Summer in the Sonoran Desert

Yosemite falls-a little side trip I took; it was AMAZING!

Yosemite falls-a little side trip I took; it was AMAZING!

The ride I took across the country-kidding a random awesome bus I saw in San Francisco

The ride I took across the country-kidding a random awesome bus I saw in San Francisco

Driving in from Vegas
Driving in from Vegas
Once you get outta town....

Once you get outta town....

Carnegea gigantea, the giant saguaro, one of my favorite succulents!

Carnegea gigantea, the giant saguaro, one of my favorite succulents!

Doin' work! Driving the pumps back after irrigating

Doin' work! Driving the pumps back after irrigating

Work with John is fun! I'm secretly trying to steal his job...

Work with John is fun! I'm secretly trying to steal his job...

    In the midst of the Sonoran desert lies the wonderful town of Yuma, AZ.  While the ‘Welcome to Yuma” sign boasts 122,000 residents, I am sure that must include the 50,000 snowbirds that are currently arriving.  Initially I was a bit nervous about moving to a small town from the bustling streets of Cincinnati, but I was amazed that all the stores/restaurants were the same as back home-with the exception of all the Mexican food, which has taken over all of my food groups.  Yuma is a fantastic place to live in the winter ( I love telling my frozen friends that I am still working on my tan!) but the summer was a true test of my love of hot weather (I arrived in July when temps were hitting 117-SCORCHING!).  According to the Guiness Book of World Records, Yuma is the sunniest place in the world-which I believe since in my four months here it has rained only twice and I could probably count on my two hands how many clouds I’ve seen.  California is about 5 minutes away and Mexico is about 15; there are more border patrol agents than police officers.  Another thing that struck me was the presence of agriculture EVERYWHERE in Yuma-it was the last thing I’d expect to see in the desert, but the soil is incredibly fertile due to the former floods of the Colorado River.  Add a little water and VIOLA- 90% of America’s winter crops-cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, cotton, citrus, dates, and more lettuce than you’ve seen in your entire life!  Overall I really like living in Yuma.  I thought it would be a lot harder moving somewhere all by my little ole self, but I was lucky to make friends quickly and have great co-workers too.

    My main responsibility is to maintain a riparian restoration area next to the Colorado River.  3 days a week I bring irrigation pumps and filters to the area and pull water from the Colorado River to the trees via drip irrigation systems.  At first I thought it was ludicrous to have to water cottonwood and willow trees in the middle of the desert, but my mentor explained that it was prime habitat for an indigenous bird, the Willow Flycatcher.  I’m pretty sure Murphy’s law was created in reference to irrigation work; I can’t remember the last smooth day I’ve had where at least SOMETHING didn’t go wrong.  It can be incredibly frustrating, but I’ve become quite a handy gal and learned a lot about irrigation (especially in the aspect of repairs).

    My other 35 hours a week are pretty random.  I’ve explored abandoned mine sites with the geologists (which can be really interesting/creepy), helped build kiosks for public lands, ridden up the scariest mountain road imaginable to check NEPA compliance, searched lakes for exotic invasive Quagga mussels, attended meetings for releasing endangered antelope into the Cibola Wildlife Refuge, planned a revegetation project for an old mining site and taken many classes pertaining to NEPA and BLM policies to name a few.  I have spent the vast majority of my time helping the horse and burro specialist survey our lands for grazing areas and burro overpopulation (basically, looking for poo).  We have recently set two burro traps in the glorious small town of Bard, CA, where the farmers were furious at the date-loving burros.  We have caught 5 burros thus far; they will be taken to a holding facility and eventually adopted out.  I have a newfound love of these little fellas and have vowed to adopt one someday…

   I am excited to see what the last month of my internship brings, as it has been full of surprises thus far. I may even stick around another 5 months and enjoy a sunny and toasty winter in the desert…..

Ashley Schnitker, BLM intern, Yuma, AZ

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