Today marks the end of my third week working for the BLM in the Needles field Office, California! The Needles Field office manages around 3.2 million acres in California. A little over two million acres of that land has recently been designated as the Mojave Trails national Monument. Being a Floridian, the learning curve has been fairly steep, but I am excited by how quickly myself and my fellow interns are learning the native flora and fauna of this area, and also how quickly we have all become friends. The Needles Field office is full of a diversity of landscapes, including springs, mountains, dunes, and a volcanic crater!
Many plants are blooming ahead of schedule this year, which meant we had to jump into things very early on and have been learning a lot through hands-on experience. Our first seed collection was of Chylismia claviformis ssp. claviformis, a flower in the Onagraceae family. For this, we went to Amboy crater, our home away from home. This area is a hot spot (pun intended) of biodiversity. Interesting insects and lizards scurry along the lava field rocks while the wildflowers inhabit sand patches leading to the crater. At this location we also collected seeds of Gerea canescens. We returned the following week with Dr. Sarah De Groot, field botanist and Seeds of Success coordinator at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden. This was easily one of my favorite experiences thus far. With Sarah we took a hike up into the crater where we collected Atriplex hymenelytra and Peritlye emoryi. Not many people can say that they’ve eaten lunch on top of a volcanic crater. But now we can! We scrambled along the inner walls of the crater moving from plant to plant collecting seeds, skillfully avoiding sliding down the rocky slopes, and feeling incredibly small in comparison to our surroundings. We also collected Plantago ovata and more Gerea canescens along the bottom flat areas surrounding the crater. Sarah also taught us how to do tissue collections of Larrea tridenta, and later that week we did collections on our own of Chylisma brevipes ssp. arizonica in the Kingston Mountains!
Whenever I move to a new area I like to learn about its history. We got a taste of that so far as well! We went on a tour with a local Chemehuevi elder. The Chemehuevis are one of many indian tribes that have inhabited this area. We walked around in the Chemehuevi mountains (which are gorgeous) talking about the native plants and wildllife with other students from Duke university who were helping them install solar power on the reservation. The interns and our mentor, Lara, were invited to the Chemehuevi cultural center on the Reservation afterwards where we got introduced to their history, customs, art, and even their plant collections and vouchers!
Because we are just beginning to become familiar with the area, a lot of what we have been doing is scouting for sites and taking notes on what populations are present, what species we can expect to find in various areas, when we should come back to the area, and comparing our notes to those of past interns. We are eager to continue exploring and finding as many populations as we can in the five months we are here!
I’m excited to learn more about this area and everything that lives here. The desert really is a diverse place and I’ve only just become learning all it has to offer!