Corral Creek

Last week I had the opportunity to monitor a couple of populations of Gibbon’s Penstemon down by powder rim, and a population of Wyoming toads over by Laramie. Gibbon’s Penstemon is a BLM sensitive plant, and Wyoming toads are the most endangered species of amphibian in North America. The work was a good change of pace from seed collecting, and I really enjoyed it. It was immensely rewarding to be able to see and learn about these rare and beautiful organisms, threatened by humankind’s never-ending and destructive expansion.

Gibbon’s Penstemon in flower

Gibbon’s Penstemon is a purple flowered plant that grows in soil that has a lot of volcanic ash in it, giving its habitat a distinctive color and texture. To me this seems like a very narrow range that limits the plant to growth in somewhat predictable locations. Similarly, meadow milkvetch (another BLM sensitive species, with delicate cream-colored flowers and green stems that sprawl across the white soil to form a spider we pattern) only grows in alkali flats on the lower side of greasewood in the chain lake region of the field office. I found it fascinating that a plant would specialize to such a narrow and theoretically predictable habitat.

Shifting gears:

            Wednesday morning, I arrived at Bennet Peak Campground, the backseat of the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 was loaded with power tools and the bed was loaded with dark painted boards; however, our most important cargo was a clipboard, a pen, and a pile of visitor use surveys. We quickly found a picnic bench in dire need of repair. Mike showed us how to remove the bolts from the picnic bench and replace the old rotting boards with our new freshly painted ones. In a few minutes we had one drop-dead-gorgeous freshly painted picnic bench. We replaced the boards on another picnic bench; but by the time we finished it was time for our most important task of the day: Visitor Use Surveys at the nearby Corral Creek Campground.

            Upon arriving we immediately encountered a parked truck occupied by a genial old man. He agreed to take the survey and we waited comfortably under a tree while he filled out the sheet front and back with vitally important and useful information about his experience at the corral creek campground.

            The corral creek campground is a beautiful BLM operated site about a mile down the road from the Bennet peak campground near the North Platte river. It is a great spot for fishing and floating, with beautiful views of nearby mountains, and wildlife, including: pronghorns, mule-deer, elk, and cattle. However, the nearby Bennet peak campground is closer to the river, making it far more popular than Corral Creek, which essentially operates as an overflow campsite for when Bennet Peak is full.

            For the next four hours we relaxed and enjoyed a cool and pleasant summer day. An incredibly nice couple arrived and asked us for directions to Bennet peak; a truck pulled through for a quick pit stop at the immaculately maintained bathroom facility; we handed out zero surveys. I also found out that the surveys themselves were incredibly general, designed to be applicable to any BLM recreation site. Consequently, the information from them is very hard to interpret, and make use of.

On the way back from the field we listened to a couple of inspirational Oprah podcasts:

He had been awake and driving for over 24 hours. His Wal-Mart truck was traveling about twenty miles over the posted speed limit on the dark interstate highway. That’s when he struck the back of a car containing beloved comic legend Tracy Morgan, and several of Tracy’s close friends. People died in the accident, including one of Tracy’s close friends. Tracy suffered life-threatening injuries that sent him into a coma lasting for weeks. Tracy wasn’t sure if he was ever going to be able to walk again. Tracy was worried that he would never be funny again. Tracy briefly questioned his faith in god. Why did this happen? Why did his friend have to die so suddenly and so young? However, in a conversation with Oprah a few months after the accident both Oprah, and Tracy agree: “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON,” & “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS COINCIDENCE”, after all coincidence is never mentioned in The Bible.

 In conclusion, as Oprah says: “JUST BE YOURSELF, IT’S THAT SIMPLE.”

Trip through the Bighorns
Winterfat, in Shirley Basin

Until next time,

Zeke Zelman

SOS intern in Rawlins Wyoming

Road Trip Stories

Wyoming is a big state and our field office covers a lot of land. That means that we do a lot of driving. I’m still getting used to driving all the long distances but one of my favorite things about driving is looking out the window and seeing a lot of country. All the country that we drive through has stories attached to it, in driving around I learn not just about the plants that we are collecting seeds from but the history of the landscape, how it has been shaped by the people who lived here and how it has shaped them. Below are some of my favorite driving stories and factoids that Frank has told me and Sydney over the past few weeks. I think that learning about the people and land use practices is incredibly interesting and relevant to my experience as a CLM intern.

One day while working in range more than twenty years ago, Frank walked up on a sand dune on a lunch break and saw a showy flowering plant. It was in the Penstemon or beardtongue genus, but it wasn’t a species that he had ever seen before. He took a picture and went back to the field office. Folks at the office thought that it was probably a common penstemon that had been found in the area before; however, the characteristics of this plant didn’t match up with the dichotomous key. Frank investigated further and eventually found out that he had found the first recorded population of the endangered blowout penstemon plant in the state of Wyoming. This was also the first endangered plant species found in the state of Wyoming.   

A long time ago miners found a mummified native American, in a mountain north of Rawlins. However, unlike most mummies this one appeared to be a tiny, fully developed red-haired man, about the size of a toddler. The mummy went on tour as a freak show, where it was claimed to be part of a race of little people with red hair, described in local native American legends. Legend has it that these little people were extraordinarily fierce fighters. This apparently was bad news for red haired American cavalry men who were treated especially harshly in battle with native Americans. Unfortunately, when someone at the university examined the mummy, they figured out that the “little man” was actually a human infant with a rare genetic disease that made him look older than he was.

Liberty Rock was a stop along the Oregon trail. Pioneers tried to get to this unassuming but important land mark in time to celebrate the fourth of July there. Today it is arrest stop and local attraction.

And so much more: A gorge along the highway that was used as a Bison fall. A valley used as a polo stadium by the local ranchers. Hundreds of new roads created by oil and gas development. A gap in the Ferris mountains where government agents caught a band of whiskey smugglers during prohibition. Etc.…

Sand dunes and mountains
Blowout penstemon Penstemon haydenii

The Herbarium

This was my first week as a seeds of success intern at the BLM office in Rawlins Wyoming. It was a rainy week, but a good one none the less. I’ve learned a lot about what I’ll be doing this summer and did a lot of preparation for a busy field season.

I do not have a strong background in botany, so when I came out here I didn’t know any of the native plants in the area. Therefore, learning the local plants has been both a challenge and an incredible opportunity for learning and personal growth. One of the most helpful tools for learning about the local plants has been the office herbarium.

For those of you who don’t know an herbarium is a carefully organized and verified collection of pressed plants. Unlike dichotomous keys or guidebooks an herbarium allows one to learn about plants simply by looking at real pressed plant specimens collected from a variety of different locations over many different years. It is the simplest way to learn plants and, in my opinion, the next best thing to seeing plants in the field.

In combination with personal instruction, guidebooks and online resources the herbarium has helped me to learn more about the native plants in the area; a process that I believe will be one of the most rewarding parts of my internship experience. Furthermore, adding voucher specimens to both the local herbarium as well as the rocky mountain herbarium, and the Smithsonian herbarium is exciting. I not only have the opportunity to utilize this powerful resource I will also add to it and help future researchers to learn about and identify plants. I believe that using and adding to the herbarium will be an incredibly meaningful experiences of this internship.

Don’t worry I didn’t spend my whole first couple of weeks here in Rawlins sitting inside in the herbarium. I also had the opportunity to go to the field and see some of the beautiful landscapes, plants and animals in the area. Here are some pictures from this past week:

Above is a picture of a Lomatium sp. Likely L. foeniculaceum, that I saw an an overlook of the Seminoe reservoir in Sinclair, WY.

An orange Indian paintbrush (the Wyoming state flower), also at an overlook of the Seminoe reservoir in Sinclair, WY.

A view in the Medicine bow park near Arlington, WY.

Thanks reading! Until next time!