Ups and Downs

A good example of the general color scheme we see if there’s no oil development nearby

They say the Carlsbad NM BLM field office is the busiest in the country because of all the oil permitting. Due to the excessive oil and gas development in the Carlsbad NM Field Office, we don’t usually have to do much hiking to achieve our work goals. There are roads almost everywhere, usually with pipelines next to them. There’s been a few instances when we are scouting for seed in areas void of development. Unfortunately those places don’t typically have any plants we’re interested in either. It’s been bittersweet to discover that the most lush places are usually next to oil development, but I try to remind myself that it’s just extra urgent to collect those seeds! When you look out on the horizon and see flares or pump jacks in every direction it can be difficult to stay positive, but we have found a few gems in this dusty landscape.

The dunes have become a favorite spot for me. I love the color contrast. Here you can see Quercus havardii growing with Artemisia filifolia.

The news came back this week from Bend that New Mexico had the most operational seed collections last year. I think it must be because our sites are so accessible. We have several ongoing collections since it’s so easy for us to go back again and again.

Rain storms on the way home

This week our crew got to do some cross-training with the rare plant intern. It involved a lot more hiking than we are used to. We were going out with the goal of learning some special status and rare plants so that we can keep an eye out for them both in our free time (which is when most of us get our hiking fix) and while we are scouting. Carlsbad has a way of being unpredictable. Some days are great, others feel futile. I found the exploration for rare plants a lot less fulfilling than seed collecting, but we did get to see some incredible sights.

Sitting Bull Falls in Lincoln National Forest. We found 2/3 rare plants on our list for this site, including a golden columbine and a red penstemon.
Found at Sitting Bull Falls. All signs point to it being Lobelia cardinalis, except for the color is obviously magenta, not red, and there’s no records we can find of any other magenta L. cardinalis. Our mentor hopes we discovered a new subspecies.

We found a stunning site for Verbesina enceliodes which we have two days worth of collections from. I’m willing to keep going back for more, but I have a suspicion that Aly may not be so keen. There are often cows chomping away on our sites but typically don’t seem to care about our existence. This week was a little different. Alex and I were collecting on the other side of the road when all of a sudden we heard the truck horn blaring and Aly shouting at us. Sensing danger, Alex ran over to see what was up. I didn’t sense danger so I collected seed on my way back. Turns out everything was fine, but a few minutes earlier a truck with a trailer sped by and excited the cows. Maybe they thought they were getting a special food or water delivery? According to Aly, they all starting moo-ing like mad and started trotting toward the road. Aly was between them and the road. Naturally, she got nervous as she saw the herd jogging towards her! She started running for her life towards the truck with the cows picking up speed behind her. As the herd was spread out, she didn’t have the option to run perpendicularly from them. Her only option was to get to the road–and the safety of the truck–before they did. Luckily for all of us, we didn’t have to file any worker’s comp paperwork that day. The word is that almost getting trampled by cows makes you an official cowboy. Yee haw!

This is the herd that almost caused Aly’s demise

I’m just past my halfway point for the season and it’s causing a lot of mixed feelings. Instead of processing them, I’m distracting myself with awesome trips and the little things! I went with Aly and the AIM crew lead to Big Bend National Park this past weekend and it was phenomenal. From walking across the Rio Grande into Mexico to hiking up to the top of the world, I see why it’s such a popular park. We even saw a few acorn woodpeckers!

Hiking is best done before noon in this part of the world. Anything after that and you die of heat.
We told other hikers this was honeysuckle. Turns out its not honeysuckle. It’s firecracker bush! Bouvardia ternifolia.
The top of the world, Big Bend National Park
Berlandiera lyrata, chocolate flower. It smells faintly like chocolate.
Some sort of sphinx moth loving on the thistle
Horse lubber grasshopper. Wikipedia described it as “moderately sized” but it’s easily the biggest grasshopper I’ve ever seen.
-Catherine, Carlsbad NM

Friendly Fences

Across the Buffalo Field Office, whether in the rolling planes or up in the Bighorns, fencing is everywhere. Fence delineating grazing allotments, boundaries between federal, state, and private land, exclosures, and enclosures covers the landscape. All this fencing may provide barriers for the livestock but it can often function in the same way for wildlife. Pronghorn, especially, who evolved on the wide-open North American plains, struggle to cross these barrier as jumping is not their forte. Fencing with five barbed wires or sheep wire at the bottom makes crossing these barriers even more difficult. Creating wildlife friendly fencing means keeping the bottom wire above 14 inches off the ground and making it smooth rather than barbed wire.

The miles and miles of fencing across the landscape also makes keeping track of it more difficult. For this reason, much of the fencing that exists is in need of repair or updating to wildlife friendly construction. This week’s fencing project involved tackling and removing an old barbed wire fence at a BLM recreation site in the Bighorns.

Old barbed wire fence ready for removal

Removing and repairing fence is hard work, best to rise with the sun and get started before the heat of the day sets in. Leather gloves don’t stand much of a chance against these rusty barbs so there is a certain technique and finesse with which I have learned to role and handle this old wire.

To make our sunrise start on the fencing work a bit more manageable we spent the night in the field after our first day of repair at a nearby site. Great sunset views and a hearty campfire dinner are sure to heal the bruises and scratches from a day working to make these fences a little more friendly.

-Katherine, Resources Intern @ BLM Buffalo Field Office

Corral Creek

Last week I had the opportunity to monitor a couple of populations of Gibbon’s Penstemon down by powder rim, and a population of Wyoming toads over by Laramie. Gibbon’s Penstemon is a BLM sensitive plant, and Wyoming toads are the most endangered species of amphibian in North America. The work was a good change of pace from seed collecting, and I really enjoyed it. It was immensely rewarding to be able to see and learn about these rare and beautiful organisms, threatened by humankind’s never-ending and destructive expansion.

Gibbon’s Penstemon in flower

Gibbon’s Penstemon is a purple flowered plant that grows in soil that has a lot of volcanic ash in it, giving its habitat a distinctive color and texture. To me this seems like a very narrow range that limits the plant to growth in somewhat predictable locations. Similarly, meadow milkvetch (another BLM sensitive species, with delicate cream-colored flowers and green stems that sprawl across the white soil to form a spider we pattern) only grows in alkali flats on the lower side of greasewood in the chain lake region of the field office. I found it fascinating that a plant would specialize to such a narrow and theoretically predictable habitat.

Shifting gears:

            Wednesday morning, I arrived at Bennet Peak Campground, the backseat of the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 was loaded with power tools and the bed was loaded with dark painted boards; however, our most important cargo was a clipboard, a pen, and a pile of visitor use surveys. We quickly found a picnic bench in dire need of repair. Mike showed us how to remove the bolts from the picnic bench and replace the old rotting boards with our new freshly painted ones. In a few minutes we had one drop-dead-gorgeous freshly painted picnic bench. We replaced the boards on another picnic bench; but by the time we finished it was time for our most important task of the day: Visitor Use Surveys at the nearby Corral Creek Campground.

            Upon arriving we immediately encountered a parked truck occupied by a genial old man. He agreed to take the survey and we waited comfortably under a tree while he filled out the sheet front and back with vitally important and useful information about his experience at the corral creek campground.

            The corral creek campground is a beautiful BLM operated site about a mile down the road from the Bennet peak campground near the North Platte river. It is a great spot for fishing and floating, with beautiful views of nearby mountains, and wildlife, including: pronghorns, mule-deer, elk, and cattle. However, the nearby Bennet peak campground is closer to the river, making it far more popular than Corral Creek, which essentially operates as an overflow campsite for when Bennet Peak is full.

            For the next four hours we relaxed and enjoyed a cool and pleasant summer day. An incredibly nice couple arrived and asked us for directions to Bennet peak; a truck pulled through for a quick pit stop at the immaculately maintained bathroom facility; we handed out zero surveys. I also found out that the surveys themselves were incredibly general, designed to be applicable to any BLM recreation site. Consequently, the information from them is very hard to interpret, and make use of.

On the way back from the field we listened to a couple of inspirational Oprah podcasts:

He had been awake and driving for over 24 hours. His Wal-Mart truck was traveling about twenty miles over the posted speed limit on the dark interstate highway. That’s when he struck the back of a car containing beloved comic legend Tracy Morgan, and several of Tracy’s close friends. People died in the accident, including one of Tracy’s close friends. Tracy suffered life-threatening injuries that sent him into a coma lasting for weeks. Tracy wasn’t sure if he was ever going to be able to walk again. Tracy was worried that he would never be funny again. Tracy briefly questioned his faith in god. Why did this happen? Why did his friend have to die so suddenly and so young? However, in a conversation with Oprah a few months after the accident both Oprah, and Tracy agree: “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON,” & “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS COINCIDENCE”, after all coincidence is never mentioned in The Bible.

 In conclusion, as Oprah says: “JUST BE YOURSELF, IT’S THAT SIMPLE.”

Trip through the Bighorns
Winterfat, in Shirley Basin

Until next time,

Zeke Zelman

SOS intern in Rawlins Wyoming

It’s August Already?!

Hello all,

The time is just flying by here at the Lander Field Office! We now have completed 18 seed collections and have just a few more planned before the end of the season. Some new additions include 3 different species of Penstemon, and important genus on our target list, and Hedysarum boreale ssp. boreale var. boreale (sheesh – what a long name!) which has never been collected in this field office before.

Penstemon paysoniorum (Payson’s beardtongue)

Penstemon humilus ssp. humilus (low beardtongue)

Penstemon laricifolius ssp. laricifolius (larchleaf beardtongue)

This past week, we have begun packing up our seeds and preparing them for shipment to the Bend Seed Extractory in Bend, Oregon where they will be cleaned and processed for long-term storage or conservation projects.  I spend much time admiring the seeds and taking notice of the great variety that exists amongst the different species.  This variety carries over in all other facets of life and it amazes me every time I think about it.

Seeds of Lomatium simplex, a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae)

Seeds of Hedysarum boreale, a member of the pea family (Fabaceae)

Seeds of Antennaria umbrinella, a member of the aster family (Asteraceae)

Continue reading

Collections, etc.


This past month has been very successful regarding collections. My coworker and I have had the opportunity to collect Astragalus drummondii (Drummond’s milkvetch) and Hedysarum boreale (Utah sweetvetch) from a hillside. It’s possible that Hedysarum boreale has never been collected from this area before, so that’s exciting! We’ve also collected three different Penstemon species, including Penstemon humilis (low beardtongue), Penstemon paysoniorum (Payson’s beardtongue), and Penstemon laricifolius (larchleaf beardtongue). We’ve been told that Penstemons are excellent for use in fire restorations, so that makes these collections even more special. This past Tuesday, my coworker and I stumbled on yet another Penstemon (Penstemon procerus–littleflower penstemon) that we are hoping to collect in the future.

Speaking of future collections, we are intending to get at least a few more species before the end of our internship and surpass our target of 20 species. These would include Gentiana affinis (pleated gentian), Astragalus bisulcatus (twogrooved milkvetch), Ipomopsis aggregata (scarlet gilia), and Cordylanthus ramosus (bushy bird’s beak).

On a personal level, I have truly been enjoying the area. My coworker and I have explored Wyoming, Colorado, and most recently, Utah. We even got to swim in the Great Salt Lake, which I recommend doing at least once.

Astragalus drummondii


Ferris Mountain

As the funding for our trapping project finally came through, we spent the first two weeks of the month building our trap sites up in the Ferris Mountain region of our field office. It was physically demanding work but essential for our project and rewarding in its own way. Each trap site consists of three cover boards and a Y-shaped drift fence with a pit-fall trap in the middle of each arm and a funnel trap at each end. The fence is designed to encourage animals to either enter the funnel trap or fall into the pit fall traps. We have twelve trapping sites; six within exclosures and six outside of them. This is in an effort to compare the type of species that occur in grazed versus ungrazed areas.

One of our twelve trapping sites that was built

The purpose of the trapping project is to inventory the herptile species that occur in the area, assessing both the diversity and the abundance of species. We will also be comparing species occurrences between grazed and ungrazed sites. We trap for ten consecutive days, checking each trap daily. We will do three sets of trapping total, one set per month. As herptiles go this month, we caught many Wandering Garter Snakes (Thamnophis elegans vagrans), two Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), a Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens), and a Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). When we catch a snake we will insert a pit-tag just under its skin to track if a snake is a recapture or not. We will also cauterize a small part of the snakes scales in a systematic numbering system as another way to identify different recaptured individuals. For frogs, we mark them by preforming toe-clippings and again use a specific numbering system to tell between different individuals. Since our traps don’t discriminate we also catch plenty of mammals. Most of what was caught were Deer Mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) and voles. However we also caught Masked Shrews (Sorex cinereus) and Northern Pocket Gophers (Thomomys talpoides).

Processing a Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)
Wandering Garter Snake (Thamophis elegans vagrans)
Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)
Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)
Northern Pocket Gopher (Thomomys talpoides)
Masked Shrew (Sorex cinereus)

I hope to catch more rattlesnakes as the season goes on, they are a fascinating species to work with. Before handling a rattlesnake we will use a tongs to guide the posterior of the snakes body into a tube so there is little risk of the snake being able to bite you. Once tubed the snake can be handled safely and is processed the same as any other snake that we catch.

Tubed Prairie Rattlesnake for processing
Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
Cauterizing the scales on a Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)

Before trapping we spent a day doing surveys for the Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi). Surveys for horned lizards consists of walking transects and scanning the ground for the well camouflaged animals. Once one is spotted they are pretty easy to capture by hand as they are relatively slow. Horned lizards main defense against predators is their camouflage. Their flat-bodies cast very little shadow and they will often stay completely still when you pass by making them even more difficult to notice. When one is captured, if it was not a recapture, we will pit-tag it.

Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi)
Processing a Greater Short-horned Lizard

– Keri – RFO – BLM

Am I Going Around the Bend?

It’s funny – most folks at home heard of what I was embarking on with this year’s season and although supportive, could not remove the worried shade in their eyes.

“But Bend, Oregon is so far from home…”
(I’m from New Hampshire – to give a frame of reference).

“You’ve never even visited and you’re moving all the way there just for a job?”
You know it.

Bend has always been one of the handful of places I’ve heard many found voices speak of. Additionally, out of those voices familiar with the Bend Seed Extractory, a fondness turns to an admiration. It’s not difficult to assume that I jumped at this opportunity with no hesitation. To become an integral part to an even more integral spoke in the wheel of a nationwide conservation effort, even for just a short while, is nothing to pass up.

Regardless of the move, the expense, the wear on my vehicle, the summer at home spent without me, etc – going around the bend is something to embrace. And happily, the phrase “going around the bend” turned into “going to Bend”, which turned into a reality.

I’m surprised everyday that I somehow avoided flubbing up, and collected enough dumb luck throughout my travels to cash in such a rewarding position. The phrase “I’m not worthy” is pleading to escape my lips on a day-to-day basis.

Anyhoo, enough of the sappiness.

To give a rundown of what I do at the Seed Extractory:

The seeds collected are sent to the Extractory, where they are processed, “finished” and tested.

The photos below will illustrate the steps I take throughout my day. I have to say, I was incredibly intimidated at first…but it’s amazing how comfortable, and confident you can become in such a short amount of time. I’m only on my third week!

So. The photos in order:

I received seed ready for testing. Here, I randomly select a relative portion of the lot that seems like it equates to a 500 count of seed, (giving the sizes of seed, it’s anyone’s guess… It reminds of those contests where you’re guessing how many gumballs are in a jar – needless to say, I was never close to those). From here, you count out in fives, five sets of 100. While you’re counting, you remove any inert material that may have mischievously stuck around.

From here, in image two, I check out each count to confirm there are no inert material present. Also, not going to lie, I use this as an excuse to get a closer look at these seeds under the scope. Although all of them are incredible, some are ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. And some perplexing. My favorites are the ones that resemble food… I swear I’ve seen a few tat look just like steamed dumplings… probably implying I’m hungry.

Next, image 3, you must test the humidity of seed lot before you measure, and package them. Not only will a high moisture content influence the weight of the seed, but it may jeopardize the seed’s viability when it’s send to cold storage. Excess moisture present will expand, and damage the seed when it freezes. So, as long as the percentage of humidity is lower than 38.0%, you’re good to go – looks like this one is a-okay!

Next, images 4 & 5, one of my favorite parts – the X-Ray. Hesitant at first, this x-ray machine emits less radiation than the amount we’re exposed to when the dentist takes photos of your teeth. Always a lovely image: light radiation shot at your head. Anyways, the objective here is to assess the percent fill of 1 count of 100 sampled seeds. Here gain a snapshot of what we’re dealing with inside. Are the embryos present? Is the seed full? Are there any malformed seeds? Any insect damage? In this image the seeds seem full, and content, but there are some sampled absolutely riddled with holes. Victims in the wake of an insect feast…

And finally (forgive me for missing a photo of the scale used to measure each seed count’s weight, )it’s riveting stuff. I feel sorry you’re missing out) The seeds are then sealed in plastic bags, and sent of their way to WRPIS, for further testing beyond my abilities, and others to be saved in the seed vault.

I’d continue with more detail, but frankly I’m unsure as to whether or not folks are actually as interested in this process as I am. So, until next time!

P.S. I receive the paperwork the interns fill out upon their field seed collection. Let’s step up the penmanship, folks 😉

Corey from the Bend Seed Extractory

Deming Creek Electrofishing

The week before last, we all got our first practical introduction to electrofishing, a technique that allows you to capture fish by sending an electric pulse through the water, momentarily stunning them at the right settings. Our primary goal was to quantify how efficient and skilled we were at electrofishing. Alongside that we took down species, length, and weight and marked the fish by clipping a small portion of the upper or lower caudal fin based on the size of the fish. We set of block nets on either end of a 200 meter section of stream a total of four separate times to close the population and keep fish inside each section. In our first pass we marked each fish we caught and in a second pass we checked to see what percentage of captured fish were recaptures from the first pass. With this data we can make some more sophisticated estimates of our capture efficiency and the stream population and make up. Deming Creek is a beautiful and varied tributary of the North Fork Sprague River partially inside the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness near Bly, Oregon. We even had a chance to camp out by the creek to reduce our footprint, enjoy a camp meal, and get a view of the stars!

Marked native great basin redband trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss newberrii) from Deming Creek
Marked native bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) being weighed
A block net spanning Deming Creek to block off a 200 meter section to fish movement

                Last week was all about writing, researching, and data visualization. I was particularly invested in learning how to use R Studio to visualize data we took down about brook trout fecundity. I wasn’t expecting to love R Studio as much as I did – I’m definitely eager to work with it more. We learned all about the Endangered Species Act (thank you Elizabeth!) and the fascinating ways it dictates conservation policy and also scouted an unnamed tributary of the Sprague River as possible bull trout habitat, an endangered trout that also inhabits nearby Deming Creek.

Had a blast over the last few weeks, can’t wait to see whats in store!


Klamath Falls FWS Field Office

Summer in the Arctic Circle

Cold days and nights with snow, ice, and few plants or animals: my initial thoughts on spending time in the Arctic Circle were well off the mark. Instead, the month I spent above 66° 33’ northern latitude didn’t drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, rarely included snow and even then only at high altitude, and gave me the chance to find some of the most remarkable alpine plants I’ve seen. I’ve taken loads of photos so I’ll talk through my last month with those!

The 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline, completed in 1977, transports 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The Dalton Highway was built to support it and is still primarily used for this reason. Land on either side of the pipeline is managed by the BLM, and this project is intended to gather the data necessary for developing Ecological Site Descriptions of alpine tundra and boreal forest habitat.
The trip began with a long drive up the Dalton Highway to just north of the Yukon River where we camped and surveyed from for the first week.
The two part inventory includes a thorough description of vegetation community structure using a modified Line-Point-Intercept methodology (in action above), along with detailed soil pit descriptions that often were dug to the depth of permafrost (in action below with some of that permafrost).
After week one we drove from the Yukon River site to our northern most sampling area, camping alongside the Dietrich River at Milepost 222 of the Dalton Highway. On one of our days off, Chris and I hiked to the top of that peak across the river! On the other side sits The Gates of the Arctic National Park – there are no roads in so it’s either a hike or flight away for those wanting to visit. We just crossed into the park while we were up there, and made some beautiful discoveries too.
One of the best photos I took on the trip, and my favorite plant find by far is pictured above. Silene uralensis, commonly known as Japanese Lanterns or Nodding Campion, are fantastic little alpine plants that thrive on rocky slopes. Well adapted to life this far north, their seed and root system has to withstand up to -50 degrees Fahrenheit, though the perennial pink benefits from spending most of the winter buried in multiple feet of snow.

Some other flowers found on this hike unknowingly living with incredible vistas:
Surprisingly the pink flowered species pictured above shares the same genus as the previous plant, though they look completely different. Silene acaulis, moss campion, grows in what look like small cushions or domes to retain moisture and nutrients, as well as to withstand strong winds. Interestingly, moss campion is thought to act as a ‘nurse plant’ at high elevations for the surrounding plant community; moderation of the harsh environmental factors on mountainsides is beneficial to its neighbors! The photo looks into The Gates of The Arctic National Park.
A mixture of Chamerion angustifolium, Fireweed (a beautiful pink flowered plant seen all over Alaska) along with the yellow flowered Arnica angustifolia, narrowleaf arnica.
Parrya naudicaulis, Parry’s Wallflower, with the Dietrich River and Dalton Highway in the background.
Packera cymbalaria, Dwarf Arctic Packera.
Dryas octopetala, White-Mountain Avens.
Another of my favorite plants on this trip, and one of the few orchids that can survive in the arctic: Cypripedium passerinum, Sparrow’s-egg Lady’s-slipper.
Back to work after exploring and searching for cool alpine plants. Our sample areas varied in distance to the road from a half a mile to almost 2 miles. While this isn’t too far of a hike, the terrain is often unforgiving. Much of the ground in this part of Alaska is composed of tussocks. The aptly named white cotton-like grass pictured above with the crew, Eriophorum vaginatum or Tussock Cotton-Grass, builds mounds over years of growth. Between them, gaps that are made deeper by the freeze-thaw cycle do not make for easy walking
The next stop after our second week on the Dietrich River brought us to the Marion Creek Campground, about 5 miles north of the town of Coldfoot, population 10.
We celebrated July 4th grilling brats on the Koyukuk River, skipping rocks, and having a quick dip in the cold water after a hot day of inventory!
On another day off we stopped into the town of Wiseman, just north of Coldfoot, for the Wiseman Music Festival! It was more of a potluck with a group of people playing folk music but it was a great time. There was even a paragliding entrance by a local that climbed up and jumped off the mountain in background with his parachute, you can see him in front of the clouds above.
Our final camping and sampling area before heading back to Fairbanks was at the Arctic Circle campground. We took a picture with the friendly volunteer campground manager Sheila and her pup Max. Smoke was in the air at this point from the Hess Creek wildfire 90 miles to the south, at the time the biggest in the country.
Ron, myself, Summer, Marc at the Arctic Circle sign (left to right).

We got a lot of work done in the month on the Dalton Highway and managed to make the most of the few days off we had. If you ever get the chance to make the trip up here, it is well worth your time. Here are a few more photos with wildlife, trees, and a few more pretty flowers…

Myself, Ron, and Summer with what we thought was the last spruce tree – the most northern tree (above)! The actual last spruce tree (below)!
Here’s me working on a plant ID and showing off the bear spray that never left my side. Thankfully, and I’m sure to the joy of our bear guide, it wasn’t needed while we were up there, though we did spot a bear along with plenty of other wildlife…
A moose sow and calf eating aquatic plants under the midnight sun with Sukapak Mountain in the background.
An arctic fox, arctic hare, arctic grayling (caught for dinner!), owl (not sure which in the bottom left), grizzly bear (taken from inside a vehicle!), and the great horned owl (bottom right).
Finally, from top left across to bottom right: Morel Mushroom, Papaver lapponicum (arctic poppy), Linnea borealis (twinflower), Siphula ceratites (waterfingers), Zigadenus elegans (center, mountain death camas – don’t touch or eat!), Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob’s ladder), Rubus chamaemorus (cloudberry), Pyrola asarifolia (liverleaf wintergreen), and Castilleja sp. (Indian paintbrush, working on this species!).

The Land of Enchantment

New Mexico’s flag symbol, the Zia

New Mexico is supposed to be “the land of enchantment” and every week my experiences are proving that slogan to be truth. The state flag has a symbol called the Zia which is a sacred symbol to early people of the region. It is a sun with four sets of four lines that represent the seasons, times of day, stages in a person’s life, and the cardinal directions. This symbol is still found all over the state, sometimes in the most random and surprising places. When we were judging our site’s soil to determine the color we accidentally made a Zia as well!

We each picked which color we thought matched in the Munsell Soil book and then compared.

It’s been an incredible journey already with so much to learn and explore. Perhaps the most challenging part of seed collecting is getting the timing just right. Several plants on our list have longer, more continual flowering periods but others… not so much. There are a few species that will be flowering one week and totally fried the next week. Competing against the cows doesn’t make things any easier. We found a beautiful site of desert marigold all flowering (Baileya multiradiata) only to return and find half the population completely eaten! Finding that sweet spot of seeds is difficult, but it makes it that much more rewarding when we can get a collection in.

This week I was feeling the mid-season slump. I felt like we were losing against the weather, cows, and timing struggles and was bummed about not making as many collections as I had hoped for. Luckily, our mentor offered us some perspective. Aly and I had come back in from the field with an easy 200,000 seeds of Ratibida tagetes in our possession (which was already a pretty good feeling) when our mentor saw us and exclaimed, “You guys didn’t get ANOTHER collection did you?!” She apparently wasn’t expecting us to have found much and it was so reassuring that my slump-induced perception of mild failure was just a personal issue.

Melampodium leucanthum–blackfoot daisy
Ratibida columnifera seeds
A beautiful Senna roemeriana site

Although the actual collections have felt sparse, our seed scouting has taken some unbelievable turns in the right direction. We’ve found some breathtaking sites with wildflowers and grass for acres!

Green?? In the desert??? Looks like the grasses are finally responding to the monsoon season.
Our Lesquerella fendleri completely disappeared off this site. Flowering one week and totally gone a week and a half later!

In addition to wildflowers and grasses, we’ve been having a lot of wildlife run-ins. Out of all the places in the world I’d never peg Carlsbad, NM as prime owl habitat and yet, I’ve seen more owls here than I’ve seen total in my life. There’s been a few times we’ve been sure that we witnessed barn owls flying away from us and there’s been several instances where we just have to stop and marvel at the burrowing owls. The other day we saw four leave the burrow one by one, perching on creosote bushes to watch us as we watched them. Believe it or not, we accidentally stumbled onto a sleeping bobcat this past month. In effort to get to some of last year’s scouting points we found the only road completely washed out. There wasn’t water (because, desert) but it was not crossable. Frustrated, we got out so we could at least explore this huge washout. This was the first time we saw a barn owl. Then, while we were walking on top of the ravine we had stopped to discuss our next move. Before I know it, Aly freaks out, pointing down, yelling, “Bobcat! Bobcat!!” I looked down, terrified at the alarm, to see the small spotty cat streaking away from us down the ravine. We figured it must have been sleeping in one of the eroded walls and became scared of us. We left shortly after, not wanting to disturb it further. BUT HOLY COW we saw a bobcat! In the daytime!!

 Coyote tracks. You can tell its a canine because the nails are visible (bobcats retracts their claws when walking) and you can tell it’s not from someone’s dog because the front toes are straight rather than splayed.

So yes, you may need selective viewing to find Carlsbad beautiful with the abundance of oil and gas, but if you stick it out and stay strong, you can uncover the beauty that is the Land of Enchantment.

Me, in the washout/ravine where we saw the barn owl and bobcat