It’s officially my last day here in Wyoming and it feels somewhat surreal. I didn’t realize how quickly the summer was passing until the warm weather had already come and gone. I’m sad to go, but I am leaving just in time to avoid the first snowfall of the year that is expected on Monday. While leaving is very bittersweet, I attribute the fast pace of time to the amazing experiences I had and the beautiful people that I shared these experiences with.
Worthen Meadow Reservoir
During my time at the Lander Field Office, I have grown in many ways. I have had the opportunities to work with people from many different sectors of conservation and learned from each and every one of them. Everyone has a rich amount of knowledge and a unique viewpoint to go along with it.
Personally, I have become a more independent person while being out here. I lived alone for the first time in my life and have had so much time to reflect on my own wants and needs in life. I’ve become more bold when it comes to speaking up for myself and asking questions.
I have also conquered many personal fears that I had about working outdoors in secluded areas. Growing up in the city, the most “extreme” wildlife I could encounter was the occasional coyote in the backyard. I was definitely worried about threats such as bears and rattlesnakes before coming out here because this was all new territory for me. But with encouragement and support, I was able to adapt to my new surroundings and feel extremely comfortable towards the end.
Professionally, I’ve acquired numerous new skills and improved existing ones. I’ve become proficient in ArcMap/GIS and the use of a Trimble GPS in the field. I’ve learned how to maneuver treacherous two-track roads in a large truck and how to properly mount herbarium specimens. And I’ve also improved my knowledge of plant terminology and gotten better and using a dichotomous key for identification.
The most rewarding experience I had out here was getting to see the rare and endangered species, Yermo xanthocephalus, because this species only exists in two small populations in Fremont County, WY. It was very special getting to see a site that 99% of people will never see in their lifetime.
We also had several “AHA” moments throughout the season. Most of them involved trying to locate plant populations or determine when seeds were fully mature. It was frustrating having to return to locations several different times to check up on the plants, but it paid off in the end.
I am so proud of all that I’ve achieved this summer. My partner and I surpassed our goal of 20 collections and ended the season with 27. All of these collections contained a surplus of seeds so that some will go to long term storage and others will be used in restoration projects. It’s so rewarding knowing that all of our work is going to such a great cause.
I am extremely grateful to have been chosen for this experience. As I turn the page into the next chapter of my life, I don’t quite know what’s in store for me. But I do know that I am better prepared to take on the next set of challenges with all of the skills I’ve acquired and the friendships I’ve made.
Best wishes to the next set of interns. You are in good hands!
Something about nature, specifically wildlife, has always captivated me. Even as a child, I would rather play with plastic animals than trucks, or action figures. At the age of 29, playing with toys has lost it’s appeal, but over the years I have learned to express my affinity for the natural world in other ways. Just being out in nature isn’t enough. I feel the desire to capture my findings through photography, drawing, and occasionally painting. I’m unsure why I find the urge to express myself in this way. Maybe it’s just how I most readily connect with the world around me, and share feelings with people that I am unable to articulate. But sometimes, I don’t feel the explicit desire to share with other people. I’m content with enjoying the solo process of discovering interesting subject matter, capturing it, and possibly manipulating it or combining certain elements to create something new, or visually surreal. On the other hand, I do enjoy sharing the finished product with other people. Making other people feel something positive and tangible through my art makes me feel connected to them. Sometimes I wonder if I would have any drive to create art if I could not share it with others. After all, what is the point of life besides connecting with others. Creating and maintaining meaningful relationships is a hallmark of humanity.
Anyway, I’d like to share a piece of Wyoming inspired art and the process of creation. When I draw, it is very time consuming. Because of that, I have only completed one drawing in the almost four months that I’ve been in Lander, Wyoming. Getting the form down is definitely the most difficult part for me. There’s plenty of erasing involved. Sometimes I will realize that something is out of proportion when I’m too far along to fix it. Oh well…maybe that makes it more interesting. Over the past few years I’ve started by drawing the outlines in pencil. Once I’m satisfied with the form, I will trace it with ink, erase the pencil, then use primarily ink to fill everything in. Even though using ink can be painstakingly slow, I enjoy the challenge of it. I like how the darkness of ink makes it easy to develop contrast in a drawing, and something about the permanence of ink is inherently satisfying. Once I’m at the point that I can start shading, I’m able to relax. The process becomes meditative and my mind becomes free to listen to music, learn something from a podcast, or just wander.
When possible, I enjoy using photos that I have taken myself as references when drawing (I really struggle at creating something from nothing, or drawing with no reference). In my latest drawing, I was able to merge a few photos I’ve taken to create something slightly abstract. I usually don’t find any deep meaning, or strong symbolism in my work, and I feel the same about this piece. I just took one charismatic animal that I’ve encountered in Wyoming and combined it with an equally attention garnering plant. My inspiration started with the only decent photo of an elk that I’ve taken so far. I knew I wanted that elk to form the foundation of the drawing. Next, I looked through photos I had taken of Castilleja (one species of this genus is the Wyoming state flower) and found growth forms that I liked. I drew the Castilleja to look as if they are growing out of the elk’s antlers…and one on the back just to kind of balance things out. After drawing the plant on the back, I got the idea to display the root structure of the plant. I liked what the strong, yet crooked, imperfect lines of the roots brought to the drawing. When I was done with all of the shading I still felt like something was missing. Several elements of the drawing had an ethereal feel to me; obviously, the plants growing out of the animal and the abstract root structure. But in addition to that, it looked almost as if the elk was smiling and there was a slight shimmer in it’s eye. I had the urge to make it more vibrant, but not in a totally rationale way. I added a lot of patterned, vibrant color to give it kind of a psychedelic feel. Maybe I implicitly created something that demonstrates the ecological connections present in nature, since elk do eat Castilleja…not sure what the colors mean though. I just wanted to make something that is visually loud and interesting.
I learned and did so many interesting things during my time in Klamath Falls. Some things I expected to learn, like new field techniques and endangered species protocols; others I did not, like how the public perceives government work.
I’ve grown pretty attached to the less-loved fish (like suckers, see left, sucker spp. young of the year), even though in the end I think I spent more time working with trout. Still, there were so many species to study (and to stumble upon in passing). I’ve added quite a few to my life list, some that I never even knew existed.
This was a great first experience in long-term fieldwork. I can’t say I loved every second of it, because waking up at 2 am is hard, getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and lugging heavy equipment in the hot sun is hard, but it was great nonetheless. The work may have been hard, but it meant something, and work worth doing hardly feels like work at all. We participated in so many projects: bat surveys, vegetation surveys, electrofishing, snorkel surveys, larval collection and rearing, stream surveys, mussel salvages, fish geometric morphometric analysis, wolf management projects, wolf monitoring projects. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. They kept us busy.
The staff in Klamath Falls were the best. Everyone had something to teach us. Everyone had a different story about how they ended up in conservation and some wisdom to go with it. I’m glad that working with Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife could become part of my conservation story. In short, I’m so glad I decided to make the move to a small high desert town in south-central Oregon. I’m so thankful to everyone I met and worked with in Klamath Falls as well as the staff of the Chicago Botanic Garden. In the words of Douglas Adams, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” I fully expect to keep chasing animals (in a respectful way) on and off the job. Here’s some assorted pictures:
Brianne Nguyen Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office
At the beginning of this month I started my new job at the Bend Seed Extractory and casually moved across the country to Bend, Oregon.
I have never been to the west coast before and was finishing up another internship in Pennsylvania when I was offered the opportunity to move to Oregon and start working at the Seed Extractory starting early September. I immediately said, yes.
Originally, there were a lot of logistics that I didn’t think through before initially accepting this position (such as finding housing and having a car). However, as I began to plan everything started to fall into place- shipped my car (this is pricey, yes), and found a dope girl on Craigslist to live with (craigslist can be weird but once you weed through the weirdos its rather helpful).
Anyway, the west coast has exceeded my expectations. It is BEAUTIFUL. I am originally from Virginia and accustomed to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Cascades are a entirely different breed of mountain. In addition, I am extremely grateful to have been placed in Bend. This town is amazing! It’s full of hikes, climbing, breweries, and farmers markets that are essentially festivals.
Here’s a pic of me enjoying Black Butte (one of the many hikes Bend has to offer).
Another thing that I wasn’t completely prepared for when I moved here is how intensely different the vegetation is! There are about negative deciduous trees here and everything is a shrub (still beautiful though and let’s remember Bend is essentially a desert). However, I am enjoying learning to identify all the new evergreens in the area, as in VA we have about three options to pick from when there’s a conifer around.
Here’s a picture of a Ponderosa Pine that I can’t figure out how to rotate! (these babies are everywhere and the bark is so cool!!- sorry Im kind of a tree geek)
Anyway, figure I should talk about my new job a bit too and the reason I actually moved to Bend, but instead, I’ll leave you with a picture of the first seed I processed at the extractory and leave you on the edge of your seat to hear all about it next month!
Adventures in the Chihuahuan Desert have exposed me to some bizarre organisms… At least, they seem that way initially. The harsh conditions require remarkable adaptations that call to attention the tenacity of life.
Recent encounters with some perils of this ecosystem have bequeathed me with strength and a tenacity reminiscent of a truly spectacular angiosperm.
Koeberliniaspinosa, a native to harsh climates in the Southwestern US and Mexico with unrelenting spines but delicate flowers, permits pollinator passage. While the plant can bear leaves, photosynthesis is carried out in young stems and thorns most prominently. Some might consider this ~3m tall shrub unsightly and unwelcoming. I, however, have come to recognize it as the ingenuity and strength needed for survival in a challenging environment.
In the same way this plant has a strategy for not being eaten and avoiding desiccation, one must adapt in order to thrive in life’s many challenges. This internship has introduced me to many obstacles I had to overcome using creativity, bravery, and teamwork. While these solutions may not come naturally and can seem a little awkward, they each have a unique beauty far more impressive than anything armed with delicateness alone.
It is in such a way I hope to continue addressing obstacles as I navigate life. I owe a lot to this internship and this place for giving me this experience. And I am particularly indebted to the plants, animals, and landscapes that have served as a canvas on which I could learn these valuable lessons. Without them, this story would have no color.
Summertime in the high desert environment of Bend dries your lips, freckles your skin, dampens the path of your back, and leaves you craving a cold one.
Although the seeds aren’t kept in the same fridge where your lemonade is kept, they reside in the freezer – larger than my apartment, mind you – located just a matter of paces from the Seed Extractory.
A little about the freezer!
The main goal of seed storage is to maintain viability. It offers prolonged safekeeping of seed material in ‘ideal’ conditions, which reduce physiological activity of the seed. While in this dormant state, seeds may maintain their viability, and overall usefulness, in the months, years, or even decades to come.
In order for the seeds to make it to their final limbo-like state they must reach certain requirements. Although I included little mention of this over my last post, I believe it’s deserves reiteration.
Seeds must be dried and stored under proper conditions. These conditions include: 20-40% ERH (Estimated Relative Humidity), and remain at a constant temperature.
High seed moisture content is associated with freezing injury through ice crystal formation that disrupts, and ultimately destroys cells. Additionally, high moisture is also a problem with microbial contamination and activity.
It would be a shame for all of our collective work to be all for nothing! From the field, to the office, to traveling via mail, to testing, to storage these seeds take an absolute voyage. What a shame, and what a waste it would be if the finish line turned out to be nothing more than a trash can, right?
I know the storage facility here resembles nothing remotely close to the gorgeous forests, plains, bluffs, glades, etc these plants came from. But to me, the images above display promise. A promise that those same fields where you all scuffed your knees, cut up your shins, burned your necks, and calloused your hands can, and will remain just as beautiful as they were that day you spent with them. If the seeds are properly stored, we’ll be able to properly, and appropriately reintroduce them where they’re needed, when they’re needed.
We woke Sunday up to a completely different world. The fog and the steam from all the geysers and hot springs seemed to melt together into one big cloud, leaving us with an ominously magical morning in Yellowstone. With hardly any people out so early, we quickly made it to our first site around the Upper Loop, Nymph Lake. The air was chilly and refreshing, and made a perfect setting for the view.
After several photos at Nymph Lake, we started to make our way to the next two stops: Roaring Mountain and Sheepeater Cliff. All of a sudden I hear a collective “buffalo!” and look to see a massive adult right in front of our car. I was thrilled (and safe in our rental car) and managed to take a really great picture of him from my window. This species of buffalo can get up to 6 feet in height, weigh over 2,000 pounds, and run at speeds up to 40 mph. He was literally as big as our SUV. And, as quickly as he appeared, he vanished into the trees when a large truck drove up behind us. Soon after, we arrived at Roaring Mountain, a structure made out of volcanic rhyolite rock. Apparently, it sits on a spot where magma flows closer to the surface of the earth than usual, creating steam vents all over the face of the mountain. Our next stop was at Sheepeater Cliff, an interesting, columnar rock structure formed from cooling basalt lava. It was named after a group of Shoshone Native Americans or the “Sheepeaters” for their use of bighorn sheep.
After our first few stops, we were ready to find Mammoth Hot Springs, a spot one of my uncles highly recommended. We pulled over briefly to see Golden Gate Canyon on our way, and even saw another lone bison shortly after. When we got to Mammoth Hot Springs site, there were elk everywhere. This was our first time seeing a male elk, and we even got to watch and hear him bugle. We explored the Lower Terrace Area of Mammoth Hot Springs, and were particularly amazed at the Palette Spring Terraces. The limestone rock in the terraces gets dissolved deep in the earth and then deposited on the surface again, forming stair-like structures.
We then went on to look at a few more sites, ending up at the Lower and Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We decided to take the hike down several switchbacks to an overlook that brings you to a platform right at the top of the Lower Falls. The Yellowstone River plummets down 308 feet at this point, with a force between 5,000 and 63,500 gallons per second. This makes the Lower Falls the tallest waterfall in the park! As you can see from the photo below, it was seriously impressive. This was my favorite walk of the day, and maybe the whole trip. I have never been so close to falls that powerful before, and really enjoyed the view of the canyon from the platform.
We had just one more stop on our Yellowstone list at this point in the trip, before we had to head back to Lander. We wanted to stop at the Mud Volcano springs and fumaroles site. Most of the hot springs here were pools of bubbling mud, and the fumaroles released an awful smelling mixture of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide gases. But, this place was so cool. One hot spring in particular, called Dragon’s Mouth, literally sounded like it was roaring at you.
With that, our Yellowstone adventure came to an end. We headed back down South through the Grand Tetons, and then out its East entrance towards Lander. While we did a whole lot of exploring, there were still so many sites and hikes left in the park that we couldn’t fit into our schedule. I think anyone could spend weeks out there and never run out of things to do. This weekend was one of my favorite weekends yet in Wyoming, and I can’t wait to go back to the parks in October. Until next time. 🙂
My first-ever adventure to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park last weekend was soooo fun. My parents came out all the way from Virginia to visit, and we had the best time exploring new territory, crossing things off our bucket lists left and right. We were able to spend all of Thursday showing them around Lander, but once Friday came, we were ready to get on the road. En route to the East entrance of Grand Teton National Park, we drove through a small town called Dubois about an hour and fifteen minutes into the drive. It was my first time seeing it, and it had some awesome features in it like an antler arch, and huge teepees. It didn’t take us much time to get through town, so we started the next leg of our journey shortly after taking a few photos.
Once we got to the Tetons, traffic moved a lot slower. Even with it being off season, there were still a lot of other tourists that were wandering around the park. Our first stop was at Jenny Lake, and thankfully, we made it there just in time between two rain showers. We didn’t think a hike was going to work out because of the weather, so we spent a couple of hours walking around the lake and enjoying the views instead. When we noticed the drizzle starting up again, we found our way back to the car. We then went to Jackson Lake Lodge, and enjoyed drinks and some food at their restaurant called Blue Heron Lodge. Plus, we had an incredible view of the Tetons at our table. After a while, the rain subsided again and we left to go find dinner and our cabin for the night. We stayed in a cute little two-bedroom cabin in Colter Bay Village, and were even able to take a walk around the Colter Bay and Jackson Lake before it got dark.
A short distance from the Teton’s North entrance, we made it into Yellowstone. Our first major stop was at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. A one-mile boardwalk trail lead us around several geysers, hot springs, and thermal pools and cones. Apparently, these features pour over 3,000 gallons of hot water into Yellowstone Lake every day. This was such a cool way to start our adventure — I had no idea the park had so many geysers. There are about 500 in Yellowstone, and over 10,000 other thermal features! We then made our way over to Old Faithful, likely the most famous geyser in the entire park. We were lucky and only had to wait about 40 minutes to watch it erupt; some people waited over an hour. Oof.
Our next stop was Biscuit Basin, another boardwalk loop full of geysers, hot springs, and thermal pools. At the top of the loop, we saw a sign for Mystic Falls Trail, and walked the 0.7 mile trek right to the bottom of the falls. This was definitely my favorite walk we took that day. The weather was perfect, the views were awesome, and everyone on the trail was so nice. After this refreshing stop and hike, we made our way up to Grand Prismatic, a huge rainbow-colored spring in Yellowstone’s Midway Geyser Basin. This was a dream come true to see. It was pretty steamy, because of the colder temperatures, but you could still see all of the color rings in the spring.
After our walk around the Midway Geyser Basin, we visited a couple of other pretty waterfalls like Firehole and Gibbon Falls, and stopped at another site called Beryl Spring on our way out of the park. The views were spectacular, whether you got out of the car at the park’s observation points, or were just driving to and from sites. I couldn’t believe we nearly covered the entire Lower Loop in one day, but we could definitely feel the fatigue setting in. We stayed the night in West Yellowstone, Montana, and had a great dinner at Bullwinkle’s Saloon & Eatery! We got to bed early that night since we were meeting for breakfast at 7AM the next morning… not a very fun thing for me to hear. 🙂
It was so hard for me to pick from the hundreds of photos I took last Friday and Saturday, but I did my best! The weekend could not have started off any better, and luckily it wasn’t over yet. The next day, Sunday, was our second day in Yellowstone, and will need another post for all of the pictures. All of these parks out here are truly ethereal, I am in heaven.
Lately in New Mexico we’ve been seeing all the storms but missing out on all the rain. Having cloud cover is always sweet relief and somewhat rare for us, but the storms are so scattered over the desert. It always seems to be raining far off and never in town.
Previous Seeds of Success crews in this field office documented a lot of various grass populations, so our crew was really excited initially. As the season has progressed we’ve realized that whether the grass has grown since last season is completely dependent on where the rains happen to land each year. Most “lush” grass sites look more like this–full of a previous year’s growth with no green to show currently. We also have a disappointing recurring experience–many times we find an amazing patch of green grass with multiple species growing, all ready for collection, but when we look down at the map it’s all in state or private land and inaccessible to us! Of course it hasn’t been all bad. We’ve gotten lucky with a few outstanding sites with so many different wildflowers all the in the same spot.
We recently shipped one of our largest collections–Verbecina encelioides. We found this amazing draw that was covered in the colonizing flower. We estimate that we collected over 1 million seeds!
Our Seeds of Success work is wrapping up and we have delved almost completely into doing range trend studies. The goal of this study is to compare how vegetation has fared after herbicide application for shrubs. It can be difficult to navigate to the sites and find the markers, but we are already about half way through. We also have to deal with cows a lot more now. We have learned the hard way that staying in the truck and honking the horn to get rid of them actually has the opposite effect! After talking to some people in the range department, we learned that this is how ranchers get the cattle to follow the truck. To successfully steer the cows away from our work sites I have waving branches or flags and yelling at the cows to get them away from us, or away from the gates we have to drive through without letting cows into the wrong pens and pastures!
I don’t usually fear the cows, but I also haven’t had any frightening encounters with them. In a previous post I wrote about Aly’s dangerous cow encounter, so it’s understandable that she’s not the one walking towards them if we can help it.
This Thursday we got to help with a rare plant survey in which we planned to walk eight miles and ended up walking closer to eleven miles. I spotted three gypsum milkvetch and in total we found four Scheer’s cacti.
To do the rare plant surveys we walk in lines 10 meters apart in sections of habitat deemed suitable for the species.
As usual, the plants we aren’t specifically looking for are popping! (Popping in color, blooms, and out at you. It seems nearly everything here is armed.)
As a plant person, I can’t help but post a few more photos of some of my favorite flowers that we’ve discovered. Coincidentally, none of my favorites have ever caused me pain 😉
As we come closer to the close of our internship, our crew talks more and more about how we’ll miss the skies and clouds that New Mexico offers up every once in a while.
Seed season is slowly coming to a close here in central Wyoming. It is amazing how different the landscape looks now than it did in the early summer months. Once green and vibrant, the wide open lands are now covered with dead, brown vegetation. One of the only plants down in the basin that has yet to go to fruit is the sagebrush, but the seeds will not be mature until after I have gone.
On the bright side, my partner and I have discovered a high elevation oasis – Green Mountain. Because parts of the mountain sit above 9000 feet, the plants here are behind the basin plants in their seasonal cycle. We managed to complete collections for 6 new species at this location and we still have our eyes on a few more.
Green Mountain has become my new favorite collection site due to the cooler temperatures, fantastic views, and the abundance of wildlife that we run into. A herd of wild horses frequents this area and we have been fortunate to run into its members more than once. Although the presence of wild horses is a very controversial topic out here, I truly enjoy there presence and find it both exhilarating and comforting.
A wild horse grazing on top of Green Mountain.
Back in the office, we have been packaging up our seeds for shipment and putting the final touches on our data sheets. The next item on our agenda is to begin mounting specimens for our local herbarium.
The seeds of Mimulus guttatus, a wetland plant that we collected from Green Mountain.
I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I only have 2 weeks left in Wyoming! Hopefully I can have a few more amazing experiences before it’s time to go.
The bison herd of Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, WY.