Alaska is AMAZING, but the mosquitos are NOT!

In my 24 years of living, I have maybe encountered 7 mosquitos in California. In the last month, I have probably been fed on, at least 700 times. Currently, I am simultaneously typing with one hand and scratching both feet with the other. My mistake was wearing Chacos on the drive back from Coldfoot with a healthy population of mosquitoes thriving in our car.

A month has gone by rather quickly. On my bike ride to work, I can see all sorts of wildflowers blooming-taking in the only three months of constant sunshine they will get all year. I, myself, am also trying to take in as much sun possible. I’ve spent a decent amount of time on Chena Hot Spring Road, dogsitting for a family who works in the office. Somehow, I always find myself picking up this kind of gig over the summer (flashback to Susanville). I’m extremely grateful to Chel Ethun, for allowing me to stay in her cozy house with her cozy dogs, Pickles and Anabelle. Side note: Pickles doesn’t actually eat pickles.

Pickles waiting for me to feed him in the morning.

Since AK is really big, we have a couple of field stations spread out throughout the state. Unlike the BLM office in Susanville, a lot of our sites are 7-12 hours away. So, our options are to camp, or stay at field stations. Most of my work this summer will be out of the Chicken Field Station in the small town of Chicken-it is super NICE! It is fully equipped with beds, wifi, hot water, showers, a full kitchen, a TV…the whole enchilada.

While I was in Chicken, I helped conduct wildlife and vegetation surveys at a reclaimed mine site. I worked with Casey Burns, the Wildlife Program Lead, and two contractors from the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Jeff Mason and Bryan Strong. We also had a UAF student, Renee Nowicki, act as our “residential entomologist.” We spent the first couple of days delineating four plots and one control, which all varied in reclamation year. The goal was to collect all of our data from small mammal traps, bird counts, line point intercept (LPI), grazing, scat count, pollinator, plot characteristics, and insect surveys. Our insect surveys entailed searching for ants and setting six bumble pots, traditionally called bee bowls, in each plot. For the ant search, I followed Renee around while we flipped rocks and searched for colonies. Then, she used an aspirator to suck them into a container through a tube! I wish I had a video of that! I spent a fair amount of time applying 100% deet all over my body, but somehow, it was not enough. However, I’m pretty sure that by the end of the summer, by body will naturally be producing deet, which will save me a lot of money for next year. On the drive back to Fairbanks, I got to see the Alaska Range for the first time! It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was so unbelievable. But, I didn’t take any pictures. Sorry.

The following week, I decided to join the crew for another week of surveying. This time, our site was thirty minutes south of Coldfoot, at Jubilee Mine. Unfortunately, on the morning of our second day, we had an eye injury, which required an immediate evacuation, and a stressful drive back on the Dalton. Luckily, I only hit one rough patch, and after six hours, we made it back to the ER in Fairbanks. The patient is doing well, and it was a non-life threatening accident. Enter mom rant HERE. Please be careful using bungee cords in the field. If it doesn’t reach, it’s not worth it. Eye injuries are very serious, so please be safe. End mom rant. I really wish I could have taken pictures of the drive on the way back, but the timing was, obviously, not appropriate. If I get a chance to go back north, I will definitely upload better pics. However, I was able to get a “I crossed the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway” tee.

Yukon River

I made it to the Arctic Circle!

Well, it’s no wonder time goes by quickly. I’ve spent the last 3 weeks moving around from Chel’s house to Chicken to Coldfoot. In the upcoming weeks, I have planned to attend an invasive species training workshop in Fairbanks and a sedge identification workshop in Anchorage. It’ll be my first time in Anchorage, so I am stoked!

On my personal time, I’ve been volunteering at the herbarium in the Museum of the North at UAF. Hopefully soon I can start volunteering at the entomology lab too! I have also been birding with a group at Creamers Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Later, I have a botany trip planned with the Alaska Native Plant Society (ANPS). AND…I’ll be going to Denali soon! Basically, I’m slowly settling down some roots in Fairbanks, in hopes of staying here longer.

Here is a list of common plants I’ve seen near Fairbanks, Chicken, and Coldfoot…So won’t the real plant nerds, please stand up, please stand up (Eminem).

Astragalus alpinus

Mertensia paniculata

Polemonium acutiflorum

Polemonium pulcherrimum

Polemonium pulcherrimum

Cardamine purpurea

Epilobium angustifolium

Epilobium latifolium

Vaccinium uliginosum

Hedysarum alpinum

Potentilla norvegica ssp. monspeliensis

Cerastium beeringianum

Ledum palustre ssp. Groenlandicum

Hedysarum mackenzii

Oxytropis campestris

Potentilla spp.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Spirae beauverdiana

Cornus canadensis

Cornus Canadensis

Eriophorum spp.?

Salix alaxensis

Salix arbusculoides

Salix scouleriana

Salix pulcha

Gallium boreale

Betula neoalaskana

I find myself overwhelmed with how much there is to see and I think my writing reflects that. I apologize if I was all over the place, but I have a hard time keeping track of my days.



Slowing Down in Fairbanks, AK

“Drive slowly. Watch out for the speed limits” was something I needed to remember on my second day of work, but, instead, was reminded by the very serious officer looking through my window. The conversation went as follows:

Him: Is there a medical reason why you’re going 28 on a 15
Me: Besides the fact that I’m new and the speed limit in LA is 120, no.
Him: Tries not to chuckle. “Can I see your license please”
Me: Late to work and a reckless driver…great.

I’ve been in Fairbanks for less than a week, and already, I’m the speeding maniac. Needless to say, it’s been six days of transitioning to a new place that could not be more different than city life in southern California. The mosquitoes, green scenery, very large trucks, and the nearly twenty four hours of sunlight has given me quite the culture shock, in a good way. That being said, there are some things that remind me of home, like the plethora of fast food chains and the shockingly big Barnes and Noble. Unlike SoCal, the weather has been unpredictable with chilly rainy mornings to warm (65 degrees) in the afternoons. However, according to the locals, this is very predictable and nice whether. I believe it.

Currently, I am staying at the barracks located on Fort Wainwright. The first couple of days were challenging here, because I did not have the proper identification to get on/off base. So, for future CBG/CLM interns who will be living out of the barracks, you will need your Drivers ID and a visitors pass. Once the DOI access card comes in, you will be able to get on/off base. My plan for now is to stay at the barracks for the rest of the summer, since it is the cheapest option in Fairbanks. Also, since most cabins in Fairbanks don’t have water, I’m more inclined to stay at the barracks. The biggest drawback with the barracks is not having a kitchen. I LOVE to cook. I HATE eating out. Luckily, I’ve managed to get a mini frig and a toaster oven (thanks to a friendly soldier). So, I’m making it work for now.

With all that is new, it’s easy to forget that I’m actually here for employment. The office feels like an attraction at the amusement park. It’s located in beautiful pine trees and has an amazing view of the Chena River. It’s also a giant maze, and I keep getting lost. My mentor, Ruth, gave me a tour of both floors, and towards the end of the tour, she showed me the hidden gym. I was shocked by the fact that there was a gym inside the building! How cool is that! But, I don’t think I’ll be using it much, because I haven’t been able to find it. Also, everyone in the office is so nice! I’m really excited to explore all the possible opportunities outside of this internship, because so far, Fairbanks is really great.

Besides getting lost in the office, I’ve also been doing work. So far, this internship has been very different from my first internship last summer in Susanville, CA. On my second day last summer, I was already out in the field collecting Elymus elymoides, squirrel tail. Perhaps it was because of how late we, the CLM crew, started, but this time around, I’m spending the first few weeks catching up with some training. This includes: WFA, ATV/UTV, Bear Safety/Awareness, Aviation, Invasive Species, FISSA and much more! In two weeks, we’ll be flying to Anchorage for a meeting to discuss revegetation of mined lands. Later in the internship, I’ll also be taking a GIS course at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF), which will substitute the training in Chicago. Soon, I’ll be incredibly busy helping out with invasive plant management and terrestrial AIM surveys. I am excited to start the field season, and hopefully can survive the bugs. There is so much that I am looking forward to, and I am curious to see how much will happen between now and the next blog post. Hopefully, you are too!

But, I Think if We’re Growing Then We’re Changing

California’s hot and dry summer season is finally changing to its less hot, but still dry fall.  September has arrived, and I’m starting to need a light sweater on my morning bike ride to work. Who knows, maybe we might even get some rain soon (fingers crossed). Even though the weather is cooling down, all the plants are gone, so that makes me really sad. This is a huge bummer, since forensic botany is more frustrating and dissatisfying than exhilarating. I’m already looking forward to next spring, so I can use my Jepson and Sierra Nevada Laws book to key out Calochortus amoenus, Calochortus venustus, Calochortus clavatus, Pedicularis groenlandica, and Aquilegia pubescens. 

Lately, we haven’t really focused on Seeds of Success, because there isn’t much to collect anymore. Instead, we’ve been helping out with SSP (special status plants), Juniper mapping, and water rights. Sometimes our routine days feel monotonous , but I usually can count on seeing interesting wildlife. Nature is unpredictable, and you never know when you’re going to hear a hidden rattling rattlesnake a few feet away, but it sure makes a forgetful day unforgettable. And sometimes nature’s unpredictability is less dangerous, like when I saw 40+ sagegrouse on my way to a Juniper plot. Or like the times, we saw a badger on our way to Skeddadles and a squirreltail monster on our way to Bull Creek. You’re probably wondering about the latter. Well, if you ever read Goosebumps as a kid, imagine the slime monster from Monster Blood, or a very large squishy sea cucumber. The way it rocked back and forth with the wind made it seem like it was breathing, and then it would pick itself up like a dust devil, and join forces with other squirretail haboobs. It was kind of incredible, and I wish I had a video of it, but alas, I don’t. Then, there are the times, when field work is just downright weird.


Marilyn Monroe visiting Susanville


When I’m not in the field, I’m usually working on my answer to the commonly asked, yet dreaded “So what’s next” question. I’ve spent the last week, debating whether I finally have an answer. I was offered a position in Irvine, as a field crew assistant doing invasive species removal and other related restoration projects. There are obviously so many benefits to having a job, like getting paid. If I accept this position, I will also be closer to a climbing gym (only 10 miles, instead of 90), ocean (<20 miles, instead of 300), and my family and friends (70 miles, instead of 600). But if I take the position, I will be further away from the Sierras, the cool Sierra plants, and no traffic. But nothing is flowering anyways, so I shouldn’t make my decision based on the plants, even though it should be a huge factor. I should also mention that this is a great position, but I doubt I will be gaining any additional field and technical skills, that I will likely learn at other jobs (if anyone starts hiring). As you can probably see, I’m very back and forth about this position (I’m starting to feel like the squirreltail monster). I’ll probably have an answer by my next blog…but I’m already overwhelmed with the subject, so it’s time to move on.

I spend my free time reading books (from my long ambitious summer reading list), cooking, and learning about plants. I’m really enjoying the subtle transition to adult-life. A few years ago, I used to cringe at the idea of living a structured and balanced life. I remember wishing to live off the land or in my SUV, away from all the noise and people. It’s really funny how people grow, and therefore change (Bridesmaids reference). In the last year, I’ve noticed that I’m a lot happier when I have goals (career and adventure), and the way I balance my life, usually determines whether I will accomplish said goals. I think I really struggled with this in college, because everyone was so “chill” and carefree. After taking some time off from school, and now, living in the middle of nowhere, I’m learning to balance both lifestyles. I guess you could say my motto is “work hard, play hard.” I’m starting to use backpacking as my outlet to live the free and untamed life I ached for when I was younger. Soon, I’ll be going on a ten day trip to Yosemite, and will be backpacking for six days and camping for four. Then, I’ll be going to Tahoe, for the Tahoe Rim Trail…I’ve accumulated a lot of comp time.

Oh, and I’m also starting to feel like a botanist, which is a really sick feeling. I think it’s so cool when I see a plant, and either know what it is, or can key it to Family or Genus, without a field guide. I get hella stoked when I see Calochortus and Penstemon. I especially love Penstemon newberryi, because it’s pink and grows all over the Sierras. If I take the 36 to the 89 and hang a right, I can usually find a fat population of Penstemon newberryi growing along the granite rock edges. #shakabruh

P.S. My housemate is from the East Coast, and finds entertainment in my Californian vocabulary. This last paragraph was inspired by Jillian Sarazen.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Jepson and The Secret Life of Plants: An Adventurous Employment and a Really Long Title

After a month of living in Susanville, I can finally say it’s more than just a google map layout of the nearest Safeway, Starbucks, Walmart, and State Prison. The Northern Sierras and Great Basin continue to amaze me every day. The dissimilarity between these two remarkable regions first becomes apparent on the drive in from the 395. On my right lies the picturesque pine forest silhouette, characteristic of the Sierras. And on my left, the vast open landscape of the Great Basin greets me with its aromatic sagebrush smell.

Time has definitely been going by faster than I can keep up. Most of the time, the mornings and afternoons feel like completely separate days. Other times, a day feels like a week, especially when collecting Mountain Mahogany. I’ve finally gotten used to the 9pm-5am sleep schedule. But, I’m still getting used to the structure-less work agenda that comprises my schedule. However, most of the time, I can count on doing one of five things: an SOS collection, a special status plant survey, water rights paperwork, juniper mapping, or marking pine trees with the ELFO forester, Clif.

So far, we have collected from Elymus elymoides var. californicus, Poa secunda, Mimulus guttatus, Lotus corniculatus, Cercocarpus ledifolius var. intermontanus, and Leymus cinerus. I absolutely hated collecting Cercocarpus ledifolius, commonly known as Mountain Mahogany. Mountain Mahogany seeds are shaped like an inconspicuously hairy corkscrew, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the plant. The most efficient way to collect the most seeds was by vigorously shaking the tree so that the seeds could fly into our tarp. At the time, this seemed like a brilliant idea. Thirty minutes later, when my allergies were going off, and I could no longer comfortably breathe, I realized it was a terrible idea. Let this be a warning to those who might need to collect it at their field office!

Not all collections have been terrible. In fact, I’ve enjoyed all the other plants, especially Elymus elymoides var. californicus (ELELC2), commonly known as bottlebrush squirreltail and Poa secunda, commonly known as pine bluegrass. Both of these grasses usually grow in areas where cheat grass or medusahead have invaded. Research has shown that ELELC2 is one of the more competitive fire-resistant perennial grasses capable of establishing in areas dominated by invasive annuals. Basically, squirreltail is the Batman of Gotham. Now, whenever I walk by a flourishing population, I have to restrain myself from picking its seeds. Most of the time, I can’t resist the urge. It’s become a tradition among the Lady Bots (our office alternative nickname for CBG interns) to fiercely pick the squirrel spikelets and disperse them among the invasive annual grasses while chanting “DEFEAT THE CHEAT, DEFEAT THE CHEAT.”

Aside from work, I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring in the area. I finally went on a mini solo backpacking trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park (and bought my National Parks Pass) and it was incredible! The plants are just absolutely insane. Even though most things are past bloom, I was still able to find some things to key out like Penstemon newberryi, Penstemon gracilentus, and Phyllodoce breweri. I’ve also visited Lake Tahoe a few times, Greenville, Chester/Lake Almanor, Quincy, Silver Lake, and soon, I’ll be going to Yosemite, Crater, and Tahoe from the Tahoe Rim Trail. Luckily, I’ve accrued almost six days of comp time, so I’m thinking of taking two weeks off and just doing the whole thing at once! If I do end up doing the TRT, it would mean not being able to explore other places that are on my “to-do list.” There’s just too much to see around Susanville! Oh, and I’ve also visited Truckee, which is the coolest place in California (besides Santa Cruz.) I got some real’ good vibez from all the cool people who live there…#truckeelove.

Well jeez, for some reason I was feeling overly ambitious, and thought that I could write, in detail, about everything I’ve been up to at work. Obviously, I was wrong! I guess you’ll have to stay tune for next month’s blog to get the juicy gossip going on in special status plant populations and juniper plots!

Exploring the Sierras

Susanville, here we go!

Susanville, CA

Susanville, CA

After a long week of car breakdowns and traveling, I finally arrived to Susanville. Overall, it’s been a crazy few months, so try to keep up!

About a month ago, I graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Before graduation, I was on a very small island in the Sea of Cortez doing research on the Cardón cactus. The day after I finished school, I was on my way to Los Angeles for a couple of days before my flight to Chicago. After the workshop, I found myself packing up my things, again, and heading north. So, I haven’t had much time to process what it means to be a college graduate, especially since most of my life I’ve identified as a student. Part of me still thinks I’m going back in September…

I’ve only been in Susanville for a week now, but it feels much longer. I was very nervous to move to a place where the population is smaller than my school. I was especially nervous to be away from my friends and family, as this meant, starting over. But moving on is refreshing. Change is good, right?

During the Chicago workshop, I got to meet all of the other interns. Most of the interns had already started, so I got a lot of insight on their projects and what to expect from small towns. We shared a lot of great stories about the unique folks one comes across while being in the middle of nowhere…so many great stories! I even ran into a friend from UCSC, and got to meet Alia and Jillian, the other interns I’ll be living with for the next five months!

The workshop was great and I learned a lot about the history and relevance of the Seeds of Success program, but I am happy to finally be working. My first week at the Eagle Lake Field Office was tiring and hot, but awesome! My favorite part was being assigned my own Jeep, Callie, previously known as Trash Jeep, but now named after the genus Calochortus. On the first day, Alia, Jillian, and I, got a tour of Susanville, and the areas we’ll be working in. The following two days, we collected seeds from Elymus elymoides var. californicus (Squirrel tail grass) and monitored some special status plants, such as Ivesia aperta (Sierra Valley mousetail) and Astragulus pulsiferae (Ame’s milkvetch). We also spent some time familiarizing ourselves with the Artemsia spp, which took a long time, since they all look the same to me. On a more exciting note, I got to see Calochortus macrocarpus, which is about ready to fruit! Oh, and we also met a couple from the office who need dogsitting for the next three weeks! They happen to live in a beautiful house, with a beautiful landscape and four beautiful dogs!

Callie, the Jeep

Callie, the Jeep



Calochortus macrocarpus

I’ve been very excited about this opportunity, because I get to learn a lot about plants every day! The flora is a lot different from what I am used to seeing in the Redwood forest and on the coast. I’m also very excited for the three day weekends, because Susanville is located in such a pretty area. So far, I’ve seen Antelope Lake and Lake Almanor! I got some pretty amazing views of snowy Lassen while driving around the Plumas Forest. This weekend, I’m heading to Truckee for some socializing, and Quincy for some bouldering!

I’d say, life after graduating is not bad.