Merrill Warren is a two-time NOLS grad and an EMT and currently an ASC intern and member of the March Landmark crew. Recently Merrill has worked in the Sierra Mountains, on the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, AK, as an intern for the US Forest Service and on clean water projects in Zambia. She is eager to contribute to data collection on the American Prairie Reserve and to play a role in such a huge conservation legacy.
Cayley and I were deliberating how best to approach a stream crossing with multiple layers of ice; we paused and recorded three pheasant that flushed over our heads. As we stood there, backs to the wind, a coyote loped right toward us, his attention focused over its shoulder, distracted by something to the west. We stood still, hardly breathing. I was struck by how many colors it had in its fur. Within 15 yards of us we were found out. With a start it tore away along the frozen path created by the waterway and we both let out a long exhale.
This beauty of this place is in the extremes: cold, wind, sun and mud. Knotted sage and greasewood, prickly pear and an abundance of animal species add to the magnificence of this landscape. Pictures don’t capture how it feels. It presents a hostile front. Often degrees fall well below 0° and only wind and the occasional beating wings of flushed birds break the silence. Piercing sun reflects off of frozen ground. But, the closer I get with this place, the more it’s hostility ebbs.
In the last week or so, the mud has developed a mind of its own. It could be a character from a Calvin and Hobbs sketch; a blob that consumes our feet and grows upon itself until its own weight pulls it out of the tread of our boots. 15 miles in the stuff made for some stiff muscles and lots of laughter.
We have had to adjust our schedule to give the prairie time to shed some moisture. As things are drying out, we are using our days to hike when we can, get to cameras, scope, rope in the front yard and use the fire ring. Colleen and I joined our neighbors on horseback to bring in their cattle. The human connection to this land is a huge part of the magic of this place.
Thankfully the roads dried out enough for trucks to deliver 73 new bison to American Prairie Reserve headquarters though. That means this week in addition to getting back to our hiking and data collection schedule we will also have to opportunity to work with the new bison!