Five months later…

Well the time has come to leave the sagebrush expanse and be welcomed home to by the colors and smells of autumn in Pennsylvania.

Once upon a time I thought I couldn’t get anywhere without a GPS. Using maps was a long-forgotten memory… where my parents tried their best to plan our summer vacation, but there was always the sound of scrambling papers when we inevitably got lost. But out in no-service-land, maps were A MUST to navigate the Nevada wilderness. And now, with these brand new skills to navigate roadways, I remain biased and will never choose maps over a GPS (when there is a choice).

Shout out to Payton’s playlists and audiobooks. They have kept us sane when we spent an entire workday in the truck.

We usually saw Nevada wilderness through the windshield.

The Nevada wilderness conditions Payton and I have been exposed to makes me appreciate what we have taken for granted. I will never look at paved roads the same way, even with monstrous potholes. Once you’ve had to navigate narrow dirt roads sprinkled with sharp rocks and half-meter-deep channels overlooking a 200 foot drop, paved roads are a blessing. And let’s just say toilets with plumbing… toilets in general really are human’s greatest invention.

A shortcut through the Sillwater mountain range in central Nevada took us to anxiously high places.

I find it odd that I feel like I know western plant species more than I know eastern ones, and I shouldn’t resist this idea of change. I feel like this entire internship’s theme revolved around change. I’ve immersed myself into a new ecosystem, a new workplace, a new community and culture, and a new field experience. Adjusting to change has its benefits: I have a whole page of new skills to take me to my next job, internship, and future career.

Kalmia microphylla, western swamp laurel, is a reminder of home and PA’s state flower, mountain laurel.

Our work is only a small piece to the large puzzle, but progress is not made in leaps and bounds.I’m grateful to contribute to a program that promotes long-term restoration and conservation efforts.

It’s been fun!

Alyssa Hay



Has it cooled down yet?

After successfully collecting Erigeron speciosus, we have shifted our focus to scouting for other target species populations. Fortunately, our adventures in the last couple of weeks have taken us to the Bridgeport District in California. This area is beautiful but the high elevation left Payton and I fatigued and dizzy for the first few days. Although, I couldn’t complain too much since the 60 degree weather was a welcome relief from the high 90s that we feel in Reno.

A bumble bee visiting Erigeron speciosus, aka Showy fleabane

Our excursions brought us to Twin Lakes where the mule deer completely ignore people as they munch on away without a care in the world. The mornings and early afternoons were the time for scouting, since thunderclouds rolled in as the day progressed.  Once we heard the distant rumbles we slowly rushed back onto the paved roads. Dirt roads on forest service land will turn into slippery slush if they get wet, and we weren’t going to take any chances.

Bridgeport, CA

Mule deer graze near Twin Lakes Resort, CA

As we shifted our focus to different native plants, we began scouting the drier sections of USFS land which led us to Cleome serrulata. Two weeks later, some of the lower pods had mature seed, so we didn’t hesitate to begin our first Cleome collection. It was a tedious task and my hands smelled like a very potent green pepper by the end of it. As I think back to my start in the SOS program, I realize how quickly we can pick up skills. Within minutes of investigating a new plant, we can distinguish mature from immature seed and efficiently collect the seed from their receptacles.

Cleome serrulata, aka Rocky Mountain bee plant, add color to the drier areas of Nevada


Delays, delays, and more delays

For the last few weeks Payton and I have been monitoring the main priority species for the Nevada USFS and that is Erigeron speciosus, otherwise known as Showy Fleabane. We hope to collect from at least 10 different populations so the Forest Service geneticist can obtain a clear picture of biodiversity withing the species. After we collect enough seed from these populations (crossing my fingers), we will begin to scout for other wide-ranging species for restoration efforts.

Erigeron speciosus, exhibiting different phases of phenology around the end of July

The beginning of this post doesn’t seem like time is against us, but I haven’t really got into the shenanigans that Payton and I have been up to these past few weeks… we are currently on our third USFS government vehicle. The first one… well the side passenger mirror got taken clear off (I won’t get into much about that). The second… we got struck by an oncoming vehicle at a major intersection. We hope that third trucks a charm right?

I am so grateful no one was hurt.

Once we got back out in the field with our third truck, E. speciosus fruit was still not mature and most of the plants had yet to desiccate and form seed (seen in first picture). Our wait for these populations to mature was not wasted! We were invited by our mentor and another employee of the USFS to visit the Bridgeport district in California. The elevation increased by about 2000 ft and we felt the effects quite strongly. Fatigued and fighting gnarly headaches, we still trudged through squishy meadows looking for Yosemite toads, either as tadpoles or in their first year. I enjoyed looking for something that has legs!

Can you spot the Yosemite toad?

Scenic overlook in the Bridgeport District, CA



Exploring Nevada

As someone who has grown up in the humid, temperate woodlands of Pennsylvania, the exposure to the western climate has been interesting… Just last week, a fire, dubbed “earthstone”, had started right behind our apartment and still continues to burn through mid-eastern Nevada. (The biggest fire I’ve seen in PA are football bonfires, rallying the fans and the team to defeat our number-one rival.) With barely any trees and never-ending sagebrush expanses, adjusting to this new, extremely open place seemed intimidating. The first few weeks I had to adjust to the unrelenting dry heat and the sudden increase in elevation… let’s just say my exercise regime was “revised”. The nosebleeds almost every other day was super fun too.

Our project working on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest has us looking for only ONE target species, but we have a list of a total of 80 opportunistic plant species to collect seed from if we come across it. With no historical points to access target species, our job is to scout and mark collectible populations. This large, inclusive project comprises of target species that are essential to pollinators, sage grouse, and range management. Restoration and preservation of diversity are the overarching goals. I am super grateful to be apart of a project that includes so many facets to science and the community.

Image of a sphinx moth obtaining nectar and pollinating nettleleaf giant hyssop (Agastache urticifolia)

Since we’ve been exploring the HT districts, the only thing we’ve been hearing from the locals is that we are lucky to have visited Nevada this year. The large snowfall over the winter has provided the wildflowers more than enough water to thrive and give us such beautiful views!

View from the Santa Rosa district located at the north-central portion of NV near the Oregon border. If you look close enough, you’ll see our #1 enemy: the cow.

As we explore the wilderness of the HT districts, I have become extraordinarily thankful for major (paved) highways. The rocky gravel roads that we use to scout for plant species can be driven at a max of 25 mph. Patience is much needed in these places with no cell service and not a person in sight. Payton (my coworker/roommate from Ohio) and I have much to learn in these lonely places, but at least we have each other to endure the ceaseless driving and triple-digit heat.

Over and out!

Alyssa Hay

USFS Reno/Sparks