Thursday, May 13, 2010

Out of the Office!

Today completely made up for yesterday; we sent nearly all day in the field. I spent the day with the weed people. One of their tasks is to monitor, inventory, and control invasive and noxious weeds.

We played with a hydrological modeling ArcMap program tutorial that wasn’t cooperating. Apparently, we were missing critical data files on one tutorial and missing some critical steps in the second tutorial. This was slightly frustrating, but it was something different to do. After giving up on the tutorials, we took off.

We drove east through the town of Sinclair, the namesake of the oil company Sinclair. It is a small town of a few hundred residents with the refinery prominent on the north part of the town. The police are more than happy to pull over anyone doing 1 mph over the speed limit. If the speed limit says ’15 mph’, drive 14. BLM vehicles are favorite targets of the local police there.

We continued northeast along the North Platt River which is a pristine protected river allegedly with excellent fishing. This is where I asked several questions about what plants were what. Now I can differentiate greasewood, rabbit brush and sage brush. The Platt flows north into the Seminoe and Pathfinder reservoirs, through Casper and Laramie, meeting up with the South Platt in Nebraska, the Missouri River, and eventually into the Gulf. We continued to Seminoe Reservoir past the Sand Hills, part of a network of sand dunes, Red Hills, allegedly a fossil bed, to an overlook over the reservoir. If the roads hadn’t been slippery from the wet clay, we would have continued north.

Changing pace, we backtracked and drove southwest of Rawlins to the Atlantic Rim area. I will be spending a great deal of time in this area this year mapping and photographing methane seeps, monitoring and controlling erosion, and taking water samples. We drove west of the Atlantic rim through some ill-conceived wetlands. During the Clinton administration, there was a big push to protect wetlands and in some cases, creating new ones. In this area, there were to small wetlands. One of the government agencies dug a ditch to connect the two. The idea was to create a wetland favorable to water fowl. This sounds like a noble endeavor, but where there are shallow wetlands cattails grow. If the cattails get too thick, the water fowl can’t land. For the last bunch of years, the BLM had been charged with controlling the cattails in the area. If the water were deeper, the cattails would only grow around the rim but sediments would quickly will in the deep spots of the wetland. It seems like a no-win situation. At least the waterfowl are happy.

Oil and natural gas fields are west of the Atlantic rim in the tertiary aged oil shales. This area was not what I expected. Coming from Idaho, when I think of shales, I picture the shales around southeast Idaho. Shales are finely laminated mudstones similar to slate but not as hard. The ones in southeast Idaho look like flat, layered rock. Here, they are eroded down to pebble size. From the main road, the shales resemble rock cliffs. It wasn’t until we hiked around the area I realized it wasn’t hard rock. Because the average rainfall is only around 6” a year here, the shales are not as easily erodible as they would be in another area. The oil and natural gas rigs are not what I expected either. The structures are small, low profile to minimize visual disturbances, and painted with sage-green flat paint to further camouflage them. I assumed they would have been larger operations, with tall flame-tipped towers and painted normal industrial colors like white or grey, with huge logos on them. They’re still ugly, but they could be worse.

Overall, it was a good day. I saw a light morphed adult Swainson’s hawk perched on a juniper, and of course, hundreds of antelope and prairie dogs.

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