Landmark Notes Blog

​By Sandy Van Dijk
The last transect I walked was the final transect for the Landmark Project managed by Adventure Scientists on American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana. The day was December 13, 2016, the walk was about 9.5 miles, the temperature was near 0°F, the wind was blowing, and the sky was blue with wispy, white clouds. I stopped at the end of the transect, looked back at my footprints in the snow, snapped a picture and took a quick moment to be grateful for the herd of 180 pronghorn, the flock of 75 sage grouse, and the smaller groups of mule deer, white-tailed deer and sharp-tailed grouse we’d seen that day. Then the pain in my toes and fingers reminded me that I was half frozen, so I climbed in the 4Runner and we headed back to the Enrico Center.
A look back over frozen footprints on the crew’s final transect on the American Prairie Reserve. Photo by Sandy Van Dijk.

​That transect held the most wildlife I had seen in one day on the prairie. Apart from that, the hike was a typical one for December. What differed between a transect in September and one in December was the weather, how many layers we wore, the types of wildlife we saw, and my own appreciation for wildlife. 

By: Saul Carrillo
Saul Carrillo, originally from Austin, Texas, has spent over three months as a Landmark crew member on the Great Plains. Photo by Eli Allen

​​Oftentimes while moving from place to place, it is easy to look past the minutely subtle characteristics that distinguish one place from another, and instead lump together vastly dissimilar lands as one. In my travels, I seek out these nuances. 

​The differences teach me to appreciate what I have and the small everyday victories. The differences teach me to live in the moment; I will never be in one place forever and the landscape is constantly evolving. And most importantly, these differences teach me to cherish and love the extraordinary world around us.

While working with Landmark out on the Montana American Prairie Reserve, I have set out to find the differences that set this place apart from my home in Austin, Texas. This land is not for the faint of heart; it is a harsh environment with an abundance of obstacles seemingly designed for the hindrance of its inhabitants. And yet, these same difficulties instill in me a profound respect and love for the prairie.
Bison on the American Prairie Reserve. Photo by Saul Carrillo

​In an effort to illustrate these differences and lessons, I’ve put together a list of the 10 most influential everyday experiences faced throughout my three and a half months on the prairie. 

By Kathryn Davison
Landmark Crew Member
At first, we thought that the bumps on the landscapes were just rocks. As the temperature drops we’re seeing fewer mammals and reptiles on the American Prairie Reserve, so we wouldn’t have been surprised. So imagine our joy when we looked through the binoculars and realized that the rocks were actually a large group of pronghorn!  

Photo by Elizabeth Shapiro

The pronghorn, which resembles an antelope with white fur on its rump, seems to be shifting its grouping behavior as we transition to winter. According to one Yellowstone study, mean pronghorn group size increased significantly from fawning in early summer to winter2.  At the beginning of fall, we would typically see groups of two to eight pronghorn. Just a couple weeks ago on our Dry Fork transects, we observed large groups of up to 64 pronghorn, and have been spotting large groups since. We’ve noticed that these wintering groups are comprised of mixed ages and sexes, which differed from the harems that the males created during their ruts from September to early/mid-October.

By: Matilde Granet
Landmark Crew Member
Gumbo: The element of the Great Plains that shows how complicated it is to live in this territory.

In the Great Plains region where the American Prairie Reserve is located, people often refer to mud as “gumbo.”

The first time I heard concerns about it was on my way to the Reserve, where it had rained a lot the previous week. And, let’s be honest, I was a bit skeptical (it was only mud) and from my point of view, easily manageable.

What I didn’t know at the time: ‘Gumbo’ is not typical mud. Gumbo is what specialists call vertisol soil: a soil that has a great deal of expandable clay known as montmorillonite

Roads and Gumbo don’t mix. Photo: Mathilde Granet