It’s been over a month since I left the Vale BLM office, so now; I find its time to reflect.
The skills and knowledge I gained from the work I did and the individuals I met have become part of me. They have made me a more confidant and experienced person. However, the field techniques, the plant names, the navigational skills are not what I think of now when I look back. When I think Vale… the desert is what I will forever remember.

I recently moved to the forested mountains of Colorado. Though they are beautiful, I miss the vastness of the high Oregon desert. I miss being able to see for hundreds of miles every day. I miss the sparse but strong plants I spent the summer looking for. The rolling hills, short fragrant sagebrush, and dancing shadows of the desert awakened in me an incredible sense of oneness with the land I worked with everyday throughout the summer. The vast Oregon land gave me a sense of place and belonging.

Its funny that when I started my internship I thought “oh wow, this is my first ‘real job’, my entrance into the ‘real world’”, what I entered into was a world where I experienced what I hope the rest of my life will be based on; studying and experiencing natural life, and working to protect it. The desert has made me question and reflect on my existence, my purpose, and my place. I hope to return to the desert shortly to find more answers… and discover more questions.

Since I couldn’t say it as well myself, a quote by Rumi.

Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth. (Rumi)

Vale BLM 1000

It wasn’t until I brought a friend from home out into the field with me that I realized how much I have learned over the past few months. “Wow, you know a whole lot about an area that seems to be a whole lot of nothing” he said.  Though I was a little offended by the comment, thinking back, I remembered similar thoughts at my first glances of the Vale district. How wrong I was. Over time the “whole lot of nothing” has become an incredible, diverse land of not only plants but of rock, animals, water, and people. 

Camissonia boothii

Plants. The plants are why I wanted this job. I wanted to learn more about them and about plant conservation. Over the last few months, I have not only learned about plant development, pollination strategies, seed development, and geobotany, I have seen it all in action. I have seen Sidalcea oregano grow, flower, and go to seed within two weeks. I know that on exposed, rocky slopes I can probably find Lewisia rediviva, if I get there early enough in the year.  I have discovered that the easiest way to identify a Mentzelia is to stick it to my clothes, and to never wear my favorite clothes to collect it.  Having an amazing mentor and a plant nerd co-worker was like having two encyclopedias constantly on hand, without having to carry them around. Four months of collecting, dissecting, pressing, and identifying plants has allowed me to not only learn about them, but to understand them to a far greater extent than I thought possible in such a short time.

Devil’s Gate

Rocks. At the beginning, the sagebrush desert of the Vale district seemed to roll on in one continuous, unchanging landscape. Its vast openness seemed almost overwhelming. As we looked for plants in open fields, narrow canyons and atop mountains (to me incredibly large hills), I discovered how differed the landscape really is when you just take the time to look at it. The majority of Vale’s epic landscape was created about 15 million years ago when liquid basalt flooded the area during a period of significant volcanic activity. Over time this basalt has cracked, withered and been buried by sediment, soil and plants. Now, these elements come together to create some of the most amazing landscapes I have ever seen. From the vast valleys to the base-ball sized thunder eggs locals eagerly collect, Eastern Oregon is a geologist’s wonderland.  

The Owyhee Reservoir










Animals. I never thought so many animals could survive in the desert. A few of my most memorable encounters have been with rattlesnakes, herds of over 50 elk, coyotes, and wild horses.  Wild horses are a key concern for the Vale district. Though many believe wild horse populations in the West are in danger, those individuals who dedicate their lives to their protection and management would certainly disagree. In Oregon, herd numbers on average increase by twenty percent annually. To manage these growing populations, the Vale BLM gathers herds and makes young horses available to the public for adoption.

Water. Though at first the land seemed barren and dry, over time I have explored the countless springs, streams, reservoirs, and rivers of the Vale district. From the smallest seep to the massive Owyhee River, water in the desert allows for unique micro-habitats to exist for plants and animals. Many of these water bodies are continuously being degraded by livestock or being channeled away from their natural paths for irrigation. Once again, water and its management is one of the key challenges of the BLM’s multiple-use management plan.

People. The people I have met at the Vale BLM are passionate and caring. They care about the land, the animals, and the people in the area.  Over the months I have sat through some of the greatest lessons I have ever heard while riding in the passenger’s seat of the rig or sitting on my pack in the field. What I have learned this summer at the Vale BLM I could have never learned from a textbook or lecture.

The Oregon Outback





Forces of Nature

As many recent college graduates, I spent the last four years staring at computer screens, huddling over books, and idling in classrooms. Though I dedicated countless hours to reading and writing about the natural world, only a fraction of my time was spent experiencing it. My life was governed by arbitrary deadlines and sustained by florescent light bulbs. The last few weeks have been the exact opposite. As a Seeds of Success intern I have been jolted back to reality; the reality in which the world runs on the sun’s clock and life succumbs to the forces of nature.

“No, no, it’ll be dry here. Vale is in the desert, the hot, hot, desert” Gillian, my mentor, mentioned before my trip out from Colorado. Shorts, tank tops, and sandals all flew into my trunk in large numbers. I threw in one warm hat, a rain jacket, and a few pairs of old jeans, just to be safe. Three weeks later, sopping wet from the snow and muddy to my knees, I thought of my large brimmed sun hat still untouched in the trunk of my car. Faintly, over the gusts of wind I heard the familiar “No, no, seeds still not ready” from the others.

Three weeks of persistent rain, cold, and wind not only affected my choice of clothing each morning it also affected every aspect of our SOS goals. In mid-June most of our potentially collectable plants had only slightly matured, if at all. For three weeks our team, 3G, waited, watched, and wished for the sun to come out so our plants could start going to seed.

Still not warm...

Finally the clouds parted and gave way to full days of sunshine and warmth. Giddy and excited we reassessed which populations would be ready first. Balsamorhiza sagitata moved to the top of the list. Driving to the site, I was excited for my first full day of seed collecting. We got out of our rig, hiked to the exact location and…nothing. Looking closer we spotted the large, sagittate basal leaves. Disappointed and confused we walked back to the car hardly noticing the dozens of cows happily munching on our Balsamroot seeds.

Though my days often end with mosquito bites on my legs, ticks in my clothes, and sunburned shoulders, the daily blast of air conditioning at the office reminds me how lucky I am to have a job so interwoven with nature.