We finally made it to Utah! Flaming Gorge Reservoir had been on my bucket list since I moved out here, so Johnny and I drove the 3 hours to visit a few weekends ago. By the time we got to the reservoir, it was getting dark so we only got to stop at one overlook at first. After watching an incredible sunset, we made our way down the East side looking for a campsite. But, like we kept finding in the Grand Tetons, most of the campgrounds were closed. We drove to a few before finding Dripping Springs Campground. It had just gotten completely dark by the time we arrived — we were so thankful that we found this place! We had no idea what the landscape really looked like until we woke up. Quiet, cold, but beautiful scenery surrounded us, and only got better as we made our way out of the campground that morning. We were ready to explore.
We drove down to see the Flaming Gorge Dam next, and were super impressed by its size. It stands 502 feet high and is a major source of water and hydroelectricity — water flows out of it at speeds up to 28,800 cubic feet per second. Thats over 215,400 gallons…
Our next stop was at the Red Canyon Visitor Center. I had looked up this beautiful overlook online, and thought that Johnny and I were going to have to hike over 9 miles to get to it. Turned out, there was a huge parking lot and a short paved path that went directly to it. 🙂
Once we got our photos of Red Canyon, we made our way to Ute Mountain Fire Lookout Tower on a whim. After what seemed like forever, we made it to the top of Ute Mountain only to find a closed lookout tower. (: We still don’t know why it was locked up, and were a bit disappointed. Apparently at the top of the tower, you get a 360 view of Ashley National Forest. Maybe next time.
We then drove towards Sheep Creek Geological Loop in the Southwest corner of Flaming Gorge. This small loop travels through the Uinta Mountains, and was our last adventure in Utah. On the route, you can see the Uinta Fault and some really impressive rock structures that have resulted from the split.
On our way back North to Wyoming, I still had a few stops in mind that I hadn’t made it to yet. Between Rock Springs and Lander, we took some sketchy dirt roads and two tracks to find the Killpecker Sand Dunes, and Boar’s Tusk.
I loved Utah, and luckily, this was just the start of our adventures in the state. A couple of weeks later, we went back to see the Great Salt Lake and Bonneville Salt Flats. That will be in an upcoming blog post. 🙂 I have about three weeks left here, and am feeling the time crunch more and more. There are just not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything on my list, and picking and choosing between sites is the hardest thing! I have become so thankful that Lander is so central though. It has really been a great, convenient location for all of our weekend adventures. Until next time. 🙂
After a few quick weeks of work, I was ready for another trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Lucky for me, one of my best friends from childhood was coming to visit! Christina and her boyfriend stayed for a long weekend, and gave me the perfect reason to go back. I made the 2+ hour drive to Casper Friday night, and showed them around Lander Saturday. We woke up super early that Sunday morning and made our way into Grand Teton National Park by noon. Just before we got to the entrance, we noticed a large group of cars stopped on the side of the road. We pulled over at the last second, and were lucky enough to see a mother grizzly bear and her cub. Seeing these bears was a dream come true! The picture I got is still surreal. Apparently, the female grizzlies in the park have been learning to keep closer to the roads in order to protect their offspring. The male bears don’t like to go towards people, and so the females are more likely to protect their cubs. After taking several photos, we continued our journey, stopping at several scenic roadside attractions and lookouts along the way.
We then made it down to Jenny Lake, one of my favorite spots of the park, and took a short walk around the water. This was where we started to realize that a lot of the buildings and stores inside the park were closing… that day. We struggled to find a place to get dinner at on our way into Yellowstone, so we ended up backtracking to Signal Mountain Lodge. We enjoyed a quick dinner with an awesome view before getting back on the road.
We started to get worried that we wouldn’t find an open campground, especially since we were relying on walk-up sites. We must have passed at least a half dozen closed campsites before we found one to stay at, conveniently right in between the two parks’ entrances. Just as the sun started to fall, we set up our tent and fire at Sheffield Creek. It got below 20 degrees that night — definitely the coldest temperatures I have ever slept in! Fortunately for us, Johnny’s boss let us borrow a portable space heater, and we all had insulated thermal sleeping bags. It was cold, but we survived and woke up to a beautiful new landscape.
We woke up to a frosty wonderland. Every surface and object had a thin white coating, and everything was sparkling. I had plenty of time to take some photos while we waited for the tent and car to thaw out. Once we had breakfast, and a few visits from the surrounding wildlife, we were ready to start our adventure in Yellowstone.
In Yellowstone we stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, Kepler Cascades, Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Firehole Falls, Beryl Spring, Artists Paintpots, Mammoth Springs, and the Roosevelt Arch. Our. day. was. packed. I was so happy that I got to see some new things in Yellowstone, but was definitely exhausted by the end of the day. After a quick stop in Gardiner, Montana, we made the 6.5 hour drive home to Lander.
I would still go back to Yellowstone or the Grand Tetons any time, but lately, we have started branching out of Wyoming more. Over the next few weekends, Johnny and I visited Utah, Colorado, and more of Wyoming. I am behind on sharing so many of our adventures, but they’re still so fun to write about. I am so happy I will have these to go back to and read in the future. 🙂
After my first trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, I stayed busy at work continuing my rangeland monitoring routines. The cattle have been steadily transitioning out of the summer range allotments for the past month, so, many of the pastures within them are completely empty now. It has become the new norm to hardly see any cattle out in the field, but this means that we can focus on studying the patterns of vegetation heights in individual pastures. Lately, we have been in an allotment called Silver Creek. It has four pastures within it: Strawberry, McLean Meadows, Sweetwater Canyon, and Rocky Draw. As of right now, we’ve finished monitoring all but the very last one! We monitor them by mapping the grazing/utilization patterns. This requires us to venture around an entire pasture as much as possible. Whether we are in the truck or on foot, we are constantly observing the vegetation to determine what percentage has been grazed, and therefore, what percentage has been utilized. Once we agree on a number, we then mark the patterns we see on a huge map with colored pencils. This has definitely been one of my favorite responsibilities of my internship, especially considering all of the wildlife we’ve seen in Silver Creek. This includes more greater short-horned lizards, birds of prey, a badger, a prairie dog, and finally, two moose!
Mid-September-ish, we were able to get one last autumn camping trip in before the cold really came to Lander. A few of my Wyoming coworkers and friends joined me and Johnny at Worthen Meadows Reservoir in Shoshone National Forest one weekend! We found the most perfect campsite right on the water, got a fun hike in, grilled burgers, and saw a really beautiful sunset. We had the best time!
In the following weeks, the autumn colors started to pop out everywhere in Lander and around our BLM field office. It had literally been a dream of mine to see aspen trees in the fall, but for some reason, I had only thought that they grew in Colorado. I was incredibly surprised when I saw them out here and realised that I would still be here to watch them change. Needless to say, I was out there almost everyday taking pictures. The landscapes turned magical, but soon after the leaves turned yellow, they were falling to the ground. I swear it changed from fall to winter in a matter of days — we have already gotten several snow storms!
While we were monitoring our third pasture of Silver Creek Allotment, Sweetwater Canyon, our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We got to see several shrubs and tree species in their fall colors, and some incredible wildlife. On our way home one day, we came across a small family of prairie dogs, as well as a badger, all in a span of a couple miles.
The other week, I got to go out in the field with another one of the BLM’s rangeland specialists. Along with his main job responsibilities, Steve is in charge of collecting a few rain gauge and mercury samples for the National Atmospheric Deposition Program. This program, run by the National Trends Network, collects samples from all over the United States (and further). They study the bases, acids, and nutrients in nationwide precipitation in order to show trends over time. This was so fun for me to assist with because, earlier this summer, I was exposed to this program in Shenandoah National Forest! My Chemistry class took a field trip to the Big Meadows NADP site near my university. We learned about the same rain gauges, as well as various other equipment that the NTN uses.
The first NADP site we went to that morning was in Sinks Canyon State Park, one of my favorite places. Usually it’s a bit colder there in the mountains than in Lander, but that day, it was so cold that it was snowing! After work, I went back to take some photographs of the snow and fog that had settled throughout the day. I included just a couple below.
Our Sweetwater Canyon monitoring still wasn’t complete until later that week when we hiked along the riparian land down in the canyon. This ended up being a 9+ mile hike, and so much fun. We saw a few snakes, two moose, and an abundance of heavily grazed land. Our team started on the East side of the canyon, while a second team started on the West side. The idea was to meet in the middle if possible, in order to map the entire riparian zone. Along the way, each team had several photo points to take for the rangeland specialists, and a few transects to run. We were also noting anything strange, unexpected, or over-utilized. The canyon seemed like it had been a paradise for the cows, with endless shade spots, water, and vegetation.
Our CLM Blog has been down for a couple of weeks, so this post is pretty late. The photograph that I found from the field below is one that I love, but have no idea where I took it. A bald eagle, or Haliaeetus leucocephalus, had been standing in a field we drove through, right next to a golden eagle, or Aquila chrysaetos. I was blown away by these magnificent birds. Usually, bald eagles live along rivers, or bodies of water, so I don’t know why this one was seemingly in the middle of nowhere. He took flight, and flew right alongside us for a half mile or so down the road. Just a couple of dreamy minutes. Another blog post or two will be following this one — so much is happening in my last month here. 🙂
We woke Sunday up to a completely different world. The fog and the steam from all the geysers and hot springs seemed to melt together into one big cloud, leaving us with an ominously magical morning in Yellowstone. With hardly any people out so early, we quickly made it to our first site around the Upper Loop, Nymph Lake. The air was chilly and refreshing, and made a perfect setting for the view.
After several photos at Nymph Lake, we started to make our way to the next two stops: Roaring Mountain and Sheepeater Cliff. All of a sudden I hear a collective “buffalo!” and look to see a massive adult right in front of our car. I was thrilled (and safe in our rental car) and managed to take a really great picture of him from my window. This species of buffalo can get up to 6 feet in height, weigh over 2,000 pounds, and run at speeds up to 40 mph. He was literally as big as our SUV. And, as quickly as he appeared, he vanished into the trees when a large truck drove up behind us. Soon after, we arrived at Roaring Mountain, a structure made out of volcanic rhyolite rock. Apparently, it sits on a spot where magma flows closer to the surface of the earth than usual, creating steam vents all over the face of the mountain. Our next stop was at Sheepeater Cliff, an interesting, columnar rock structure formed from cooling basalt lava. It was named after a group of Shoshone Native Americans or the “Sheepeaters” for their use of bighorn sheep.
After our first few stops, we were ready to find Mammoth Hot Springs, a spot one of my uncles highly recommended. We pulled over briefly to see Golden Gate Canyon on our way, and even saw another lone bison shortly after. When we got to Mammoth Hot Springs site, there were elk everywhere. This was our first time seeing a male elk, and we even got to watch and hear him bugle. We explored the Lower Terrace Area of Mammoth Hot Springs, and were particularly amazed at the Palette Spring Terraces. The limestone rock in the terraces gets dissolved deep in the earth and then deposited on the surface again, forming stair-like structures.
We then went on to look at a few more sites, ending up at the Lower and Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We decided to take the hike down several switchbacks to an overlook that brings you to a platform right at the top of the Lower Falls. The Yellowstone River plummets down 308 feet at this point, with a force between 5,000 and 63,500 gallons per second. This makes the Lower Falls the tallest waterfall in the park! As you can see from the photo below, it was seriously impressive. This was my favorite walk of the day, and maybe the whole trip. I have never been so close to falls that powerful before, and really enjoyed the view of the canyon from the platform.
We had just one more stop on our Yellowstone list at this point in the trip, before we had to head back to Lander. We wanted to stop at the Mud Volcano springs and fumaroles site. Most of the hot springs here were pools of bubbling mud, and the fumaroles released an awful smelling mixture of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide gases. But, this place was so cool. One hot spring in particular, called Dragon’s Mouth, literally sounded like it was roaring at you.
With that, our Yellowstone adventure came to an end. We headed back down South through the Grand Tetons, and then out its East entrance towards Lander. While we did a whole lot of exploring, there were still so many sites and hikes left in the park that we couldn’t fit into our schedule. I think anyone could spend weeks out there and never run out of things to do. This weekend was one of my favorite weekends yet in Wyoming, and I can’t wait to go back to the parks in October. Until next time. 🙂
My first-ever adventure to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park last weekend was soooo fun. My parents came out all the way from Virginia to visit, and we had the best time exploring new territory, crossing things off our bucket lists left and right. We were able to spend all of Thursday showing them around Lander, but once Friday came, we were ready to get on the road. En route to the East entrance of Grand Teton National Park, we drove through a small town called Dubois about an hour and fifteen minutes into the drive. It was my first time seeing it, and it had some awesome features in it like an antler arch, and huge teepees. It didn’t take us much time to get through town, so we started the next leg of our journey shortly after taking a few photos.
Once we got to the Tetons, traffic moved a lot slower. Even with it being off season, there were still a lot of other tourists that were wandering around the park. Our first stop was at Jenny Lake, and thankfully, we made it there just in time between two rain showers. We didn’t think a hike was going to work out because of the weather, so we spent a couple of hours walking around the lake and enjoying the views instead. When we noticed the drizzle starting up again, we found our way back to the car. We then went to Jackson Lake Lodge, and enjoyed drinks and some food at their restaurant called Blue Heron Lodge. Plus, we had an incredible view of the Tetons at our table. After a while, the rain subsided again and we left to go find dinner and our cabin for the night. We stayed in a cute little two-bedroom cabin in Colter Bay Village, and were even able to take a walk around the Colter Bay and Jackson Lake before it got dark.
A short distance from the Teton’s North entrance, we made it into Yellowstone. Our first major stop was at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. A one-mile boardwalk trail lead us around several geysers, hot springs, and thermal pools and cones. Apparently, these features pour over 3,000 gallons of hot water into Yellowstone Lake every day. This was such a cool way to start our adventure — I had no idea the park had so many geysers. There are about 500 in Yellowstone, and over 10,000 other thermal features! We then made our way over to Old Faithful, likely the most famous geyser in the entire park. We were lucky and only had to wait about 40 minutes to watch it erupt; some people waited over an hour. Oof.
Our next stop was Biscuit Basin, another boardwalk loop full of geysers, hot springs, and thermal pools. At the top of the loop, we saw a sign for Mystic Falls Trail, and walked the 0.7 mile trek right to the bottom of the falls. This was definitely my favorite walk we took that day. The weather was perfect, the views were awesome, and everyone on the trail was so nice. After this refreshing stop and hike, we made our way up to Grand Prismatic, a huge rainbow-colored spring in Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin. This was a dream come true to see. It was pretty steamy, because of the colder temperatures, but you could still see all of the color rings in the spring.
After our walk around the Midway Geyser Basin, we visited a couple of other pretty waterfalls like Firehole and Gibbon Falls, and stopped at another site called Beryl Spring on our way out of the park. The views were spectacular, whether you got out of the car at the park’s observation points, or were just driving to and from sites. I couldn’t believe we nearly covered the entire Lower Loop in one day, but we could definitely feel the fatigue setting in. We stayed the night in West Yellowstone, Montana, and had a great dinner at Bullwinkle’s Saloon & Eatery! We got to bed early that night since we were meeting for breakfast at 7AM the next morning… not a very fun thing for me to hear. 🙂
It was so hard for me to pick from the hundreds of photos I took last Friday and Saturday, but I did my best! The weekend could not have started off any better, and luckily it wasn’t over yet. The next day, Sunday, was our second day in Yellowstone, and will need another post for all of the pictures. All of these parks out here are truly ethereal, I am in heaven.
I am starting to get low on these Wyoming puns. Haha. I officially have less than three months left in Lander, and am already feeling the pressure to see everything left on my Wyoming bucket list… and it’s pretty long. But! A couple weekends ago, Johnny made it back to WY and we started to make a serious dent in it. I had never been East of the Casper/Natrona County International Airport so that weekend we explored smaller cities that were past Casper, like Glenrock and Douglas. We made our way through Glenrock pretty quickly, after we stopped at their Paleon Museum for a short while. About half way to Douglas, we drove South off the highway to see Ayres Natural Bridge in Converse County. I saw my first herd of buffalo ever on the way into the park! I’m not sure if they were wild or not, but they were magnificent. Even from the road, we could tell just how massive they were. Once we got to Ayres Natural Bridge State Park, we climbed a small trail up the side of the bridge and found a huge rock pillar at the top of it. The rest of the view up there was really nice too. 🙂 After admiring the natural limestone arch, we made our way to Douglas. At this point we were about 3 hours from Lander, so we didn’t spend too much time here. Once we had walked through a couple of museums, we started our drive back home, but stopped at one last destination back in Fremont County called Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site. I had heard of petroglyphs being in Thermopolis, but hadn’t had time to go find them whenever I’ve visited in the past. When I heard there were some closer to Lander, I was thrilled! The petroglyphs at this site are rock carvings made by Athabaskan Native Americans from some time between 1000 and 1250 AD. They carved images of animals, plants, medicine, and other important cultural symbols into several of the outcroppings of rock there.
The next afternoon, we decided to go back to one of our favorite spots to watch the sunset at The Bus again. This is one of the most popular mountain biking/hiking destinations in Lander, and is known for that old wrecked bus Johnny found in a ditch about a month ago.
The next day, we ventured back into Sinks Canyon State Park for the day. We started on the Popo Agie Nature Trail, and then after about a half mile, we veered right for the 1 mile North Slope Trail. This trail is only open once it is dry enough in the summer, and takes you from the Nature Trail, up a steep ascent up the canyon, and then back down. It passes right over the natural sinks that the Popo Agie River disappears into, and brings you right to The Rise trout pool. This was Johnny’s first time seeing The Rise, and we were lucky enough to see a muskrat feeding among the trout!
My next week was spent with Jon keeping up with our usual rangeland monitoring studies, as well as contacting one of our permittees about unknown cattle brands. This was one of the last weeks Jon and I spent together before he went out in the field with Grant, our newest Rangeland Specialist, to teach him about the huge allotments he would be in charge of. During this week, our whiteboard broke into shreds, as you can see in the photos below. I couldn’t stop laughing at ourselves and our supplies we were working with, but nevertheless, we got the job done as usual. When I contacted one of our permittees, I was communicating with a very nice rancher named Travis Clyde. We had been trying to decipher about five pages of cattle brands I had put together, for months, so we decided to try asking somebody who may know more about it than we did. There were at least two to three dozen brands we just did not have records of, so Travis definitely helped us in validating them.
The next weekend, we went to the town of Ten Sleep, which is about two and a half hours North/Northeast from Lander. There was a really fun volunteer opportunity I had heard about through the BLM for trail maintenance at Salt Lick Trail just outside of downtown Ten Sleep. We camped out Friday night nearby, then woke up early Saturday to help out. We spent the morning digging out steps and tossing loose rocks over cliffs, all to make the trail a bit more safe for visitors. Afterwards, a very nice couple that lived at the bottom of the trailhead invited us to their home and made all of us burgers and endless picnic food. Johnny and I headed back home a little while after lunch, and made a quick stop in Thermopolis so he could enjoy the free Bath House in town, and learn about the “World’s Largest Natural Mineral Hot Spring”.
The rest of that weekend was spent resting and taking a hike around Frye Lake, one of my favorite places to visit in Shoshone National Forest. I had never made a full loop around the lake so Johnny and I were excited to try it. We ended up walking about 2+ miles around it straight into the woods. Eventually, it started getting dark, so we decided to turn around, witnessing a pretty incredible sunset on our way back to my car.
The following week, Jon and I finished up our rangeland monitoring duties in our second allotment, Antelope Hills. We also got a chance to go out with several Rangeland Specialists from the Lander field office that week to learn the Utilization Training method for our allotments. Every year, around September when the pastures get emptied of cattle, the BLM goes back into them in order to record how much the grasses were actually grazed/utilized in each allotment. These data are very useful for short-term, and longterm, monitoring of the lands we have to manage. We used the “Landscape Appearance Method” to do this, in which we studied the grasses in several different areas of the allotment, to estimate a percentage, or color, of grass utilized. This means we drove and walked around almost the entire pasture, running transects and recording whether the grass in the area was grazed at 0-5, 6-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, 81-94, or 94-100 percent. These seven categories were split into five larger categories in order to make our job a bit easier later. This is because after we get these data recorded, we take a huge map and literally color it with five different colors: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Red represents the most utilized/grazed areas of a pasture or allotment, and goes all the way up to the cool colors where blue represents almost no grazing of an area of grass. These maps are great for the specialists to compare year-to-year, and to find patterns, when necessary.
I have still continued to learn so much from the BLM, and I’m confident I will keep doing so. I can’t wait to see what other kinds of opportunities I get to experience with them, and I can’t wait to keep using my weekend time WYsely to enjoy all the other magnificent parts of Wyoming. 🙂 There is never a dull week here, and I am so fortunate for that.
It has been quite a long time since I made a blog post, so this one is definitely going to be a long one. I have been insanely busy traveling, exploring, and working in between. BUT, it is so nice to hear people looking forward to these posts, and so writing them is really enjoyable. I got to explore Sinks Canyon State Park even more in the past month, and ventured through some shorter hikes like the Nature Trail and the North Slope to The Rise in the park. The Rise is where the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River comes back out of the Earth, after going into and under it at the natural sink further upstream. It just so happens that The Rise is also a natural trout spawning pool and (thankfully) no fishing is allowed. That being said, this makes it possible for a small variety of HUGE trout to live there in the summer — harm free. Depending on water levels and its flow, the sandbar you see in the bottom of the picture below may be bigger, or even nonexistent. This is definitely one of my new favorite spots in Sinks to take friends and family to see and feed the trout.
Back at work, Jon and I had still been learning the country we are currently monitoring. I just recently asked my mentor exactly how big that was, and was shocked to hear his answer. We are monitoring over 400,000 acres of land! That is crazy to me!! Despite the size, we are really getting into the rhythm of things in our allotments, and are starting to make quick(ish) work of the acres we drive through. Towards the end of June, we were ecstatic to find a herd of elk nearby one of our favorite transect sites in the Arapahoe Creek Allotment, Lost Creek. I still don’t know how I managed to get a decent picture of them — they were so fast! They can also make some of the strangest noises I have ever heard in my life.. I love them.
That week, I found another one of my favorite hikes and lookout spots down the Loop Road. This is the road that continues S/SE past Sinks Canyon State Park and into Shoshone National Forest. You definitely want a four-wheel-drive car for this road. Haha. The trailhead starts at one of the most ambiguous “parking lots” near the top of the mountain and is (ironically) called the Blue Ridge Lookout. This only makes me think of home when I see it (I do miss it a bit sometimes!). It reminds me of the East Coast’s Blue Ridge Mountains and all of the fun adventures I had in them with some of my greatest friends. Anyways. The short, but completely uphill, hike takes you straight up to an awesome old stone fire tower, and has become one of my favorite spots to watch the sunset.
The next week at work, we had some serious car problems. Haha.. We had a flat tire, a flat spare, and several engine problems that seemed to come at us all at once. Needless to say, the next couple of days were spent fixing her up, and getting her ready to get back on the road the week after.
The weekend after all of the car issues, I drove to Thermopolis to meet a fun friend of mine from JMU, Lucas, who is also a BLM intern out here! What are the odds. He was placed in Buffalo though, so we figured Thermop was a great halfway place to meet and explore. We hiked the Round Top Mountain butte, went to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, soaked in the Hot Springs State Park Bath House, and explored the town all weekend. We had such a great time! The smell of sulfur was seriously… uh… something. Haha. I drove home smelling like rotten eggs. 🙂
For some reason, once I got back to work the next week, I was determined to get better pictures of the pronghorn antelope and wild horses we constantly see out in the field. Both are super skittish and unaccustomed to people, so this has been a pretty difficult thing for me to accomplish. I brought my nice camera out with me to the field for the first time, and seriously benefitted from it. I got pictures of both. 🙂 A couple days later, Jon and I went to finish fixing the fence around Hadsell Pasture. We thought we had a nice and easy drive over Green Mountain, but quickly realized that this was not the case. We drove over (what seemed like) miles of boulders that I didn’t think we would clear, and around ditches that I swore to Jon we were going to fall and flip in. Thankfully, Jon is a bit more reasonable in these tricky situations than I am, and so he helped me drive through all the tough spots. I am so thankful for his help and his friendship! We made it safely down the mountain, and to Hadsell Pasture. On our way home, we both did not want to go back up the way we came, and ended up finding one of the easiest ways home… probably ever… Hahaha.
After a bit of a stressful week, I was ready to travel again, and found myself driving to explore Buffalo with my friend Lucas again! We tried to get to Outlaw Canyon and the Hole-In-The-Wall, but sadly got rained out. I have gotten used to the weather here; it can be so unpredictable, no matter how many times you check it in advance. Still, it is pretty disappointing when it ruins a new adventure. But! On our way back, we saw an awesome double rainbow, and some really spectacular cloud formations. I only spent a day or so there, so we did a lot of shopping, but did not have much luck venturing outside of the town of Buffalo.
These past few weeks have definitely exhausted me bit more than usual, but I was ready to roll heading into work last week. I have started bringing my camera every time I work out in the field now, because there are just so many possibilities of capturing some amazing Wyoming wildlife. Last week, I managed to get pictures of some prairie dogs, as well as more elk! I was ecstatic. When we found the elk, we were monitoring compliance in a very confusing pasture called Magpie, and got very lost on our way out. But, through our exploration of the entire pasture, we saw that herd of elk, a coyote, several Magpie birds, and a sage grouse that nearly scared me to death. She literally popped up out of nowhere, flapping her wings and squawking like a chicken. We had quite the adventure to say the least. On top of that, this happened after our first full 7-8 hour day with the Seeds of Success (SOS) team in our office. We spent that time with them collecting seeds, testing soils, and collecting specimens, honestly having the best time. Still, Jon and I were soo worn out by the time we got home.
I have come to love Wyoming, its abundance of wildlife, the small amount of people here, and the WYde open spaces. 😉 Almost everyone around me seems to be on the same page: willing to converse, willing to share, willing to learn. I couldn’t have been placed in a more perfect town, or BLM office. Lander is seriously the best and I’m so thankful I still have a few months left here.
These past few weeks have been crazy busy. During the week of July fourth, we were only in the office from Monday to (half of) Wednesday because of the BLM’s Independence Day paid holiday schedule. My Monday was spent reading vegetation transects and monitoring livestock compliance around two of our pastures: Pickett Lake and Eagle’s Nest. Reading transects means that my team and I are physically walking down a straight line between established posts or rebar to record 20-25 points of data. Every 5 or 6 paces, we stop and measure the droop or stubble height of the designated key grass species for that site. This is an important thing to study because if the grasses are getting too low, the ecosystem and landscape can be seriously affected by it and may not be able to recover easily, if at all, once the cattle leave. If we are performing livestock compliance checks, that involves us literally counting any “trespassing” cows/sheep when we see them on pastures that should be empty. This can take us a long time somedays, because our allotments are literally hundreds of thousands of acres. We also have to draw and get pictures of the brands on the livestock. This is crucial for the BLM to know which ranchers they need to contact in order to get the animals moved. That day we found some pretty little forbs, and I even saw my first sage grouse on the way back to the office. 🙂
On Tuesday, I went out to the field with one of the BLM’s wildlife biologists, and assisted her in the procedures for sage-grouse “HAF,” or Habitat Assessment Framework. Her transect-reading protocol reminded me a lot of AIM’s, so I had a little bit of a head start on HAF’s approach. When we first got there, we used a compass to align ourselves and set three 25 meter transects at 0, 120, and 240 degrees. Along the transects, we used the LPI, or line-point intercept, method to record vegetation heights and forb diversity. LPI sampling provides a quantitative look at the cover of important species in the ecosystem. Since sage-grouse feed on forbs, and nest in sage brush, these were our study’s focus. This took us all day to do, especially since we read two sites and had to abandon the second site to wait out a storm for a bit. When we got back to Lander, I was inspired by my fun day and immediately started studying my forbs. I love seeing all of them out in the field and being able to name them has been really fulfilling. Ever since this Tuesday, I have been studying, and studying, and have learned so many of them already!
Wednesday was a shortened day because of the holiday, so we spent it in the office managing various data that we had been piling up for weeks. The long weekend that followed was a really awesome one for me because my boyfriend flew in all the way from my home state. 🙂 While he was here I showed him some of my favorite places like Hell’s Half Acre, Sinks Canyon, and The Bus. We also went to a rodeo for our first time ever haha… I still have some mixed feelings about that! Towards the end of the weekend, we drove into Boulder, Colorado to see the Dead & Company’s last performance of their Summer Tour 2019. It was such an incredible show and the setlist was nearly perfect. This was probably the best way we could have ended Johnny’s visit out here. He had to leave me the next day from Denver, so I dropped him off and then made the 5.5 hour drive back to my little home in Wyoming.
For the past two weeks at work, I have been getting into the routine of transect reading and livestock compliance checks, and learning the country and the vegetative species of our two allotments. Once we spend about a week out in the field, we are usually ready to spend a whole day in the office compiling, summarizing, and scanning all of our data.
The weeks are still going by way too fast, but it’s exciting to see how much I have learned, and just as refreshing to know that I have only been out here for a month. Wyoming is seriously WYld and wonderful; I love living out here.
This past weekend was one of my favorites so far in Wyoming. On Saturday I went venturing into Shoshone National Forest and found an awesome camping/recreational area around Frye Lake. I met some people who were from my home state, Virginia, and enjoyed talking with them and taking in the awesome views in the chilly weather. The Rocky Mountains in the distance were still snow-capped, despite it being summer, so I’m curious to see if they will ever experience a full melt-off.
A view of Shoshone National Forest’s Frye Lake showing the Rocky Mountains and a rain shower seen in the distance.
An interactive? rock that I found while hiking around the lake.
On Sunday, a couple of friends of mine took Jon and I back into Sinks Canyon State Park and up the “Approach to Killer Cave” trail about half a mile to the rock walls there. I was taught all about the rock-climbing difficulty scale, and little did I realize how complicated it was. Actual rock-climbing, with a rope, belayer, etc. starts at a Class 5 level. 5.1-5.4 routes are considered easy, 5.5-5.8 intermediate, 5.9-5.10 hard, 5.11 to 5.12 difficult, and 5.13 to 5.15 very difficult. Starting at a difficulty of 5.10 and above, there are letters involved as well. This looks like: 5.10a, 5.10b, 5.10c, and 5.10d. After our short hike up the trail, and getting to an elevation of about 7,300 feet, we were ready to watch Alex and Brandon (some seriously experienced climbers) have a go at the walls. They started on a 5.12d route… as a warm-up… and only went up from there. Once they got some good climbing in, they lead a couple of easier walls for us to top-rope up. This means that they set the ropes up for us so that we could club up the face of the rock a bit more easily. I was incredibly impressed by them, especially after I completed my first and only wall and was exhausted. We thought mine had a difficulty of 5.8, but later found out that it was a 5.9! I was so happy and proud of myself for getting to the top on my first try. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights. 🙂
Me climbing my very first 5.9!
Brandon climbing a muchhh more challenging wall.
Monday came around and I found myself back out in the field, only this time I got to go out with the BLM’s AIM crew. This stands for Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring. On this trip, they were attempting to go out to a couple of sites around the Shoshoni and Gas Hills areas. I quickly realized that I really liked the strict rigidity and structure of the protocols that AIM has to follow because it ensures extremely consistent data throughout the entire West. For instance, all of the sites are centered at randomly assigned GPS coordinate points, but may be rejected due to unexpected fencing, roads, or dangerous conditions. Unfortunately, their first site was centered in a corner of a fenced pasture; any adjustment that they could have made in the four main cardinal directions did not work. So, they had to reject it. We then made our way to their second site, and had better luck with the location. The types of sampling we did assessed soil horizons, stability, and erosion potential, as well as vegetative species inventory and richness. The soil samples included digging a 70-cm-deep pit at the very center of our site, and walking down three transects while assessing the ground cover and small soil tests that were performed. For the vegetation, heights were measured down the transects, and species were counted in the entire plot.
Out with AIM, I finally got to see the prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha) cactus blooming!
On Tuesday, Matt and I stayed in the office and went through years of old files in order to try to wrap our heads around our two allotments’ pasture histories. We spent hours doing this, and ended up creating really helpful, large, summarization sheets for each. This was a nice break from the heat, and left me refreshed and ready to go back into the field the next day. Wednesday was another adventure. Matt, Jon, and I prepared ourselves to go find and read two transects, one in the Soap Holes pasture, and the other in Haypress. After some time, we were able to find a safe route to the first stop on our route. Right as we arrived and were assessing the transect site, the most beautiful barred owl (Strix varia) flew out of the willow trees. This was the second time in my entire life I had ever seen an owl, and I think beautiful is really an understatement. We soon got back to work and realized that this site was very swampy, compared to all of the other the riparian sites they had been to before. Our transect evaluation was tricky, but we were successful in completing it.
Our first site on Wednesday, Soap Holes pasture. These were the willows that we saw the owl fly out of.
One of our keystone species in Soap Holes pasture: Nebraska sedge, or Carex nebrascensis. The shortened blades are clear evidence of cattle grazing.
Some of the ground hummocks that were nearly everywhere in this riparian pasture. This is another clear sign of cattle presence and grazing.
My very first discovery of Wyoming’s wild iris flowers, Iris missouriensis.
Another first for my flower discovery! This is a wild purple lupine flower, Lupinus argenteus.
Once our first transect reading was complete, we started searching for the next pasture: Haypress. On our way out there, we saw the largest herd of wild horses I have ever seen in Wyoming. There were at least 60 of them that we could see resting on an adjacent mountain top. After stopping to take some videos, we continued our journey. We tried several different routes, many of which were washed out, until we found one that looked like it would take us straight up and over Crooks Mountain to our next stop. Upon our climb up the mountain, we got an engine warning. We stopped the truck and realized that it was overheating… we could literally hear our coolant boiling in its compartment. We checked in with the office to decide what to do, and chose to wait it out, and eventually pour some cold water into the coolant tank. About an hour or two later, we made it back to the office without any additional problems.
Today, Thursday, we got it checked out and were told that it should have hopefully just been a one time occurrence. The rest of my day was spent in the office finishing up some defensive driver training, and learning how to input our field data. Like that owl, the weeks are flying by, and I could not be happier with the work I am doing. I am so, so thankful.
Moving out to Wyoming was probably the best (and scariest) decision I could have made straight out of college. When I applied to the Chicago Botanic Garden, I didn’t really know what to expect. There were so many different directions that they could have sent me, and the Conservation and Land Management internships seemed to cover an endless list of awesome studies I could partake in. When CBG told me I would be stationed out in Lander, Wyoming, I immediately started researching the area and my excitement only grew. I was thrilled to finish my very last “May-mester” class at James Madison University and make the 24-hour drive to Wyoming once early June came around.
Settling in really took no time at all, and the very next day I was out exploring my surroundings. I would take random roads (honestly, there are not very many out here) to see what I could see until I was satisfied. I found one of my favorite spots while traveling up U.S. 287: Ray Lake. It was located just inside the Wind River Indian Reservation, an area that was supposed to be something like 40 million acres of land, but unfortunately only encompasses about 2 million. I enjoyed the sunset here for a long moment and eventually headed home for the night. I still love coming to this spot to relax and listen to the wildlife close by.
A beautiful, cloudy sunset on Ray Lake in the Wind River Indian Reservation.
A few days later, I got coffee with someone I knew I would be working with the next week, Jon, and afterwards talked him into venturing into Sinks Canyon State Park with me. He showed me the natural sink, and how full of water it was from all of the spring snow melt still flowing down the mountains. We drove through the rest of the park into Shoshone National Forest, and started our 3.3 mile out-and-back hike up the Popo Agie (pronounced “Puh-Po Shuh”) Falls Trail. It led us up to an amazing rock formation that’s a popular spot to slide down when there is less water. So many beautiful spring flowers were still popping so we were surrounded by little bursts of color throughout our entire hike. We saw some really neat caterpillars also, as well as another fellow coworker that Jon introduced me to, Matt. It’s definitely a much smaller world out here compared to my childhood home in Northern Virginia, and I have come to love that about Lander. To this day, I have returned to this trail countless times to hammock and study.
At the top of the Popo Age falls hike. You can see how much snow melt is still running down the mountains here.
Some pretty spring color in Shoshone National Forest. These wild yellow flowers are a part of the Asteraceae family.
Western tent caterpillar larvae in their tent, found in Shoshone National Forest.
A view of a distant rainstorm seen from Shoshone National Forest.
My first week of work at the Bureau of Land Management in Lander started June 17th, and I have already been in the field twice for different projects. The BLM here does a really nice job of involving us in several of the many areas of the office. My first day out in the field involved driving about an hour East/Southeast into some of the BLM allotments with two of my wildlife biologist coworkers, Leah and Aaron. We were attempting to assess the habitat framework for a native bird here that is nearly threatened, the greater sage-grouse, Centrocercus utopiasianus. On our way out to our targeted area, Rim Pasture, we saw the most adorable baby fox on the side of the road, and stopped to snap some pictures. Once we got into the BLM allotments, we quickly realized that most of the sandy two-track roads were complete sludgy messes, and nearly impossible to drive through without spinning out, drifting, and basically driving sideways through them. After several hours, since we could not find a single dry path to Rim Pasture, we called it a day, and headed back to the office.
A (low-quality) picture of a red fox kit, Vulpes vulpes.
A unique cloud structure over one of the pastures in a BLM allotment just outside of Lander, WY.
A curious cow standing in a patch of Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush). This image was taken in a BLM allotment just outside of Lander, WY.
My second day out in the field was spent with Jon, Matt, and one of my mentors, Judi. We met up with a local rancher named Travis in Rock Springs that directed us around the Arapahoe BLM allotment. Travis helped us locate six different transects in the pastures there. We monitored the transect sites, created new GPS coordinate points for them, and practiced our plant identification and methods for vegetation drupe height surveys. Once the time comes when we do not need a mentor with us any longer, we will be measuring the various grass heights in many of the pastures. This will help us assess how much grazing is being done by cattle, as well as the wild horses and pronghorn antelope. A storm eventually looked to be heading towards us, and so we started our journey back to Lander after a full day of work.
One of my favorite parts of the job: off-roading! We got just a bit dirty in Rock Springs.
One of the many herds of cattle in the BLM allotments in Rock Springs. This group slowly made its way through the sagebrush towards us, likely hoping we had some treats for them.
A flowering sedum, Sedum lanceolatum, found in Rock Springs during field work.
A view of a storm brewing over Lander, Wyoming from U.S. 287.
Today (Friday) was yet another office day, and a surprisingly nice break from the 11 hour day I put in yesterday. Just in the two weeks I have lived here, I have been very busy; but I am having so much fun in Lander, and have already made lots of great friends and connections that I know will stick around for a long time. I am so excited to see what other adventures come my way, and I am so thankful I pursued this opportunity.
There are countless reasons “WY” I am loving my current life. 🙂