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Devil’s Tower, City of Rocks, a Minor Miracle, and a Sad Turn of Events

July 27, 2011

Sorry it has been so long since my last post, but with all my travels internet service was intermittent and usually weak; however, far better than the cell phone service. During this blog-blackout I spent a week at Devil’s Tower with one semester course, was back in Lander a couple days to turn the equipment around, and then spent about a week and a half in City of Rocks, ID.

Devil’s Tower

It was a mind blowingly boring drive to Devil’s Tower. Eastern Wyoming does not have a whole lot to offer by way of scenery. However, I did drive past Hell’s Half Acre which is where a few scenes from Starship Troopers were filmed. Yes, sadly, that was about the greatest highlight. Devil’s Tower itself is a fascinating piece of geology and quite monolithic. It very much resembles a giant tree trunk with boulders sprouting from the bottom rather than roots. It also has a large prairie dog area. They were rather adorable, but apparently black widow spiders have taken up residence in abandoned prairie dog nests, so I did not go exploring too much in that area. I set up camp about 30 yards from my subjects at the Devil’s Tower campground, a good safe distance from black widow nests.

Devil's Tower


This section of data collection proved to be difficult. This course was rather lackadaisical about everything. They often forgot to wear their heart rate monitors, one person almost lost his (the instructor found it), they would fill out their diet and activity logs days after the fact and generally only after I yelled at them. It was incredibly frustrating. On top of that frustration, I was not allowed to sleep past 5:30 in the morning. At that point, the sun came up and started blazing down on my tent turning it into an oven – several of the days I was there it reached over 100 degrees in the sun. Then, when trying to go to bed early to make up for the terrible morning, new campers with TONS of kids would decide to camp right next to me and make noise for the next several hours. Also, I did not get to shower the entire week. It was not pleasant trip, but I managed to collect the data however poor in quality it may be.

City of Rocks

I had a couple of days in Lander to turn around all the equipment, shower, and catch up on my sleep before I had to head out to City of Rocks, ID to meet with the other semester. I met up with my subjects and decided to implement a “No Heart Rate Monitor Removal” policy. Basically, I did not want them to take the HR monitors off ever. They all agreed, but literally hours later, when I came back to collect a urine sample, I saw one of the students walking around without his heart rate monitor. Seething Frustration! I am hoping beyond hope they are better with their diet and activity logs. These kinds of things really have the ability to suck the life out of a researcher, there is just so much out of my control. At least this time, my tent is in the shade and I get to sleep in a bit more.

City of Rocks is rather beautiful though. The area is covered in rolling green hills and when I was driving in I could not possibly imagine how this place was called City of Rocks and where my subjects could even have their climbing camp. However, after some winding roads I breeched the encircling rolling green hills and truly saw a city of rocks. Enormous boulders were all over the landscape the interior of the rolling green hills were actually very rugged rock walls that I imagined to be rather difficult climbs. I did some exploring that taught me two things: 1) I need climbing shoes to do any “serious” bouldering around here…Keens just do not have the traction to cut it 2) cactus needles are rather nasty! My exploration consisted of some hiking (the cactus needles came into play here and tweezers came into play later), some crawling over rocks, and oddly enough crawling under barbed wire fences. There are apparently cows in the National Reserve. I often hear them, I see their feces, and I see the fencing meant to keep them in but I never actually saw a cow. The disembodied moos became quite disturbing.

The Bread Loaves

The rock behind Elephant Rock that I think looks like an elephant's head

Neat rock formation

Neat rock coloring

Three days before the end of this section, the course instructor told me that one of the students jumped into a lake while wearing her heart rate monitor. I was shockingly not all that upset…like I just expected something like this to happen. I told the girl to keep wearing the HR monitor on the off chance it was still working. Miraculously, when I got back to Lander and plugged the HR monitor into the computer, IT WORKED and I got ALL the data from it. I am going to put it out of commission temporarily until I can test it a few times myself. Not only was it important to get all that data, but it was also some much needed good luck for this project.

Overall, the past 3 weeks have been fairly successful. However, I must put a word in about the recent NOLS tragedy in Alaska. A group of seven students on their independent group section of their Alaska course were attacked by a grizzly bear this past weekend. Two of the students were seriously injured and at least three others sustained minor injuries. The students are all shook up, but it seems that everyone will pull through just fine. The Alaska Dispatch has a great article on this. This story made national news, and NOLS though currently bombarded with calls from parents and press, are dealing with the situation well.

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