It’s always so good to be home after a long trip away, especially when that trip involves working 12 hour days and camping with no running water (we were fortunate enough this time to have a pit toilet, though!). Last Monday I left for the Great Plains to do some vegetation surveys on rangeland. I live in the mountains, with nice views of distant mountain ranges and the expansive valley to our north, but most of my work the past several years has been in the Great Plains. I don’t know what it is, but there is something very enchanting about the plains. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mountain environment, but there is just something special about the plains. Maybe it’s because it’s so different from what I experience on a daily basis, the fact that I can see for miles and miles and miles or maybe it’s because there’s a very small human population density up there, but there is a certain peace I feel inside when I am out on the open range. It’s difficult to describe, but my field partner feels the same way I do: we are both awestruck by this landscape.
We always see something really cool when we are out in the field: this time I think the highlight was a baby antelope my field partner discovered curled up under a sagebrush. I didn’t see it then, but later that day I looked up and it was only about 50 feet from us, staring and checking us out. Once it saw that we noticed it and were staring back, it took off. But oh, it was adorable…
There weren’t a lot of wildflowers at our sites, unlike some we’ve visited in the past, but the prickly pear cactus were doing their thing and they were beautiful. Most of the time the flowers are yellow, but some of them had more of a salmon color and they were very striking. I even saw a VERY happy bee practically rolling inside the flower one day. It was like he could barely contain his excitement of having found this flower. He was covered all over in pollen so much that you could barely see his stripes. It was a very cute scene to witness.
We had some rain early in our trip, which slowed us down some. We can’t do most of our work in the rain because we have to weigh the vegetation we collect, and the extra water would skew our data. It can rain before we begin our work (which it did) and as long as the vegetation has a chance to dry out (the wind is constantly blowing on the plains, to the point this trip of being annoying) we can do our work. Another fun consequence of the rain is if it rains hard enough (which it did) the roads turn to gumbo. This term, gumbo, describes how the roads turn from a seemingly benign gravel/dirt surface to a slippery, sticky, muddy mess within a short period of time and it can SCREW. YOU. OVER. Last year we got into some gumbo and there was so much mud stuck to our truck axels that when it dried it rubbed against the tires. As the tires rotated while we drove back to town from our site, the mud, which was like concrete, wore grooves into the tires and we blew one. We were 20 miles from the main highway. It was 6pm on a Saturday night. There were no houses within 15 miles and there was no cell service. There was NO ONE out there. Fortunately, we were able to change the tire and limp our way into town (at 10 miles per hour). Also fortunate was the fact that we were actually able to get new tires (yes, plural) the next day. We were sure there would be no tire service shop open on a Sunday in this little town of maaaaaybe 1,500 people. But there was. And the service guy told us we were very lucky we did not blow 2 tires because the other tire on that same axel had a major groove worn in it, too. We did not hit as much gumbo this year, but we still managed to kick up mud onto the roof of our Ford F-150 after we got a heavy rain one night.
Above, rain on the prairie…
Because of the rain, we actually ended up spending our first 3 nights in the field in a motel because there was not a decent place to camp near our first site and the rain delayed us by 1 day. I even managed to get a run in that first night, but that was because it was a short day–all we did was spend 7 hours driving to the town closest to our site. The rest of the trip we were working 10-12 hour days and I was too exhausted to run. But I did enjoy having a shower every night and flushing toilets and running water. It was pure luxury those first 3 nights. Then we spent the next 4 nights camping. No more showers (though I did wash my hair using a collapsible bucket after a couple of days). No more running water. No more flushing toilets. However, the presence of a pit toilet at this site was exciting. Most of the time when we are dry camping, your morning routine consists of “taking the shovel for a walk” to take care of business.
Another perk of our camping spot this year was that it was at a reservoir. Although the mosquitoes were awful early in the morning and absolutely treacherous in the evenings, this little aquatic oasis had tons of birds and frogs to sing me to sleep every night. It was very peaceful and the sunsets were quite beautiful…another thing I like about the prairie.
When I got home The Stinker was very happy to see me, and I was happy to see her. I miss her so much when I’m gone. We went for a hike (Hubby was out of town working late) and harvested a couple of strawberries from the garden. Wheeeeeee! When Hubby got home we cuddled and chatted on the couch while The Stinker sat at our feet staring at us with a goofy grin on her face. It’s sooooo good to be home.