Wyoming Trip Around the State- Shoshone National Forest

The main event for our day in Shoshone was a scenic six mile hike through the Beartooth mountains but, before we got started, we spent some time identifying local flora around the parking area. Practicing using the guides to understand the plants in different locations is useful, but more importantly it builds on principles of community composition that have been essential to our ecological lessons in Wyoming. Different trees and wildflowers are more common in areas of high elevation but what was really interesting was how some of these tree species are expected to move upslope due to climate change impacts. After this quick lesson, we began our hike into the mountains. A few miles in was an exciting but mildly disappointing lesson on some herpetology-specific sampling techniques; we all spent ten-minutes flipping rocks around a wetland hoping to find some garter snakes. Unfortunately, we did not end up locating any but the lesson was still valuable and a nice break in the long hike. Besides the incredibly beautiful lakes, the highpoint for me was a bald eagle sighting after getting up from lunch.

The second part of the trip was centered around the top of the mountains with the intention of spying some mountain goats. For awhile, as we crawled around the loose rock formations that make up the high elevation region, all we saw were marmots and the occasional pika, one of the cutest and most characteristic mammals of the ecosystem. As we were rounding up to leave however, we stumbled upon a group of mountain goats walking through the snowy banks that had not yet melted into the waters that fuel the lower streams. They are truly an amazing species to observe and a first for me which is always exciting. One of the main thoughts on my mind after the day, though, was how some of these species are going to deal with climate change in the near future. As mentioned before, a lot of species are predicted to move to higher elevations as the world warms, but what is to become of those that already inhabit the top? Pikas in particular cannot tolerate temperatures in excess of seventy degrees for extended periods of time. So, while our trip to the Beartooth mountains was informative and stunning, it also left me with some sadness and fear for the future of these unique ecosystems.

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