Using my time WYsely

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 herd of bison we saw grazing on our way to Ayres Natural Bridge. Their scientific name is Bison bison. Haha.
The tall rock pillar at the top of Ayres Natural Bridge, a naturally occurring arch formation made of limestone seen below.
The natural bridge, with La Prele Creek running underneath it. It was such a nice day out, that this shot was super difficult to get without any people swimming in the water! This is one of three natural rock arches in the United States that has running water flowing beneath it. The other two are in California, and my home state, Virginia.
The myth of the jackalope apparently started in the city Douglas when a well known taxidermist in the 1930s, named Douglas Herrick, grafted deer antlers onto a jackrabbit carcass and called it a “jackalope”. He and his brother made and sold many others before people realized it wasn’t a real species.
A cute selfie of me and Johnny during our walk through the Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site. 🙂 This site turned out to be managed by the BLM and I had no idea until we got there!
One of the several incredible rock outcroppings at the site. Like usual, I could not stop taking pictures here.
A bumblebee sticking its landing onto an appropriately named flower: the Rocky Mountain bee-plant, or Cleome serrulata. These are some of my favorite forbs to find out in the field. And luckily, they are one of the only flowers still blooming!
A picture taken at Johnny’s request — a female pine cone coated with sap from the tree it was attached to. The sun was peaking around it so perfectly in this shot.
Some more incredible rock outcroppings, and me, always camera-ready. 🙂
Some of the incredible petroglyphs carved by the Athabaskan Native Americans we found at the Castle Gardens Petroglyph Site. The large circles you see are carvings of shields, and the two human figures represent a medicine man and a hunter.

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 sunset that night setting over Red Butte, a distinct rock structure you can see from almost anywhere in The Bus. This was the best sunset yet here!

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!

The start of the Popo Agie Nature Trail, the 1 mile hike that leads to the North Slope trail. This bridge always reminds me of a similarly-structured swinging bridge my family built in the Pocono Mountains. We have a beautiful piece of land in Pennsylvania that is easiest to get to by crossing the Lackawaxen River, over a bridge almost exactly like this one above. It was so cool to find this bridge in Sinks Canyon because, before, I had never seen another like my family’s.
The trailhead to the North Slope Trail after about a half a mile’s hike on the Nature Trail. This next trail really challenged us in elevation gain and altitude, but was really such a fun trek.
Our first time seeing an adorable muskrat swimming at The Rise trout pool! This species’ scientific name is Ondatra zibethicus.
On our way back to the parking lot, we stopped by the Sinks, and noticed how incredibly low the water levels had dropped. I can’t wait to show the before and after pictures of the water, once it gets low enough to explore the cavern a little bit more. I found a quote online from 1895 that reads: “The natural bridge of Virginia is quite insignificant in comparison with the great Sinks of the Popo Agie and no one visiting Lander should fail to see this great freak of nature.”

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.

Just after our whiteboard broke into (what seemed like) a million pieces. We use the whiteboard at all of our Photo Points to mark where we are, the date, orientation, etc.
Me, still laughing at our situation. This happened at one of our favorite riparian transect sites, called “East Arapahoe Creek,” in Magpie Pasture.
One of the beautiful herds of wild horses we saw out in the field that week. This one was on our way to the “Baby Antelope” upland transect site, in Eagle’s Nest Pasture.

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 awesome sunset we saw on our way to get dinner in Ten Sleep, Wyoming. We ate that night at the Ten Sleep Saloon, a cute little place downtown.
Getting to work on the Salt Lick Trail! Behind me you can see one of the Recreational Specialists from the Worland BLM field office holding some rebar in place, and three other volunteers helping out with the trail work. This photo was taken by Sarah Beckwith, another member of the Worland BLM field office.
The view at the top of the trail. It was a beautiful way to wrap up all the hard work we had done that morning.
Me and Johnny at the top of the trail. This photo was also taken by Sarah Beckwith, Worland’s Public Affairs Specialist. This was my first time meeting her, and she was the nicest lady. She even knew my mentors out here in Lander! It was really fun to connect with her while in Ten Sleep.
Most of the volunteers that helped out at Salt Lick Trail. A small group of people worked at getting these trailhead signs put into place at both entrances to the hike. This was impressive, since most of the ground was rock here. This cute photo was taken by Sarah Beckwith as well.

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 sunset that night at Frye Lake, in Shoshone National Forest. It was a beautiful night and we had perfect weather for our short trek.

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.

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