Farewells and Reflections


Holding Back the Tears 

This is my final post as a CLM intern, and like many before me, I am having trouble accepting that it will soon be over. I feel like I just got the hang of my job, there was always something new being thrown my way both in the field and the office. Now that I finally feel comfortable, it’s time to move on. There were great days when I couldn’t believe I was being paid to visit beautiful places around Colorado, and there were days that dragged on and tested my resolve. The AIM program required us to visit randomly selected plots across northwestern Colorado and collect data on plant species richness, vegetation cover, vegetation height, soil stability, soil texture and more.  The plots we visited were sometimes a few feet from the road, others were several miles.This variability kept things interesting, some days we would take gnarly hikes through thick brush wearing heavy packs full of field gear, other days we could basically see the plot from our car. The amazing thing about Colorado is that when you travel, you do so in three dimensions and the elevation gain from the plains into the alpine creates conditions for distinct plant communities.


Clear boundaries in plant communities can be seen through the changes in topography. Starting with sagebrush, moving up into aspens and finally into conifers.

 I Now Posses Great Skills 

Coming from southwest Michigan, I was used to prairies and oak-hickory forest and it was a rude awakening when I arrived in sagebrush country. At first, sagebrush with its characteristically dry sandy clay soil, seemed like a  plant community with little to offer in diversity. My first AIM training was staged in the sagebrush just outside Kremmling, CO. The State botanist, Carol Dawson, took us on a walkabout to get us acquainted with the system. Her well trained eye could pick out tiny forbs that I overlooked in the landscape, seemingly dominated by Artemisia tridentata. Buy the end of the day my head was spinning, trying to remember the scientific, common and USDA code names of the new plants. There was a surprisingly wide variety of different shrubs, forbs and grasses and I could hardly keep track of them. That compounded with learning the procedures for AIM monitoring really had my brain flexing. Fortunately, I had the guidance of my mentor, Amy, to assist with plant identification and I was given some time to get familiar with our field guides, ‘Flora of Colorado’ by Jennifer Ackerfield and ‘Grasses of Colorado’ by Robert B. Shaw.


Kicking back with some fine reading material, Flora of Colorado by Jennifer Ackerfield.

Over the next few weeks I worked through the learning curve of AIM. I was familiar with most of the field techniques we used, such as line point intercept and soil stability, but the repetition was good practice. I became quite good at the soil ribbon test, where a handful of soil is taken from a soil horizon dampened, kneaded. Once the soil reaches the right consistency, it is formed into a ball and pinched in between your thumb and forefinger to form a ribbon. The structural strength of the ribbon helps determine the soil texture. for example if it is a silty loam, a sandy clay, or just a clay loam etc.  If nothing else, this will really help with my sculpting career.

This internship has also greatly improved my plant identification skills and I feel much more confident navigating a dichotomous key. I was intimidated by grasses coming into the internship simply due to the sheer diversity we encountered. I learned to get over my fears and dove into the grass key. After identifying dry and decrepit grasses later in the season, when most of the characteristics were missing except a crusty ligule or one last floret, I felt much more confident identifying specimen.  One of my favorite grasses to ID is Poa Pratensis because of its characteristic cobwebby pubescence at the base of the spikelets.


One down among many, in this example, we could not identify the species in the field, so we gave it a perennial graminoid code (PG-48). With the help of a scope, we were able to identify it as Danthonia intermedia and replace the code with the actual species code, (DAIN).

Much of our time was spent in the sagebrush and it forced me to learn the minute differences between the subspecies of Artemisia tridentata. Artemesia tridentata is the most abundant shrub in the world in regards to area and biomass.  Differentiating between its subspecies can be nearly impossible due to hybridization, but there are some indicators that can help improve the confidence of an ID. For example the Subspecies vaseyana tends to have a more camphor or sweeter smell than subsp. Tridentata or wyomingensis and the inflorescence is flat topped, giving it a candles on a cake look. Rarely did we identify plants to subspecies, but in the case of Artemsia Tridenta, it was important to distinguish because it is a critical part of Sage grouse habitat. 


A very hearty Artemisia tridentata Nutt. subsp. vaseyana.

Many hours were spent at the end of the field season getting the data ready for submission to the state office. I learned a lesson about organization when it came time to go through 4 months worth of plant specimen, field notes and data. Had we not been more diligent about keeping our files in a safe place and organizing our field notes in a well marked binder, fixing some of the errors we came across would have been nearly impossible. I became more familiar with Microsoft Access and it was actually fun to find errors with the error checking module. The module was designed to detect any errors in the data such as missing vegetation height measurements or improperly marked GPS coordinates. The work was tedious at times, but it was rewarding to see a project come full circle and submit it to the state office.


This was my home for a couple weeks.

The wild Goat chase

Later in the season when the AIM project was coming to a close there was some time to join other field crews and assist them with various tasks. It was a nice change of pace to try something new. One week we loaded the truck up with grass seed and UTVs and headed to BLM grounds along the Trough road to seed campgrounds and previously burned areas. Some of the species we spread included western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) squirreltail (elymus elymoides) and muttongrass (Poa fendleriana). 


My handy little seed spreader.

On a more exciting note, we also got to go on a wild goat chase when the wildlife biologist, Darren, received calls about a goat that was spotted walking along the Trough road. We were called into his office to review the pictures that were sent in. He was an interesting specimen.  The goat was clearly domesticated and sported a long white goatee and shaggy hair that covered his eyes. We didn’t know how he got there, but it was important the we find him and contained him because he was dangerously close to a small herd of bighorn sheep. The reason for concern is that the goat could potentially spread disease to the herd, and if he were to make contact, the entire herd would have to be euthanized.

Wasting no time, we jumped in the truck and went searching. We hiked around the area where he was spotted but to no avail. I didn’t have much confidence that we would find him, there was just way too many places where he could hide behind juniper trees. Then, when we were going to head back, Darren spotted him standing proudly on top of a hill. I couldn’t believe it. When we approached we could see that he was a big boy, with a very potent smell. Knowing that we would not be able to immobilize it ourselves, we called in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife in for backup.

They pulled up with a horse trailer and brought out the lassos. Before they arrived, the goat was pretty calm and was eating carrots out of my hand. He must have sensed that something was up when the rangers approached. He gave chase, running up and down the hills and across the road. People driving by would stop in confusion wondering what the hell we were doing chasing a goat around the backcountry. Eventually the ranger managed to get the rope around one of his legs and I grabbed his horns. Once we got him, they tied the ropes round his horns and guided him into the trailer. The best part is that we had to keep him in our wear yard until we could find his owner. This was probably the most excitement the office has seen all year. Eventually we found him a home and we had to say goodbye to our friend, Billy. Word is he has a new girlfriend and is living happily on a 200 acre ranch.

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The Corny Part 

When we were not working there was a lot of time spent outdoors. More often than not we would spike camp for the week, due to the fact that our plots were in remote areas. I easily camped more nights in the last 5 months than I have in the last 5 years. I came to appreciate the time I spent away from cellphone service and internet. In the field I finally had enough time to read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelf half read. I don’t know how I will handle going back home now that I’ve gotten used to the rocky mountain night skies and the silence of the country life. Another thing that I will miss is the sheer magnitude of public land out west. Almost every weekend I would visit a new destination, either to mountain bike, hike, swim or climb.


Mountain bike trail outside Granby Colorado.

So yeah, the CLM internship was pretty great, I had my reservations at first, I didn’t want to leave my friends and family and dog behind. Of course I also had a little anxiety starting a new job in an unfamiliar state where I didn’t know anyone. I remember when I was driving west towards Colorado I would have moments when I asked myself, “Am I really doing this?”.  Once I got started I knew I made the right choice. I did miss my friends and the life I left behind, but that time passed. Looking back, I am glad I went with the bold choice and set out to explore something new. I made some new friends along the way and I am looking forward to visiting them this winter for ski season. I admit that I don’t know for sure if working for the government is something that I want to do for the rest of my life, but the experience I gained is invaluable, and it has opened a lot of new doors for me and my career.

So if you are wondering about applying for the CLM internship, I say go for it !



Eli Lowry


Kremmling Field Office, Colorado

Wrapping up the Field Season in Kremmling

Working in the Fall

Autumn arrives quickly in the Rockies. By the time the first leaves started changing in my hometown, the aspens had already put on their grand finally of yellow and orange and red, in the once green mountains.

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As the plants shifted in their phenology, we faced special challenges identifying them. Many of the forbs and grasses we surveyed had ready gone to seed and were ready for winter.


A transect running through a Gable Oak (Quercus gambelii) site.

With little characteristics left to aid in identification, we had to rely on our past experiences to compile our species list. The ray flowers on many of the asters were either dried up or missing completely, which made getting an ID a bit more difficult.


A crispy Dieteria canescens, being identified.

We do our best to ID plants in the field but occasionally we press specimen to give them a closer look. A few plants here and there have amassed into an entire box over the busy field season. Needless to say we have our work cut out for us as we prepare our data for submission in November.


During our last week in the field a cold front rolled through northwest Colorado. On our last night we were hit by cold rain, which froze and turned my rain fly into an ice sheet. I was thankful that night for my down sleeping bag, and warm clothes. Despite the acclimate weather, we managed to get out and finish our final plot.


A time for celebration

To celebrate a finished field season I took a trip down to Rifle, CO for the holiday weekend to do some rock climbing with friends. Our first stop was Rifle Arch, which features some easier climbs on relatively soft sandstone. The Arch was beautiful and the weather was great for climbing.

unnamed-2 The next day I ran into some climbers I met on the front range in Rifle Mountain Park. This area is known for its challenging routes up sharp and unforgiving rock. I was more interested in just scouting the site out, because I knew many of the routes were a bit above my skill level. However I couldn’t resist giving it a try after watching a few friends climb. Here is a shot of the meat wall, as they call it.



The area also features some spectacular plants and wildlife and it was a great place to spend the day and enjoy the outdoors, I made some new friends (a fox) and learned a lot from some really stellar climbers.


I am onto the last month of my internship and the reality is setting in that it will soon come to an end. I am looking forward to reuniting with my friends and family back home during the holidays but I have defiantly gained a whole new appreciation for the West and I am already looking for my next opportunity to come back out here. I am grateful for this tremendous opportunity to do field work in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Thanks CLM !

Eli Lowry

BLM, Kremmling CO

Grand Junctions


Eli Lowry,

Kremmling, CO field office, BLM


A pic of me pretending to know what I’m doing.

Spending time in grand junction

For the majority of the month of August AIM crew and I were trekking southwest to Grand Junction (GJ) CO. Its about a 3 hour drive from our field office in Kremmling and camping out for the week is a necessity. I’m not sure how many other CLMers out there are also in the AIM program so I’ll explain quickly. AIM mostly involves taking vegetation surveys of predetermined sites that are randomly selected across BLM land. Our goal is to survey at least 4 plots a week, Mondays can be long when you include loading up the truck and commuting. We are narrowing down on available sites for this field season, and there just so happened to be more sites in the GJ area.

This is by far the most transient job / lifestyle I have ever had, as the random plot selecting machine decides our fate and sends us out into some very remote and strange areas. There are times when we hike into backcountry away from trails and roads that I wonder if anyone has ever stepped foot on the land before me. Then I come across a dried up cow pie and know that at least some brave cows have made the journey before. For an idea of where we have been here is a map of plots completed over the field season. We are the Kremming field office, (the purple dots).

aimplotssep222016 Rejected plots

Not all plots are winners, and when they are too far out, steep or just plain dangerous to access they will be rejected. Some plots are obvious rejections that are clearly too difficult to access, while others are rejected only once you get up close and personal. GJ is riddled with steep cliffs and deep gullies and sometimes our plots lie smack dap in the middle of them. This happened twice, but all is not lost, as even rejected plots provide data on the slope and aspect of the area.


Here you can see me measuring out where our plot would extend to. In this case we would be going off the cliff near the very precariously placed boulder. Needless to say the topography was grounds for rejection.


The second rejection lies along the steep face of this cliff, nope.

The little things

The drive is not all that bad.  We pass through the spectacular Glenwood canyon and drop down 1,400 feet into a warmer, sandier and fruiter area. GJ is adjacent to the Colorado National Monument and features some pretty Grand Mesas, actually the “Grand Mesa”, which is the largest flat topped mountain on the planet. We had the privilege to camp there for a night, I’ll get to that later. There are also some pretty greet farmers markets in the area that stock delicious Palisade peaches

Fruita is a funky little town outside GJ that is a haven for mountain bikers and pizza lovers, which happens to be two of my favorite things. One night after a long day of looking at plants and digging holes, we decided to reward ourselves by visiting the Hot Tomato, an infamous pizza shop that prides itself on creative topping combinations and bike themed décor. It’s the little things in life that make it worth living, specifically melty cheese.


There can only be one, off to the highlands.

The beauty of Colorado is that if you are too hot all you have to do is climb. During our most recent visit to GJ we had to cross over from one end of the Grand Mesa to the other. We left a plot from a base elevation of 4,593 ft. and climbed up the 11,332 ft. Mesa. As we passed switch backs after switch back, the hot cab of the truck began to cool, soon enough we were scrambling for our long sleeves and turning off the AC. Suddenly we reached the top and the arid high desert became a montane conifer forest, dappled with vibrant almost turquoise lakes. There was good foraging, with currants and raspberries galore.


To give you an idea of what the landscape looks like, the Grand Mesa can be seen to the left of the mesa in the foreground.


Eggleston Lake on top of the Grand Mesa

Cactus Tax

I feel these little buggers deserve their own subheading, as they found their way into my foot several times hiking around GJ. Watch your step folks.


Opuntia polyacantha being fed on by what I believe to be cactus bugs (Chelinidea vittiger aequoris)

Stay tuned for the next entry of Aspens turning yellow as Autumn makes makes its way through the Rockies.

Heading toward new horizons


Hey everyone,

For several weeks we have surveyed  sagebrush almost exclusively. I finally feel familiar with the plants that inhabit this unique ecosystem. When I was fist introduced to the system, it looked like an indistinguishable, green mat of vegetation. To my surprise I found sagebrush to be much like a forest, just scaled down. It contains multiple layers of plant life, some of the plant species we encounter are quite beautiful. For example the mariposa lily (Calochortus gunnisonii),and showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). 


A fine Calochortus gunnisonii specimen found inside a sagebrush plot


Some Asclepias speciosa found outside a plot in Kremmling, CO

Many of the sagebrush plots were located in Walden, CO about and hour and some change north of Kremmling. The city of Walden is nestled in a huge valley with some peculiar features including sand hills and a lake covered in water knotweed (Persicaria amphibian).


Lake almost completely covered in Persicaria amphibian


North Sand Hills Recreation Management Area outside Walden CO

I am still getting used to the intense quietness of the area, where the familiar sounds of humans are nowhere to be found. Aside from the occasional antelope, the only thing you hear is the wind sweeping through the three-pronged leaves of Artemisia tridentata

It is not all peaceful out in the field however, fire has broken out in Beaver Creek and several members of our office have been assigned to help manage the situation. The Beaver creek fire has been raging outside of Walden since late June, and it projected to continue for several weeks. The smoke from the fire could be seen from most of our plots and the smell of burning cigars would fill the air when the wind shifted towards us. Its hard to believe how long a fire can smolder, the latest update on its extent is 35,429 acres.


Smoke rising from the Beaver Creek fire from about 5 miles away

Recently we left the sagebrush and ventured out into coniferous forests. The shade and change of scenery is welcomed. The hike out to our last plot provided us with some breathtaking views of the Rawah Peaks northwest of Rocky Mountain National Park.


The hike out to a plot with the Rawah peaks in the background

The refreshing change comes with a new community of plants to become familiar with but not all the plants in the forests are out of the ordinary. Among the rose plants were a few red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), that I was happy to sample when I came across some ripe fruit.

Getting exposure to new sites, provides great opportunities to practice pressing plants, and identifying specimen in the field and the office. I am looking forward to meeting some new plants and expanding my mental plant catalog.  I will leave with some shots of my colleagues hard at work.


Nik pressing plants unbeknownst that he is being photographed, sorry bud


Amy conducting a soil stability test, this test is by far the strangest one we do in the field










Kremmling CO, field office

Bureau of Land Management

Eli Lowry

Old home on the range

This post marks the first month of my employment with the CLM. I didn’t know what to expect as I packed my bags and drove from Kalamazoo, MI to Kremmling, CO to work with the BLM. Kremmling is a small ranching town located about two hours west of Denver and is radically different than the suburban Midwest. I am still wrapping my head around the sheer expanse of the country here. Kremmling features prime sagebrush habitat, diverse wildlife and you guessed it a lot of cows. There are limited housing options in Kremmling and it almost made me pass on the position. Fortunately, a co-worker at the office offered me a room at his place. The house is custom made and is heated in the winter using a radiant heating system, which is very cool.

My home away from home for the next 5 months. I did not expect to be staying in such a nice place, but I am not going to complain.

My home away from home for the next 5 months. I did not expect to be staying in such a nice place, but I am not going to complain.

My position involves working on the AIM project, which stands for Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring. AIM is an ambitious project intended to provide the BLM with up to date large sale ecological data. The new data is important as it will allow decision makers to better mange natural recourses and identify valuable habitats across field offices. Our main focus is identifying suitable habitat for the sage grouse, which has lost significant habitat to development in the west.

The great part about my position is that it allows me to explore Colorado. Each week we are assigned several plots that are scattered across the northwest quadrant of the state. My mentor, Amy, and I collect data on plant species richness, distribution and heights. We also collect data on abiotic conditions such the physical geography, soil texture, and soil stability. That data is used, mainly to determine the erosion susceptibility of a site.

Amy and I identifying plants along a transect. The blue avalanche poll in the upper left is used to measure plant height.

Amy and I identifying plants along a transect. The blue avalanche poll in the upper left is used to measure plant height.

Action shot of a soil pit, in a sage bruch site. The soil was very sandy here which made for easy digging. Sometimes getting to the standard 70cm can be a struggle.

Action shot of a soil pit, at a sagebrush site. The soil was very sandy here, which made for easy digging. Sometimes getting to the standard 70cm can be a struggle.

Each plot we are assigned can be located in various ecosystems, ranging from sagebrush, pinyon-juniper, aspen, gambel oak and others. This presents unique challenges when it comes to identifying plants. I have been sharpening my plant terminology skills to make plant ID more efficient. Luckily, Amy is familiar with many of the plants we encounter, and can at least narrow them down to the family. When we cannot identify a plant in the field I get to practice pressing and cataloging plants to be identified later in the office. The field guide we rely on the most is Flora of Colorado by Jennifer Ackerfield. This 818 page book is very comprehensive, I am impressed that anyone could compile such a catalog of plants in a single lifetime.

Camp site in some aspen forest. The cabin belongs to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Camp site in some aspen forest. The cabin belongs to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.


I am happy to be doing something meaningful for work. I enjoy driving around Colorado, hanging out with plants, and camping in beautiful places. The job is not always easy, the sun can get pretty intense in the mountains and the mosquitoes are extra hungry at altitude. There is also the added weight of knowing that my data must be correct in order to serve its purpose effectively. That aside, the past four weeks have been great, and I am looking forward to the next time I get to share my experiences on the blog. Before I go here is a nice picture of some cows.



Kremmling CO, field office

Bureau of Land Management

Eli Lowry