Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Life at the Ranch

Although we were running around going on various adventures, Matt and I enjoyed spending a few weeks hanging out at Matt's home. Matt's home is on the RLazyS Ranch their family-run dude ranch. Just like City Slickers, except no Billy Crystal.  There was no shortage of fun things to do, particularly with more than 80 horsies, who all needed petting and loving! (I made sure to write this blog post, as much of the excitement has worn off for Matt and would laugh at me when I do, and say, things like that...). 
Us, in winter, posing underneath the RlazyS brand.

Cute little Critters and things:
The wildlife we saw at the ranch was pretty incredible. Mama moose with babies, herds of elk with nurseries of babies, marmots, "chizzlers" (more on them later), badgers, coyotes, Mama black-bear with two cubs and probably loads of others I'm forgetting now. 

Mr. Marmot is curious, and cute. 

Mama Marmot was more timid.

Someone is feeding Mr. and Mrs. Marmot, so they're pretty brave about running up to you and asking for food. Mr. Marmot, almost hopped into Matts lap, before he realized he probably should be a little scared.

One night, returning from Matt's talk in Dubois (stay tuned for future blogpost),  we saw what was easily the most adorable wildlife site ever. Three coyote pups playing in the road by the house. They were jumping all over each other, making adorable little noises, and completely indifferent to our cars approaching. We watched them catch bugs in the light from our headlights.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get a great shot. 

Fun Coyote Facts: (thanks to wikipedia)

Native to North America and live in packs.

Baby Coyotes are called Whelps, or Pups.

Coyotes inhabit abandoned groundhog and badger holes.

Wile E. Coyote is the only coyote known to hunt roadrunners.

One critter, the "Chizzler", deserves special mention as it is not something we have out east. I didn't have a photo, so I tried to find one on the internet, and the only thing that turns up under the search "Chizzler" or "Wyoming, Chizzler" are pictures of little kids with big guns shooting these guys, or worse, the end result.  Which, unsurprisingly enough, seems to be the most important reason they exist. I guess they're pretty annoying critters that make holes everywhere, not something you want with horses around. According to Matt, he used to get paid 50 cents a pop.

So, from what I can figure out, Chizzlers, also called Picket Pins, and Squeakies, are essentially ground squirrels. Kinda like prairie dogs.  Cute, I think.

While at the ranch, I took up the challenge of trying to pet all of the horses. Ok, so big task, and I didn't quite make it. But I would say I got a fair number of them. They were fun to watch as they wandered around freely grazing wherever they pleased.

Mr. CrazyHorse (not his real name)

This paint, would get all upset when Matt and I were in the hot tub out back by the pasture. He'd stare right at us, and snort and prance around with his tail in the air. Sometimes he'd get a whole group of horses riled up and they'd all turn and face us and watch. Who knows... I think he was jealous.

 Lazing, and lounging, and lying around.
After we finished packing and unpacking and going on trips, we got into a pretty good routine. 
A typical day for us would look something like this:
Somewhere between 8-9 am: Wake up.
Make some tea. Eat Breakfast.
Go sit in the hot tub.
Laze around on the couch with our computers, sending emails to grad schools, working on blog etc.
Eat lunch. 
Take a nap.
Wake up from nap and lounge somewhere, usually on the hammock, in porch chairs or in the hot tub.
Usually our afternoon hot tub break (assuming it wasn't too hot out to boil in 102 degree water) would be accompanied with either blueberry or strawberry mojitos, or if we're feeling lazy, a mojicoke (our own invention- coke, mint, lime, rum).
Hang out and go for a walk.
Go to dinner.
Hang out and watch a movie.
Get in the hot tub.
Somewhere between 10pm- 12 am: Go to bed.
(The routine sometimes got swapped around, ie. we would laze on the couch before our morning hot tub, or we'd skip the nap and go for a walk or read or something nice, on particularly rough days, we might pass on one or more of the hot tub breaks altogether).  All in all, we took it pretty easy. Of course, we weren't totally lazy all the time. We tried to do something fun everyday, so we'd go for rides on the trails, or go out boating on the lake with Matt's family, bike to the ski village for a concert, walk around town, etc.) 

Twice we went out on Jackson Lake in the boat and zoomed around, bouncing on the waves. We had a pretty great view of the mountains! 

The Tetons

The Stirn Boys driving the boat.
Breakfast around the Campfire

Although we never got up early enough to go riding, for the early morning breakfast ride, we had fun going to the breakfasts out by the fishing pond.

Of course, while in Wyoming, we HAD to go see the Rodeo, Wyoming's state sport.  Between the bull riding, the cattle roping, the barrel racing and the children's bull riding, I'm pretty sure my jaw was hanging open in awe the whole time.

Miss Rodeo Princess
The cows wear funny little hats because it helps the lassos stay on!! I looks pretty humiliating though..

Below, the cattle roping in action.

The bull riding was crazy. These bulls, although they're jumping around trying to get the rope untied from their hips, aren't trying to kill their riders. For the most part, once the rider got off, or the rope was removed, the bulls went trotting straight to their pens. Still, its a pretty bumpy ride for those cowboys.

Our rides were decidedly calmer than what we observed at the rodeo. We'd walk the trails and see the herds of elk bugel at us, and baby bears scamper up trees.

Our wrangler Dana, leading the Loping Ride
One day, Matt and I took the Loping ride. So, in addition to walking, we'd go loping (or cantering, if you're English saddle-oriented) through the fields. I tried to look up a good description of Loping vs. Cantering, since there was some confusion as to whether or not they are the same. The internet (link) tells me that they are different, canter being slightly faster than loping. Bottom line, Loping = Cantering (more or less...).
Matt got to ride Zorro that day. Zorro, was a large horse, who tended to walk in whatever direction he pleased.
Matt riding Zorro. 

We decided that Zorro did not live up to his namesake, and was in fact a hipster-emo horse. Kinda like this one:

Note: Our Yellowstone trip will be posted later. Stay tuned!

White Mountain Archaeology

The Sierra Nevada & Owens River Valley from the
White Mountains
      During the last 30 years or so, archaeologists throughout the western US recorded a series of surprising prehistoric villages above 10, 000 feet. As we (Team Sheepeater) have found what seem to be the oldest of these villages in Wyoming, we decided to hold a conference to sort out how these spectacular sights might be related. Thus, last summer we formed the first High Altitude Archaeological Summit in the Wind River Range with Robert Bettinger of UC-Davis, David Hurst Thomas of the AMNH & Robert Kelly of UWYO. This summer, Dr. Bettinger hosted the second conference in the White Mountains of southern California. Road trip!
Salt harvesting in Utah!
     This road trip was going to be a big one. 16 hours to Bishop across what is considered the 'Loneliest Road in America', two days hiking above 12,000 feet, then 16 hours back across central Nevada. Our first stop on the trip was the great salt flats just outside of Wendover. This is where the land speed record is tested, and where a seemingly infinite supply of wonderful table salt is waiting to be harvested!
    The rest of the drive was uneventful. In fact, it was one of the most desolate places I have ever been. Never did I expect that a two lane stretch of highway could make the middle of nowhere Wyoming seem overpopulated. After hundreds of miles of perfectly straight desert driving, we stumbled into Bishop and beelined to the nearest Mexican restaurant.
Team Sheepeater getting lectured by Dr. Bettinger

     Whereas the Winds have much vegetation up to and above treeline, the Whites are pretty darn sparse once you get above the Pinon and Bristlecones. The Bristlecone pine forests in these mountains are considered the oldest living organisms on the planet. The don't grow to be incredibly large, but the most ancient recorded has been watching over the hills for over 4,000 years! 

How to properly display an artifact
     Whereas the terrain of the Whites is a little different than in Wyoming, the archaeology was nearly identical. So similar it seems that the same people could have lived in both mountain ranges 900 miles apart. The problem is, the Wyoming sites are around 3000 years old while the Whites are 700 years old. So the question remains, how exactly did this technology travel across the Great Basin? In what capacity? And, in what direction?

Lodge Structure surrounded by large stones

A pine nut milling stone similar to some
we have found in the Winds. 
    The trip was incredibly valuable and really put a lot of things in perspective. We certainly have much work to do in our own mountain range, but we now have an even more daunting task in the effort to link 900 miles of prehistoric mountain cultures. Guess that's why they invented grad school!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Into the Mountains! - Alpine Archaeology Trip 1

Once we had settled into being in Jackson and finally relaxed and unpacked a bit, it was time to start some more of our archaeological adventures. 
The Plan: An 8-day survey of the Absoroka Mountains! 
The Crew: Rich Adams, archaeologist; John Lund, amateur archaeologist; Tori and Meredith Taylor, amateur archaeologists and retired outfitters; Jeremiah, masters student; Matt and I; adventurers extraordinaires. 
The trip began leaving from Tori and Meredith's house in Dubois and down into the Shoshone National Forest to the Double Cabin Trailhead. We  hired packers to carry all our food and gear down to Caldwell Basin where we camped, and were accompanied by 6 of T and M's horses. 

Packers loading the horses at Double Cabin 

Wiggins Fork crossing

Our hike to camp involved crossing both Wiggins Fork and then Caldwell Creek.
 With all of the snowmelt high water was the theme of the trip. On day 1, the current was fast but the water was only about shin deep at most parts of Wiggins Fork.  Even still, there was plenty of excitement as some of the horses (and riders) got caught in a fallen willow that was underwater and difficult to see. Within the first twenty mins of the trip, we had two unintentional swims (luckily, both horses and riders were okay). We managed to hitch rides across the swiftest part of the river. To save time and trips, Matt and I got to ride double! Which was actually pretty terrifying on a stumbling horse through fast water. (Unfortunately no good photos of our crossing, as we wanted to keep our cameras dry and safe.)

The pack-string, and T and M just before their big dunk!
Once across, we hiked just a few miles, stopping and surveying for sites along the way. We got to Caldwell Creek in midafternoon and just in time for the peak snowmelt to be running down. Most of the gang struggled to get across losing several wading shoes and a hiking pole in the process but managing to stay mostly dry. Of course, my wade across the river didn't go as smoothly. Not far from the far bank the river knocked me down. It took both Rich and Jeremiah to fish me out. John, our 80 year old archaeologist also took a swim.

Rocks are hard. They left marks.
They left marks all over my legs.
I ended up with close to nine knees.
Camp Life: The days got hotter and the water would be roaring. In the evenings, boulders would be rolling down the river making so much noise we'd have to shout across the camp fire. Some nights, whole trees would float on by. It looked like we wouldn't be crossing Caldwell creek anytime soon. 

Other than that, camp life was pretty easy. Hanging around the fire, eating great food, you know. How many campers make cheesecake over campfire, or asian stirfry?

The Archaeologing: Every morning we'd have breakfast and set off to explore the surroundings. We located and recorded  a variety of sites all while enjoying the fantastic views. 

Some days we had to do Extreme-Archaeology. With the water so high, and our camp located between Caldwell and Bug creek, we were forced to get creative. We made bridges, sometimes with a conveniently washed out tree, other times with four or five long aspen logs lashed together over the deepest parts.

Other days, we'd hike up and down steep gullies  and wade through snow fields.

Although much of the area has been subject to looting, there was no shortage of archaeological material. 

Wildlife: The wildlife, both plant and animal played a large part in our trip.  Tori, on the summer solstice, began a year long ethno-archaeological experiment. He has decided to spend a year eating only a paleo-diet. This means, that he will be eating only plant and animal products that are native to the Greater-Yellowstone area and that he has hunted or gathered himself. It was fun watching T and M going around the mountains collecting a variety of plants for Tori to eat along with some elk meat he brought. For his diet, they even made a special trip to the salt flats in Utah to harvest some salt-lake salt as a seasoning.
Tori and Meredith's horses out in the field next to camp
The best wildlife spotting of our trip was a large gray wolf which ran through the field out by the horses. We only saw the one wolf, but the area was covered in wolf tracks. This track belonged to a particularly large wolf, but we also saw tracks of mama and baby wolf.
Wolf print
As we were in Grizzly territory we all came prepared with our bear spray. While we didn't see any bears during our trip, there were tons of tracks all over the place. 
One very big Grizzly print.
We came across this large pile of torn up sage brush, roots, and chopped up animal bones one day on our hike. Tori explained that when bears make a kill, they often bury the remains in these piles to come back to later. Cool!

Our last day, since the waters were too high to cross safely on foot, we were again ferried across by Tori, and Meredith, and our Packer Heath. Wiggins Fork was so high, that on horseback, the water was to our thighs. 
Heath to the Rescue
It had been an amazing trip, with great archaeological finds. We were dirty and tired and ready for showers and clean beds. Although we were a little sad we hadn't seen any bears on the trip, as we crossed over Togwotee Pass homeward bound, we saw a mama Grizzly and her little cub, wandering around right on the side of the road.