California: Coastal Wanderings

Despite numerous hours spent outside each week between work and trail running, my feet start itching for adventure whenever Friday rolls around.  Good ol’ wanderlust! Oh the amazing places it has led me: Yosemite, the original Jelly Belly factory, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass– just to name a few.

Most recently I left the dry, brown central Sacramento valley behind for the greener pastures of Point Reyes National Seashore.  A weekend at the ocean seemed the perfect way to celebrate President’s Day weekend.  My trusty Ford Taurus and I hit the road loaded down with adventure essentials: camera, mix cd’s, sleeping bag, and my favorite drive time snack- Pirate’s Booty!!


Planning ahead isn’t one of my strong suits, and this trip was no exception–I headed to the coast with little more prepared than mapquest directions.  Fortunately I was far from disappointed by all that Pt. Reyes has to offer.  Picturesque beaches miles long, rolling green hills with windy roads, and grand vistas welcomed me to the Pacific. I even had pleasure of sitting through an amusing “cow crossing” traffic jam.

As I climbed down 30 long flights of stairs to visit the famous Pt. Reyes lighthouse I couldn’t help but gawk at the gorgeous view—what a foreign site for a formerly landlocked Ohioan.  During my visit to the elephant seal-covered beaches I felt like a kid at Christmas—so overcome with pure excitement all I could do was smile 🙂 It was unlike anything I’d ever seen (or heard) before; giant slug-like creatures lolling about and then suddenly crashing at one another in a fight. Amusing until I remembered the video I’d seen of an alpha male attacking a car! LINK

I spent my nights at Sky Camp, one of the park’s hike-in only campgrounds complete with a sweeping panoramic view of Point Reyes, Drakes Bay, and the Pacific Ocean—all without ever leaving my tent. Talk about camping in style!

A short but sweet interlude between dry chaparral days and poignant reminder that spring is just around the corner– even for those of us in the central valley.

Over and out.

Sophia Weinmann, El Dorado Hills, CA



Sharing the Love

Saying goodbye is never easy.  Despite developing a healthy, loving relationship with the chaparral over the last seven months, we’re currently taking a break.  For the past month I’ve left behind my beloved field work behind for long hours inside the office.  Saying that sitting leaves me antsy is an understatement.  I long to frolic in the chaparral once more!

Although cubicle days can be tough and data entry an undeniably necessary evil, it does have its perks.   Working on a multitude of education and outreach projects for Pine Hill Preserve is a great outlet for sharing my enthusiasm.  Throughout the field season we had a handful of regular student volunteers, but our current efforts aim at getting many more excited about rare plants, conservation, and BLM.  A large part of which has been tabling at local career fairs.  This week’s event alone had over 1,400 students!  I love hearing students whose initial questions were “The BL-who? Chapara-what?! ” leave enthusiastic about conservation.  Hopefully we’ve inspired a new botanist or two!

 We’ve also been working hard to develop new education and outreach materials for the Preserve.  Most recently this has included brainstorming for our booth at the upcoming Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary celebration.  Ten thousand girl scouts are expected!  My days are filled with color book pages, display boards, and bright photos– not to mention the immeasurable challenging of distilling down chaparral, the preserve, and rare plants to an appropriate level. How do you explain gabbro soil intrusion endemic chaparral plants to first graders!?

The crayons are calling! over and out.

Sophia Weinmann

CLM Intern: El Dorado Hills, CA


Crawling like a baby on sticks, through sticks, and with sticks in my hair.  Branches grab my shoelaces and refuse to let go, trapping me in a maze of manzanita, chamise, and coyote brush so thick it’s difficult to see my friend just six feet away.  But today we’re on a mission, and even the new rips in my pants can’t stop me.  Finally, the extreme bushwhacking pays off, and I find my prize: a small patch of Layne’s butterweed (Packera layneae), a small and unassuming Federally threatened plant found predominantly in western El Dorado County.

For the past 5 months I’ve been lucky enough to intern with the Pine Hill Preserve (PHP). Eight rare and endangered chaparral plants–including five which are Federally listed!!–rely on the unique mildly acidic red soils created by the underlying gabbro rock.  In the face of encroaching suburban sprawl, PHP is a refuge, protecting these special chaparral plants and the unique soil formation on which they rely. 

An urban girl by birth and forest lover by experience, I’ll admit to being disappointed on my first visit to PHP.  When they said “shrubland” I’d pictured the open sagebrush of central Idaho and was completely unprepared for the dense 7 ft. tall stand before me. It was over 105°F, and the plants were anything but friendly. I spent the first afternoon wishing myself away.

Quickly, however, PHP won me over.  The chaparral doesn’t have jaw-dropping mountain vistas or the grand splendor of coastal redwoods, but it does offer a quiet, more dignified beauty to those willing to look beyond it’s rough and often spiney exterior.  Hidden among shopping centers and private homes lies a biological wonderland.  Over 740 distinct plant species grow here–that’s 10% of California’s total native plant biodiversity in a tiny fraction of the state! Visiting PHP may include a leisurely hike along the interpretative trail, attending a naturalist-led bird & botany tour, or simply enjoying a moment alone along the S. Fork American River.

Although an ecological hotspot and a recreational area regularly utilized by mountain bikers and birders alike, development threatens El Dorado County’s chaparral.  Private homes encompass PHP lands, limiting the BLM’s fuels management options, and neighboring unprotected natural areas are being bulldozed at an alarming rate.  While PHP rare plants may thrive on nearby undeveloped privately-owned parcels, without protection like that afforded through purchases with LWCF funds their days may be numbered.  Entire species may suffer if more land isn’t protected.  For a species like Pine Hill Flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum ssp. decumbens) with only ~100 plants worldwide, losing even a handful of individuals to private development may dramatically reduce the entire species’ genetic diversity with detrimental effects.

Growing up in urban Ohio, nature was the occasional trip to the “wilds” of a regional forest for fishing or hiking. Although my definition has since expanded to include the mountains of Denali and redwood forests, nothing can compete with the chaparral’s hidden gems. Despite PHP’s navigation challenges and my co-worker’s bold statement, I proudly admit that I LOVE the chaparral, most days anyway.

Over and out. Sophia Weinmann

CLM Intern: El Dorado Hills, CA


Sierras at Last

Although the central valley’s chaparral is an ecological wonderland, something about the coniferous forests and mountains has always called to me.  From the moment I got my job offer here in El Dorado Hills, all I thought was YOSEMITE.

Ahhh Yosemite, a mecca of towering granite, incomparable waterfalls, beautiful vistas, and lush alpine meadows.

I’d read John Muir and drooled over enough Ansel Adams photographs to know the central valley by heart. Finally, at long last, it was my turn.

Despite my enthusiasm, the weeks ticked slowly by, and I hadn’t made it yet. What stood in my way? Flashbacks of my trip to Yellowstone in July quickly come to mind—in all its crowded, hot, and sticky glory.

However, the season’s  first snow– while backpacking at Lake Tahoe no less—gave me just the kick in the butt I needed.  With uncontrollable excitement (and veiled uncertainty), I packed the car and embarked on my maiden voyage.

For all my anticipation and high expectations, Yosemite did not disappoint. It’s a place whose beauty I cannot articulate.

The days flew by, but moments lingered with a satisfying deliciousness. I visited the giant sequoias, snapped hundreds of photos, patiently explained that being from Ohio doesn’t make me a buckeye fan, and looked for bears around every bend.

Rarely have I had the opportunity to travel to such a beautiful place alone and enjoy its splendor on my own schedule.  I reveled in it all.

I’ll admit that sometimes I question my judgment– just a little bit. When did hiking for miles straight uphill with a fifty pound pack alone become my idea of fun?

Don’t you get lonely and sore and bored?


Aren’t you worried about the bears?


What happens if you get hurt?


Wouldn’t you much rather sleep in a bed, drink beer, and eat fresh eggs for breakfast?


These thoughts drifted through my mind as I hiked–challenging the very core of my being that brought me here. Yet somewhere between the moon shadows, breathtaking vistas, and thundering waterfalls, they fell silent– leaving only a feeling of utter peace in their wake.

Over and out.

Sophia Weinmann, El Dorado Hills, CA

Nobody Loves the Chaparral

When a co-worker bluntly told me, “Nobody loves the chaparral,” it stopped me in my tracks. If this was true, then what was she trying to protect, and why had I moved across the country to help!?  A few months in, I think I finally understand.

Is the chaparral full of unique and interesting plants that play a vital role in the landscape?


Should it be preserved and protected from development?

Of course, silly question


Is bushwhacking through dense chaparral a challenging and often disorienting task?


Now, don’t get me wrong. Crawling through the maze can be great.  I pretend I’m a contestant on The Amazing Race or playing a life-size video game.   Other times though, it has a face only a mother could love and I crave a more welcoming habitat.  When my relationship with the chaparral was at its thorniest I wrote some poems to help work things out.

Field Days

Itchy, prickly burs

Goat grass in my underwear

Missing my gaiters


Star Thistle

Shiny yellow heads

Taunt me. Crouched. Weed wrench in hand.

Waiting for revenge.


A Mother’s Love

Dense leaves, sharp stems shield

Tiny gems in a loving

Embrace. Chaparral.


Over and out.

Sophia Weinmann, El Dorado Hills, CA

The Real World: Sacto Edition

When I applied to the CLM program, I had visions of living in a small middle-of-nowhere town. I was excited to ride my bike to work, order “the usual” in a favorite restaurant, and live in a quaint country house with a huge garden.

Just one scroll through the area’s Craigslist was enough to cure me of that delusion. People were renting living room couches for more than I’d paid for a large bedroom back in small-town Ohio. “Welcome to the real world sweetheart,” it screamed; “you’re moving to California!”

Looking for a place close to the office, I settled on a room in suburban Folsom, CA. Yes, the very same Folsom as Folsom Prison and Johnny Cash. The area boasted miles of bike trail and a cutesy old-town business district along the river. However, as the weeks went by I began to feel like a black sheep—the recent college graduate living in a town of 30-50 year-olds with school age children. “Where are all the young single people?” I wondered.

I would like to say that I had a change of heart and fell in love with Folsom, or that I am now magically happily married with two kids of my own. But that’s just not what happened. In reality, I moved last Saturday. Despite valiant efforts to fulfill my small town fantasy, I’m now a Sacramento urbanite.

Filling out my CLM application last spring, I was hardly prepared for this; I live in the city and commute 30 min to our large (but mostly deserted) suburban business park. Life in midtown is bustling and full of young folks, but some days I’m convinced the shopping centers, traffic jams, and bright city lights will swallow me whole. It seems like I’ll never get the hang of all these one-way streets.

Despite the frustrations, I’ll admit Sacto does have charms of its own. Living in the city and working with the BLM I am able to experience the rugged beauty of the area’s open lands during the day and return home to the deliciousness of a city. After all, not many small towns can boast authentic falafel and fresh 1am doughnuts not far from your door.

Over and out.

Sophia Weinmann, El Dorado Hills, CA

Living and Working along the WUI

“The WUI?”, you ask, “what in the world is that!?”.

It’s the Wildland-Urban Interface, the transition zone between unoccupied land and urban development, an environment unlike any other. Here in northern California, not too far outside Sacramento, the WUI occurs between fire-loving chaparral habitat and multi-million dollar homes. Even after a month here, life along the WUI is full of surprises.

The other day I participated in the monthly Seeds of Success conference call while working in the field. Mid-call I was interrupted by a neighboring landowner wanting to know whether I was there to clear away brush and create fuel breaks to protect his property from wildfire. Although disappointed to hear I was in the area only to collect seeds, he told me of the challenges he faces living alongside native chaparral. He experiences the reality of living next to not only a fire-prone plant community but also the wildlife it supports. In the past month he’s lost two of his beloved emus to the WUI—one to a bobcat and another to a mountain lion.

The adventures continue inside our suburban office. Last week I was roused from my GIS work by an animated colleague’s exclamations. The “Snake Wrangler” had arrived in the El Dorado Hills Business Park.  Just across the street from our office they’d discovered several rattlesnake dens. Office workers gathered to watch the “Snake Wrangler” capture an angry 3 ½ foot rattler. One down, many more to go. With an average of 80-100 snakes caught each week, it should be a snap for our local “Snake Wrangler”. Not to worry though, the snakes aren’t being harmed—just relocated to some nearby Forest Service land with a rodent problem.

Though suburban California initially wasn’t (and admittedly still might not be) my ideal location, living along the WUI proves nearly as exciting as working here. I am minutes from the American River– a mecca for whitewater rafting, cycling, running, and hiking. With Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean all less than three hours’ drive away it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everything I want to do! And who can forget the California State Fair happening right now. Anyone up for a maggot burger or deep-fried scorpion?

over and out

Sophia Weinmann, El Dorado Hills, CA

What a whirlwind these past weeks have been! After a brief week working with my mentor in the BLM , it was off to the Midwest to attend the CLM training workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

I arrived in the Windy City as one of fifty interns who traveled from their positions out west to attend the weeklong workshop.  Our training was based out of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plant Science Center.  Nestled among beautiful gardens, the building is a recent addition fulfilling the dual purpose of scientific research and outreach and education — showing the public that scientists are real people too!  Throughout the week our curriculum covered everything from the history of the Bureau of Land Management and plant taxonomy/ identification to proper seed collection protocol and mitigating field hazards.

Although training entailed several powerpoint presentations, we were also able to put our new skills to the test in the CBG’s nearby gardens and habitat preserves. I was given the first-hand opportunity to encounter the frustrations of using a dichotomous key to identify unknown plants and face the difficulty of determining the proper plant sampling technique.  Although challenging at times, with our instructors’ knowledge and support at our side we were able to master new skills and even have a few good laughs along the way.

Training was not only a great opportunity to brush up on skills vital to my new internship, but also to meet many of my fellow interns.  I had a blast hearing about the beautiful scenery, management projects, and general ridiculousness that others have experienced during their positions.  It’s nice to know that regardless of how challenging my job may be at times I’m not in it alone.

A Brief Midwest Interlude

What a whirlwind these past weeks have been! After a brief week working with my mentor in the BLM , I was off to the Midwest to attend the CLM training workshop at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  Arriving in the Windy City, I was one of fifty interns who traveled from their positions out west to attend the weeklong workshop.

I’d like to end with a quote that began our training:

“Always we hope someone else has the answer. Some other place will be better, it will all turn out. This is it. No one else has the answer. No place will be better, and it has already turned out.” -Lao-tzo