Eriogonum inflatum is a plant more commonly known as Desert Trumpet, but is also sometimes called Indian Pipe Weed, Bladder Stem or Bottle Stopper. Its most salient feature is a prominent bulging of its central stem. Originally thought to be a gall caused by an insect infestation, it is now believed to be related to regulating the plant’s carbon-dioxide levels. It has small yellow flowers (not shown) that are a primary food source for the Metalmark butterfly. Southwest Native Americans once used the plant to fashion pipes for smoking tobacco mixed with mistletoe.
It has an unworldly appearance. With its base of petal-like leaves, long sinuous arms and bulbous head, it could easily be reimagined as some alien creature. Imagine it swaying on the high desert plain, while being buffeted by the wind, its arms seemingly grasping every which way. It is the stuff of science fiction.
Anne photographed these Desert Trumpets, last year, on the occasion of our visit to Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park. Know for its maze of hoodoo formations, Goblin Valley is just the kind of place that one would expect to find such an unusual species. When we visited the park, it was high noon. The parking lot was situated on a promontory that overlooked the portion of the valley that we had chosen to explore. It had rained heavily the day before and there were still rivulets of water flowing in-between the myriad of standing stones. Running water in the desert is always an incongruitous sight. There were already people down there, as we descended to the valley floor, but they soon disappeared as the hoodoos rose up to meet us. The shouts and laughter of the nearby children was pretty much all that remained of their neighboring presence.
We had left Moab that morning and still had a drive of several hours, before reaching Capitol Reef, the evening’s destination. So, we only had a couple of hours to explore Goblin, but since we had skipped it two years earlier, I didn’t want to miss it this time around. We used what time that we had to wander among the hoodoos, photographing them and marveling at their naked weirdness. All the while, I kept my bearings, by keeping an eye out for the parking lot promontory that we had originally descended from.
As we progressed across the valley floor, towards the gray topped ridge of rock that demarcated the other side of this immediate valley, we talked about further exploring the next valley over. That would have been nice, because the number of people that we could still occasionally glimpse had decreased markedly from the start, but thoughts of miles yet to go and then a campsite to erect cautioned us against such an endeavor. Besides, with the dwindling human companionship there was something a little spooky about the place.
In the next valley over, the promontory where the Prius, our home away from home, was parked would be out of sight. I feared us getting lost in another maze, without any familiar landmarks and then I further imagined us out after dark, lost among the hoodoos, with only a new moon and our iPhones for light. What if instead of seeing more of the just few foot high Desert Trumpets, we ran into their gigantic queen? Would she call out to us using the melodious tones of her trumpeter’s voice and in her siren’s song, demand we, “Feed me, Seymour!”