Keep an Open Mind

Vernal, Utah isn’t well known for it’s tourism. It could be someday; it is close to attractions like Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Sheep Creek Geological Loop, Red Fleet State Park, the Uinta Mountains, Nine Mile Canyon, Fantasy Canyon, and the Book Cliffs. ATV and dirt bike trails are popular here; it’s a bit like Moab without the traffic. It’s also a mecca for paleontology. Just look around town, there are dinosaurs everywhere. There are also crude oil tankers and lifted trucks around every corner. For nine months now, I’ve been a Jeep in a sea of lifted trucks. If Vernal is well known for anything, it’s as the crude oil center of Utah.

Fantasy Canyon

This place doesn’t get a lot of love from outsiders, but for those willing to take a closer look it has a lot to give. As a botany intern with the Bureau of Land Management, I was able to take that look. There are nearly 50 unique plant species that evolved in this area and can only be found here. Many of those species rely on the region’s oil shale, which is also the source of local economy and culture.

White River Beardtongue (Penstemon albifluvis) only grows in oil shale. It is much more showy when in flower, but always a cool find due to it’s rareness.

A federally threatened species of Sclerocactus

A native bee pollinates Pallid Milkweed (Asclepias cryptoceras).

The plants don’t have to be rare or unique to be cool. My internship focused on the Seeds of Success program, so I collected from the common species that can hopefully be useful for future reclamation projects.

This Small-leaf Globemallow (Sphaeralcea parvifolia) was guarded by Phidippus octopunctatus. At 2.5 cm long, this is one of the largest species of jumping spider.  There’s no common name, so.. now calling it the Tuxedo Spider, thanks to males like this keeping it classy.

Sand-dune Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa var. turbinatus)… challenges of life on an active sand dune

Vernal has grown familiar and comfortable for me. I finally memorized the labyrinth of unsigned dirt roads into a mental map. I also appreciate the ability to drive on main roads for 80 miles without seeing another human. I will miss the familiarity, the species, and the people I worked with closely. To future interns, I say keep an open mind and this place will grow on you.

A Bittersweet moment. Yes, the Green River was really that green. -Gates of Lodore, Dinosaur National Monument, CO.



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