While I’ve only spent a little over 3 months of my post-graduation life in Utah, I think I can safely say that I’ve seen more of this absolutely stunning state than most native Utahns could lay claim to in their whole lives. From our base of operations near the center of the state in the town of Richfield, my two fellow interns and myself have explored the canyons, mesas, buttes, mountains, meadows, arroyos, pinyon-juniper hillsides, ponderosa and aspen forests, grassland steppes, slickrock desert wildernesses, and all sorts of other swell places that I’m not quite sure how to name. The diversity of landscapes and natural features in Utah is staggering and not at all what I—a mere midwesterner—had expected when I heeded the call of the ever-growing wanderlust in my heart and headed west from Iowa City, Iowa for my position with the BLM in Richfield. Quite the contrary, my limited knowledge of the American Southwest had me worried that I was consigning the next 5 months of my life to be spent in a desolate and lifeless-gray wasteland. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth, and I have thoroughly fallen in love with the unique beauty of this land.
As an intern with the BLM, I’ve been working on the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, collecting the seeds of native plants from the Colorado Plateau ecoregion for long-term seed banking (in case of the apocalypse), restoration (plenty of former oil pads need a makeover), and research. While I sometimes feel like a glorified lawnmower as I systematically work my way through a population of natural grasses, cutting seeds off into my collection bag, I recognize the value of the work that I and numerous others are carrying out. Since modern settlers first arrived in the West, bringing such “wildlife” as sheep and cows with them and the multitude of “improvements” that modern life seems to necessitate, this land has been radically altered and the ecology simplified. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see how many of these changes are detrimental to our future. Restoring native plants to their natural range and banking seeds to preserve genetic diversity is an essential component of successful conservation practices.
While collecting seeds in some of the most gorgeous vistas I’ve ever seen is pretty neat, it can occasionally get a tad tiresome. Luckily, we’ve had several diversions to keep us entertained and energized. In late July we attended the Botany and Mycology 2009 conference held at Snowbird, Utah. Just east of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains, Snowbird is one of the premier ski resorts of Utah in the winter, and an alpine wonderland in summer. Lectures, hiking, and of course the free coffee and cookies are a surefire recipe for fun bombs. This past weekend we also had a real stupendous time on the Green River in northeastern Utah for a weed-pulling, threatened-plant-finding, rafting, “BioBlitz” extravaganza. As everyone knows, spending time on or around water is simply too much fun to be work, so when I found out I was getting paid for my recreation, I positively squealed with delight! Well, maybe not quite, but it sure was a rollickin’ good time.
While there’s plenty more to share about my life here in Utah, I think I’ve already communicated the gist of what’s made my internship experience thus far so fantastic. While not every aspect of it has been as rosy as the red rock sandstone I see on a daily basis (see: office politics), I’m still stoked that I chose to come out here. And since I’ll be out here until the beginning of November, I still have plenty of time to see even more great places before I head home. My goal is to get to all 5 national parks in Utah. Having been to Zion, Bryce Canyon and Captiol Reef so far, I only have Arches and Canyonlands left, which should make for some wonderful trips as the weather cools into October.
In parting, I want to leave with some words about the red rock country of eastern Utah that I’ve come to love from a more poetic and authoritative source than myself:
“…it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”
– Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Alexander Howe, BLM, Richfield, Utah