Here is a short montage we put together combining the best videos and pictures from South Dakota and Wyoming. Thanks to the Resophonics for letting us use their music in the background.
Archive for the ‘Wyoming’ Category
After a day in Sheridan (where we talked at a library and spent half an hour in an interview on the morning talk radio), Bill and I climbed into the Big Horn Mountains, thus officially entering the Rocky Mountains. The 5,000 ft climb brought cooler temperatures, pine forests, and a great descent when we reached the far end of the mountains.
Riding across more dry rangeland, and spending one day in Cody, WY, we climbed again, this time into Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is a high volcanic plateau covered with evergreen trees and abundant wildlife. We saw elk, bison, eagles, osprey, and—to our surprise—even a wolf (see photo below & far right). As none of the wildlife is hunted, the animals approach cars and people, resulting in frequent bison traffic jams. (A ranger told us not to approach the bison on our bicycles – which turned out to be pretty much impossible as the bison would walk across the road both in front of and behind us.)
I was also struck by the number of large cars and large RVs (many of the RVs had large SUVs in tow). Everyone was driving to see the wildlife and features of the park, and likely enjoying great road trips.
I must admit, though, that it is hard to see so much gasoline use, knowing what effects global warming will have on this region.
What does global warming mean for Yellowstone? Well, for starters we think forest fires may be five times more common in this part of the country, as drier and hotter summers cause fires to burn hotter. In addition to reshaping the natural environment, there is another cost — entering the park we saw a memorial to 12 firefighters who died fighting a forest fire.
Secondly, we have seen lots of dead trees in the mountains from another source – bark beetles, which burrow into the bark of trees and kill them in large numbers. Descending out of the Bighorn Mountains, an entire mountainside appeared to be dead (photo left). Outbreaks of these beetles have become more common in recent years, as warmer temperatures have helped them reproduce faster and reach higher altitudes. As the earth warms, we are likely to see pests like these to spread in places we have not seen before.
And finally, we just read an interesting piece in a local paper – fishing in this region has had to be restricted, as an unusually hot summer and low water flow has caused fish die out in the Yellowstone region. More summers in the future will be like this, which raises questions for future sport fishing in in this region.
All of this points the same way – warming the earth will seriously and irreversibly change natural systems. These are examples of why we think we may loose as much as 20% of all known plants and animals to extinction if continue with business as usual.
We received these awesome thank you cards from kids at the school near Toledo where we gave talks and led a bike ride in May. It was really nice for us to see that our project had an impact. Have you made any changes or become more aware of global warming since we gave a presentation or appeared in the media in your town? Let us know! We want to hear your stories.
Speaking of media, we have done quite well in the past month. The more conservative parts of America seem much more intrigued by our message on global warming. Crossing South Dakota and Wyoming, we have completed 6 newspaper interviews, 3 radio interviews, and 1 television interview. You can see them here.
In other news, we just spent two days at a summer art camp just outside Sheridan, WY. The Bauen Camp, which attracts teenagers from around the country, sits on the side of the Big Horn Mountains in a spectacular setting. We used our time to have an extended conversation with the students about global warming. (We also just received an email from them saying that, after we left, they did a dramatic interpretation of global warming in the form of a play).
For a long time biking west, we have seen full coal trains traveling east and empty coal trains returning. Following I-90 (biking on the freeway for one of the first times this trip), we entered Wyoming and the Powder River Basin. We had heard that this is where the coal has been coming from, but the scale of the mining became more amazing as we biked into Gillette. Every few hours we saw a 100+ car coal train, and we learned that around 85 coal trains – each carrying 16,000 tons of coal – leave this region every day. We also saw an open pit mine right next to the freeway, and another just outside of Gillette. Burning coal provides 52% of America’s energy and it’s also the biggest worldwide contributor to global warming pollution.
Gillette is the largest city in this basin – the self proclaimed energy capital of the world – and there we stayed with Jenny, a wildlife biologist who told us more about the town. Gillette, like many in the west that rely on natural resources, has undergone several booms and busts. Currently, the town has jobs galore, an incredibly tight housing market and a meth-amphetamine problem. We didn’t know about the recent boom in coal bed methane. This boom has been going on for about 7 years and a map of the region shows thousands of wells dotting the landscape (Jenny pointing out wells on the right). The wells are small boxes located all over the range lands. Pipelines hidden below ground allow all of the gas to be piped to garage-size compression facilities where powerful 12 cylinder engines compress the gas to be piped along to market. Water is also pumped out of the coal beds along with the methane so the landscape is now dotted with ponds where the water is siphoned off and left to evaporate or (hopefully) seep back into the aquifer. Several people we spoke with were concerned about the water that was being lost in an already desert-like landscape and the impacts this water is having on private lands.
Traveling on, we stayed on the Sorenson ranch (Powder River Angus) and were given a tour of the ranch and surrounding lands. After living on the coasts, David and I found this an amazing and largely foreign way of life. One thing that became clear to us is how much more dependent a farmer or rancher is on fossil fuels. The marginal land here requires farms of 5,000 acres or more and taking care of this land requires a lot of driving of trucks and tractors. The Sorensons chose a 300 horsepower 4-wheel drive Dodge diesel pick-up that gets over 15 mpg. Compare that with a Ford F-350 that gets about 8 mpg and you can see that they will burn half as much fuel in a year and that means half as much global warming pollution. In fact, at 15 mpg, their pick-up truck that is used to cover the toughest terrain and serious winter storms gets about as good mileage as the SUV many people use to pick up groceries. Being here made us wonder how we can devise an equitable way to reduce our use of fossil fuels when some people rely on them so much more than others.
After providing a hearty breakfast and a lunch to go, the Sorenson’s saw us off. We biked a couple miles along the dirt road (scoria really) that the coal bed methane industry is now putting in and maintaining all over the region. We reached the highway before 8am and it was already 75 degrees. Along the 80 mile journey to Sheridan my bike computer read 119 in the direct sunlight. Luckily the looming Big Horn Mountains will bring not only steep climbs, but also cooler temperatures. It’s scorching hot in the west right now. Is this our global warming future?