I recently finished my internship with the USGS in the Mojave Desert. My final weeks were spent doing fieldwork at the Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park, and wrapping up data entry and analyzing the data we (my fellow interns and I) collected throughout our internship. As we tried to piece together our results into a coherent narrative of the workings of desert restoration, I frequently thought about my experience there and what I would take away from my time in the southwest.
In our internship, we worked on several projects all geared toward understanding the effect of restoration techniques in the Mojave Desert, often for desert tortoise habitat. Because we worked in several areas across four states, we were exposed to the extremes of the Mojave and the challenges to restoration in different areas. I learned about post-fire restoration techniques and monitored their effectiveness, examined the effects of fire on habitat suitability for desert tortoises, and studied the effect of source material on successful plant restoration. Throughout all of this fieldwork, I gained experience using dichotomous keys for plant ID, learned several sampling methods, and learned about the intricacies of a delicate ecosystem – all things I hoped I would learn at the beginning of my internship.
Additionally, I had the opportunity to work in a unique and beautiful part of the Mojave that is the Eureka Valley in Death Valley National Park. It takes over two hours to reach once you are inside the park, driving on dirt roads over mountain passes. I went there three times for a week each to monitor populations of two endemic, endangered plants on three different dune systems. I can honestly say I’m not sure I ever would have seen this valley if it wasn’t for this internship, which would have been a shame because it is a fascinating and beautiful place.
While I am sad to leave the Mojave behind, I am grateful for all I’ve learned throughout this internship and the friends and mentors I became connected with through this program. It’s been a blast, but now it’s on to the next adventure – grad school!
USGS, Las Vegas Field Office