Adventure Science: Spring on the Northern Great Plains

The newest team member at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, Emily Stifler Wolfe, traveled with a crew of volunteers to American Prairie Reserve in June and sent back this postcard.

Adventure Science on American Prairie Reserve
A spring storm rolls in over the Regina Road on the way to the Sun Prairie parcel of American Prairie Reserve, Montana. (Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe)

By Emily Stifler Wolfe

Lightning strikes overhead and thunder reverberates across the steppe. The Landmark crew ducks into a coulee as rain pummels them. Scattered around the gully, they sit on their heels in lightning position. Water soaks through their jackets and hoods, down their backs, into their boots.

Rachel crouches lower, bending her head against the rain. Ela looks over at Shannon, whose sopping flannel shirt hugs her back. Leah shifts her weight, her calves cramping.

Then, as quickly as it came, the storm cell moves past.

Adventure Science on American Prairie Reserve
Landmark volunteers walk eight- to ten-mile transects daily, gathering wildlife data on Sun Prairie. (Photo by Mike Quist Kautz)

The crew walks up out of the draw, sun and wind drying the spring blooms around them. Bentonite clay—known colloquially as “gumbo” here in eastern Montana—sticks to their boots as they hike back to the car.

These six women only met yesterday. They traveled from around the country to volunteer on the 31,000-acre Sun Prairie, part of the 270,000-acre American Prairie Reserve.

They’ve entered a landscape in transition: In June, the northern Great Plains come alive as spring turns to summer. Flowers fleck the sagebrush steppe, songbirds migrate into their summer habitat, and the bison reintroduced here by APR are calving.

Although they began as strangers, the Landmark crew falls into step quickly, and that night around the campfire they play Irish fiddle reels and a few guitar tunes from Gillian Welch. Listen to the haunting beauty of Rachel Herring’s fiddle:


Rachel says she taught herself the first track, “The Cross of Savannah,” written by Zoe Conway, by listening to Conway’s CD. The second is the traditional Irish fiddle tune “Tam Lin,” which Rachel also learned by ear—this from her fiddle teacher back home in Nashville.

As they watch the season change, the Landmark volunteers will walk hundreds of miles collecting data to support conservation efforts on the reserve. Some part of each crew member will change, as well, becoming woven into this wild country.

Alex Guest (left) and Rachel Herring, volunteers from the Adventure Science Landmark program settle in for their first night in Buffalo Camp. (Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe)

Landmark is ASC’s groundbreaking project to provide on-the-ground support for the American Prairie Reserve management team. Keep up with this and other Adventure Science projects on our blog, by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience)Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+. 

Read More by Gregg Treinish and His Team

[Updated 6/17/2014]

Changing Planet

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Meet the Author
Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow and in 2018 one of the Grist 50 "Fixers." Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.