purshia stansburiana, P. tridentata, Cercocarpus montanus, C. intricatus, Quercus gambelii, Fallugia pardoxa, Rhus trilobata, Robina neomexicana, and Ptelea trifoliata. Common shrubs include Ericameria nauseosa var. graveolens, E. greenei, Tetradymia canescens, Arctostaphylos pungens, Eriogonum microthecum var. simpsonii, E. umbellatum var. subaridum and E. wrightii var. wrightii.  The herbaceous/suffrutescent perennials and annuals are well represented here and include Calochortus nuttallii, Bouteloua gracilis, Sporobolus cryptandrus, various chenopods, Artemisia spp., Dieteria canescens, Psilostrophe sparsiflora, Thelesperma subnudum, Townsendia incana, Eremogone fendleri, E. eastwoodiae, Euphorbia fendleri, Dalea searlsiae, Mirabilis linearis, Castilleja linariifolia, Penstemon spp., Eriogonum spp., and Galium wrightii.  Leaf and stem succulent species are most represented by Coryphantha vivipara, Echinocereus mojavensis, Opuntia macrorhiza, O. cf. phaeacantha, Cylindropuntia whipplei var. whipplei, and Yucca baccata.


Approximately 250 taxa have been documented from the Saddle Mountain Wilderness Area, including the Cocks Comb ridge area.  Species of interest include Astragalus subcinereus, hybrids between Quercus turbinella and Q. gambelii, the beautiful Fritillaria atropurpurea and Lewisia pygmaea. Two rare taxa endemic to this area occur in the Cocks Comb Ridge area. The Kaibab skullcap, Scutellaria potosina Brandeg. var. kaibabensis S. Rhodes and T. Ayers is only known from the Cocks Comb area and South and Nankoweap Canyons, Grand Canyon N. P.  Kaibab birds-beak, Cordylanthus wrightii Gray ssp. kaibabensis Chuang & Heckard, is endemic to the Kaibab Plateau where it is only known from six collections, including a collection from the Cocks Comb. Other species of interest include Ceanothus martini M. E. Jones, Muhlenbergia pauciflora Buckl.,  Pteryxia petraea (M.E. Jones) Coult. & Rose, Helianthella microcephala (Gray) Gray and Penstemon pseudoputus (Crosswhite) N. Holmgren.