The skies around Sheridan have recently filled with sunshine and the song of migrating birds, marking the arrival of spring. A lot of us are excited to get outside to enjoy the returning warmth. Seasonal changes are noticeable on the Bighorn National Forest as well. Although far behind the foothills and basins, the snow is melting and ice is beginning to thin from mountain lakes and streams. However, there is still a blanket of snow covering most of the forest. So, what can you and your family do this time of year? Try an outdoor scavenger hunt!
The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up, by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer, offers a list of seasonal activities for you and your family. Try these suggestions from Tornio and Keffer to set off on your own Bighorn National Forest Spring Scavenger Hunt.
• Have a family picnic. Use the nearby snow as the “ice” to make homemade ice cream. While you’re there, build a snow castle or play snow tag. Lower elevations are good places to find dry ground that won’t be damaged by human trampling. Snow is a durable surface as long as you don’t punch through to mud and plants beneath.
• Find animal tracks. The snow is an excellent place to look for signs of critters that recently passed by. Mud along streams and lakes is another great place to find animal prints. Remember to stay on durable surfaces to prevent damage to soils and vulnerable plants.
• Find watermelon snow. This phenomena is caused by reddish algae growing on the snow’s surface and while it is really cool to see. It is not edible and can make you sick.
• Listen to night sounds.
• Identify a constellation.
• Wake up before the birds and go outside to listen. Use your ninja skills to move slowly and quietly while you observe wildlife from a safe distance.
• Pick up trash. Arrowhead Bowl attracts a lot of families during the winter months, however, it also accumulates a lot of trash. Be sure to have an adult help and wear protective clothing and gloves.
• Go to a visitor center. Shell Falls Visitor Center will open May 25, 2019.
• Make a journal of the season’s firsts. Try to record things like the first robin, the first blooming flower or the first wild baby animal you see.
To complete your scavenger hunt, go for a drive on one of the two scenic byways open this time of year: Highway 14 and Highway 16. Along the way, you may notice plowed pull-outs where you can park to get off the beaten path with snowshoes or skis, or try the groomed Nordic trails at Cutler and Sibley. At lower elevations, you can access picnic areas such as Post Creek above Shell Canyon or North Fork off Highway 16. Most of the canyon trails on the eastern front of the Bighorn Mountains are suitable for hiking now, such as Tongue Canyon or South Piney Creek trails.
There are several lodges on the forest that offer a quiet place to get away from home and enjoy the night sky without light pollution. Remember, no matter what you are doing or where you go, keep yourself and your public lands safe by practicing Leave No Trace and following Forest Service regulations and recommendations.
For more information, contact the Bighorn National Forest Supervisor’s Office at 307-674-2600 or www.fs.usda.gov/main/bighorn/home. You can follow us on Twitter, @bighornUSFS or on Facebook, U.S. Forest Service — Bighorn National Forest.
Sara Evans Kirol is a public affairs officer with the Bighorn National Forest.