Science in Bighorn Canyon NRA
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA) manages approximately 68,000 acres between the Pryor and Bighorn mountain ranges on the Montana-Wyoming boundary. The park was established in 1966 to preserve the area’s natural and cultural resources and provide for public enjoyment after Yellowtail Dam was constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) on the Bighorn River. The resulting Bighorn Lake extends for approximately 71 miles (114 km) at full pool. The depth of Bighorn Canyon is approximately 1,000 feet deep at Devil Canyon and 2,500 feet deep on Bull Elk Ridge. Researchers have found Upper Jurassic Period fossils and fossil tracks and bones in the park, and discovered the remains of Pleistocene animals in debris piles at cave entrances. Wildlife in Bighorn Canyon NRA includes bighorn sheep, wild horses, coyotes, mule deer, snakes, small mammals, mountain lions, bears, and more than 200 bird species. The 39,000-acre Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, about one-fifth of which lies within Bighorn Canyon NRA, provides habitat for both the sheep and for approximately 160 wild horses managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Vegetation communities in the park include desert shrubland, juniper woodland, mountain mahogany woodland, sagebrush steppe, basin grassland, riparian, and coniferous woodland. The 19,000-acre Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area, more than half of which lies within Bighorn Canyon NRA, is managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department through agreements with the NPS, BLM, and BOR. Bighorn Canyon’s archeological history includes Bad Pass Trail, which has been used for more than 10,000 years and is marked by 500 rock cairns spread over 13 miles. The primary areas for ongoing research in Bighorn Canyon NRA are paleontology, bighorn sheep, archeology, restoration, revegetation, and seeps and springs water quality. Researchers stay at the Bighorn Canyon Research Center at Ewing-Snell Historic Ranch, a science center with a classroom and camp facilities that has been established at one of four 1890s ranches being restored in the park.