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The Little Bison Basin

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    The Little Bison River flows from small glaciers in the high cirques of the Rocky Mountains east to the Great Plains of North America, where it ultimately joins the Missouri system. The valley through the Rockies contains a few small towns which are supported by the ski industry and tourism. Recently, extensive natural gas deposits have been discovered in the area, and salvage archaeology projects have been funded to assess the nature of archaeological resources prior to the construction of pipelines, access roads, and well heads.

    You have been asked to summarize the prehistory of the area for a book on the local history of the resort town of Poplar, soon to celebrate its centennial. Because the precise location of drill sites and pipeline routes must remain confidential to prevent land speculation, the government has not allowed access to the detailed salvage reports. It has, however, provided you with accurate summaries of the findings of the salvage archaeologists, prepared by the office of the government archaeologist.

    The Little Bison River runs through a formerly glaCiated valley with a typical “U” cross-section ~fig. 8. 1). At its western end the valley begins below a series of high cirques, most containing small glaciers. From these, streams descend steeply to the valley floor, forming the Little Bison River. The river flows east through the broad valley bottom, passing through two major mountain ranges before cutting through the foothills and entering the plains, where it merges with the Whiskey River.

    The valley floor consists of broad, well-drained glacial outwash terraces, above which steep mountain slopes rise to either rocky peaks or treeless plateaus. . Climate is continental, with cold winters and warm summers. Precipitation occurs as snow from November to March, but deep snow is rare on the lower terraces of the main valley because of high winds. Summer precipitation occurs as localized storms, and the region rarely experiences drought. Vegetation below 1500 m consists of grassland. From 1500 to 2000 m mountain slopes are densely covered with thick coniferous forest.

    Above treeline lush alpine pastures exist on the plateaus while sparse vegetation is characteristic of the rocky heights. Of particular note in the local vegetation are the extensive fields of camas (an onion-like plant with edible bulbs) on the southfacing slopes of the Stanley Range. These plants are still harvested by local remnants of the hippie/craftsperson population in the economically slack period between winter skiers and summer hikers. Edible berries are found throughout the region, mainly in the middle of the summer.

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