From Chihuahuan Desert to Southern Rockies

Today I leave the plants, people, mountains, and place I have grown to know and love over the past eight months. Before the beginning of June, when I first started my CLM internship, I had never set foot within New Mexico. But the blind faith of wanting to work in a new place, and in the southwest, paid off. I feel very lucky to have been able to live and work in Santa Fe, NM.

My guiding goal when I set out on this adventure was to immerse myself in a new flora. I feel I achieved that goal thoroughly, as well as gathered many other benefits and fuel to guide me on my next adventure. The slow act of gathering seeds from wild plants also really helped some principles of plant biology to sink deep into my brain and bones!

One of the best aspects of my internship were the people. My mentor, Zoe, was there to support me on my very first day when someone tried to steal my car, and she was incredibly helpful at the end of my internship when I was searching for my next position. Ella, the other CLM intern at my field office, has been the best field partner, roommate, and friend that I could have possibly imagined. Not to mention all of the many other excellent people I had the chance to work with and learn from!

Ella and Rebecca inspecting a new location for seeds

Besides being part of a stellar team that made 100 collections for SOS, I also had the opportunity to dip into the world of rare plants, including monitoring Townsendia gypsophila, a plant that occurs in just a small band in one county of New Mexico.

Rare plant monitoring

Townsendia gypsophila — Gypsum Townsend’s aster

After a long field season, mounting and organizing plants for the UNM herbarium and a new herbarium at the New Mexico State Office was a great way to cement my knowledge of the local flora. Following are a few of my favorite grass species:

Sporobolus cryptandrus

Bouteloua curtipendula

Sporobolus airoides

From summer monsoons to winter snow, from Chihuahuan desert to Southern Rockies, from red chile to green chile, from Bouteloua gracilis to Ipomopsis sancti-spiritus — thank you New Mexico!

Ella and I botanizing at Aztec Ruins

Becoming like a mushroom to see something small in the Jemez Mountains

Laura Holloway, BLM New Mexico State Office

Tiny Animals

Now that our seed collection season here at the BLM state office in Santa Fe is done, I can look back on our field season as a whole. And it has been excellent! Aside from learning a new flora, becoming familiar with a new landscape and new people, and collecting a massive quantity of wild seeds — I have also enjoyed the many casual and surprising encounters that happen while being outside. While my first focus is definitely plants, I also love tiny animals (bugs, macroinvertebrates, insects, arthropods; whatever category they are all tiny animals to me!). I don’t know if I will ever study them seriously or in detail, but I do love to notice their variety.

Following is a selection of the most surprising and fantastic tiny animals I was privileged to encounter while collecting seeds this summer and fall.


An enormous grasshopper at El Malpais National Monument


Somebody very strange at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument


A lady beetle with beautiful and interesting patterning at El Malpais National Monument


Lady beetles exhibiting some interesting behavior — packing themselves tightly into a Thermopsis montana pod! (in the Santa Fe mountains)


More interesting behavior by lady beetles — clustering themselves in very large groups (in the Sandia mountains)


A delicate, elegant stick bug at the Quivira Coalition’s Red Canyon Ranch


Mating monarchs at the Springs Preserve (Las Vegas, NV) butterfly habitat


An excellent black and yellow garden spider near Socorro, NM

Laura Holloway
Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM

An Amazing Asclepias Collection!

With about 40 SOS collections under my belt, I’m feeling much more familiar with the plant diversity here in New Mexico. While the grasses (in particular, beautiful Sporobolus!) are going strong now, one collection from the past few months stands out to me as extra special.

My fellow intern, Ella, and I travelled further south than usual from our home base of Santa Fe to the Bosque del Apache national wildlife refuge, where we had been tipped off to the existence of a large population of Asclepias subverticillata (horsetail milkweed). While it was hard for me to imagine what a field of Asclepias in full fruit might look like, my imagination was soon stretched by the actual existence of this plant in quantity!


We proceeded to spend the rest of the morning and afternoon moving about in the seasonally dry wetlands, locating large patches of the fluffy milkweed. The day was warm, and much more humid than I had grown used to. Tiny mosquitoes whined around, and bits of milkweed fluff found their way up my nose and in my mouth.

Periodically packing the fluff in my collecting bag down with my hand, I smashed it into a compact shape to overcome its natural dispersal mechanism, and eventually collected enough seeds and fluff for a small pillow.

In the midst of collecting, I was thrilled to finally find a monarch caterpillar, munching away on its favorite plant!

Laura Holloway

Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM

An incredible diversity of habitats

When I was first planning my move to the southwest, I expected desert. Desert dryness, desert hotness, desert cacti. I expected no relief from heat and sun.

Now, after more than two months in my new home, I am thoroughly impressed with the diversity of habitats and plant communities in this corner of the southwest.

Of course there are dry areas, like where the cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata) live…


… and expanses of sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).


But with an increase in elevation, real trees grow, like pinon (Pinus edulis) and juniper (Juniperus spp.), along with a diversity of grasses.


With even higher elevation, Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) takes over. Some places they are small and crowded from fire suppression, with a dense, soft layer of needles dropped at their feet.


In other places they grow in picturesque, park-like and open woodlands, full of grasses and flowers.


Then there are the aspen (Populus tremuloides), growing high in the mountains, and reminding me that the Sangre de Cristo Mts. near Santa Fe are the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains.


Along with habitat diversity, the weather has also surprised me. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, where summer begins with absolutely soggy soil soaked from months of winter rain that slowly, slowly dries out to a crispy fall, experiencing the monsoon rains and afternoon thunderstorms has been exciting. Here, clouds build so fast that it’s important to keep one eye on the sky when out scouting or collecting seed a few miles up a dry dirt road that could quickly turn nasty after a downpour.


Clouds build quickly and dramatically

Becoming familiar with the diversity of small herbaceous plants living among the larger and more distinctive species in all the diversity of habitats has been a fun and engaging challenge. As the monsoon rains continue to pour down on us, I’m looking forward to the new growth and seed the moisture will bring!

Laura Holloway
Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM

Learning to Drive, Hunt, and Gather

As things swing into full seed collecting mode here at the Santa Fe office, I’ve been working on all kinds of skills, including how to drive. Driving, that is, on rutted out, muddy, wash-board, and/or sandy roads.


Sandy arroyo crossing


A very steep hill, much steeper in person!

The powerful 4-wheel drive truck enables us to explore a lot of territory, and the purpose of exploring all that territory is, of course, to hunt for plant populations! Once we’ve been lucky enough to discover a swath of plants with ripe seed, the engine is off, we’re far from paved roads, my collecting bag is in hand, and sometimes I feel as though I may be more close to the great depth of human ancestral experience than I have ever been before — simply out in a field gathering wild fruit.

This line of thought leads me to think how wild fruit can be so scarce and so small, and what an amazing thing all of our cultivated plant varieties with fat, juicy fruits are.

And then sometimes I get a big surprise. I’ve been familiar with flax seeds as a food source for quite some time, and even bought a bottle of flax oil recently. I knew the pretty blue flower was called flax, and yet when we went to collect seed from Linum lewisii, blue flax, I was struck by how its seed looked nearly the same as flax seed that can be bought in the store!


Linum lewisii with fruit

With this in mind, I look forward to hunting and gathering Eriogonum (buckwheat), Helianthus (sunflower), and hopefully at least one fleshy, sweet berry! Luckily we have already scouted a large population of Rubus parviflorus (thimbleberry), a relative of raspberry I was shocked to find so far from Oregon, where I know it as one of my favorites.

Laura Holloway

Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM


Portland, Santa Fe, Chicago, and Santa Fe

The month of June has been full of variety for me. I left my Portland, OR home in the mossy, forested Pacific Northwest on the last day of May, and began a 1900 mile driving adventure to the desert southwest. After a refreshing soak at Summer Lake hot springs, a stunningly beautiful stay in the Ruby Mountains, crossing the Great Salt Lake desert, and a slow and reflective drive through the Four Corners area, the adobe town of Santa Fe and the southernmost Rockies greeted me with thunder and lightning.


Our first opportunistic seed collection was from a small mustard yet to be identified to species

I had only a week to adjust to a new climate, landscape, and people before flying to the midwestern city of Chicago for the CLM training. Between sessions, we had the opportunity to explore the Chicago Botanic Garden in its entirety. My favorite area was the arid greenhouse, letting me know that my tugging desire to live and work in the southwest was well-founded, and giving me the opportunity to meet dry-adapted carbon-fixers from all around the earth.

cactus flower

Cactus flower at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Back in my new home of Santa Fe, I joined with a large and diverse group of people for our regional training. A fellow CLM intern, an ACE (American Conservation Experience) intern, and I will be working closely with interns and employees from the IAE’s (Institute for Applied Ecology) Southwest Program. To begin our summer together, we camped in the Valles Caldera, a dormant, enormous, and beautiful volcano in the Jemez Mountains. With the help of Steve Buckley (National Park Service botanist), we sharpened our botanical skills and began to learn New Mexico’s flora.

Tsankawi, New Mexico

New Mexican beauty, Tsankawi ruins. A short hike break on our drive back from training at Valles Caldera.

After several weeks of travel and training, I am looking forward to a summer and fall spent exploring New Mexico, collecting seed from plants and places I have yet to meet, and honing my botanical skills!

Laura Holloway

Santa Fe (New Mexico State Office), BLM