One Last Picnic in Southern Utah

At this time last week, my fellow interns and I were harvesting Wyethia scabra from Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, a scene probably already issued to us by Hollywood, which has used the Kenab area for its westerns and Arabian footage for years.  Collecting native seeds for programs such as drill pad restoration and the Seeds of Success initiative is a fairly typical day for us; however, our proximity to the end of this internship, as well as the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, where it all began with CLM’s training on the South Rim, inspired more introspection than usual. 

Powell Point, Dixie National Forest

Powell Point, Dixie National Forest

When we left the Grand Canyon in July, I thought that I had a fairly good grasp of what the next five months would be like.  I would learn the family, genus, and species names of Utah native plants, become more proficient in GIS, and contribute—albeit in a small way—to the long term storage and research of specimens that could otherwise be lost to invasive competitors, disease, or climate change in the coming decades.  While all of this turned about to be essentially correct, the backdrop of the work has been surprising in its beauty and complexity.  I have learned about the Waterpocket Fold, laccolithic uplifts along the Sevier Fault, and other

San Rafael Reef

San Rafael Reef

geological phenomenon in equal measure to desert flora made precious by its scarcity and evolutionary tenacity to survive in extreme environments.  I have learned Utah history from those who praise Mormon pioneers for their bravery and industriousness, as well as those who disparage them for their foolhardiness and anthropocentric worldviews.  I have built lasting friendships and learned from office spats. 

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Also, I could not have anticipated the more mundane glint of hundreds of gypsum facets along Highway 70, the absolute peace of the San Rafael Reef when a tendril of windblown Indian Ricegrass traces a line in the sand, the haunting petroglyphs that survey the area nearby, and a night sky so unpolluted by light and particulates that the Milky Way is discernable.  In so many of the most important ways, my CLM internship has been nothing like my initial expectations of it.  And I am deeply thankful for that.

Ben Miller, BLM Field Office, Richfield, Utah

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