About leslieo

My degree and my subsequent experiences completely reflect my indecisive nature and my desire to learn everything about everything. While in school, I studied Environmental Geography and Anthropology but also almost completed history and geology programs and took classes just because they struck my fancy. Since finishing school, I puttered around awhile, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Now, I've completed four SCA (Student Conservation Association) internships all over the country in everything from GIS, Natural Resources, a tiny bit of Interp, and Cultural Resources. Whatever I'm doing at any one time is totally the best thing in the world and I just can't learn enough! Unless you stick me at a desk for longer than 4 hours. That's bad news bears; I will undoubtedly begin to nod off if forced to sit still for 8-10 hours a day. And now for adventures in Wyoming!

Changing Perspectives and Words of Wisdom

Edge of the H2S fieldJust as John Steinbeck said in his novel, Travels With Charley, as he refers to people who rely solely on maps to dictate their travel, their adventures, and their stories and lives, “[W]hat I remember has no reference to the colored lines and squiggles.” Sure, I could easily tell you very specific directions to a number of field sites from memory. It’s what I do, I studied Geography in school, I’ve made a study of visual perceptions of places and how they change. However, that was not the point of the internship, not the point of the experiences I was hoping for in Rawlins. The point was to learn, to absorb information, to learn from those experiences, to make memories, to live.

There were certainly ups and downs but when I finished my five months, I was sad to leave Wyoming in general… the rocky outcrops, the ridiculous cattle (such sweet, clueless, fuzzy faces), the open sky, and, of course, the people I have the privilege to call friends. My one regret is that I met most of these friends with only two-three weeks left in my internship or else we only just managed to schedule times to work together or hang out in those last couple weeks.

What’s the point in carrying regrets though? So it goes. I loved my final weeks in Rawlins. It was fantastic. To quote John Steinbeck again, “So much there is to see, but our morning eyes describe a different world than do our afternoon eyes, and surely our wearied evening eyes can report only a weary evening world.” When I started my internship in Rawlins, I was determined to make the most of it. There are obviously going to be beautiful places not too far out of reach, I had new skills to learn, it was going to be great. My first impression was tinged with openness to appreciate new experiences and new places. It’s a huge field office and there are so many people to meet early on, so much to learn and to explore.

Seed collection and monitoring did become monotonous. Same thing every day, same location for days on end sometimes, same person for company. It was great when I was able to get out on my own to meet new people and do other things in town.  It was difficult but there were some wonderful things too. There are so many stories to tell.

Early in the internship we were out with our mentor and an NRS. Our mentor was very excited to describe unique things about the area. Distracted, he pointed and told us to look at the herd of wild horses in the distance. No-one really said anything, we just sort of kept quiet. A minute later, closer, he stops mid-sentence. “Oh, I guess that’s not horses. That’s a water tank.” Yep.

This sort of conversation happened all the time. I thought it was kind of hilarious. Out there you obviously just have to watch out for, as my mother put it, “those herds of crazy water tanks. You never know what those wily beasts will do.” Thanks for making me laugh Mum. That might be the best reaction I’ve had when I’ve told someone of what happens in the field.

So, now I have some good stories, some good pictures, and a better attitude about the experience again. I have more stories than I really care to write in one post. That’s one of my favorite things about field season. I always finish a new position with fantastic stories. My “evening eyes” may have been wearied by the end, but I came out looking at the same place in a new light. It truly was a great experience and I cannot accurately describe my appreciation for the wonderful friends I’ve made or the grand adventures I’ve had.

New rig being drilled out Adobe Town Road SW of Rawlins. Talk about getting lost. All the new roads to this and other new wells being dug aren't on maps yet and heavy rains keep flooding and altering roads.

New rig being drilled out Adobe Town Road SW of Rawlins. I’ll be happy if I never have to work near the oil industry again, but I do think the work we do for reclamation purposes is incredibly important. There need to be more people fighting for this land and fighting to properly restore it, to encourage plant regrowth and the return of wildlife.

The Ferris Mountains with the Ferris Sand Dunes in the foreground. What you cannot see is the nearby oil well or the H2S warning signs. It still is beautiful though.

The Ferris Mountains with the Ferris Sand Dunes in the foreground. What you cannot see is the nearby oil well or the H2S warning signs. It still is beautiful though.

Ask me sometime about my David Attenborough inspired documentary dialogue “A Day in the Life of a Gatherer Woman” otherwise known as “A Day in the Life of a Botanist.” Now that’s a crazy story best told in person, in my very best British accent.

Leslie, formerly in Rawlins, WY

A Brief Respite

After long weeks of collecting, we’ve almost hit our goal of 25. It was a truly mad rush for a number of weeks with long drives to the same spot, frequently picking seeds individually and keeping track of our count on pieces of paper shoved into our pockets, crawling or sitting to reach seeds, plus new projects in reclamation and unintentional 12-hour days on the regular. With that said, I maybe accrued some comp time and I maybe got to use a majority of it this last week. It was certainly a much needed break from all that is Rawlins.

After a whirl-wind loop from Rawlins into Colorado to Rocky Mountain NP, Denver (for the Timbers- Rapids match of course), the Roosevelt National Forest, and then back north to Dillon (hooray for visits with other CLMers!), Missoula, and the Rattlesnake Wilderness, it’s somewhat difficult to come back to reality. Come back I did. I finished another two collections this week for a grand total of 24!

Alpine hiking, RMNP

After being encouraged to explore off-trail in the alpine areas of RMNP by a helpful ranger, I put on my mountain goat persona and climbed from 11,000 to about 12,000 ft in elevation. Absolutely stunning views and some pretty decent rock formations.

Alpine hiking, RMNP 2

It could not have come at a better time. I have never been to Colorado or to Montana and my time in Rawlins is soon ending. It’s really a prime time to visit some beautiful country I might not have a chance to see again soon. Leaves are changing all over and the chill in the air is usually quite welcome. We’re already entering my favorite season and I had a blast exploring. I don’t think I’ve met nicer or friendlier people than those in Montana and I think I really fell in love with the land around Missoula… despite a lovely surprise gift from a cougar about a minute from my tent in the Rattlesnake Wilderness.

I had just walked this part of the path at dusk the night before: under cliffs and trees, through cougar country, I trekked, trying to make the wilderness border and get out of the recreation area. I had no idea how far I had gone. My headlamp (with new batteries no less) was dying and practically useless. Off to the left of the trail was a meadow, a meadow with a rectangular patch of vegetation flattened perfectly for a tent. Was this the campsite I’d been told of? No idea. Isn’t there supposed to be room for ten camp sites? Keep trekking, just to be sure. Trees closing in around me again, the cliffs rise up further, it’s getting darker, if I don’t set up soon, I won’t be having the best of nights. Well, crap, even if it’s not the wilderness boundary, I don’t see any other options, I need to set up before the last light fades. I was told it was fine, no-one would bother me, the locals all offered nothing but advice and help to make sure I had an enjoyable hike when I was down-trail. Turning around, I went back and set up my tent in that rectangular patch. At least I wouldn’t be flattening any new vegetation.

Tent set up, it’s dark, damp and cold. A nice rainstorm in the night but no bears come through, nothing more exciting than a slug on the door of my tent in the morning. So, I pack up and start hiking up the trail. Again. Past what I’d hiked at dusk. I’m curious; where is this boundary? Did I pass it? One minute from my campsite, bear sign. Obvious bear scat filled with berry seeds. A minute further, cougar scat. Oh, and this lovely leg, the remnants of some cougar’s dinner. Crap. Are you kidding? I’m just glad it found something else and didn’t need me. Was it following me in the night?

I still don’t even know how close I was to the wilderness but I had a lovely hike and a solid night’s sleep.

Update: (apparently I didn’t submit this last week)

Somehow, I can’t escape big cats lately. Two weeks back from my trip now, I got into the field with one of the staff archaeologists. During survey, she goes behind a tree and looks up. An antelope leg dangles from the limb above her. I begin to survey the rock formation nearby. No artifacts, no sign of non-natural formations, but certainly the rest of that antelope’s body. With pieces of meat in evidence. With flies buzzing around. Nice.

Continuing survey, I find another leg. With fur attached. It looks like it’s been scavenged, removed from wherever the rest of the body lies. Interestingly enough, it’s not the usual antelope or deer leg I’ve seen hundreds of times now. It’s a coyote paw.

Well, at least I know the adventure will always continue whether hiking in the wilderness or conducting surveys for work.

It’s bound to be an interesting final couple of weeks in Wyoming. I’ve already learned more this week than in the last few months. I enjoy seeds but expanding into new projects has been a blast and I look forward to wrapping things up.

25 collections done. Two sage populations to monitor. Final seeds to send to Bend. Stream surveys to conduct. MIMS and forest assessments to learn and assist with. Route back to Oregon to plan.

BLM Rawlins, 2014

Bring on the Rain



I’ve officially spent multiple days in the two things that make me happiest!

Lovely rain

Look! Trees! In the distance! Soothes my displaced PNW soul.

Grand Tetons, looking across Jenny Lake.

Grand Tetons, looking across Jenny Lake. So dramatic and beautiful if really quite cold.

Fall seems to have hit Wyoming early this year. Suddenly, attempting to make our last few seed collections is becoming difficult. We should have had a natural lull between our grasses and forbs and our shrubs but now we struggle just to get into the field. Everything is too sodden. Constant rain and thunderstorms have practically stopped all field work (well, thunderstorms and my sinus infection; goodbye 2-year, illness-free streak). Can’t have soaked, moldy seeds and can’t drive on clay roads in the rain. Can’t really function with your head on the floor or feeling like it should be although you swear you’re sitting upright.

However, as our mentor likes to say “the seeds come first.” So, in the last weeks we’ve finished 18 collections, have one partially complete, all data sheets are up-to-date and all information is written in standardized format, half our collections are shipped, and everything is verified. Now, if it will only pause in the unseasonable rain and let us finish our last Psoralidium lanceolatum, Elymus elmoides, Geranium richardsonii, both our Krascheninnikovia lanata, and both our Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus collections we will only have to wait for our Artemisia collections and we will be done!

I do love grey, stormy weather, I do love rain, but this is August. I just want to finish those collections so we can help with new projects. For example: next week we get a rare break to take two days to help the fisheries biologist survey Muddy Creek, an area of special interest as it is prime habitat for four fish species endemic to the Colorado Basin; Colorado River cutthroat, bluehead sucker, flannelmouth sucker, and roundtail chub. Coal and natural gas development in the area cause huge amounts of waste water that has not always been properly disposed of, often making its way into the riparian system. Agricultural runoff, grazing, and a naturally high sediment load further stress this watershed. Finally, invasive species prey upon and have begun hybridizing with the native species. I really just want to get back to some solid hydrology work. I miss working survey and hydro and I’m pretty stoked to get to learn a new protocol and help with a new project.

Outside work, I spend most of my time trying to find ways to stay sane. Sometimes, sanity is really difficult to find and to keep in a place like Rawlins, WY. So, I run away on weekends. Or I dog sit. Dog sitting is good. I don’t have to stay at the barracks. I get to breathe for a second when I dog sit. I also get a lot of free salmon, antelope steaks, white tail burgers, white tail tenderloin, and ground elk. I never ate much meat before coming here but this is different. This is all sustainably hunted and processed, hormone-free, fantastic, tender, game meat. Shoot, never thought I’d say or write such a thing: I get paid in meat. Ha!

I also ramble, I knew that though. Here, pretty flower pictures! Cool bugs!

Scarlet Gillia, Prospect Creek Road.

Scarlet Gilia, Prospect Creek Road, S of Riverside off 230 E toward CO.

Geranium richardsonii, Prospect Creek Road.
Geranium richardsonii, Prospect Creek Road.

Cool bug

Cool caterpillar

I also apparently forgot to hit the “submit for review” button so this is now quite late. Whoops!

BLM Rawlins, WY



Visions of Seeds

Sporabolus airoides, Arapahoe.

This is it. I’ve officially reached the point where I see seeds every time I close my eyes. I have dreams about seeds. I dream about seed collection. I fear to sleep because I might have yet another dream of insects eating the seeds and then proceeding to eat me. When the sunlight hits my eye, the visions of Purshia tridentata I had pictured take on psychedelic hues behind my lids.

I may be going crazy, or maybe it’s just because it’s seed season. Maybe it’s exposure to what we call the ‘poison box.’ Maybe it’s Rawlins. Maybe I’m just tired. I just don’t know.

If I have to constantly see seeds everywhere, at least Purshia seeds are kinda cool looking.

Everything has been ripe all at once. We just keep moving from collection to collection. Never stopping. Always moving. Wishing we could camp to cut out travel time. Four days bent like gatherer women for one Purshia collection. We gathered in the heat, in the cold, in the middle of a thunderstorm. I maybe have taken to collecting from a comfortable seating place on the ground next to my shrub. I maybe almost fell asleep laying on little granite chunks during my lunch break. The jabbing rocks felt good.

We’ve finished 17 1/2 collections though. It’s been very… fruitful… I’m sorry. I began to write “productive.” I couldn’t help myself. One more week and we should finish another four. Or maybe not if Wyoming continues to get so much rain. We will definitely finish another two by next week. Then we finally hit our lull. A nice break before the sage brush. We only will have to check on our Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus populations in that time. We’re in excellent shape. Our goal of 25 collections will be no problem. It would be even less of a problem and we’d have hit 25 by now but sometimes, cattle graze too heavily and our species seem to be their favorite delicacy. Or, we miss one because we were out collecting something else. Which do you chose? We have two people, one vehicle. Then there was the HECO lost to fungus. What can you do? Move on. New vouchers. New locations. New species.

Capturing pollinators during a break from Pseudoroegneria spicata collection.

Capturing pollinators on film during a break from Pseudoroegneria spicata collection.

One of our more beautiful collection sites: Prospect Creek Road, collections of Purshia, Eriogonum, a geranium, Idaho fescue, and squirreltail.

One of our collection sites: Prospect Creek Road. Collections of Purshia, Eriogonum, a                                               geranium, Idaho fescue, and squirreltail.

We still tromp around in oil and gas fields. We collect near uranium mines. We pass through H2S fields. We find ourselves dehydrated, further from the truck than expected, turned around, a tad dizzy, you name it. We have some fabulous stories. We’ve never been hurt or truly lost. I have also gotten to officially speak with a real cowboy. Like a legit, grizzled, working Wyoming cowboy. We’re learning the area very well, and we do officially spend some quality time in truly gorgeous locations.


Learning to Laugh at Country

Sometimes there’s no escaping the country music in Wyoming. If no other stations come through, you’re assured one country and one Christian station. In light of this, I’ve tried to turn it into a game and a learning experience. So far, country has taught me some spectacular pick-up lines. Lines I only use on my dear friend, Autumn, and which she uses on me so we can have a laugh and sing a little together.

On long days of driving and seed collection, laughter is very important. Sometimes, so is dancing badly in the oil fields. Especially in celebration of the completion of our collections. Tasting edible plants, smelling flowers, hugging trees, and playing with toads are also very important.

Evening primrose population in an area known as Hay Reservoir, near the Red Desert.

Oenothera pallida spp. trichocalyx– Evening primrose population in an area known as Hay Reservoir, near the Red Desert on the eastern edge of sand dunes adjacent to gas fields and uranium mines.



The Blowout Penstemon, Penstemon haydenii, the only endangered plant species in Wyoming has a distinct vanilla scent.

The Blowout Penstemon, Penstemon haydenii, the only endangered plant species in Wyoming, has a distinct vanilla scent.

If you tell me it's edible, I will taste it.

If you tell me it’s edible, I will taste it. Better than celery, not as good as carrots.

Training at the Chicago Botanic Garden was a wonderful and much-needed opportunity to recharge. So much of the experiences and information have been invaluable back at work in Wyoming. However, stepping away from the work and from the scenery of the oil and gas fields of Wyoming, I found myself referring to the barracks as home. I missed the daily adventures with our neighbors (the bored wildland firefighters), and I couldn’t wait to jump back into community dinners and experience my first ‘Music in the Park.’ Returning to Wyoming, I suddenly had a greatly increased appreciation for the beauty of the rolling hills, the flat expanses of sagebrush steppe, and fell in love with the mountains and rock formations. Even the gas wells start to fade into the background and become less noticeable after a while. (Right, well, that last part is a bit alarming: working in this country has only increased my passion to move to alternative energy sources and reduce my personal impacts on the land. Those oil and gas wells should be painted bright orange with flashing lights so no-one can forget what they are).

Coming back from the CLM workshop in Chicago, we jumped right into collections. In one week, three species were ready to go. We’ve finished six collections at this time. Now we’re back to monitoring and we’ve started prepping the seeds for shipment and the data sheets to be sent to Megan.

We’ve also had a blast volunteering with the Fish and Wildlife Service outside Laramie, WY completing toad surveys at Mortenson Lake. The lake is one of the first sites where the Wyoming toad, Bufo baxteri, has been released and monitored as part of a huge breeding and reintroduction program. Wyoming toad populations faced a steady but rapid decline in the 1970’s. By 1984, with only an estimated 10-25 (depending on which source you check) individuals left in the wild. Pesticide use, the presence of red leg bacteria, and the chytrid fungus are theorized as causes for both the decrease in population size and the decline in fecundity. By 1998, a captive breeding and reintroduction program was introduced by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department among other partners. This is where our volunteer efforts come in. We spent one day training for surveys and two days conducting surveys. I personally found only one toad but was on the upslope side of the survey site. My partner found 26. All in all, it was a fun and productive few days and I learned so much in such a short span of time. Plus, the Wyoming toad is just too freakin’ cute!

Toads just seem to be wherever we go since the surveys. Another fabulous day was spent working with our wonderful fellow interns from Cheyenne hiking the dunes in the Ferris Mountains and looking for Blowout penstemon. The scenery was beautiful, the company welcome, the surveys were very casual and I suppose successful, and of course, we found a toad on the hike out! We believe it’s a Woodhouse’s toad, Bufo woodhousei woodhousei.

An unexpected find in a creek at the base of the Ferris Mountain sand dunes.

An unexpected find in a creek at the base of the Ferris Mountain sand dunes.

Thanks for reading my rambling!

Week One: Finding Beauty Among the Oil and Gas Fields

Lomatium foeniculaceum

Just getting to Rawlins was its own adventure. A spring storm closed all roads in the area during the weekend I began my move. I just finished an internship with the Student Conservation Association in Eastern California and only had the weekend to make the drive to Wyoming.

Stuck an extra day and a half outside of Salt Lake City, at least I can say I got to explore some beautiful mountains while I waited for the roads to open (Midland-Heber City area).  It was also nice to have a chance to see my mom. She very kindly drove from Oregon to meet me for a quick visit.

Rawlins isn’t quite what I remember from a road-trip that took me along I-80 last fall, but despite the oil and gas industry in our district, we’ve already been out to some beautiful areas beyond the oil fields in this part of South-Central Wyoming. In just over a week and a half, the other CLM Intern and I have identified numerous plant populations to watch in the coming weeks for collection, collected a few voucher specimens, assisted on raptor surveys, and (most importantly for my sanity as a true lover of trees and riparian systems) found some lovely, high alpine forests and followed the course of the Platt River to some potential collection sites.

BLM Field Office

Rawlins, WY