Farewell to the Carson City Internship


‘Twas noon before my last day, when all through the office,

Not an employee was stirring, not even the botanist.

The plants were stored in the cabinet with care,

in hopes that new interns soon would be there.’

Such is the atmosphere at the Carson City BLM Office while I wrap up my botany internship; most employees have already left for their vacations and those who are still here quietly work while waiting for the holidays to arrive. The past several weeks have been spent catching up from the busy field season, processing plant vouchers, and preparing helpful training materials for the next group of interns. So much time in the office has given me time to reflect on the internship and what I have learned while living and working in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada mountains. I have broken into sections the various musings and reflections I have had over the past days.



Castilleja chromosa in full bloom in Lassen County, California.

Identifying plants is at once relaxing, fun, and painful. Often, you think you have the correct identification only to read through the description and illustrations to find you are way off the mark. As frustrating as this process is (which usually depends on the quality of your specimen), most times you find yourself delighted with the ease of identification (especially if you have a spectacular specimen)! Many hours have been spent at the microscope, blissfully and fretfully keying out plants from the 2015 season as well as from years past. Here is a link to a poem I wrote in the midst of working through the piles of plants to identify.

How to Use a Dichotomous Key: A Poem

After I had processed most of the plant vouchers, I then set into updating the herbarium database for the Carson City office. The herbarium has vouchers dating back to the 1960s, providing valuable information about the plants of the area. My goal for organizing the data was to make a GIS shapefile available to the BLM Botanist and future interns so they could manipulate the data for their own conservation and land management purposes. I also used this data to build a list of ‘collection hot spots’ for future intern teams. I looked at vouchers collected over the years for Seeds of Success collections and found several heavily-scouted areas where seed collections were still waiting to be made. Being able to see where future intern teams could go for some quality seed collecting helped me connect the dots between the variety of work assignments I had completed this summer. At the beginning of my internship, I was so overwhelmed with the new area and the new plants to be able to settle down long enough to come up with a game plan for the season. Our team was still super productive under our supervisor’s guidance, cranking out 133 seed collections, but I hope my efforts at the end of this season will help next year’s group be even more efficient.

One final thought on botany: I hope I am able to see another desert spring in my lifetime. Again, I was so busy and overwhelmed in the spring and early summer to appreciate the beauty of the short-lived season of color here in the Great Basin. I would love to see the spring colors again so I can really take time to appreciate them.


Purshia tridentata flowers paint the landscape a soft yellow in the spring.

Adjusting to the West

Learning my way around the western side of Nevada and the mid-eastern portion of California has taken the majority of the internship, but has been quite rewarding. Navigating to rural areas of Nevada for seed collecting and fire monitoring took a lot of spatial awareness as well as the ability to use common sense while following a not-always-so-accurate GPS. Just driving on some of the back roads of Nevada requires patience, stamina, and flexibility. Most roads are super bumpy and sometimes roads will be washed out too. Impassable roads (or getting stuck halfway down an unknowingly impassable road) delays the work day and the only thing you can do is pull yourself out of the predicament and find another route. Having flexibility in these situations is so helpful when everyone is stressed and worried.


The 2015 team digs out the truck from a very wet drainage area in the Pine Nut Mountains.

Another adjustment to the west is the sheer size of the states. Being from the Midwest, I could travel between states within a few hours. Out here, it could take you a few hours just to travel from one county to another! Learning to allot several hours to travel anywhere definitely takes some of the spontaneity out of weekend trips, but the sites to see are so worth the time to get there!

One project I completed near the end of the internship was an ESRI Story Map journal that highlights the Carson City internship experience and leads viewers on a tour of some of the areas of interest throughout the range of the Carson City intern team. The Story Map web application is a powerful tool for telling your story or making information accessible and visually stimulating. It was exciting to be able to pull together the past twelve years of intern experiences into one place so future interns can acquaint themselves with the area before heading out into the field. While there is always value in self-exploration of a new area, having access to the Story Map resource will make it easier for future interns to plan field work and understand the large-scale scope of the Carson City internship. Check out the map at the link below!

ESRI Story Map Journal: Life of a CLM Intern in Carson City

Wildlife and Weather

While most days in the desert consist of cloudless, bright, sunny skies and breezy-to-gusty winds, sometimes the weather is unpredictable. One evening in May, our team was out doing rare plant monitoring and a snowstorm blew in as we were setting up camp for the night. I didn’t realize it was supposed to snow, so I didn’t have all of the layers with me I normally bring for cold nights. It was so cold that night, I ended up sleeping in one of the trucks so I could stay warm! I never forgot my layers after that experience! Always having enough layers for the surprise storm or just for the cold desert nights is a crucial part of being prepared in the desert. Surviving in this ecosystem requires more than just bringing enough water!

snow in pine nuts

Most of the 2015 team huddles around a campfire in May after a snowstorm blew in overnight. Photo credit Olivia Schilling

As for wildlife, nothing compares to waking up in the middle of the night to the stars shining above you and the sound of a coyote pack crying to the moon. I still get excited chills thinking about the countless nights this summer when I found myself in this situation. On the nights when I opted to sleep completely under the stars instead of in my tent (which never made it out of its bag as summer progressed), I was reminded of just how close the coyotes were and how exposed I was at that moment. As amazing as it is to hear coyotes howl, it is slightly unnerving to know they could run past you at any moment.

Another animal that is always neat to see is the wild horse. Running into a pack of horses grazing in the sage brush is quite an experience even when you realize the havoc they wreak on the environment. Our group was lucky to see a handful of different horse groups throughout the summer, but the most involved encounter was at the Palomino Horse and Burro Ranch north of Reno. While doing weed surveys here, we were able to interact with some of the horses who were begging for some pets. 🙂


Wild horses at the Palomino Horse and Burro Ranch lean through the fence to beg for some pets from interns.

Final Thoughts

As I wrap up my time in Carson City, taking time to reflect on all of the adventures I have had while here has been helpful as I transition into the next stage of my career. I do not know yet where I will be going after this, but I am excited about the possibilities that have opened up because of the skills I have learned through this internship. I am incredibly grateful to have been an intern with the BLM as well as the CLM and Seeds of Success program.

To describe the desert is folly, but I’ll try anyway…

Our group has been spending a lot of time camping out in the field the past few months working on Seeds of Success seed collecting, vegetation monitoring for past fires, and completing a little bit of weeds work. With so many days spent out in the grand expanses of the Great Basin desert, I have had ample time to observe this ecosystem, revel in its beauty, and attempt to put into words my experiences.

This poem is one of the attempts I have made to put the desert into words. While I realize one cannot possibly use words to give justice to the desert, I thought I would try to convey one small portion. The poem focuses on the two extremes I face each week when I bounce back and forth between living in the desert for work and living in a city on the weekends. Enjoy!

Desert Peace, City Melancholy
Quiet, noise
Unhurried, restless
Stillness, bustling
Open, constricted
Plants, people
Coyotes, dogs
Sagebrush, lilacs
Stars, streetlights
Cadence, cacophony
Humbled, prideful
Unrelenting, comfortable
Moments, minutes
Rocks, concrete
Wild, tamed

Content to stay, anxious to leave

-Maggie Gray-

Until next time, enjoy the fall season!

Maggie Gray, Carson City BLM

Gratefulness in the Great Basin

“I like my job. The pay is generous… The fringe benefits are priceless: clean air to breathe; stillness, solitude, and space; an unobstructed view every day and every night of sun, sky, stars, clouds, mountains, moon…; a sense of time enough to let thought and feeling range from here to the end of the world and back; the discovery of something intimate – though impossible to name – in the remote.”

– Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

I have been experiencing the Great Basin desert for five and a half months now and I never thought I would find myself so appreciative of such a harsh environment. In his book, Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey has put into words the feelings of awe and respect I have gained for this truly breathtaking area.

I started my internship at the tail end of winter, so for the majority of my time here, I have been spoiled by the colors of spring. It is incredible the variety of plants able to thrive (even for a short while) in this climate, but a wet spring has brought such beauties out of the seed bank as Leucocrinum montanum (common star lily), Calochortus nuttallii (sego lily), Grayia spinosa (spiny hop sage), and my thus-far-favorite-shrub, Psorothamnus polydenius (Nevada dalea). Each of these plants has caught my eye and my appreciation as they find ways to defy the heat and aridity to splash their colors all over the brown canvas that is Nevada.

Along with my love affair with the desert flora, I have fallen in love with the expansiveness of the mountains and valleys, the brilliant clarity of the night sky, and the stillness in the air during the long hours of seed collecting. In these moments, I find my thoughts escaping me and myself fully embraced by the presence of the stillness. Who knew the methodic pace of seed collecting could open the doorway to wakefulness? Even the scurrying of a jackrabbit or a lizard allows me a moment’s relief from my own swirl of thoughts. While I never pictured myself doing more than visiting the desert, I am so thankful to be living here for the majority of a year (I will be here until November) and to experience the wonders of this place.

While my thoughts have been idyllic in nature, I have made plenty of time to be silly and practical while at work. To beat the heat, my coworkers and I have started bringing a cooler full of ice with us for the long field days. The simple relief of some cold water or a cool forehead makes all the difference when there is no place to hide from the sun. I also jumped at the opportunity to take a fun photo a few weeks ago when we drove through Sheridan, Nevada while I was wearing a t-shirt from my hometown of Sheridan, Indiana. I even sent my mom an email with the tagline “I’m home…sort of!”

Taking time out of from seed collection scouting for a priceless photo opp. Photo credit: Olivia Schilling

Taking time out of from seed collection scouting for a priceless photo opp. Photo credit: Olivia Schilling

Life in the Great Basin has been great so far and I look forward to enjoying the rest of my time here before I move on to the next step in life. Until next time, this is Maggie signing out from Carson City, Nevada!

Over the Mountains and Through the Vernal Pools

This past week, another intern with the Carson City Botany Team and myself, traveled west over the Sierra Mountains to attend the Basic Wetland Delineation certification course in Sacramento, California as our alternative training to the Chicago training in June. The class was taught by two instructors with the Wetland Training Institute based out of Wisconsin. The curriculum was centered around the 1987 US Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual. While there were several hours of lecture on various aspects of wetland delineation, we also spent three full afternoons practicing delineations in the field. We frequented vernal pools that were in full bloom, as well as a riverine site and a disturbed site.

For those unfamiliar with wetland delineation, the Corps Manual provides guidance for professionals on how to decide what is a wetland and where to map the boundary. There are three criteria used to evaluate a site: vegetation, hydrology, and soil. If these three parameters reflect wetland features, then an area can be designated as a wetland and falls under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers (with expanding buffer habitats surrounding the wetland usually falling under state or other federal agency jurisdiction). The purpose of wetland delineation is to map the wetland and use the information for protection or development purposes.

While I do not have any pictures to post from the trip, I can mention some of the plants we saw in the vernal pools and the other sites. In the pools, we found woolly marbles (Psilocarphus brevissimus), tidy tips (Layia fremontii), frying pan poppy (Eschscholzia lobbii), goldfields (Lasthenia fremontii), and field cluster lily (Dichelostemma capitatum). I also saw a familiar friend from the Midwest while I was out surveying in one of the riverine areas: water smartweed (Persicaria amphibia). This plant is recognizable in the early vegetative stages by the black chevron on its leaves. I was elated to find such a familiar face amid all of the new friends I was meeting (I suppose I just accumulated major nerdy botanist points for this statement…hahaha!). The vernal pools of California are quite a sight when in bloom; the overwhelmingly bright yellow flowers are seen from afar, while the purple gems are hidden until one comes closer. I was blown away by how beautiful all of the pools were this past week.

Overall, I had a wonderful time learning about wetland delineation this week. Both instructors were incredibly knowledgeable and had worked together for so long they were comfortable teasing one another in class. They were full of great stories that illustrated the concepts they were trying to teach. I met several people within the environmental science field who came from all sorts of backgrounds and professional settings. Best of all, I learned several new plant names and reconnected with an old plant friend! Traveling over the mountains and through the vernal pools was quite the adventure this week and I am grateful for the opportunity to gain such valuable skills in wetland delineation!

Until next time,

Maggie Gray, Carson City BLM District Office, Nevada

Learning Backwards and Looking Forward

Life in Carson City has been ‘blooming’ the past few weeks. With warm weather and sunny days, the beginning of spring is well under way. Trees are blossoming, birds are singing, and little green plants are emerging from the ground. While we wait for the field season to ‘spring’ into action, us interns at the Carson City District Office are catching up on training, planning for the field season, and sorting through the backlog of plant specimens waiting to be mounted, labelled, and put into their rightful folders in the herbarium.

I feel as though I am learning the local flora in a backwards fashion. As I process the various plant specimens collected over the past few years, I am starting to see similarities within the families as well as the subtle differences between species. I witness the change in the plants through the season as I find specimens collected in different months. So, while the plants are beginning their life cycles for the year outside, I am learning how to recognize them through all seasons. I only hope I will be able to recognize familiar friends once the field season is in full swing!

While many days have been spent in the office, we have had a few days outdoors working on plans for restoration and weed management projects. We visited one fire rehabilitation area to scout for mountain mahogany replanting sites. Another fire rehabilitation area had a tree planting operation in the works, so we went to learn how to plant properly so our mountain mahogany seedlings will do well at the first site. While at our second site, we noted the presence of the noxious weeds, Medusa head and cheat grass, with the hope of returning to do some noxious weed management later in the season.

Many, many projects are building momentum for the field season, but we must content ourselves for now with learning backwards while we look forward to the explosive and exciting field season to come.

Anna Ortega (right) and Maggie Gray (left) hike toward a fire rehabilitation site where mountain mahogany seedlings will be planted.

Anna Ortega (right) and Maggie Gray (left) hike toward a fire rehabilitation site where mountain mahogany seedlings will be planted. They feel spoiled by the views of the Sierra Nevada and Sweetwater Ranges.

Salt Grass Gardening in the Sierra Nevada (Carson City)

Welcome to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Great Basin! This is the first week of my invasive species/noxious weeds internship with Dean Tonenna, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Botanist, in Carson City, Nevada. Dean wasted no time putting myself and two other interns out in the field on an experimental native plant relocation project Monday. Who knew my first day would involve a little bit of “gardening” in the desert?

Two other interns and myself jumped right in on Monday with salt grass rhizome collecting. Tuesday morning found us in a collaborative meeting with several other local agencies and non-profit organizations who are focused on invasive species and noxious weeds eradication. Dean updated the group on some of the BLM projects and welcomed feedback from the other groups. After lunch, we headed north of Reno to Swan Lake. We planted rows of salt grass rhizomes along the bank; our transplantation is experimental. Our goal is to establish a healthy population of salt grass at Swan Lake to combat erosion and dominance by cattails and invasive species/noxious weeds. Before leaving the site, we took a moment to enjoy the little “garden” we had planted. You can enjoy our “garden” too (see below)!

A view of Swan Lake from an interpretive trail.

A view of Swan Lake from an interpretive trail.

John, Maggie, and Olivia dig the rows for the salt grass garden.

John, Maggie, and Olivia dig the rows for the salt grass garden.

Maggie and Olivia place rhizomes in the rows.

Maggie and Olivia place rhizomes in the rows.

The finished "garden" along the bank of Swan Lake.

The finished “garden” along the bank of Swan Lake.

In addition to efforts revolving around the Seeds of Success and invasive and noxious weeds programs, we will be developing an interactive map of Swan Lake using ESRI’s Story Map program. We will be partnering with a local teacher to develop the Swan Lake map and other curriculum that meet state standards. This is a unique opportunity for the BLM and other agencies to collaborate with the local schools to teach students about the important ecological properties of Swan Lake and the current conservation challenges facing the BLM and other land managers.

I look forward to meeting the rest of the six-member team in the coming weeks and learning about the ecology, geology, and botany of the Sierra Nevadas and the Great Basin! While I am excited to learn about the native and noxious vascular plants of the Great Basin and Sierra Nevadas, my heart belongs to the lichens. Therefore, I am also looking forward to collecting and identifying lichens while out in the field working on other projects. Bring on the botany!

-Maggie Gray, Sierra Front Field Office, Carson City, Bureau of Land Management