I am sitting on the side of a ridge overlooking the western edge of the Spring Creek Preserve in Wyoming. The air carries a cool breeze, but the early morning sun already promises a hot day. It is silent except for the chattering of prairie dogs and the occasional bird call. I can see the prairie dogs scampering and chasing each other down below, amongst the sage brush and low grasses. Sagebrush is everywhere here. The side of the ridge is rocky, but wildflowers still bloom in delicate white bells and fluffy yellow clusters. The hills slope down around and in front of me into a scenic valley, washed in muted tones of green, tan, gray, and purple. The flow patterns of groundwater carve through the basin, revealed by denser gatherings of shrubs and taller grasses.
I can’t see a single tree from here. But I can see the Medicine Bow Mountains on the horizon, some adorned with snow-capped peaks like icy crowns. The sprawling wilderness is interrupted only by a row of white windmills that pop against the dark blue mountains, or the tops of a few far-off buildings. Distance is weird at the Preserve. The mostly flat land allows you to see for miles in every direction, with objects simultaneously looking deceptively close and very far away. It can be disorienting, as my class discovered a few days ago on our first walkabout on the property. We were out for around 5 hours, and without landmarks, everything started to look the same and we had no idea where we were going. We simply had to trust Gary, our scientist guide.
The Preserve can also feel lonely or desolate, and being a PA native used to trees and hills, I feel odd being so exposed on the open plains. However, it is also beautiful, and there’s a lot to learn from the land. We’ve studied plant communities, practiced plant and rock identification, looked at geological formations, and found dinosaur bones and arrowheads. We’ve seen pronghorns, many many prairie dogs, ground squirrels, foxes, beetles, horned lizards, and the way stars look without light pollution. Even though while I’m writing, I feel dirty and tired and sore from camping, I also feel a sense of peace, as I look out over this empty place that still holds so much life.