Camping, Counting, Creatures, and Star Clusters: Everything is AWESOME!!!

Camping, Counting, Creatures, and Star Clusters: Everything is AWESOME!!!


It’s times like these when the ‘Everything is AWESOME!!!’ song from The Lego Movie is stuck in my head, because like the title says, everything is awesome. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful that I get to be having all these cool experiences that I have always dreamed of having. Not only are my immediate projects exciting and something that I have been able to see myself grow with and learn a lot, but I also get to be a part of so many other fun and exciting things outside of my daily work. You may be wondering, “Maya, what’s so awesome?” but don’t worry, this whole blog post is dedicated to discussing these other perks. 

Several weeks ago, I got to join the Northern Great Plains Inventory and Monitoring team that came to Agate to learn and assist in plot monitoring and counting of different plant species. The area that they were surveying was within the Stenomylus Quarry. This place was mythical to me upon my arrival at the park; many people talked of the quarry that happened to have many Stenomylus fossils, which were camel-like mammals that lived around 30 million years ago. Adding to the mystique, most of the staff had not yet been able to venture into this part of the park since it was only accessible through a rancher’s private property, and therefore needed special access permission. Getting to explore this part of the park was incredibly fun; this place had the greatest number of wildflowers per square foot that I had seen in the park so far, likely due to low number of grazers and visitors in the area. Additionally, there were many bones that could be seen sticking out right from the quarry rocks, which made me think about how they will eventually turn into fossils one day and likely be discovered by future scientists.


Prairie Rattlesnake chilling on the trail
Plains Hognose Snake (AKA The Little Guy))

Next on the list of things I have found to be awesome are the creatures I have seen during my various field trips, field walks, and runs. One thing I love about living in the park is that unlike normal visitors, you aren’t just there for a few hours during the day, which limits the creatures you may be able to see. Instead, the world (the park) is your oyster, and you have all 24 hours in a day to enjoy it and the other wildlife that is living there with you. One of my most recent and interesting encounters was this morning at 6AM with a Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). I was out for a run on the Fossil Hills Trail, and there they were basking in the rising sun right in the middle of the narrow paved trail. As it was 6AM, and I had just woken up recently, yes, I spoke English words to the snake trying to see if it would mind moving over a little “Hey snake, could you move?” After this one-sided dialogue, the snake, in fact, did not move, and I ended up saying goodbye and ran around it. Around half a mile further up the trail, I had another encounter with a tiny baby snake, which I thought looked like a bull snake, but later on, with the help of fellow scientists on iNaturalist, was found to be a Plains Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus). Now this little guy was greatly different than the rattler; I startled them pretty hard I think because it quickly squiggled away into the tall grasses. Another awesome creature I had the pleasure of hanging out with was the Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). I saw this lizard at the Daemonelix Trail when I was conducting plant surveys in the area, and they were very calm and peaceful and stuck around for longer than I expected.

Greater Short-horned Lizard hanging out with me during a plant survey field trip


Despite a recent dry spell several months ago, we have been fortunate to have received a lot of rain during my time here. This means that the park is the most green it has been in a long time and has allowed so many wildflowers to bloom, which as you all know, is very helpful for my herbarium project. With rain, comes clouds, and while I greatly appreciate the clouds and the rain, it can make for a difficult star-viewing experience. 

Camping during a clear sky night makes you feel like you have hit the jackpot, like you have somehow chosen the most perfect day to be sleeping outdoors, where you are welcomed and accompanied by thousands of visible stars, and millions and billions and more of stars we can’t even see with our naked eye. There is something so special and amazing about looking up at the sky and seeing a bunch of white speckles, some clustered, some distanced, that are always there, but only sometimes visible. 

This past weekend, Agate Fossil Beds held their first campout; visitors could attend a special event where they could learn about the history of the park, enjoy smores, and view the exceptional night sky. Not only was I fortunate enough to attend this event, but I even got to camp out in a tipi overnight. This wasn’t just any tipi either; earlier this month, some of my coworkers and I got to help Darrell Red Cloud, Chief Red Cloud’s great-great-grandson, raise the two hand-painted tipis outside of the visitor center. 

The tipis and the beautiful starry sky during the campout
Staff and visitors looking through telescopes to see the starry night sky
Tipi raising ceremony with Ranger Amelia

So far, I have been having an amazing time being able to be a part of all these fun events and meeting so many incredible people along the way. I am excited to see what else this next month holds and will keep y’all updated. As always, stay awesome.

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