Vibing in the Southwest

After spending months living in quarantine in Los Angeles, California, I eagerly anticipated starting my internship with the Lincoln National Forest this summer in Alamogordo, New Mexico. As I made my drive out east from LA, I watched the landscape transition from dense urban development, to Saguaro cactus-filled Sonoran Desert, to the more desolate scrub of the Chihuahuan Desert. The Sacramento Mountains finally came into view; a joyous sight after hundreds of miles of desert scrub. I had finally arrived.

Natasha Khanna-Dang enjoying the desert.

Alamogordo is a medium-sized town bordering Texas and is about an hour and a half drive from the Mexican border. This region of the Southwest lies on the traditional and unceded territories of the Apache people. The Mescalero Apache Nation, who still live on a fraction of their ancestral lands, have their reservation on a large section of the Sacramento Mountain Range.

Mescalero Apache camp in the late 1800s in what is now the Lincoln National Forest.

My fellow intern Ashlyn Lythgoe and I will be spending the summer conducting surveys in sections of the Lincoln National Forest that have never been surveyed for rare plants. The data we collect will provide baseline information for large scale restoration, forest thinning, and seed banking projects. The data will also be used by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station for creating a habitat suitability model. One of the goals of the model will be to develop habitat suitability analysis for identifying exact habitats for endangered, threatened, and regionally sensitive rare plant species.

We are still in the initial stages of our surveys. Unlike other parts of the country, New Mexico, and sections of the Southwest experience summer monsoons. As a result, the flowering season here will start in July and goes on till the end of September. In the meantime, we have been brushing up on our botany skills and assisting the Natural Resources crew a riparian restoration project.

Building one rock dams in order t0 restore a riparian zone that was severely impacted by an unauthorized road and a forest fire. Left to Right: Joseph Ure, Ashlyn Lithgow, and Jennifer Hickman. Photo credit: Shelby Manford.

As a newbie to the Southwest, I was surprised to see the large range in ecotones which includes scrub in the desert floor, grasslands and meadows, ponderosa pine that transitions to mix coniferous forests at higher altitudes, and a bit of subalpine forest habitat.

A juvenile Northern Flicker eagerly waiting to be fed.

New Beginnings!

Hi! My name is Megan Crapo, and I am so excited to start sharing about my time as a CLM intern working with the US Forest Service at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. To start, I am from Phoenix, Arizona and went to college just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Coming to West Virginia has pushed me farther east than I could have ever imagined and these first three weeks have exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to see how the rest of my time here will turn out!

These first three weeks have been filled with many adventures. Since my co-intern Katie and I are still waiting on our federal driver’s license and other trainings like pesticide application certification’s to be completed, we have been able to tag along on other USFS projects. This has allowed us to meet our other co-workers and learn about different projects and maintenance needed to help preserve the ~1,400 square miles of the Monongahela National Forest. Some of the projects we have helped with have been botany surveys to keep track of rare and threatened plants in the forest, salamander surveys to help with a local research project on the effects of large woody debris on salamander abundance and species richness (pictures 1&2), and helping with a local restoration project with CASRI by planting red spruce, red maple, and other native plants with the Appalachian Conservation Corp (pictures 3&4).

These first three weeks have shown me just how much work goes into maintaining national forests and I am excited to see what there is in store for the next five months! Soon Katie and I will be able to go out on our own to work on projects such as invasive species management, habitat monitoring, and more!

Adventures in West Virginia

Hello and welcome to my first blog post as a CLM Intern! My name is Katherine Sparks and I am currently working with Megan Crapo at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity and am super excited to gain such valuable experience!

My journey to becoming a CLM Intern was an adventure in itself. Through a frenzy of trying to complete final projects for my previous internship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, recovering from the stomach flu, and applying to graduate programs, I came across the CLM program entirely by accident. After spending 40 hours a week staring at a computer screen for the past year, working outside in a national forest seemed almost too good to be true – but I am so glad it was true! I have now made the long journey from Missouri to West Virginia and am living amongst the beautiful Allegheny Mountains.

My first morning in West Virginia (PC Sarah Sparks)

The majority of my first two weeks here has consisted of reading training materials and studying to become a certified herbicide applicator, but this week Megan and I got a break from our computer screens and joined the botany crew for a training field trip at the Cranberry Glades. The goal was to see several sensitive, threatened, and endangered species in order to properly identify them for botany surveys in the future. We specifically looked at Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis), Heartleaf Twayblade (Neottia cordata), Appalachian violets (Viola appalachiensis), and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata).

Appalachian violets (Viola appalachiensis) blooming alongside a logging road near Cranberry Glades (PC Rosanna Springston)

While out in the field, we also came across several species that – while not on our list – were interesting to see and fun to learn about! Cranberry Glades has a population of carnivorous pitcher plants and we were able to see them as well as an open sundew plant. It is believed that the pitcher plant population was artificially introduced into the system, but it was still interesting to see carnivorous plants in a “natural” setting.

Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) population within Cranberry Glades bog
Bluebead lily (Clintonia borealis) in bloom along Cranberry Glades boardwalk trail
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) in bloom along logging road near the Appalachian violets population (PC Andy Wall)

After we finished learning the species for the day, we went out as a group to Summit Lake to conduct a botany survey and practice everything we had learned. We made it through the first plot without finding any of the species on our list and had made it through the majority of the second plot when the wildlife technician from the Gauley Ranger Station spotted a heartleaf twayblade hiding amongst some beech brush. It was an exciting way to end a fun day!

Heartleaf Twayblade (Neottia cordata) found near Summit Lake (PC Andy Wall)
Close up of Heartleaf Twayblade flowers (PC Rosanna Springston)

Hiking through the woods with individuals who are just as excited as I am to learn about plant species and their habits and ecology is a relatively new and undeniably refreshing experience for me. It was a great way to get to know my fellow coworkers better and an even better way to start the field season. I can’t wait to see what adventures the rest of this internship holds!

Megan and I with the botany field crew crouching amongst the rhododendron in search for the Heartleaf Twayblade (PC Rosanna Springston)

First weeks in Idaho!

Hi everyone! My name Liza Chang. Never having visited this part of the country, I am excited to be doing work for the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise. Although I’m based out of Boise, I will be doing a fair amount of traveling to places I never would have seen on my own. We have already visited some remote places in Idaho and Nevada, and have scheduled trips to Utah and Washington.

So far, work consists of orientation tasks, data collection from the common gardens, scouting new sites, and lots of camping. I work with another CLM intern named Katherine, under the mentorship of Jessica. For the first couple weeks, we worked in tandem with other biotechs that we will occasionally see throughout the season. Camping together, we very quickly developed a strong sense of community over the first couple weeks. I can only imagine what 4 more months of camping will bring.

We learned the ins and outs of collecting data on forb species in the common gardens. Not only did we learn about the different species, or how to use Survey 123, but we also learned that bur buttercup is painful to weed, and some good stretches to unkink your back!

On our first scouting trip in Nevada, we drove the trucks off the beaten path. It was a good thing they had four-wheel drive because we drove down steep mountain passes and rocky streams, alongside plenty of cattle. There was not a lot of vegetation in flower, but we recorded the first cactus in this specific mountain range!

First Week!

I made the trek to Klamath Falls in two days, coming from Downers Grove, Illinois. The Saturday before leaving was spent celebrating my sister and her fiancé at their small backyard wedding. Sunday was full of ranging emotions, but I was ready to start my adventure. I hugged my mom, brother and dog goodbye and left at 5am Monday morning. The roughly 30 hour drive consisted of several podcasts, reading, and gazing out of the window admiring the views of states I was seeing for the first time.

My pup Frank, helping me pack.

I was traveling with my partner, Charlie, who I’m grateful for taking time off work to come with me. Having traveled to Colorado in the past, long car rides were something we were prepared for, but we were clearly poorly prepared for the change in climate when reaching Wyoming. We were wearing Teva sandals and shorts, when it was snowing and 30 degrees outside. But it was definitely beautiful to see the landscape and quick change of weather.

Utah was also a state we bookmarked to come back to, even though we just saw a small portion. Driving through the Great Salt Lake Desert was incredible, except for the fact we were cutting it close on gas. But we made it! Spent a whopping $4.60 per gallon.

Arriving in Klamath Falls and having the rest of the week and weekend to settle in was a treat. We used that time to get myself packed and organized, as well as check out some of the nearby hiking trails and restaurants. Come Sunday night, my nerves about the first day were building, but after meeting Nolan (mentor and FWS Fish Biologist) and Justus (co-intern) the nerves turned into excitement.

Top photo is a view from a trail near Shoalwater Bay. Middle is a view from Moore Park.
Bottom is the largest pine cone I’ve ever seen.

Arriving in Klamath Falls and having the rest of the week and weekend to settle in was a treat. We used that time to get myself packed and organized, as well as check out some of the nearby hiking trails and restaurants. Come Sunday night, my nerves about the first day were building, but after meeting Nolan and Justus, the nerves turned into excitement.

This first week has shown me a glimpse of working for a federal organization and the amazing conservation work being done by staff at KFFWO. I’m so looking forward to starting field work next week and gaining any and all knowledge and skills I can!

The end of the JTGP era (at least for the four of us)

Hello! Michele here checking in for her final CLM blog for the Joshua Tree Genome Project (JTGP) from the City that Built the Hoover Dam. 

Interning at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center has been a blessing. The past month has been a crucial time spent entering, organizing, and cleaning up the data we have collected over the past 6 months. We’ve been chipping away at this during the entire internship, but since we are all off to other adventures at the end of the week, we need to create a master spreadsheet for every Joshua Tree we have data attached to, along with explanations of our processes and organization. Let’s just say, I think all of our excel skills went from lowly merchant level, up to lord status. Note, I did not promote us to kings and queens because we still have yet to master pivot tables.

Seeing how the project progresses in the future, after we are gone, will be exciting to catch-up on later during our conservation careers.

This internship has taught me the trial and error that goes along with ecological research, and I am grateful to learn how to tackle and overcome these hurdles. Life in the desert has been all about adapting. Adapting to living in extreme heat, adapting to life with 3 other interns that I will be forever grateful for, adapting to a new position as a CLM intern, and adapting to the plot-twists that our Joshua Tree seedlings threw at us. All in all I wouldn’t change a thing.

Thank you Mojave desert, thank you JTGP.

Happy and adventurous trails,


A lovely send-off picture of myself and a Joshua Tree that is only a little bit larger than our seedlings (please reference past blogs for size of Joshua Tree seedlings. Hint: they are small).

My Time in the Desert

Let’s set the scene.

The date is July 27th, 2020 in Boulder City, Nevada. The air, well over 100 degrees, feels like you’re standing in an oven on full blast. The roads are littered with tumbleweeds, like actual tumbleweeds straight out of a cartoon. Surrounded by a desert filled with coyotes, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas. This is what I walked into as a newly recruited intern for the Joshua Tree Genome Project at the USGS.
After losing an internship due to COVID-19, I was desperate, scratch that, very desperate, to find work anywhere I could. Call it fate, divine intervention, or just dumb luck, I received an email late May informing me of a position open in a little town just minutes away from Las Vegas. So, I packed up my Jeep and made the 26-hour drive from Northwest Arkansas to the Mojave Desert, having no idea what I was in for. Little did I know that it would be one of the most rewarding and enriching times of my life.
Over the past 6 months, me and my fellow interns have put blood, sweat, and tears into the Joshua Tree Genome Project. From breaking open pods and counting thousands of seeds in a basement, to working in a greenhouse until 2 am planting those same seeds, our time on this project has been nothing short of an epic adventure. We have spent countless hours mauling over massive excel datasheets, so much so that we began to dream about data, pivot tables, formulas, and Rstudio scripts. We spent days upon days camping in the desert where, much to my extreme delight, I was able to encounter the Mojave Green Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) for the first time. We camped under the stars and worked in the blazing heat, assessing the growth of plants that interns in previous years had planted. We met incredible people along the way, but none more so than Dr. Lesley DeFalco and Dr. Todd Esque.
Dr. DeFalco and Dr. Esque, or as we now call them, Lesley and Todd, have been the most amazing mentors I could have ever asked for. Through their guidance and leadership, we have been able to achieve things I would never have imagined 6 months ago, and their attention to detail and effective communication skills have left a lasting impression on all the interns. They have been patient, understanding, unfathomably useful, and a joy to work with.
I have nothing but praise for my fellow interns as well. Moving across the country can be a culture shock in and of itself, but add on three strangers from very different locations, the move can seem much more daunting. However, I wasn’t prepared for some of the nicest, smartest, and most hardworking group of people I would have the privilege to call my fellow interns. They have taught me so much and have been a great “quarantine” squad over the past 6 months. My roommate, Nick, has been a constant source of laughter, inspiration, and random nonsense, I a will look back at my time at 629 Avenue L fondly because of him.
My time in the desert has been the time of my life. I have learned from experts, gained some valuable contacts, and made lifelong friends. I look forward to reading the papers that our work will produce, and I can’t wait to see how our findings are used in the future.
Well, that’s all for me, I have lots of work to do, and my time in Boulder City is limited.

Thank you CBG and the USGS for a wonderful experience


Signing off on the JTGP

Adios Mojave!

A final salute to the JTGP is in order. This New Year brings about the end of our six month stint with the USGS in Southern Nevada and the Joshua Trees. We have tracked, recorded, organized and outlined the details and info of thousands of baby JTs and are now handing that package of data over to our mentors and the future group of interns, along with a greenhouse full of growing plants with shiny metal tags, ready for out planting into the common gardens.

This internship experience with CBGs CLM program was round two for me (did an internship with the FS in Idaho in 2019) and while my first internship was a fantastic opportunity in plant conservation, management and all things botany, this JTGP internship has been a superlative introduction and lesson in botanical research. It has been an incomparable hands-on experience involving research design, time-management and troubleshooting, data collection efficiency and a dip into the statistical world.

As an individual who is intending on graduate school (and the inevitable design and execution of my own work), this internship was a much needed segue into the world of big time botanical research. I am now aware of best practices for managing study plants and just how much time and thought must go into all research. I have also experienced the struggles, set-backs and wrong turns, and have learned how to approach them with flexibility and curiosity. And most of all, I have learned the true value of working in a team. My JTGP co-interns have been with me through every one of our planning moments, hiccups, and victories. I have realized how incredibly refreshing it is to discuss courses of action with individuals who think differently and I know that we have been able to accomplish all of the work we did these past six months because of the constant support and healthy challenging that occurred as we worked together with these plants.

lucky greenhouse 🙂

I also have to mention that being mentored and guided by top-tier research scientists at the USGS has been so so SO awesome. Receiving endless guidance and confirmation from Lesley and Todd has helped me to better analyze and understand the flow of this research project. I have tucked away many gold nuggets of advice and suggestions for use in my personal and professional life. They have challenged us as a group, and me as an individual, to truly dig in and open myself up to the new experiences and lessons that the JTGP had to offer.

The fruits of our labor these past 6 months. Seeing such a healthy, happy JT is the best!

So, it is with pride and excitement that I close this desert flavored chapter of my life. I’ll be checking in over the years to see how the JTs are doing and am so grateful to the CBG and USGS that I was able to play a roll in this amazing research 🙂

Unlocking My True Self

Me at one of the many scenic overlooks scattered along the Highland Scenic Highway


In the time that I’ve been in Marlinton, West Virginia, I have learned so much about myself. And I’ve been able to challenge many of the thoughts and ideas that I had when I first came into this experience. Every single day, I grow more and more in love with the person that I am becoming, my true self. About two and half years ago (my last semester as a junior in college), I thought I’d take a gardening course because it sounded like fun and I wanted a break from the animal science course load. I had convinced myself for so long that I wanted to be a veterinarian. So, when that dream started showing cracks and I didn’t know how to fix it, I felt utterly lost and hopeless. Little did I know, when I took that gardening class, that the trajectory of my entire life would shift so abruptly and yet so perfectly. As serendipitous and exciting as it felt to realize my passion and to change my major, it was nerve-wracking to tell my family. A part of me wishes that my past self had a glimpse into my life now as it would’ve calmed the uneasiness of telling them. As stressful and disheartening as it was, I’d go through it all over again just to be where I am today.


Michael, an AmeriCorps intern, and I.

Through my time here, I had been able to establish and nurture unique relationships with the people around me. From those that I worked with in the forest service to my co-intern, Caroline, and my numerous roommates.

However, the greatest connection that I made was with my roommate, Michael. Being the incredibly funny and cool guy he is, it was inevitable that we would be good friends. Our personalities clicked so well and felt complementary to each other that he quickly became one of my best friends and also like the big brother I’ve always wanted.

I find it necessary to highlight and emphasize the relationships that I developed during my program because they played a key role in how positive my experience was.

While I wasn’t subjected to overt racism, I did encounter microaggressions that left me feeling upset, singled out and alone at times. I would be lying if I said that I was surprised by it. It was rural West Virginia after all. Without their love and support, my time in Marlinton might have been sullied by those few awful moments. I feel incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by such kind and compassionate individuals who were always there to listen and be allies.


While my many friendships were indeed bright spots in my internship, the work that Caroline and I were able to do brought me excitement and so much pride. After having done one odd job after the other during and in between semesters, I had never known what it was like to do something that gave me purpose. Never had anything afforded me the feeling of being a part something bigger than myself. This program allowed me to grow and discover my spark. A spark that has expanded into a wildfire that fills me and pushes me to do more.

My future feels so much brighter now than when I first got to West Virginia, which feels like a century ago. While I’ve since left the state to spend the holidays with family and to head back to Florida, I’ll actually be returning a lot sooner than anticipated. Just two days before we rang in the new year, I was offered a position with Appalachian Headwaters, a non-profit organization that we worked closely with during our program to process and store our seeds for the forest service! I’ve been buzzing with excitement since and I cannot wait to see what is in store for me.

Signing off


Driving out of the Alleghenies

One week ago, I drove the rickety bridge over Brown’s Run for the last time. I turned right, past the field of ironweed and wingstem aster, past the horse pasture and the barn, then turned left toward Huntersville, heading east on Route 39. My 4Runner was packed to the gills, weighted down with several new additions since I arrived in Marlinton in July. Atop the center console was my newest friend, Moona, a young stray cat who adopted me on a camping trip at Tea Creek in late November. In my cooler was a bag of frozen foraged chantarelles, remnants of the final mushroom haul in October. Stuck between the pages of field guides and biology textbooks were pressed herbarium specimens of Dryopteris intermedia and Athrium angustum, which I picked up on a botany survey in September. Packed away in a small box at the bottom of the heap were botanical drawings of some woodland flora, which I made while memorizing species in August. I was driving away from Marlinton, loaded down with five months’ worth of gifts from my experience there.

Last haul of the season: honeys and chantarelles

Two of the most impactful gifts from this experience in the Monongahela could not be packed away in my truck. For one, I found a lifelong friend in my co-intern, Ivy. A top-class work partner, a talented biologist, and a supportive sister, Ivy brought immeasurable joy and depth to my time in Marlinton. We both arrived in Marlinton in July as strangers, in the middle of a pandemic, with little direction around how to begin our project. Together, we pushed one another to memorize local species and hone our botanical vocabulary, design and build a seed processing station in the bunkhouse garage, and process over 100,000 seeds. We drove for hours together, commiserating with one another about the state of politics, co-created botany career goals, and encouraged one another in personal growth. We belted the lyrics to classic tune, danced along roadsides while collecting berries, threw piles of rainbow autumn leaves into the air, and braced against winter winds together atop the Dolly Sods ridgeline. Ivy’s presence brought such delight, inspiration, and comfort to this internship experience for me. We plan to continue to support one another for many years to come as we dive into the next step of our botany careers.

Ivy and Moona

The other intangible gift from the Monongahela was a clear vision of a career in field botany. Working at the Marlinton Ranger Station and at Appalachian Headwaters’ native plant nursery provided me glimpses into career possibilities that fit my skillset and interests, but none of those pathways captured my passion as did botany surveys. The first day I went out on a botany survey with the South Zone field botanist, Emily Magleby, I knew I had found my dream job. Before this internship, I had a glimmer of an idea of what a career in conservation and plant work would look like. Now, having shadowed Emily and the other botany technicians (Ken Hiser and Todd Kuntz) on botany surveys and seed collection days, I have had the opportunity to learn about multiple career paths that lead to the same end of working outdoors, with plants. Thanks to mentorship and story-sharing from these botanists, I now have a clear idea on how to refine my skills and knowledge in order to pursue my dream of outdoor, botany-focused conservation work. I can now streamline my career goals and build on precisely the skills I need to work as a field botanist.

With the new year swiftly approaching, I carry with me the gifts of the Monongahela, both tangible and immaterial. This internship experience has left me with a new cat, a solid career network, several mentors, a specialized set of botany skills, and a sense of clarity about where I will be headed. I am unusually enthusiastic about filling out job applications, feeling supported by my new people and finally qualified for the wide array of job possibilities that await me.

Mountain biking in the Mon

A huge thank you to my mentors (Amy, Cindy, Emily, Ken and Todd) and to Ivy for the learning experiences and encouragement during this difficult season. I couldn’t have done it without you.