The first day of our statewide roadtrip started like most others: with breakfast at UW. Then, we loaded up and hit the road. As members of the Spring Creek field study, we’re used to long hours in the vans, so our first stop – Independence Rock – didn’t seem so far away. The Rock was pretty remarkable from a geologic perspective, but its human importance was what really stood out to me. Located on the Oregon Trail, it was traveled past by over 500,000 settlers. Many of those settlers carved messages into the rock, and we discovered some of those messages as we climbed around and ate our lunches. There are also Native petroglyphs on the rock, although we were unable to find them. That was my one disappointment of the day – I was really hoping to see one.
Our next destination was the Wind River mountain range. We stopped at Sinks Canyon and the Popo Agie River, where millions of years of geologic history were on display. We discussed the properties of the sandstones and limestones present, where they came from, and how those properties manifest different erosional patterns. As it turns out, there was an extensive network of caves under our feet in the canyon. The Popo Agie River dives into the caves, beneath the Earth’s surface, and emerges again two hours later. The pool where the water rises was full of the largest trout I’ve ever seen in my life. My highlight of the day was spending all my quarters feeding them dog food – no wonder they’re so big.
That evening, we arrived at the research center where we’d spend the night. It was a pretty remarkable complex; there were all kinds of cabins, a tent city, chicken coop, greenhouse, garden, and series of trails that we walked to catch the sunset. I came across a rattlesnake walking the trail. It was the first one I’d ever seen. Between the massive trout and the rattlesnake, I was pretty ecstatic. Those day-one sightings got me really excited for the rest of the trip; at that rate, I was confident that I was going to experience some amazing wildlife. I ended up being right!