Desert Life

The best thing about my internship here in Escalante is that we’ve been able to experience so many different aspects of the BLM’s conservation work. While our primary job has been collecting the seeds of native plants for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, our CLM mentor is a wildlife biologist for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument here in southern Utah, so we’ve been helping out with a lot of different projects.

Whoever thinks the desert is devoid of life will find themselves sadly mistaken if they ever come to the Staircase — at night, insects buzz and chirp and whir, and during the day birds soar overhead and chatter in the juniper and cottonwood trees. We’ve been catching bats to learn more about the different species that live on the Monument, and when we set up mist nets in the dark over rivers and streams, a chorus of croaking frogs and cicadas drowns out the silence of the dark.

My mentor works with the National Hummingbird Monitoring Network trapping and banding hummingbirds to study migration patterns and population dynamics, so every other week we get up long before dawn and head out to our monitoring sites to trap the tiny hummers. What an amazing experience. We have two native species on the Monument — the Blackchin and the Broadtail. Another species, the Rufus Hummingbird, migrates through every summer on their way from Alaska down to Mexico, an incredible journey for a bird weighing only about 3 grams.

In our spare time, we catch lizards and amphibians as part of ongoing baseline species surveys. The lizards I’ve talked about before in another blog, but we recently traveled up the Boulder Mountain north of the Staircase and found ponds full of morphing tiger salamanders. Weird little creatures, but so much fun to study.

All for now —


BLM; Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT


Feeding hummingbirds after we weigh, measure, and band them


Tiger salamander working on growing legs


Arrival of Fall

It’s official — fall has come to the desert. The mountains around Escalante are turning gold and red as the aspen leaves change, and the nights have gotten cold. Days are still warm on the Monument, but nothing like the scorching weather of the past few months; we are loving it. Seed collection is still in full swing here, so days are packed with monitoring, collecting and pressing herbarium specimens. My co-worker leaves in two weeks while I still have a month left here in Utah, so we are trying to get as much done as we can before she goes.

These past four months have been pretty incredible on a number of fronts — so many new experiences in a truly magical place. Living on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has really been a once in a lifetime experience; there is so much wildness here, so much space for roaming. I’d bet it’s probably one of the least explored places in the lower 48.

Canyon country is like no other place I’ve ever been, and it will always remain dear to my heart. As I’ve come to know the desert, I feel in a strange way like it’s come to know me as well; I’ve grown a lot while I’ve been down here with the red rock walls and damp canyon crevasses, and while I’ll be honest and say I’m excited to get back to the land of Big Water — I will definitely be back to the Staircase one day.


BLM, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT


Long Canyon Narrows


Adventure to Bryce Canyon National Park

Fishing in the Desert

Headed down Hole in the Rock road today to finish our collection of Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow). Hole in the Rock is a famous dirt road from Escalante all the way down to Lake Powell. It follows the track the Mormon pioneers took from Escalante to the (then) Colorado River. From Hole in the Rock, present day travelers can reach numerous exciting places to explore — Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons, Coyote and Willow Gulch, Chimney Rock and so many more. There’s also plenty of fun plants to find.

We started out early because it’s monsoon season here; almost every afternoon it pours rain, and when Hole in the Rock is wet, the red clay road turns into a sliding mess akin to ice and snow and slush all mixed together. A few weeks back my co-intern and I tried to get down it to check on our globemallow population…only to slide off the road into a sand due. Good times. We got the truck turned around eventually — I channeled some good old fashion Michigan snow and ice driving skills — but we weren’t too keen to get stuck in the same position again.

After some backtracking and a couple pit stops, we got to our site, finished collecting and then headed off to catch lizards for awhile. We’re working on some baseline species surveys on Grand Staircase, meaning we get to hike across the desert with lizard catching poles (glorified fishing poles) to see what species we can find. We measure, weigh, and photograph all of the lizards we catch, while getting a lot of strange looks from hikers who think we’re crazy people fishing in the desert.


Great Basin collared lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores) found down Hole in the Rock

Canyon Country

Well…here I am more than half way done with my internship in Escalante, UT, just now posting my first blog. Sorry about that; I have no excuse, really, other than the fact that I’ve been so enthralled by the beauty and power of my temporary home that sitting inside at a computer typing about it somehow hasn’t cut it. But here I am either way, hoping to make up for some lost time. This post will be an overview of my life in Utah:

On Saturday, May 14th, 2016 I arrived in the small, rural town of Escalante (which I quickly learned is pronounced es-ca-lant, or es-ca-lant-ie, NOT escalante in the Spanish sense. Anyway). I’d driven some 2,000 miles from Michigan and arrived in a strange country of white slick rock and red canyon cliff faces–a world I’d only read about and never imagined I would see for myself, let alone spend half a year exploring. That’s why I took this job, really. I wanted a new adventure. So, I graduated college on April 30th, filled my car with all sorts of unnecessary things, and drove across the country towards the land of sun and dust.

I’ve traveled a good amount, really. I’ve spent time in Japan, Chile, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana…but nothing really prepared me for Escalante. Here, there are more cattle than people. My neighbors walk by my bedroom window every afternoon moving their horses from pasture to corral. There are no bars, only a couple of restaurants, and a single main road through the center of town. (We do have a grocery store and three gas stations, though, a big deal around here.)

We are surrounded on all sides by the 2,000 acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (the space in which I work as a CLM intern), some of the greatest and last wilderness in the American West. The land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and it’s a multi-use space, that means that the tourists frolic down the famous Hole in the Rock road right alongside roaming herds of cattle. The Monument isn’t a National Park; some ranchers still make a living off this land and some are trying to find ways to continue that lifestyle for as long as they can. If you want to come and climb through the slot canyons, explore the gulches, and see the desert stars, you’ll get a taste of rural life in Utah whether you like it or not–

In short, Escalante is a town on the edge of the world; two worlds, really, an old world of ranching, cowboys, and rodeos and a new world of tourism and land preservation. Lots of people have opinions about this, about the American West–what is was, what it is, what it could be. Lots of people like to sit at desks in air conditioned rooms and talk about places like Escalante as if they really understand what’s happening here. I used to be one of them. Now I know better.

Three months in, I’ve become accustomed to this place and have settled in to the slow lull of desert life. My mentor, Terry Tolbert, has been amazing; our first couple weeks here, he drove us all across the Monument and the Boulder Mountain to the north to get us acquainted with the area. I quickly learned that the desert is all about respect and preparedness. You have to respect the landscape in order to love it, and even when you come to love it, you have to be prepared for all that it’s able to throw back at you: Between the red clay roads and unpredictable weather, you can slide right off a two track or get stuck in ruts as deep as your truck tires. You can take a wrong turn on the mountain roads and realize an hour later you have to backtrack three hours to get where you wanted to go. You can hike into a gulch you thought would have water in it, and there’s nothing but dust.

I have never lived in a place of such stark, desolate beauty. There is a quiet out here that seeps into you bones, a quiet that hangs about the canyons and penetrates the rainbow sandstone. Some people try to block it out with music and car engines and heavy footfalls of hiking boots. But you really have to let it in to understand Canyon Country. I’m still getting there, but I’m loving every moment.


More to come. -Kate

Escalante, UT; BLM