leaving a mark

My time in Carlsbad is quickly drawing to a close. I decided to take a break from packing to take a minute to reflect on the five months I’ve spent here…

There’s a hill on the north side of town with a gravel trail I frequent. This morning I decided to visit once more before I depart. The weather’s been atypical. Dreary, cold, and hardly a glimpse of the sun. The last time I had visited this trail, the mariola hadn’t quite started blooming. Today, the hillside was covered in a blanket of creamy composite flowers with a fragrance unlike anything else. Every so often, a dayflower would fight for pollinator attention with its striking azure flowers.

While I’m relieved to be returning home to my loved ones, I realized this place and the work I’ve done here have left a profound mark on me. I have learned so much from my coworkers, my mentor, and the landscape. I can only hope I’ve left a similarly positive impression on this place.

This season has been one of the shortest chapters in my life, but I believe it has also been the most profound.

A view from the top of Guadalupe Peak in Texas. My final weekend trip out here. Any time a field day would take me and my team southwest of the office, these mountains would be watching over us. I had decided early on that before I left I would pay them a proper visit. I’m fortunate for the opportunity to connect with this incomparable landscape.

I would encourage people to take some time to explore the land should they ever find themselves in the Desert Southwest. While the climate can be less welcoming than the forests found in other parts of the region, this area has its own distinct beauty. The richness of life and colorful essence of the land will move anyone who stops to take it in.

El Capitan, an old Permian coral reef who now watches over the desert landscape stoically, looks very different from above.

My time here was not without challenges, but I suspect that element persists wherever one ends up. I am excited to take all the knowledge and experiences with me as I continue this journey. I’m also happy to proclaim my love of plants has not wavered. It has grown exponentially since my arrival in Carlsbad. Furthermore, I’ve come to the conclusion people who don’t like plants can’t be trusted… But that’s a different soapbox.

To anyone thinking about applying for CLM, I would say this: It won’t be easy. The work conditions and expectations will test your limits. However, this work is some of the most rewarding work I’ve done, and the connections I’ve made with people and landscapes will remain with me for a long time. I can’t think of a better opportunity to learn and grow. I’m deeply grateful to have had this opportunity with CLM.

Crown of Thorns

Adventures in the Chihuahuan Desert have exposed me to some bizarre organisms… At least, they seem that way initially. The harsh conditions require remarkable adaptations that call to attention the tenacity of life.

Recent encounters with some perils of this ecosystem have bequeathed me with strength and a tenacity reminiscent of a truly spectacular angiosperm.

Koeberlinia spinosa, a native to harsh climates in the Southwestern US and Mexico with unrelenting spines but delicate flowers, permits pollinator passage. While the plant can bear leaves, photosynthesis is carried out in young stems and thorns most prominently. Some might consider this ~3m tall shrub unsightly and unwelcoming. I, however, have come to recognize it as the ingenuity and strength needed for survival in a challenging environment.

In the same way this plant has a strategy for not being eaten and avoiding desiccation, one must adapt in order to thrive in life’s many challenges. This internship has introduced me to many obstacles I had to overcome using creativity, bravery, and teamwork. While these solutions may not come naturally and can seem a little awkward, they each have a unique beauty far more impressive than anything armed with delicateness alone.

It is in such a way I hope to continue addressing obstacles as I navigate life. I owe a lot to this internship and this place for giving me this experience. And I am particularly indebted to the plants, animals, and landscapes that have served as a canvas on which I could learn these valuable lessons. Without them, this story would have no color.


Life lessons from plants

This month in southeastern New Mexico has reminded me of the tenacity of life by displays of brilliance in what many would consider an arid wasteland. I am grateful for each of these moments and their valuable lessons…

Rain fell on the distant desert landscape as we hurdled down the highway surrounded a bunch of other over-sized work vehicles. I’ve acclimatized to the shock of existing in a booming oil and gas development town, something I had a hard time stomaching for months. My thoughts of wanting to leave have subsided, and I now see it as a personal mission to do what I can to protect this landscape from exploitation. It isn’t any easier to grasp, but I now collect seeds with a greater sense of responsibility, hopeful that they may be returned to the man-marred earth soon.
One of my absolute favorite plants, Hoffmannseggia glauca or Indian rushpea. This plant’s pioneer nature is evidenced by its success in this freshly-developed sand and caliche road. It also gets it done with the rhizomes. Not even the mesquite stood a chance. Resilience and beauty, this plant has it all.
Unlike native plants, many invasives are bemoaned for their resilience. This Salt-cedar, Tamarix chinensis, situated itself on the historic Pecos River Flume in Northern Carlsbad leaving numerous leaky cracks resulting in algae-slicked concrete below. I’m amused by the conflict between two of the largest catalysts of riparian ecosystem destruction captured in this scene. A humorous reminder that the wheel keeps turning.
Not all plants have the hardiness to persevere as diligently as Tamarix. Despite its looks, this cactus, Coryphantha robustispina ssp. scheeri, is a BLM special status species due to its small range in SE New Mexico and a small portion of Texas. Because of oil and gas development in the region, it’s listed as endangered by the state of NM and a species of concern by the USFWS. This individual was found on accident when scouting for seeds to collect. It was a stone’s throw from a large well pad. I guess the lesson here is that we all need a little help sometimes…
I should end on a more positive note… This Yucca elata is huge!! I stared at it with a child-like sense of wonder for a good minute. I’ll leave the interpretation of its lesson to the reader…

I hope that everyone else’s internship is progressing positively. Mind the summer heat.

Desert wanderer

I didn’t realize I was out of shape?

This week was off to a good start as I returned from the CLM Workshop feeling energized about the field work (and super happy to be away from poison ivy and ticks!).

The view out the window as we begun the descent into Hobbs, NM. If you look close, you’ll catch the moon. Feelings were mixed… A return to a familiar place that isn’t quite home.

Monday saw Linum allredii seed collecting, which required a healthy dose of hiking in terrain. I’m still trying to get used to the frequent changes in elevation as I’m from plains country, but the sights were spectacular.

Trekking to the site

View from atop a hill near the collection site. It was a few hours into the collection that I stopped to take in this landscape. Regret I didn’t pay attention sooner.

Tuesday was an office day, familiarizing ourselves with our targets and where to find them, then scouting on Wednesday. That was where we came across this horse crippler…


Today involved cross-training with the archaeology crew, which was pretty great. We hiked 8 miles along a fence line proposed for re-constructing. Temperature was 104F; the heat is reminiscent of home, so I like it. I tried to look for artifacts, but I mostly looked for plants… There were so many hills…

Every hill we crested, the next was taunting us in the distance…

Was admiring my favorite forb (Hoffmannseggia glauca) when I spotted a hopper pal doing the same.

All in all, a great past couple of weeks. But Alex is tired and going back to Texas… At least for the weekend.

~Signing off

First Week!!


I didn’t have many expectations of what my internship in the BLM Carlsbad Field Office would be like as I left Texas. My first week still had some pretty exciting ( and some not-so-exciting) adventures!

South of the office field day. I had to stop and look up occasionally to soak up this view!

Safety first! Two whole days of safety training/ driver training/ getting to know the office… Very important if nothing else! And I learned a thing or two in the process. I even drove this giant truck on some not-so-developed country roads (eek!). Everyone in the vehicle survived (I like to think) because I did my safety training.

Later in the week we made it out into the field a bit. The first outing was to learn the procedure for conducting rangeland plot surveys. There are plots that have been established for monitoring, and we will be specifically examining effects of grazing by sampling pre-season and post-season forbs and grasses. There also might be time to collect pronghorn fecal samples!!

Yesterday we spent the day exploring the range of an endemic species of flax (Linum allredii) that has only been found to occur on a single ridge line thus far. That was pretty great! I got to meet a rare plant and also get introduced to some of the plants I’ll be working with later in the season (and their look-alikes!).

Trekkng through the landscape as we searched for L. allredii

The plant of interest for Thursday. (The waterproof phone case had trapped moisture that didn’t agree with the heat; sorry about the quality)

This week I’ve met new plants, revisited a few familiar ones, learned driving and navigation skills, and safety, safety, safety! Though the official assignment is seed collecting with SOS, these exercises are helping us distinguish local flora so we can hit the ground running with seed collecting!

All the best,