Greetings from 7,744 feet! I made it safe and sound to one of the most glorious places on earth, Yellowstone National Park. Our very first National Park. It took me four days to get here from Cortland, New York but I took time to visit friends and just maintain a chill pace. I can’t say this enough, I love Big Horn National Forest. The drive through there made the entire, rather geographically boring, trip worth it for me. My last night on the road was spent camping in the foothills of the Big Horns in the town of Buffalo, Wyoming. It’s a quaint little place with a wealth of history but it isn’t like most of the tourist traps along the way. They didn’t re-make their downtown to look like the wild west or anything cheesy like that–which is much appreciated. The drive on Route 16 West from Buffalo through Greybull through Cody and on to Yellowstone was just lovely with all the canyons, snow-covered mountains, and rivers flowing throughout. I spotted two sandhill cranes wading in a ditch next to the road. There were a plethora of antelope and mule deer grazing and scampering about. And if you know me at all, you know I love cows. It was nice to see so many cows out grazing in the prairies. Being from the east, we just pack them into confined feeding operations like sardines and if we do let them graze, the land is usually a few scant acres and the vegetation is usually picked over. It was heartwarming to see the babies being cared for by their mothers. I spotted many mother and calf playing in the fields together along the way. On a sad note, just outside of Greybull, Wyoming there is a tiny town (population of 10…I’m not joking, that’s what the sign said) called Emblem. In the front yard was a dead calf. It looked like it had been dead for a few days and two cows were standing over it–presumably one was the mother. The rotting calf was about 100 feet from the house’s front steps. I don’t understand how that is okay to someone, to anyone. I’ve worked in the range lands of west Texas where farmers had hundreds of acres of grazing land and large herds of cattle to keep track of. I’ve seen several cows who’ve died from being entangled in fencing far away from the farm. All pain and suffering is terrible but what I saw in Emblem was even less acceptable to me. They only had two cows to care for (three if you counted the calf) and about an acre of grazing land. How could you miss a dead calf or do they just not care? How could you just leave the body of a baby to rot while the mother stands over it grieving? It just seems so heartless. Do people really believe that we are the only beings gifted with emotions? Anyways, I didn’t mean to depress you. Just some food for thought.
Sunday afternoon, I reached the Yellowstone gate, showed them my research permit, the ranger offered directions at which I politely declined (challenging myself to make it to the dorm by memory) and I was set free to roam. Yellowstone is just as I left it back in 2006, apart from a few more burnt areas–which is to be expected in this flammable ecosystem. I found my way to the dorm without a problem and that too was exactly the same. Researchers come and go but for now I’m living with four German geochemists studying the Park’s thermal features, one sociologist studying risk behavior at bear jams, and then there’s me and my field partner, Andrew. We just completed our first full week of work and besides the unpredictable weather, it went off without a hitch. We’re re-visiting many of the extremely rigorous sites Polly and I surveyed back in 2006, including one where we had to shed all of our gear and swim across a river. This should be interesting and I will do my best to keep you posted. There is no free internet access here and my cell service doesn’t work. However, they do offer internet service for $4.95/hour so I’m trying to streamline my internet use to only one hour/week. Thus, my blog posts may be limited. I’m choosing to embrace being cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a nice change of pace but I certainly do miss having my friends and family just a text away. I have a feeling this is all going to go by so fast though so I’m doing everything I can to savor each and every second. I’ve been keeping a journal to remember my experience here and so the rest of my posts will be my journal entries.
Below are photos from my trip to Wall, South Dakota. Home of the enormous store, Wall Drugs. It was certainly a sight to see!