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.…