The last pale light in the west

When I decided to move to Tucson for my internship I promised myself one thing, I wasn’t going to sit on any cacti, I wasn’t going to realize that cliché of an Easterner gone West. Within one week that promise was broken by a poorly placed agave. Despite this tragedy for the seat of my pants, I can gladly say that this internship has been one of the most exciting and surprising experiences of my life. Having never been to Tucson before, I took the stereotypical New Yorker view and assumed it was all desert, complete with saguaros and rattlesnakes. While I have definitely seen my fair share of both, I’ve also realized that a lot of the land around Tucson includes grasslands and riparian zones, complete with diverse ecosystems that I never expected to see here.

Grasslands on the Audobon Research Ranch

Grasslands on the Audobon Research Ranch

cholla forest on the ironwood

Cholla Forest on the Ironwood

Because my internship doesn’t revolve around one major project, I’ve gotten to help out on a wide variety of research with a lot of different people and organizations. The largest project I’ve worked on so far has been monitoring the grasses on the La Cienegas National Conservation Area. Prior to this job I’ve had very little by way of plant education, so this was a crash course in grass identification. To make matters worse, this has been a bad drought year for Tucson, so nearly all of the grasses were missing their seeds. Despite all of this, I’ve actually come to really enjoy vegetation work. I can now reluctantly say I have a favorite upland grass…

"Take a picture for your mother"- upland grass monitoring

"Take a picture for your mother"- upland grass monitoring

The work that I was most surprised to find here was fish research. I’ve gotten to expand on my experiences in stream ecology, helping to survey and catch some of the endangered species of fish that live in the Gila and San Pedro Rivers. I’ve gone seining for Top Minnow, laid traps for Gila Chub, and conducted water quality testing. I never thought there would be this many opportunities to don chest waders in Arizona.

Counting Minnows

Counting Minnows

My internship has also included a scattering of random jobs here and there. I got to spend one day last week helping out with the Historic Empire Ranch Roundup, a sort of cowboy festival that benefits the restoration of an old ranch on BLM land. Two weeks ago I got to go down to a ranch right on the Mexican border to work with the Nature Conservancy on some vegetation monitoring they were conducting. A few weeks before that, I was helping out with the reintroduction of prairie dogs into areas where they were previously hunted to extinction. Although it’s hard for me to predict what I’m going to be doing for work more than a few days in advance, the work keeps me on my toes and more often than not it’s exciting.

Petting the mini-horses at the Empire Ranch Roundup

Petting the mini-horses at the Empire Ranch Roundup

Can you spot mexico?

Can you spot mexico?

prairie dog release

Prairie Dog Release

Unlike most of the other interns in this program, I didn’t start until mid-august, so I still have a few more months in Tucson. I’m ready for whatever comes after this, but I’m more excited to find out what I’ll be working on next week.

Tucson Sunset

Tucson Sunset

-Peter Leipzig-Scott

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