When it was purchased from the Nature Conservancy in 1986 by Brigham Young University and managed under the auspices of the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum in Provo, Utah, the Lytle Ranch Preserve was established as a nature preserve for education and research purposes, according to a BYU Lytle Preserve brochure.
The preserve, which functions as a field station for college professor and student research projects, is open year-round, and draws higher education students from BYU, BYU-Idaho and a host of other colleges from the United States and abroad.
It is located in southwestern Utah, 36 miles west of St. George where the Basin and Range Province overlaps with the Mohave Desert and the Colorado River Plateau, according to the BYU brochure, which adds, “The Preserve is at a rare place in North America where a variety of geological formations and ecosystems overlap.”
The 462-acre Preserve sits astride the Beaver Dam drainage at about the 2,800-foot-elevation. It is one of the lowest points in Utah and because of its year-round water source, the Lytle Preserve is home to plant and bird species found nowhere else in the State of Utah, according to Preserve Managers Heriberto and Debra Madrigal.
The Madrigals, who have worked on-site at the Preserve for over 20 years, say it is one of the best places they have ever worked.
“The weather is beautiful and it’s quiet and nice,” says Heriberto Madrigal, “and you get to meet people from all over the world, plus the neighbors are nice people too.”
On Saturday, Jan. 25, when I visited the Preserve, the Madrigals were hosting a group of bird watchers led by Larry Tripp as part of the St. George Bird Festival.
“There were 19 people that came out,” Tripp said. “We found about 42 to 43 species, so it was a productive day.”
One of their rarest finds was a black-tailed knat catcher.
Tripp said the number one reason the birds come to the Lytle Preserve is because of the riparian habitat in the Mohave Desert.
Fellow birder Richard Wilkinson said that in addition to the black-tailed knat catcher, their birding group saw spotted towhees, dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned sparrows, northern flickers, ruby-crowned kinglets, a ladder-back woodpecker, two wild turkeys and a Phainapepla.
Madrigal said the Phainapepla bird comes only to this part of the State of Utah because of the mistletoe growing on an acacia cat claw tree which produces a kind of fruit berry that the bird likes.
In addition to these local bird watchers, the Madrigals said visitors to the Preserve come from all over the world, including Africa, Iran, South America, Vietnam and Germany.
Like others who have visited this unique oasis along the edge of the Beaver Dam Slope, the Madrigals were drawn to it by its plant and animal diversity and its solitude.
Heriberto Madrigal was born and raised in Mexico, but began looking for a better life in America and moved to Payson, Utah where he met and courted his wife, Debra. At the time, Debra was working as a social worker and Heriberto was an assistant manager for a fruit farm. They were hired by BYU to manage the Lytle Ranch Preserve in May 1993.
That same year, Heriberto said a flood that came down the Beaver Dam Wash, took out some of the existing 10-inch irrigation pipe located on the Preserve’s sprinkler irrigated crops.
In 1995, another larger flood came through the Preserve property and took out irrigation pipe, along with two reservoirs. It also flooded an adobe home that had once been the home of Talmage and Eleanor Lytle, who had once ranched on the property prior to its acquisition by BYU.
Of the 1995 flood, Debra Madrigal remembers it rained all day long and flood waters extended from the fields across the wash west to the cliffs towering above.
“It was really scary,” she said, noting that she and Heriberto were living in the Talmage Lytle home at the time. “There was mud-covered water all over the floor. It was like walking on a waterbed. Our dog was sitting on a chair with water all around him.”
The flood waters forced the couple to move to a nearby bunkhouse area that they called “The Pit,” because it had once been the site of a pit full of snakes.
Then in 2010, another large flood in the Beaver Dam Wash washed out one of the bottom-land fields at the Preserve, before again damaging the Lytle adobe home. This time, damage to the home was so extensive that it had to be demolished.
Because of the periodic flooding in the Beaver Dam Wash, BYU officials in 1997-98, built a two-bedroom manager’s residence for the Madrigals on higher ground to the east of where the Lytle adobe home had once stood. The new manager’s residence is solar powered, but also has a back-up gas generator.
A Southwest style men’s and women’s student dormitory, also solar powered, features 6 bunk beds for the men, and 6 bunk beds for the women. The dormitory was constructed on an even higher knoll directly north and behind the manager’s residence. The men’s and women’s rooms in the dormitory each have their own restroom and shower facilities.
Construction on the dormitory began in November 2012 and was completed in March 2013, Heriberto Madrigal said. The dormitory also includes a solar-powered classroom, kitchen, and laundry room.
Because woodpeckers have consistently tried to build nests in the eves of the outside of the dormitory building, the Madrigals have placed life-size replicas of hawks outside to discourage the woodpeckers from further attempts at nest building.
North of the dormitory in the fields below are a variety of fruit and nut trees, including: apricot, plum, peach, pistachio, pear, pecan, walnut, persimmon and pomegranate. In addition, the Preserve raises alfalfa, milo and barley grain to support the wildlife and to retain its water rights, Heriberto Madrigal said.
The Preserve manager also fences as much of the property as possible to keep range cattle out to preserve the integrity of the property.
Across the road south of the manager’s residence are three trailers, each with covered sheds, that have been designated for use by Ian Baldwin, a professor of chemical ecology with the Max-Planck Institute in Germany. Baldwin brings students from the Institute to the Preserve from March to either June or July, depending on weather conditions. Also located near the trailers are two newly constructed storage buildings.
Another researcher has been studying quail and he visits the Preserve every couple of weeks to check his field stations, Heriberto Madrigal said.
Most of the students who come to the Preserve enjoy the seclusion of the area, adds Debra Madrigal, who notes that when she and her husband first arrived on the Beaver Dam Wash, they spent a lot of time walking, hiking and exploring the area.
On any given day, Heriberto said they will see or hear coyotes. In addition, they often see ringtail cats, kit fox, bobcats, badgers, desert tortoises, beaver, lizards and various snakes.
“We have the common black hawk that also nests here,” Heriberto said, “and it’s only found in this corner of Utah.”
Because of the Preserve’s isolated location, if the Madrigals need a grocery item, they can’t automatically run to the store because it takes about an hour to get to St. George.
During the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Debra Madrigal said her sister called and asked if she was watching the news. Debra said she had to go out and start up the gas generator before she could turn on her television set. She said she noticed that day there were no contrails from overhead passing planes because all planes had been grounded by the federal government.
“Sometimes, you don’t know the rest of the world exists until you go out to the road,” she said, noting that the drive is 11 miles on a gravel road before reaching Highway 91 near Castle Cliffs, and another 25 miles on paved road to reach St. George.
The history of the Lytle Preserve dates back to 1855 when LDS President Brigham Young called Dudley and Mary Huntsman Leavitt to settle in Utah’s Dixie. The Leavitts eventually settled in a ranch along the Beaver Dam Wash, according to a BYU Lytle Preserve brochure.
In 1878, one of their children, Hannah Louisa Leavitt married Thomas Sirls Terry, an original 1847 Utah pioneer who had also been called to the Dixie Mission in 1862.
In 1885, during the anti-polygamy raids, Terry was forced to move his family from Hebron, near Enterprise, Utah, to Mesquite, Nev., and in 1889, moved to the Leavitt ranch in the Beaver Dam Wash.
During the summer of 1889, Hannah Leavitt Terry gave birth to a baby girl and when Thomas Sirls Terry asked his wife what name they should give the child, Hannah said, “Call her Exile or Banish, I don’t care which. (As she was banished from her home and in exile. Father gave me mother’s full name, Louisa Hannah, and Exile…I couldn’t say Exile, so I called myself Exie,” as reprinted in the BYU Lytle Preserve brochure.
“In 1889, the Leavitt Ranch was purchased by Thomas S. Terry. In addition to raising grain and cattle, the Terry Ranch in Beaver Dam Wash was planted with fruit trees, some productive and some not so,” the BYU brochure adds.
“In 1928, the property was purchased by John Eardley, whose wife and ten children cleared the fields and built the house, reservoir, fences, and ditches. They raised alfalfa, sorghum, melons, and fruit of various kinds,” according to the BYU brochure.
Talmage and Eleanor (Marie) Bastian Lytle purchased the ranch in 1952 and the Lytle’s ran the ranch until 1979 when they retired from ranching. In 1985 the Nature Conservancy purchased the ranch to preserve the ranch’s natural features, and BYU acquired the property in August 1986.
Additional information about BYU’s involvement in the ranch property was written by Stanley L. Welsh and published Jan. 20, 1996 in his “Lytle Preserve (1985-1995) and Short History of Beaver Dam Wash.” Welsh’s history was published by the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum.