Tuesday, July 3, 2012

wyoming - further than you think

Welcome to Wyoming. A state that is known for having more wildlife than people. A state that a barista from a coffee shop in Lander described as a conspiracy state - outside of Wyoming, people think it doesn't exist because they never see any WY license plates. I countered her anecdote by stating that most Westerners think West Virginia is western Virginia. "I have a cousin in Raleigh, you guys have a nice beach!" I've heard that one several times in California. Being from a wayside state, I feel a strange sense of comfort in the barren sage brush meadows and forested limestone mountains of Wyoming. It's an area that is extremely exposed to the elements - the sun bakes all day, the wind whips on high ridges, and what little water that flows does so with tenacity. The landscapes, while immense, change quickly, as do the ecosystems. In Sinks Canyon, sandstone and limestone crags rim the glacially-carved valley through which the Popo Agie River (pronounced pa-pahsia) flows. The south facing side, which gets sun year-round, is dry, dusty, and contains only sage brush and the occasional juniper. Desert flowers bloom at the cliff base. On the north facing side, snow builds up and meltwater penetrates the ground table, allowing for the lush growth of big douglas firs, aspen groves, and several other water-dependent plants. This side of the canyon contains all the wildlife - elk, anatelope, black bears, and mule deer thrive here. When standing on a boulder in the middle of the Popo Agie, the contrast is quite striking. After so long, one expects to see a Wrangler Jeans-clad Brett Favre casually throwing touchdown passes to other burly woodsmen, with a few golden retrievers sitting in the back of an old rusty Chevy pickup.

The geology of the area is absolutely stunning - visually and scientifically. Rock variety is abundant - in the same day you can climb on dolomite, limestone, sandstone and granite. Look for the Red Canyon Ranch photos below - a blood-red sandstone layer snakes its way down towards Lander. At Wild Iris, in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains, bright white limestone accented by black streaks contrasts the dark gray granite of the Wind Range. In Sinks Canyon, a geological mystery still stumps scientists to this day. The namesame for the canyon, the Sinks of the Popo Agie is a subterranean limestone cave system where the river plunges down underground. The water works its way through an unknown system of caves and cracks in the very soluble bedrock, and emerges a quarter mile downstream in a large pool called the Rise of the Popo Agie. This pool is filled with massive rainbow trout, and would be an angler's paradise if it wasn't protected by the local wildlife management agency. The mystery of the Sinks is in the time it takes the river to flow that short quarter mile - two hours. Scientists have done dye tests, showing that the Rise pool is in fact the exit point of the Sinks inflows. Perhaps the water goes very deep, having to recirculate and force its way through constrictions. Also puzzling is the rise in water temperature - does a geothermal heat source warm the water? Or does simple compression and particle friction cause it to warm as it squeezes its way through the underground cataracts? All we know is that it's cool to see and offers some badass climbing.

As we celebrate America's independence (and ours, considering we have no jobs and live in a van), we will say goodbye to Lander and heard towards the Tetons. Enjoy the photos from this beautiful area, and put it on your list for a trip. As the state slogan says, Wyoming's Wildlife - Worth the Watching.

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