Hillary and Jenna took the most fabulous field trip to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge with their mammology class over Memorial Day weekend. As part of their masters program, students take 3-4 biology classes (mostly with undergraduate students). Hillary and Jenna are the only graduate students in mammology taught by Stewart Janes, the coordinator for the graduate level environmental education program.
We loaded the vans at SOU on Friday afternoon and drove the 5 hours past Lake View and up to 6000 feet in elevation to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. Some time after the refuge was named, scientists reclassified the “antelope” as the “prong horn” but never changed the name of the refuge. The name should actually be Hart Mountain Prong Horn Refuge. The landscape was breath-taking. The high-desert shrub steppe was dotted in sage brush, grasses and colorful low-lying flowers such as monkey flower, yarrow and many different shades of indian paintbrush.
We camped at the Hot Springs camp ground and enjoyed soaking in three different pools filled with sulfurous hot water. We set live traps at night with oats and peanut butter. In the morning we visited our traps and as a class we caught 4 deer mice and 3 least chipmunks. When we put the chipmunks into the bin to view, they almost flew out with great speed and we would see them scurry away. The deer mice were more timid. We let all of our catches free and did not harm any living thing.
We took a day trip to Petroglyph Lake. We saw hundreds of years old petroglyphs of animals and shapes. We found obsidian flakes from rocks that must have been carried by people at least 50 miles or more to Hart Mountain. One of our classmates nearly stepped on a rattle snake curled up on a rock.
Stewart took small groups of us exploring near cliffs. He likes to explore these “fall zones” because that’s where he finds the most bones, skulls, nests, feathers, eggs and other signs of life that have fallen from the tops of the rocky outcrops. We found bones of voles, birds and pocket gophers, a raven’s feather, obsidian shards including an arrow head, wood rat nests and eggs shells of the greater sage grouse. We would bring handfuls of things that we found to Stewart and ask what he thought they were. Stewart always knew the answers and many times he had elaborate stories to tell about the species or when he was in the field and saw one of those. We were so fortunate to have such an expert guiding us. Stewart is a wealth of knowledge and always willingly and enthusiastically shares.