Getting prepared for the start of the field season means more forays out onto Public land to dust off my Botany skills. This included a trip down to the Organ Mountains Desert-Peaks National Monument outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico. This is a stunning BLM-managed Monument which provides an intimidating jagged ridge line (see photo below). Although most well known for the abundance of beautiful granite and rhyolite formations, the Organ Mountains are (arguably) the most botanically diverse range in New Mexico, including several endemic species.
Sunrise creeping over the Organ Mountains from my campsite
My little jaunt into this Monument took me up 4000 ft to the highest peak in the range, the Organ Needle. As I hiked creosote desert shrub-land transitioned into fields of wildflowers, oak and juniper woodlands, and ponderosa pine forest. At the summit I was rewarded with an outstanding view north in White Sands National Park and south into Mexico and Texas.
View into White Sands National Park from Organ Needle peak
Of course the hike took me twice as long as it should since I was stopping every few minutes to admire/key the myriad forbs, grasses, shrubs and trees that accompanied me along the way. My favourite of the day was the beautiful (and delicious) Desert Onion as seen below.
Allium macropetalum – abundant on the footslopes of the Organ Mountains
As well as botanizing to my heart’s content I have also been preparing for the upcoming AIM training in Grand Junction, CO next month. One of my responsibilities as an instructor is to gather and process soil samples for the 70 participants to train with. While this does involve exciting expeditions out into the field to source these soils, it also requires hours of tedious sieving and quality control. Below is my makeshift workstation.
Sieving soil for the upcoming AIM training
As the field season approaches so does spring! The infuriating yet familiar haze of Juniper pollen, the increase in temperatures and the beautiful greening of the landscape. All this has encouraged me to get outside and explore!
Over the last couple months I have had the opportunity of travelling all over the Southwest: St George, Phoenix, Moab, Carlsbad, Roswell, Las Cruces, and Taos. Through these travels I have: presented at a scientific conference, improved my skills in writing NEPA documents, increased my understanding of the (perhaps threatened) Endangered Species Act, enhanced my skills as an AIM instructor, as well as attended many fascinating interdisciplinary team discussions.
While these have been valuable learning experiences, above all I have treasured visiting such a variety exceptional natural areas. This last month has really crystallized my love of the desert and the mountains in this part of the world.
However, there is much office work still to be done! In preparation for the coming AIM field season I have been involved with planning sample designs, purchasing crew equipment, hiring crews and much more!
This month I got the opportunity to work remotely while visiting family in London, England. This gave me the chance to check out some amazing botanical gardens including the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens at Wisley. Below are a few highlights: A Heliconia and passion flower.
This month I am really settling in to life in the State Office! My cube now has 5 posters and I’m slowing growing my book collection; although my shelf is mostly occupied by a
few beautiful sea shells I picked up in Mexico over Thanksgiving.
My current hobbies include making maps in ArcGIS, playing with pivot tables in Excel and learning about endangered species.
This month has been very busy; several visits to the Taos Field office including a introductory tour for the new botanist, a successful interdisciplinary team meeting at the Rio Puerco district office and more DOI Learn trainings than you can shake a stick at.
It has been very busy! Rare plant surveys in the Ojito wilderness study area, AIM training in Albuquerque, visits to the Las Cruces District Office and the Jornada researchers and of course lots of data analysis! The New Mexico State Office has been very welcoming and I have enjoyed meeting the plethora of managers, scientists and interns. Now I just need a few plants for my cube…