There are cows on the plains and people in Rock River behind them. They live in the wind and with the things it brings them: violent storms, harsh winters, ugly turbines, and a persistent dryness that has forced life – cow, human, and otherwise – to adapt. The Laramie Valley clears desert status by just one inch of yearly rainfall, so thriving plants like sagebrush, the bushy greenery pictured in the bottom of the basin, have developed adaptions to protect themselves and their moisture from thirsty animals. Sage leaves contain anti-herbivory chemicals that deter grazers from eating them. Prickly pear cactus, an adapted succulent, has sharp spikes on its leaves that serve the same purpose.
Species thrive in some areas while others are stripped completely dry, unable to support life at all. Some of those areas are visible in the picture. The point is: the Valley’s windscape and the winters and waters it delivers relegate different species to communities where they are best able to survive. This makes it possible to predict the location of biotic communities by reading a topographic map, which we practiced as part of a plant mapping exercise. Once we were familiar with plant communities, we recognized the patterns that they repeated and extrapolated those patterns onto a map successfully. It was exciting.