A Southwestern Summer Begins…

Well hello there all, this is my first post for the CLM internship – probably one of the very last “first” posts of the season!

Two weeks ago I arrived in Las Cruces, NM after a meditative two-day drive out from Southern California.  Throughout those couple of road days I observed my car’s temperature gauge break the three-digit number barrier and beyond! This was a sure sign that I was entering a summer in the Southwest.  I met up with my new partner in crime, Elisabeth, and we headed to our new BLM digs at the Dripping Springs Recreation Area.  To my surprise we drove out of town, up gravel roads and to the base of the looming Organ Mountains, where our little adobe casita awaited us.  We watched the glowing sunset over the entire city and then sat down to enjoy the show – lizards doing push-ups, deer timidly browsing, and the illuminated city lights. Talk about a million dollar view! (See my co-intern’s awesome pictures in her post).

The next couple days we toured the office and completed various safety trainings, and at night we explored Las Cruces.  I have a very strong inkling that we will be eating copious amounts of delicious Mexican food throughout these seven months if the last two weeks have been any indication.  Our proximity to the Mexican-American border provides many tasty opportunities, but comes with other interesting aspects.  Unlike many of our CLM counterparts in states north of us, we attended a lecture by a Border Patrol Officer.  He explained the importance of his agency’s  job, their means of action, and the most common situations they face during the workday.  He also explained to us how we should act if we come across any suspicious people or objects while working in the field. While I didn’t find this information alarming, it was still reassuring to be advised what to do by someone with lots of border patrol experience.

And soon enough we rolled through our first border patrol stop on the way to our first day of field work!  Our mission: to look for Dermatophyllum gaudalupense, Guadalupe mescal bean, a rare evergreen shrub that favors slightly gypsum soils on sandstone outcroppings.  We worked with the Carlsbad Field Office (hometown of the famous Carlsbad Caverns) to survey a few canyons and arroyos that seem to be suitable habitat for the plant.  We scurried up bone-dry stream beds, past spiny cacti, and spindly ocotillo.  It was in this remote place that the reality of this amazing opportunity and work environment struck me in the face.  I’m paid to do this?! I didn’t even mind that it was about 100 degrees outside, I was surveying and monitoring in the beautifully stark Chihuahuan desert scrub.

Unfortunately, we didn’t locate any unknown individuals but it provided me with a good opportunity to get comfortable with the land and the ecosystem.  We returned to this area the next week to collect plant samples from another rare species, Lepidospartum burgessii.  We worked with a post-doc from the Chicago Botanic Garden and used our polished GPS skills to locate individual plants, take cuttings for future propagation, and sample DNA.  It was an exhausting but fulfilling three days and a great start to the internship.  I’m excited for what’s in store next!

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