Two miles north of Hell…and totally worth it

Clark Mountain - one of my favorite collecting spots

Clark Mountain - one of my favorite collecting spots

Since June, I have been working for the BLM in Needles, California, in the Mojave Desert. With the government’s recent push for renewable energy development, the Needles Field Office has been busier than it ever has been before. Thousands of acres of public land are beginning to be developed for solar and wind power plants, and the Mojave is an ideal location. My primary task has been to collect seeds from native plants in these areas for future restoration, which has been both rewarding and exhausting. It’s exhilarating to know the seeds I’m collecting will be used to restore and rehabilitate a habitat that will be going through lots of changes in the near future. However, collecting seeds from widely dispersed, very prickly plants in 125 degree heat is about as difficult as you can imagine! The locals like to say Needles is two miles north of Hell…and on hot days, I know exactly what they mean.

These seeds look like maces - they're so prickly you just have to stick your hand in the shrub to collect them!

Krameria erecta seeds on my glove. They look like medieval maces - they're so prickly you just have to stick your hand in the shrub to collect them!

My other responsibilities include mapping and surveying sand dunes south of Needles for the Mojave fringe-toed lizard, which is currently being reviewed for listing as an endangered species; surveying the lower Colorado River for bats, using mist nets and high frequency recording devices to identify different species calls; hiking miles upon miles hunting down sensitive native plant species to input into the state database, monitoring water sources that are located in wilderness areas for invasive weeds, and learning to identify dozens of new plant and animal species I’ve never seen before.

A pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) - this little guy was one of 80 individuals we caught in one night

A pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) - this little guy was one of 80 individuals we caught in one night

Before accepting this internship, I had never been to the Mojave Desert, and it was someplace I never thought I would go. Moving to the desert from Colorado was a shock to the mind and body, especially since I’d only ever worked in old-growth pine forests in the Rockies. Over the last three months, however, I’ve learned to value and enjoy one of the most desolate, extreme places I’ve ever been. The term wilderness has really taken on a new meaning for me; it would be nearly impossible to survive in the desert even for a few hours without water or shelter. A place that inhospitable and intense deserves respect and reverence, as do all the plants and wildlife that manage to thrive here. The Mojave is an ecologically sensitive, awe-inspiring place that not many people get the opportunity to know or enjoy. I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve gotten a chance to explore an environment I’d never considered before, helping me grow personally and professionally.

Liz Thompson, BLM, Needles, CA

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