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The GLORIA project in the Beartooth Mountains

I was in the Pryor Mountains last month on a BioBlitz.  What’s a Bioblitz you might ask?  It’s an appropriate name, because in the span of about 24 hours people group up and find as many species as they can.  I of course signed up for the botany group, but other areas included bats, invertebrates, birds, or mammals. There was even a ‘spider’ category.  In that 24 hours, we hiked and drove from desert to alpine environment, documenting every plant we could find.  Those we were unable to identify in the field, we brought back to camp to identify where a nice shade tent with tables, microscopes, and plant books was provided.  It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.

At the BioBlitz I met Professor Lyman who is the botany teacher at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. She had other projects going which were near the Sunlight area that I offered to help on.  First we met up on Bald Ridge where she had a camera on Shoshonea pulvinata, a rare plant that appears on only a very few sites around the Cody area.  She wanted to discover what the pollinators were for this plant.  I offered to check the camera, but the plant had already finished blooming.  We hiked the ridge and discovered several pockets of this plant, mostly on cliff edges where the scree is thick and the drainage is perfect.

Rare plant at Bald ridge

Shoshonea pulvinata green plant not blooming

Where Shoshonea grows on Bald Ridge

Her next project began last week.  The GLORIA project was to be set up on four high peaks in the Beartooth Mountains.  This is a worldwide project that’s been going on for about 10 years and started over in Europe.  The idea is to monitor climate change by detecting changes in the plant life at these mountain summits.  The set-up is very detailed, pain-staking, and specific.  The peaks must be 50 meters minimum distance from each other and at least 50 meters elevational change from each other.  A formula is used to measure off distance down the slope at 5 and 10 meters North, South, East, and West; then a grid is installed at each bearing.  At the grid-mark, plants are counted and identified.  A heat sensor is installed which will record temperature changes.  Every five years the same exact area is recounted as to the plant material and the percentages of species change.

View from one of the GLORIA summits

The project set-up was a lot of work but very interesting.  One day I helped carry supplies in to the summit and measure off the  grid.

Marking the grid for photographs

Another day after completing a second grid area, we hiked the afternoon looking for another appropriate summit.  The top of the Beartooths is a beautiful location to spend the day, especially with the heat down lower.  One afternoon we got run off the mountain by fast moving thunderstorms.  The highest bare summit is no place to be in a lightening storm.

Counting plant material within the grid

One day in surveying the summit, which is treeless and fairly shrubless, we actually found a bird’s nest with chicks in it.  I would guess there are few predators up there.

Bird nest on summit with chicks

A possible summit

The Beartooths contain some of the oldest rock in the world.  Professor Lyman’s husband is a geologist and he pointed out some pure quartz veins to me.  Here’s a giant that I wished I could haul home (the rock not the dog!).

Quartz on the summit

Domestic sheep were run on these mountains until the early 2000’s.  Domestic sheep, when they intermingle with Big Horn Sheep, cause our natives to develop diseases like pneumonia  to which the native sheep have no resistance.  These old sheep allotments have been retired–a good thing.  But I suspect these summit cairns are left-overs from sheep herders.

Sheep herder cairn on a summit with quartz

On the way home one evening, right near the Top of the World store, a fox was in the road chowing down on a road-killed ground squirrel.  Oddly, he didn’t move for the traffic and I got some good photos.  Even when this motorcyclist was right bye him, he continued to eat for a long time.  Fox are considered predators in Wyoming and can be shot on sight at any time of the year.  Good thing none of these motorists were on that kind of a mission, just a sightseeing mission.

4 Responses

  1. Swift fox (not a red), great find! And thanks for giving a little attention to the GLORIA project–it’s very important for us to document global Alpine changes with climate change/global warming.


  2. A swift fox is about the size of a house cat, and have black tipped tails. An enjoyable post, loved the photos. It sounds like you had a great time on your various outings.!


  3. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button!
    I’d definitely donate to this fantastic blog! I guess for now i’ll
    settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to new updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!


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