DON'T BUST THE CRUST!
Cryptobiotic soil is a critical element of a healthy desert eco-system. It consists of cyanobacteria, microfungi, algae, moss, and lichens. The interwoven structure created by these organisms prevents erosion by holding things together during wind and rain storms and by giving plants a place to take root. It also provides important nutrients for plants by fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil, plus it helps retain moisture after rainfall.
Cryptobiotic soil ("crypto" for short) is extremely fragile and one footstep or tire track can destroy it. It's very slow-growing and can take 5-7 years just to begin to regenerate. It could take 50-250 years to fully recover from just one mis-step. Whenever possible, stay on trails, bare rocks, and in dry washes. Please take care to avoid disturbing this valuable ecological wonder during your camping, hiking, biking, climbing, and off-road adventures.
For more information about Cryptobiotic Soil, check out these great articles:
Cryptobiotic Soil Crusts from Wild About Utah
Biological Soil Crust of Southeast Utah from the National Park Service