Life at 7000 ft

I think one of the most lasting elements of my CLM internship in Flagstaff, Arizona will be the land itself. Flagstaff is an anomaly; its a Ponderosa-clustered volcano in a sea of red and pink sandstone. It remains cool and rainy during the hot southwestern summers, and sports an astonishing diversity of ecosystems, transitioning from pinyon-juniper forest to alpine tundra in a matter of miles. On one particularly clear day, a friend of mine living in Bryce, UT said he could see the San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff from the ranger station, some 177 miles away!

The forests here are of a storybook quality, and I enjoyed and wandering through them collecting seed immensely.  Thousands of acres of contiguous national forest surround Flagstaff, all filled with giant butterscotch-smelling trees. Furthermore, there is no understory,  such that one could easily walk for miles and miles, possibly getting separated from their car for hours (not saying that ever happened).  It is not uncommon to catch a gang of elk, or wandering coyote off-guard.

For a multitude of reasons, it is no wonder that this place has particular significance for all the Native American Tribes in the region. Flagstaff is just a special place.  It is for this reason that I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work here, to traverse and memorize its backroads, to learn its flora and collect seed from its variety of ecosystems.  It is encouraging to believe that the seed we collected will be useful for land managers and researchers in the future, who wish to take care of this land.

Stephen Fick

Seeds of Success / Landsward Institute

Learning the ABCs: Always Be Collecting

Looking at the San Francisco Peaks from Kendrick Park

Its been about 2 and a half months now collecting seeds with the Seeds of Success program in Flagstaff Arizona. We’ve gone from hot cloudless skies in early July to several weeks of monsoonal rains, to the beginnings of a cool autumn. The monsoons were really excellent this year, and not only boosted the number of flowering species but also provided for some prolific and tasty mushrooms. People keep telling us we are lucky to be collecting in a year like this, after a long drought cycle of poor winters and monsoons.  There certainly has been an abundance of flowers this year, and hopefully we will be able to keep collecting, even after the growing season ends. Soon the nights will just become too cold. Thats what 7000 feet will for you.

One of our collection sites in Colorado

We’ve also had the opportunity to cruise around the Colorado Plateau a bit these past months, with two trips up to Montrose, Colorado to help with the BLM Uncompaghre Plateau Project (UP project). Its been wonderful passing through the region’s patchwork of open desert and sculpted sandstone. The colors alone are worth the trip.  The Montrose area has been an interesting diversion from our familiar species around Flag, and it has been encouraging to be collecting species at the request of land managers who will directly utilize our collections for sage grouse habitat restoration.  As an added bonus, we were surprised to discover how beautiful the Uncomphagre Mesa is–Its firs, aspens and fresh-water springs contrast dramatically with the surrounding desert. Known as the “Ancestral Rocky Mountains” this ancient range was once much larger but eroded away into the famous red sandstone of the Moab region. It definitely felt like a Colorado ancestral Rocky Mountain high.

The mysterious Pterospora andromedea, or Pine Drops. (not collected, just cool)

Over the past few months we have been learning some of the ins and outs of seed collection. Although collection is never too complicated in and of itself, the logistics and timing of our collections can be a bit tricky.  In some ways collecting is a bit like preparing an elaborate, multi-course meal– if you’re timing isn’t right you might just burn something or serve it underdone.  I remember the sinking feeling as we visited one site after the monsoons started, only to find all the available seeds were gone — shattered by the rain. Fortunately, the species was an aster so we could cut many of the partially immature seed heads and they matured on their own. We learned how important it is to make solid initial collections and to collect often enough in anticipation of inevitable snafus. Fortunately right now we are entering a part of the season when there’s probably something to collect almost every day, which is pretty exciting. The weather is getting cooler, school is in session, and football is on tv– looking forward to fall

Finally Flag

What happens when the engine in your 92′ Saturn overheats on a dirt road in the most remote mountain range in southern Utah? And you have to show up for your first day of work, 300 miles away, on Monday (its currently Saturday evening)? Oh yeah, and there is a 90,000 acre forest fire raging in your path? Of course, there’s no cellphone reception either. I can tell you…

This is what happened to me last week as I was en route to my SOS internship in Flagstaff, AZ. I guess even before the internship started I learned a little something about flexibility, preparation, and respect for the environment.

On my particular adventure, I happened to be very fortunate. I had plenty of food and water.  My car continued to work, although the generator was out (meaning things like power steering, A/C, and headlights were gone). I had AAA, which meant that when I found cell service I could be towed to the nearest repair facility free of charge, which happened to be an hour and a half out of the way. The repair itself turned out to be a relatively inexpensive part (tensioner) which the shop had in stock. And, though I arrived a day late to my internship, my supervisor was very understanding.

I found that it was important to keep a positive attitude when my plans deteriorated. My night of camping in the mountains turned into a brief lesson on car mechanics. My smooth, timely trip to Flagstaff turned into a side-trip to Loa, Utah, a place I would never get to see in normal circumstances. My extra day in Loa (EVERY single business closes on Sunday, including the repair shop) turned into an opportunity to explore surrounding BLM lands. The giant detour outside of Flagstaff became an opportunity to drive through the Grand Canyon, free of charge!

Hopefully the rest of the internship will be free of such dramatic hang-ups, although one never knows. What is certain is that there are some practical tips I have recently picked up from working out here: Bring two car keys. Don’t forget your cell phone. Inspect your vehicle. Bring extra food and water. Have fun!

Steve F

Flagstaff, AZ