Land of Enchantment

When I arrived in Santa Fe a cool mountain drizzle welcomed me with a much-needed car wash and the intoxicating smell of juniper and pinyon pine in the air. In an instance, I was convinced that it I would be here to stay. However, this rain did not seem to return. Months went by and I would soon learn about the realities of drought, fire restrictions, and of course, unhappy plants. This became the theme of my summer.

During this period of drought dormancy, I found community around Santa Fe and started learning the landscape. This began with my favorite BLM past time, drive by botany. At 60 miles an hour, my crew mate Sam would rattle off Latin name of plant skeletons that to me were just blurs on the side of the road, who knew this would prepare me for what was about to come.

Unlike my home in the Midwest, where April showers would bring May flowers, the Southwest created its own rule book and in order to survive species have to adapt to these ever-changing weather extremes. By late July, the rain finally arrived, but the desert is not gentle, and when it rains, it pores. On July 24, the monsoons arrived with 3.5 inches of rainfall in one delirious night; this night marked a turning point in our collection season. The high plateau landscape transformed overnight from brown to green with plants emerging from the sandy soils anywhere with a hint of moisture. Like the animals, our crew adapted to the weather of the Southwest to survive and we collected whatever we could get our hands on. Within a few weeks, my desk was buried in a mountain of seeds awaiting their journey to the Bend Extractory.

This season was riddled with many lessons about the resilience of desert plants, the challenges of ever increasingly unpredictable weather, the struggle of racing DOT mowers, and the search for annuals that seem to move miles in a season. If you get a chance to work with CLM you might not share these same experiences but you will walk away with a wealth of stories and experiences unique to your season. Working in the BLM New Mexico State Office presented a variety of opportunities to learn about careers in conservation and receive cross training in a variety of fields. Even if you do not gain something from working with a diverse group of professionals, there is never an absence of lessons to be gleaned from desert plants and the incredible ecosystems they live in.

Cleome serrulata camouflage in the Gila National Forest\

Take care CLM,

Luke Knaggs Santa Fe BLM office

Extracurricular Activities

As we approach the end of August and seed collecting is winding down a bit, our mentor has provided us with opportunities to expand our knowledge and experience past seed collecting.  Throughout the summer, but particularly now, we’ve had the opportunity to survey and monitor various endemic or rare plants in the Fremont Co. area.  Earlier in the year, we were tasked with monitoring the phenology of a rare plant called Yermo xanthocephalus, commonly known as desert yellowhead, which only occurs in two areas of Wyoming.  We collaborated with a botanist performing studies to understand what pollinates this rare plant and at what frequency, as well as perform paternity analyses.   My partner and I helped her set up pollinator traps and checked on the maturity of fruits for her on a weekly basis.

Setting up experimental pollinator traps

Another rare plant we spent a few days mapping out was Cleome multicaulis, a beautifully tiny, spindly little forb apart of the mustard family.  It only occurs in or near very alkaline, dried lake beds.  Even though its flowers are purple and it’s about a foot tall, they’re still somewhat hard to spot at first, because they are so thin and delicate.  We typically found them along the perimeter of these dried lake beds, usually near or under a group of sagebrush.  One of the days we spent scouting for this plant, my partner and I had three separate encounters with rattle snakes.  We’d definitely ran into them before, being in Wyoming, but I’ll say after the third rattle… we were both a bit on the jumpy side.  I believe we called it a little earlier than we might have usually, because our nerves were shot by then.

One of my favorite areas we spent time at was in the badlands of Chalk hills, where we scouted and mapped out a rare sagebrush, Artemisia porteri, commonly called Porter’s sagebrush.  I realize it’s a bit bizarre for someone who loves botany to also enjoy an area so void of vegetation, but I did 🙂  Perhaps it’s because I’ve just never been exposed to such a drastic habitat, part of me felt like I was on Mars…or at least the closest I’ll ever get to being on Mars.  Surprisingly, we saw a lot of Jack rabbits in the area, which was really cool.  We were successful in identifying the rare sagebrush, and once we got a better feel for the distinct areas they occurred, it was a very pleasant way to spend a day out in the field, in a habitat that I was so unfamiliar with.

Badlands of Chalk hills, where we found Artemisia porteri

We recently received very exciting news; our internship was approved for a month extension, so instead of finishing up in late September, my partner and I will work a the BLM- Lander Field Office until the end of October, which is wonderful!  Any extra employment I can get, especially during the off-season for field work, is very welcomed.  And I’m especially excited to have an opportunity to see what Lander’s like in the Fall 🙂  I feel very grateful right now, and look forward to the upcoming months!

Becca Cross,

BLM- Lander Field Office