Final Reflections

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!

A beautiful sunset in Death Valley marks the end of my internship

A beautiful sunset in Death Valley marks the end of my internship



USGS, Las Vegas Field Office

Field Botany Workshop

This past week I was able to attend a training workshop as part of my CLM internship. Since my position started early in February, I elected to attend an alternative training workshop that focused more on plant identification in the field. The workshop took place on Isle Royale National Park, an island in the middle of Lake Superior. It combined learning about the various ecosystems on the island, practice using dichotomous keys, learning key characteristics of plant families to help distinguish them from similar species in the field, and learning about some rare and disjunct species on the island.

Isle Royale National Park

Barrier islands in Isle Royale National Park

Each day we hiked around different parts of the island to explore the various plant communities. The first full day we explored a small barrier island close to the main island and visited a fen and the rocky shores of Lake Superior. As we walked through the fen, we went through a key to identify some of the ericaceous species most commonly found there. Additionally, we learned about the types of habitat they prefer and how bogs are distinguished from fens (fens are fed from groundwater in addition to rainwater, while bogs are fed only from rainwater). We also found two carnivorous plant species in the fen – Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaf Sundew) and Sarracenia purpurea (Pitcher Plant) – which use the nutrients they obtain from insects to make up for the nutrient poor conditions of their environment.

Chamaedaphne calyculata - Leatherleaf; one of the ericaceous species we keyed out

Chamaedaphne calyculata – Leatherleaf; one of the ericaceous species we keyed out

Drosera rotundifolia - Round-leaf sundew

Drosera rotundifolia – Round-leaf sundew

Sarracenia purpurea - Pitcher Plant

Sarracenia purpurea – Pitcher Plant

Another highlight of the workshop was learning about “disjunct” plant species found on the island – species whose major distributions are distinctly separated from areas close to the island. There are both western and arctic/alpine disjunct species found on the island, which make it a particularly exciting area to botanize.


Primula mistassinica – Birdseye Primrose; an arctic/alpine disjunct species


Saxifraga tricuspidata – three toothed saxifrage, another arcitc/alpine disjunct only found on Isle Royale in the continental US


Empetrum nigrum – black crowberry, another arctic/alpine disjunct

Other things I will take away from this workshop are increasing familiarity with and comfort using more botanical terms to describe plants, as we talked a lot about specific parts of plants that are useful in distinguishing similar species. It was helpful to cement these terms over a week of seeing these plants in the field and observing the variety of forms plants can take. Our instructor showed us several botanical resources – field guides and manuals, online websites, and various books – that I can use in the future. I also learned a great deal from my fellow workshop participants by talking to them about their careers, sharing plant ID tips, and creating a network of people with a variety of skills and experience. All in all, the workshop strengthened my field botany skills and my desire to keep working in this field to protect places like the beautiful Isle Royale National Park.


Calypso bulbosa – Fairy slipper Orchid


Cypripedium arietinum – Ram’s Head Lady-slipper


Perennial Plant Monitoring in Arizona

In the few weeks since my last post, my fellow interns and I at the USGS office here in Henderson have been busy working all across the Mojave Desert in Arizona, California, Utah, and Nevada. Our most recent project is the annual monitoring of perennial plants at the site of the 2011 Hidden Fire in Arizona. This field site is on BLM land in a region called the “Arizona Strip” – a strip of land in Arizona between the border and the Colorado River. This particular site has burned multiple times, converting the Joshua Tree woodland into an area densely covered by invasive annual grasses (Bromus madritensis in particular) that leaves the native annual and perennial species struggling to recover. We were there to monitor the effects of different restoration treatments, such as seeding with and without rodent protection, herbiciding, and seeding density, on the cover and frequency of perennial plant species.

Working in a new part of the Mojave gave us a chance to learn some new plant species and more about this relatively fragile ecosystem. The majestic backdrop of Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument made for some beautiful sunsets and moonrises, and we were able to spot some exciting wildlife. We saw a few horned lizards, a lark nest with three eggs, black widow spiders, and a gopher snake. We head back out next week to finish up the plant monitoring before the busy month of May comes to a close.


The moon rises over a bluff near our field site in the foreground, where few perennial species remain after the fire in 2011.


A black widow catches an unfortunate grasshopper in its web.


The black widow returns to its hole after subduing its prey.

Until next time!

Las Vegas Field Office, USGS



Plant Monitoring Across the Mojave

As the temperatures begin to climb and plants are in full bloom, we are approaching our busiest time for fieldwork here in the Mojave. We recently traveled to every common garden site (St. George, UT, Fort Irwin, CA, and Joshua Tree, CA) to monitor the survival of our transplants and get some baseline cover measurements. We were pleased to see that most of our plants are still alive, with many putting on new growth and some are even flowering! Soon we will start monitoring different traits to determine if the source population has any effect on plant success.

This past week we traveled back to Eureka Valley to start growth measurements for Swallenia alexandrae – Eureka Valley dune grass – and continue measuring Oenothera californica ssp. eurekensis – Eureka Valley Evening Primrose. It has only been two weeks since our previous monitoring trip, but some of the primrose had doubled in size and completely covered the tags we had marking them! They are loaded with flowers, and some have even started producing seed pods. Additionally, the Sphaeralcea ambigua and Baileya pleniradiata at the dunes are in full bloom, and created a beautiful sea of orange and yellow flowers that were visible from miles away. It’s amazing how much life these dunes can support! Walking through the dunes we saw desert iguanas darting from shrub to shrub, a horned lizard, a leopard lizard, and a yellow headed blackbird. The desert is truly starting to come to life.

Finally, my fellow interns and I have done some exploring around Las Vegas, and went to a restored wetland park for birdwatching and on a quest to find desert bighorn sheep. We saw several different species of water birds in the wetland, turtles, hummingbirds, and even a couple baby gallinules! There is a park in Boulder City that is well known for the bighorn sheep that come and graze there, and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one just before the sun went down, and it returned to the mountains for the night. All in all, it has been a very busy but exciting two weeks and I’m looking forward to continuing the projects in the weeks to come.


Marble Canyon dunes in Eureka Valley, one of the three dunes where we study Oenothera califonica ssp. eurekensis and Swallenia alexandrae


Desert bighorn making his way back up to the mountains for the evening


Spring Restoration in the Mojave

Our field season in the Mojave is pretty much in full swing now. This past week my fellow CLM interns and I headed to Fort Irwin, CA with our USGS mentors to plant our common garden site there with Ambrosia dumosa (White bursage), Larrea tridentata (Creosote bush), and Sphaeralcea ambigua (Desert Globemallow). We had just over 600 plants to transport and plant out at our field site, which makes for some interesting logistical challenges. However, true to form our crew finished the planting earlier than expected and enjoyed exploring our final common garden site.



Sun setting at our Ft. Irwin field site


One of my favorite things about this internship so far is the chance to travel to field sites around the Mojave Desert, in Utah, Nevada, California, and eventually Arizona. I particularly appreciated it this week because our field site in California was ablaze with an assortment of beautiful blooming annuals. This was the first chance we’d had to see a variety of annuals, because other parts of the Mojave haven’t had enough rainfall to support the annual plants. It also meant that we had the chance to do some plant collection and practice our plant pressing and ID’ing skills! We had to improvise a bit as 30 mph winds made collecting and pressing plants in the field a bit difficult, but we managed to get our samples back to the office intact and worked as a team to identify some of the annuals we saw. My plant ID partner Renee and I learned some great tips for using dichotomous keys, and I loved the puzzle of figuring out which plants we had found. The sometimes frustrating experience was more than worth the satisfaction we felt when we identified the plants we collected (see pictures below). I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with our key and exploring more of the fabulous Mojave Desert in the weeks to come!


A beautiful patch of Desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata)


Mojave suncup (Camissonia campestris), one of the plants we identified


Desert pincushion (Chaenactis fremontii), one of the other plants we identified with our keys