« Return to this article

Know the West

Land of contradiction and mystery


I spent three summers on a research project in Wyoming's Red Desert, capturing, marking and recapturing prairie falcons (HCN, 4/13/09). The place is heaven for desert raptors; we monitored over 70 nests. The productivity of this ecosystem, in terms of biomass, is deceiving. In order to support so many predators, there must be vast amounts of prey that harvest incredible amounts of vegetation. The place is an incubator for the sublime -- wild equine studs defending harems, questioning your intrusion with the confidence of an owner, night skies like no others, the warning wheeze of a buck antelope so far away that you cannot locate him. An enormous strip mine marching toward an absolutely unique rock (Black Rock), a small desert butte, home to three pairs of falcons and one golden eagle for as long as we can imagine. The BBC asked if we knew of an eagle nest they could photograph, one with no roads in the background. Although we knew of many, all were surrounded by the marks of motor vehicle traffic. This is a land of contradiction and mystery not looking to be explained, and it is somehow enriching to the soul of a certain kind of folk.

Bob Hitchcock