After long weeks of collecting, we’ve almost hit our goal of 25. It was a truly mad rush for a number of weeks with long drives to the same spot, frequently picking seeds individually and keeping track of our count on pieces of paper shoved into our pockets, crawling or sitting to reach seeds, plus new projects in reclamation and unintentional 12-hour days on the regular. With that said, I maybe accrued some comp time and I maybe got to use a majority of it this last week. It was certainly a much needed break from all that is Rawlins.
After a whirl-wind loop from Rawlins into Colorado to Rocky Mountain NP, Denver (for the Timbers- Rapids match of course), the Roosevelt National Forest, and then back north to Dillon (hooray for visits with other CLMers!), Missoula, and the Rattlesnake Wilderness, it’s somewhat difficult to come back to reality. Come back I did. I finished another two collections this week for a grand total of 24!
After being encouraged to explore off-trail in the alpine areas of RMNP by a helpful ranger, I put on my mountain goat persona and climbed from 11,000 to about 12,000 ft in elevation. Absolutely stunning views and some pretty decent rock formations.
It could not have come at a better time. I have never been to Colorado or to Montana and my time in Rawlins is soon ending. It’s really a prime time to visit some beautiful country I might not have a chance to see again soon. Leaves are changing all over and the chill in the air is usually quite welcome. We’re already entering my favorite season and I had a blast exploring. I don’t think I’ve met nicer or friendlier people than those in Montana and I think I really fell in love with the land around Missoula… despite a lovely surprise gift from a cougar about a minute from my tent in the Rattlesnake Wilderness.
I had just walked this part of the path at dusk the night before: under cliffs and trees, through cougar country, I trekked, trying to make the wilderness border and get out of the recreation area. I had no idea how far I had gone. My headlamp (with new batteries no less) was dying and practically useless. Off to the left of the trail was a meadow, a meadow with a rectangular patch of vegetation flattened perfectly for a tent. Was this the campsite I’d been told of? No idea. Isn’t there supposed to be room for ten camp sites? Keep trekking, just to be sure. Trees closing in around me again, the cliffs rise up further, it’s getting darker, if I don’t set up soon, I won’t be having the best of nights. Well, crap, even if it’s not the wilderness boundary, I don’t see any other options, I need to set up before the last light fades. I was told it was fine, no-one would bother me, the locals all offered nothing but advice and help to make sure I had an enjoyable hike when I was down-trail. Turning around, I went back and set up my tent in that rectangular patch. At least I wouldn’t be flattening any new vegetation.
Tent set up, it’s dark, damp and cold. A nice rainstorm in the night but no bears come through, nothing more exciting than a slug on the door of my tent in the morning. So, I pack up and start hiking up the trail. Again. Past what I’d hiked at dusk. I’m curious; where is this boundary? Did I pass it? One minute from my campsite, bear sign. Obvious bear scat filled with berry seeds. A minute further, cougar scat. Oh, and this lovely leg, the remnants of some cougar’s dinner. Crap. Are you kidding? I’m just glad it found something else and didn’t need me. Was it following me in the night?
I still don’t even know how close I was to the wilderness but I had a lovely hike and a solid night’s sleep.
Update: (apparently I didn’t submit this last week)
Somehow, I can’t escape big cats lately. Two weeks back from my trip now, I got into the field with one of the staff archaeologists. During survey, she goes behind a tree and looks up. An antelope leg dangles from the limb above her. I begin to survey the rock formation nearby. No artifacts, no sign of non-natural formations, but certainly the rest of that antelope’s body. With pieces of meat in evidence. With flies buzzing around. Nice.
Continuing survey, I find another leg. With fur attached. It looks like it’s been scavenged, removed from wherever the rest of the body lies. Interestingly enough, it’s not the usual antelope or deer leg I’ve seen hundreds of times now. It’s a coyote paw.
Well, at least I know the adventure will always continue whether hiking in the wilderness or conducting surveys for work.
It’s bound to be an interesting final couple of weeks in Wyoming. I’ve already learned more this week than in the last few months. I enjoy seeds but expanding into new projects has been a blast and I look forward to wrapping things up.
25 collections done. Two sage populations to monitor. Final seeds to send to Bend. Stream surveys to conduct. MIMS and forest assessments to learn and assist with. Route back to Oregon to plan.
BLM Rawlins, 2014