A Day In The Life: Trials and Tribulations on the Great Plains

(above) This picture taken after dominating the last bit of trail and hiking out laden with tools. Rec-trip ready or not, here we come!

I am so proud of the students and the way they handle the new challenges each day, I’m proud of their energy and work ethic, I’m proud of their ability to work together, and every day when I wake up at 5:15am, I don’t dread the work day, but wonder how I got so incredibly lucky to have a job that doesn’t feel like work. On our first day at Wind Cave, Mark Greene, the maintenance supervisor here at the park and one of our most reliable agency contacts, introduced us to his personal philosophy: adapt, improvise, adjust. Well Mark, we have something to add which might make your motto a little more fitting for our crew: adapt, improvise, adjust, DOMINATE.

I digress. During our hour-plus hike into the work site, we had to divert around Bison for a good half-mile or so. Each time we thought were in the clear, a new Bison head would pop up and send us running for the hills. We finally made it to our work site (smack dab in the middle of Buffalo Junction) and began working diligently only to be interrupted by a herd of over a hundred Bison cows, calves, and bulls traveling directly through our work site. None of them were particularly interested in our goings-on, but we thought it prudent to stay out of their way regardless.

A picture of the menacing Buffalo in our crew journal. A literary accomplishment.

On this fateful Saturday after the herd of Buffalo interrupted our work, stepping on our backpacks, sticking their noses in our lunches and sending the prairie dogs into a crazed frenzy, we returned to tirelessly digging our respective holes. About a half hour later I received a call on the radio from Christina which I thought odd because I was directly in her line of vision. Without pausing to look up I reached down for my radio, began to speak, and what came out went something like this: “Christina, this iiaaaaaahahhhhhhh OH GEEZ”. What I was trying to say was “Christina, this is Nora, go ahead”, but the buffalo charging directly across the plains at me and my crew caused the panicked ‘OH GEEZ’ before I dropped the radio, turned tail, and sprinted after my group who had long ago seen the angry animal headed straight for us. I think the buffalo was really just furious at his family for leaving him behind and was charging toward the herd who happened to be behind us, not really paying attention to the fact that as he ran, tiny insignificant humans were scattering before him like Moses parting the Red Sea.

To top off this eventful day, we got a call late in the afternoon from one of the park staff warning us of an impending storm whose clouds we could see just barely over the hills building to the north. Apparently the storm was a doozy, boasting the usual thunder, lightening, and golfball-softball sized hail just to make things interesting. Having sat out one too many storms crouched in lightening position in the middle of nowhere, Roger, Christina, and I made the collective decision that we would not, under any circumstances, be stuck out in the middle of the prairie when this storm came to fruition. So we made haste, cutting our travel time by a solid 30 minutes and were so dog-tired by the end that we hardly had the energy to be mad when the storm passed just to the southwest of us and all we got were a few sprinkles and a couple distant rumbles.