Wow! It’s hard to believe that already a month has gone by since I embarked on this journey to begin work as a Seeds of Success (SOS) intern in Taos, New Mexico. It all started with a road trip from eastern Oregon to Taos, which my mom and I completed in 2 and a half days, leaving me just enough time to drop my stuff at my newly acquired apartment and drive to Albuquerque. There my mom and I snagged a couple hours of sleep before I hopped on a plane to Chicago, and she hopped on one back to Oregon.
One of the places my mom and I stopped on our trip down was Arches National Park. Here’s a view of Delicate Arch.
The training in Chicago took place at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and covered a myriad of topics including Seeds of Success (SOS) protocol, common plant families in the western United States, and field sampling techniques. The garden was honestly one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been, and I highly recommend it to anyone that happens to find themselves in the Chicago area. In addition, the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower is a pretty awesome sight if you enjoy heights and great views!
On the observation floor of Willis Tower, they had clear boxes sticking off the side of the building. They made for great pictures, and spectacular (if a touch unnerving) views from 103 stories up. I personally loved being in them!
A view of one of the islands in the Japanese Garden section of the Chicago Botanic Garden
I went to the butterfly garden and was able to get this picture of one of the beautiful butterflies!
A huge statue of Carl Linnaeus on one of his botanizing adventure at the Chicago Botanic Garden
I fell in love with the bonsai exhibit in the courtyard of the building where we had our training classes.
A tiny white house in the miniature train garden
After returning to Taos, I had the chance to get a little more settled in my apartment before heading off to another training in Santa Fe. We learned about safety in the field, and were introduced to key people in the New Mexico SOS program. We also were told about the origins of the SOS program, the formation of which was prompted by a particularly bad wildfire season around the year 2000 that placed attention on the lack of native adapted seeds for use in restoration work. I was able to meet my mentor and supervisor Lillis Urban, and learn how to use the office tablet to document our seed collections. After the classroom portion of the training, our group of interns, BLM, and Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE) employees headed down to Red Canyon Preserve in southern New Mexico to do some camping. We made our first SOS seed collection there, and got some practice filling out the data sheet that we use for all our collections. We also practiced determining soil type and color, and pressing plant specimens for use in herbarium sheets.
During the Santa Fe portion of the training, we took a short hike to see some petroglyphs. I had never seen petroglyphs before, so it was a really nice treat!
It took me forever to find a place for my tent where I didn’t think the wind would blow it over, but when I did pick a spot, it ended up being on a bunch of rocks. Not my best thought out plan, but it sure was an ascetically pleasing spot!
A gorgeous sunrise that I saw while sleeping in the truck bed during our training at Red Canyon Preserve
Our tiny tent village before a brief downpour. The wind here meant business!
During training, we ventured into the mountains, where, much to my delight, we saw some trees!
On our way back to Taos, we stopped by the University of New Mexico herbarium, and were able to see beautiful herbarium sheets like this one.
After that training, my fellow SOS intern and I spent a week in the Taos BLM office orienting to the resources available to us, finishing the data sheet from our Red Canyon Preserve collection, taking a 5 hour long defensive driving course online, and learning how to change the tire on our work truck. It was a good thing we practiced, because it took us nearly an hour and a half, and now we know at exactly which point to place the jack.
This last week that I just finished up was the first one where me and my partner got a hands on taste for what our job will be like for the bulk of the season. Basically what we will do is go into areas managed by the BLM or Forest Service, scout out populations of native plants, and collect seeds from populations that meet certain requirements. The seeds then are sent to a special seed cleaning facility in Bend, Oregon so that they can be cleaned and stored. A portion of those seed can then be used in research and the development of growing protocols, so that one day farmers can grow these native plants, resulting in a greater number of native seeds being available for use in restoration work. For a population to qualify for an SOS collection, there must be more than 50 individuals and you must collect at least 10,000 seeds. However, you can’t collect more than 20% of the ripe seeds in the population within a single day. To this end, my partner and I spent Monday scouting out a few populations to see if they were large enough for a collection, and Wednesday making our first official solo seed collection. The lucky plant was Elymus elmoides, a grass otherwise known as Bottlebrush Squirreltail. The collection was fairly simple, although it was made a bit harder by the heat and the sun. Being out in the field was exciting, but also a bit overwhelming. It made me realize all the things that I don’t know or am unsure of. It was hard not knowing the names of most of the plants that I was seeing and trying to estimate if a population would yield enough seeds for a collection. I have so much to learn, but I know that with practice and dedication, I will eventually hit my stride.
This area at the base of Ute Mountain is where I spent the bulk of my field time during this past week.
Off in the distance, you can see the light colored band of plants that made up our first collection.
Afternoon storms showing up over the not so distant mountain range have been the norm during our few days of field work there.
After spending a couple days in the field, we attended a training on how to tell the difference between wasps, bees and flies (harder than you might think!) on Thursday, as well as a training on soil sampling techniques on Friday. It was interesting to learn more about bees, since that has never been something that I’ve known much about. I learned that in the United States, there are about 4,000 species of bees! I had no idea that there were so many, or that a quarter of those species can be found in New Mexico.
The location of our bee training
Moving down to New Mexico was a big step for me. I’m one of 5 children, and am very close to my family. Additionally I just graduated with my undergraduate degree last year. So this is my first time truly living on my own, outside of the sheltered safety of my family’s house or a college campus. Missing my family makes it even more difficult. To distract myself, and because I love adventures, I’ve done some exploring in my downtime. I made a journey to the Gorge Bridge, with its beautiful high up views, and the local Earthship community. The Earthship community fascinated me, and I honestly think that I might consider living that way some day. Earthships are an amazing type of self sustaining housing. Their walls are made from dirt filled used tires rescued from landfills. They produce their own power from solar and wind energy, and get all their water from precipitation. The water goes on to be used 4 times with filtering in between, and the houses include greenhouse space for growing food, even in the dead of winter!
Here are some basic Earthship models.
The greenhouse portion of the visitor center Earthship
I’ve quickly discovered a natural health culture here in Taos, which I love. The farmer’s market is spectacular, and there is a grocery store within a mile of my apartment that sells all sorts of organic, non-GMO, and gluten free foods, as well as a whole array of vitamins and natural health and body care products. It is probably the most wonderful and fascinating store that I have ever been in.
Since I have been here in Taos, I have learned so much, both in my internship and in my extracurricular adventures. I am so excited to continue exploring and voraciously perusing new knowledge wherever I go!
Until next time!
Sierra Seeds of Success Intern BLM Taos, NM