Hello faithful readers, it is officially summer! Though it has felt like summer here in the Mojave for quite a while now. In each blog post, I have been tempted to write about the heat. Every time, I think “surely it can’t get any hotter than this” and yet the temperature continues to climb. So although the thermometers have scaled to new heights this week with temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit (a personal record for me), I doubt the heat’s full ambition has been realized. Not to worry though because, to quote the cliché, “it’s a dry heat.” Being from the Midwest, where the summer humidity often teeters around ninety percent, this was always a mysterious phrase. It does make quite a difference though! In the dessert, you feel as though you are being slowly baked in an oven, as opposed to melted in a sauna. You are not perpetually sticky and things like shade and sweat are actually effective coolants. Nonetheless, I am grateful for a bit of office work when it comes my way!
In the last month we have put the “petal” to the metal and hit a crest in our seed collection numbers with six new collections. The heat has driven us up in elevation or into shaded canyons. Thus two of our collections are from Surprise Canyon in Panamint Valley, just west of Death Valley. Spoiler alert: the surprise in Surprise Canyon is water! There is a spring-fed creek that winds its way down the base of the canyon. But the canyon also concealed a few other surprises, including a couple of rusted trucks. We were entirely baffled as to how the trucks got in there in the first place because our hike involved a fair amount of scrambling and climbing. No matter how high your clearance is, a truck could not have made it up. Yet a road used to lead up to a small city, so the most plausible explanation is that the road was washed out by a flash flood. The second surprise was a healthy population of Epipactis gigantea, stream orchid. Lucky for us each fruit contains an insane amount of seeds (at least thousands) which makes for a simple collection!
We completed another two collections up at Walker Pass, along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Our first collection there was Ericameria linearifolia, narrowleaf goldenbush. Since there are plenty of ericameria species to go around and (in my novice opinion) a solid assortment of look-alike species, it took us a few tries with the key to figure out what we were collecting! We enjoyed the area so much and there were so many species fruiting, that we decided to go back for another collection, this time of Chaentactis xantiana, Xantus pincushion. The pinyon pines and junipers were a welcome reprieve from the stretches of low-lying shrubs. Plus, plenty of hikers passed us along the trail and spiced-up our days. It was neat to meet thru-hikers and hear their stories. Some were even curious what we were up to and we explained that we were collecting native seeds for long term storage, research, and conservation projects.
For an even more drastic break from the desert, we traveled to Chicago for the CLM internship workshop hosted at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. There we welcomed grass, trees, and, yes, even the humidity with open arms! Overall, the workshop was a grand time, every day jammed-packed with information and new faces, leaving me exhausted and inspired. The workshop included a symposium focused around “seed sourcing for restoration in a changing climate.” I enjoyed hearing a spectrum of perspectives from academia to government to private business. The speakers helped give context to the seed collections I am personally contributing. We also learned about conservation genetics and monitoring methods, or as I like to put it, the science behind wandering around in the desert. Even though I have already been learning on the job many of the things taught in the workshop, there were still plenty of new tips. It was also valuable confirmation that we have been doing our job right! One of the most exciting parts of the week was meeting interns from all over the country, currently scattered across the western United States. I enjoyed swapping field stories and sharing the personal histories that landed us in conservation. Generally, the week gave me a greater understanding of the scope and purpose of the CLM program.
And back to some heated collections!
Ridgecrest BLM Office