By Tony Mancuso
Since February of 2014, I have spent roughly 100 days working on the American Prairie Reserve during two stints as a Landmark crew member. Walking 10 miles a day—in any condition—our goal is to observe and report on all of the wildlife that calls APR home. I have never seen another place like this.
Yesterday we came across a herd of more than 100 North American Bison five miles from the nearest road. As my partner and I reached the southern border of the Reserve, the wind changed direction. The bison must have caught scent of us, and they galloped off over a hill to the east. In just a few seconds, the plain before us went from being dotted with the wooly brown animals, to being apparently empty and silent. The contrast was impossible to ignore.
For me, this place has set a baseline for wilderness.
When a wailing pack of coyotes first woke me at 4 a.m., that unmistakable sound triggered something inside me, and a long forgotten reptile voice from the back of my brain barked out a cadence like a drill instructor. Perhaps the pack was calling their friends, letting them know breakfast was served. I imagined cold nights in a cave, mammoth pelts, and a fire as much for warmth as to keep those sounds at a distance. Ten-thousand-year-old memories.
Or maybe those coyotes were simply welcoming the sun after the long, slow, grinding dawn.
In winter, dawn and dusk stretch on for hours, a swollen red sun pulling low across the enormous sky, painting every cloud watercolor orange. The texture of the clouds comes to life as pink, red and orange light refracts and scatters; a herald of the coming warmth.
On some days the sherbet sky never disappears, and instead, it just rotates around the horizon. The colors of sunset can begin as early as 1:30 in the afternoon and last until after 6. Walking into that sunset through knee-high sage and snow, hearing great-horned owls calling out from cottonwood trees is surreal and serene.
The American Prairie Reserve is a place that swallows you up. It takes you in, and when you leave your thoughts are drawn back. It’s a place like no other.
Tony Mancuso grew up hiking and camping around eastern Pennsylvania, graduated from Mansfield University in 2013, and now works for the Moab-based nonprofit outfitter Splore, which operates whitewater rafting trips for people with disabilities. Find more of Tony’s writing on his blog "Staff, Stock, & Oar."
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