A Desert Full of Life

Some people may think of Wyoming as just wide open land. A vast swath of desert with not much to see. Some might even think it’s boring. But, once you work out there you know that there is plenty to see and learn about. A variety of flora, fauna and a range of features that create different biomes. The evolution of my perspective from learning more and more about the natural world is amazing to me. Before I did any field work with plants, they just didn’t appeal to me much. I was one of the people that would look out onto the open plains of Wyoming and think that there were some shrubs, and along with the blue skies it was kind of nice to look at. A desolate, homogeneous landscape that stretched on forever. Chances are that I would take a quick glance and keep on moving. Now I realize that those shrubs stretching to the horizon are sagebrush, and a few other things, but mostly sagebrush. Just learning that single genus began to pull me in a little. I wanted to learn more. I was told that there were several species of sagebrush, and several subspecies. Some species prefer certain soil conditions and other abiotic factors. The charismatic genus Castilleja, or Indian paintbrush, is a root parasite that steals resources from sagebrush (from other plants too, but in dry areas sagebrush is a common host). Becoming aware of different species and how they are interconnected in complex ecological webs has opened my eyes. Now instead of seeing an expansive monoculture, I look closely at individual plants. Seed heads, leaves, and other morphological factors that set them apart. It’s like I’m seeing a whole new world.

Castilleja sp.

Animals on the other hand, have always captured my attention. In addition to the variety of plants in Wyoming, there are some pretty charismatic animals. I’ve seen pronghorn and wild horses every day in the field. Some raptors, the occasional elk, prairie dog, or sage grouse…and one rattlesnake.

Prairie Dog
Calves are curious and kind of slow to move out of the way

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