No, this has nothing to do with pie or creme brulee or anything tasty like that. Little signs dotting Utah’s national parks sported the phrase, “Don’t bust the crust.”

The crust they are referring to is this:

Blackened crust

What looks to be burnt soil is actually a colony of fantastic critters. The scientists call it cryptobiotic soil. Living crust is made up of algae, lichen, and bacteria and is the foundation of life in the desert. These crusts hold moisture for plants and nutrients for animals, providing a base for growth and keeping the dry sand from blowing away.

It's Alive!

While checking out the Visitor Center at Canyonlands National Park, we noticed that Junior Rangers (that is, kids), could earn a “Don’t Bust the Crust” button by answering a few questions about cryptobiotic soil. Noticing my disappointment that I was not age eligible for Junior Ranger status, the park ranger was happy to pass me a button. Yeah! I felt honored to have one and made sure to wear it as we hiked around.

Don't Bust the Crust!

Ken and I looked diligently for the black crust, treading carefully and furrowing our brows when we noticed other hikers who were not so caring. One misstep can wipe out ten years’ worth of growth.

If you are trekking about the desert southwest, watch your step and please, don’t bust the crust.

Desert crust