The Time Has Come

My time in Carlsbad has officially come to an end. To say I have learned a lot during my CLM internship is an understatement. Not only have I learned skills related to my field (plant identification, seed collection strategy, etc.) but I have also learned about wildlife, archaeology, and so much more.

As a crew, we met our seed collection goal and finished 20 range monitoring plots as part of a project to determine if herbicide spraying of desert shrubs increases forb growth. One caveat of the range monitoring project was that we had to identify every plant to species. There was surprising diversity at some of the range sites and our last week in the office we spent nearly 3 full days identifying specimens of unknowns that we had collected. We probably identified at least 100 unknown species, not including specimens we had collected that turned out to be species we already knew.

I think my favorite aspect of my internship was learning so many new plants. The Chihuahuan Desert is much more diverse than I expected and I didn’t even scratch the surface. In May, I had a very basic knowledge of grasses and little experience identifying them, and now I feel confident keying them out, even if they’re still not my favorite.

I really enjoyed my time in New Mexico. I was able to explore so many new places I never would have gone if I hadn’t been in Carlsbad. From the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains, the bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns, the cute little mountain town of Cloudcroft, to the Organ Mountains, New Mexico has some special places. Thanks to Carlsbad, my mentor, and my crew for making my CLM internship great. Here are some last few plant pictures to sign off!

Mentzelia strictissima
Panicum virgatum florets
Sphaeralcea angustifolia

Murphy’s Law

The day that my crew now knows simply as “Thursday” started like any other day. We were scheduled to do monitoring on two long-term range plots northwest of town. The drive out there was going to be about an hour, so we got to the office and headed out right away. Driving to the first plot, we were about 10 minutes away according to our GPS, and we hit a huge ditch in the road that we weren’t confident driving over. We weighed our options and decided to load up our packs and try to hike to it. After about 5 minutes of walking, we reached a tiny road that we realized connected back to the highway and could take us to our plot. Rather than walk 4 miles round trip, we walked back to the truck, hopped in, and made it to our plot via a small two-track road. We finished our protocol, had lunch, and were ready to tackle the next plot.

The second plot we planned to complete that day was only 2 miles away as the crow flies, but of course in order to drive there, we had to drive over an hour on roads with boulders and rock slabs. In the Carlsbad Resource Area, roads are constantly changing and moving because of the oil and gas development, so we had to turn around two times to follow roads that were not on our map. The road that our second plot was allegedly on had completely disappeared, so we took a gamble and followed a road not on our map to get as close as possible to the plot. At this point, it was already 4pm, there was a thunderstorm fast approaching, and we were on an exposed ridge.

Fortunately, we found the plot rebar, collected our data, and were back to the truck before the storm got too close. The road we had been on looped back to highway, so we decided to continue the direction we were going rather than try to drive over the horrible roads we’d already driven on. We messaged our supervisor that we would be late and started making our way back.

Initially, the road seemed great. Not as many rock slabs, easy to follow, and we even saw a javelina (small wild pig) run down a draw right in front of our truck. Once we got about 5 minutes from the highway, we hit a roadblock. In front of us was a 12 inch drop into loose gravel at the bottom of a draw, an uneven hill on the other side. At this point, if we had to turn around, we wouldn’t be back to the office until about 9pm and would have to drive horrible roads in the dark and potentially the rain. We weighed our options, and decided to get out of the truck and see what we could do. As we looked at the draw, before we all decided to get out, my crewmate Alex said, “Snake? Rattlesnake!”. Off the driver’s side corner of the hood, curled up behind a rock, was a beautiful rattlesnake. It uncurled itself and slithered off the road into the bushes, all 4 feet of it disappearing into the brush.

We still didn’t want to turn around, so as my crewmates Alex and Catherine got out and began moving rocks into the draw to lessen the drop, I kept my eyes on the surroundings, making sure the rattlesnake didn’t come back. Before we made the move to drive over the draw and our makeshift road, we noticed a house up on the hill by the draw and noted that if something went horribly wrong, we could go to the house and ask for help. We heard a dog barking, so we knew the home was inhabited. Then we started the truck. Apparently my crew has secret roadbuilding skills, because our truck made it through the draw and we continued down the road toward the highway. Then we saw a gate.

I got out of the truck to open the gate, which was unlocked and blocking the county road we were on that went through to the highway. As I walked up to the gate, I heard an engine start. Up drove a man in an ATV. It was perhaps the strangest encounter with a person I’ve ever had. He repeated, “It hasn’t rained out here in 3 years” in a slow Southern drawl about 3 separate times in our conversation. After about a 5 minute talk he drove away and we proceeded through the gate, drove 3 more minutes, and hit the highway. We got back to the office unscathed and only an hour and a half late.

Just about every safety talk they give you at the Carlsbad Field Office came to our minds that day – horrible roads, roads not existing anymore, thunderstorms, rattlesnakes, strange men living in the middle of the desert. We maneuvered around every challenge and ultimately I think our crew became closer because of it. And we went to get ice cream afterwards, so at least we ended the day on a high note.

Plants and Bugs: My 2 Favorite Things

Time has been flying by here in Carlsbad.  Lately our time has been spent revisiting sites to collect species that have ripening seed, or revisiting collections to collect more of what we’ve already collected. We’ve been able to send some of our collections to the Bend Seed Extractory to be cleaned, and it’s so satisfying to consolidate the seed we’ve collected for a species and see it all together in a bag. We’ve made 18 collections so far and the season is still picking up with the monsoon rains bringing everything to life.

Our crew has definitely run into a couple of roadblocks (literally and figuratively) in the last month. We have followed our map and GPS to roads that lead to nowhere and roads that have fence right through the middle. A couple of our sites have been lunch for the cows – we still haven’t decoded which plants they seem to like best. Some points have also been inaccessible as the road that leads to them gets eaten by oil pipeline construction. It can be discouraging sometimes, but then we find sites that have 7 different species we can collect and we forget about the lost ones.

No matter what we do each day, we always see beautiful plants and new places. Southeast New Mexico has surprised me with it’s beauty and life. I can’t decide whether I’m seeing more interesting, colorful insects than I have before or if I’m just noticing them now. Either way, I have been amazed and entranced by countless bugs and butterflies and moths and caterpillars these past few months. So here’s to 2 months left in Carlsbad! May it be filled with more flowers and more bugs than ever before.

The SOS Work Begins !

We have officially made our first Seeds of Success collection! The past three weeks since coming back from training at the Chicago Botanic Garden have been full speed ahead for SOS scouting and collections. We have completed two collections for Seeds of Success, meaning we collected >10,000 seeds each for two separate species – Castilleja sessiliflora and Nerisyrenia linearifolia.

Each collection came with its own challenges. Our first collection, Castilleja sessiliflora proved to be difficult because of the cryptic nature of the individuals. When their seed is ripe, the plant has dried and turned a brown shade conveniently similar to the shade of the soil. There were also relatively few plants in the population we collected from, so we had to be very thorough when scanning the ground for the individuals. We collected 20% of the seeds from every individual, bringing our estimated total seed count to around 15,000. Our collection of Nerisyrenia linearifolia proved to be a much easier task, with an abundance of easily identifiable and conspicuous individuals. We were able to collect more seed from this population because there were more plants with more fruits per plant, so we estimated a total collection of about 30,000 seeds.

It was incredibly satisfying to find species and populations with seed that was ready to be collected. However, two collections in three weeks leaves a lot of time unaccounted for. Most of our time has been spent scouting for populations of species on our target list. We have driven many miles scouring the Carlsbad Resource Area for species we want to collect. We have had some very successful days, finding two or three locations with multiple species abundant enough for future collections. We have also had days where we’ve found virtually nothing. These days definitely feel somewhat useless, but it is encouraging to know that we’ve crossed off an area on our list and won’t have to revisit those sites that weren’t fruitful.

The species pictured above are all on our target list for collection.

Carlsbad has been a great place to work in so far, but it is a town of over 30,000 people, with an immense amount of oil and gas development in the surrounding areas. So, my weekends have been spent getting out of town and exploring. Highlights so far have been Guadalupe Mountains National Park which includes the highest point in Texas (8751 ft), the cute mountain town of Cloudcroft (at 8600 ft!) in the Sacramento Mountains, and the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces (my favorite so far). I look forward to more weekends exploring New Mexico and West Texas; I’m learning so many new plants and enjoying the desert heat (mostly).

A Whole New (Plant) World

Moving 1400 miles from Northern California to Carlsbad, NM has brought both expected and wildly unexpected changes. While I had mentally prepared for the change in plant life and nearly unbearable heat, I have been caught off guard by the frequent evening thunderstorms, buffeting winds, overabundance of enormous trucks, and the unanticipated beauty of southeastern New Mexico.

Let’s Talk Plants

The majority of my botanical experience had been in Northern California until three weeks ago. The Carlsbad landscape was entirely foreign to me as I drove into town. Strange cacti, thorny shrubs, and countless forbs greeted me as I ventured into the field with my mentor and fellow interns. Our first day in the field was spent scouting a population of the special status species Linum allredii. While we did see flowering individuals of this rare plant (see below), we were also met with plants that had been grazed. Soon enough, we found hungry, hungry caterpillars munching away at the young buds and immature fruits of about 60% of the plants.

Linum allredii

Caterpillar munching on L. allredii









Our next day out, we surveyed a proposed project site for another special status species, Coryphantha robustispina ssp. scheeri. Scheer’s beehive cactus is an unassuming little plant, lying low to the ground with spines appearing to be neighboring grasses upon first sight.

Scheer’s beehive cactus

As I’m learning the plants in my new desert home, I am struck by how variable different individuals of the same species can look based on the resources it is provided. Driving through the lands managed by the BLM’s Carlsbad Field Office it may seem as if diversity is lacking, but upon closer inspection, the desert is full of variety. I’m learning brand new species, genera, and even families every day. I already feel more comfortable with the plants here after three weeks, but still have so far to go (especially with grasses).

Every Day is a Blustery One

I knew the weather in New Mexico would be very different from my California mountain home, but I did not expect the intense winds and sudden thunderstorms that I have been greeted with. Apparently summer is monsoon season in the desert southwest? Every evening this week has brought violent thunderstorms that pour rain and sometimes hail, have strong gusts of wind, and all the lightning and thunder you could ask for – while maintaining an outside temperature of approximately 85 degrees. It is yet to be determined if I will get sick of the storms – I have sat on my front porch and admired each one so far.

Even on the sunny days, with blue sky and intense heat, you can count on the wind to nearly blow your hat off at least once. It can make the heat more bearable, but also makes it very hard to collect plant specimens. However, my fellow Seeds of Success crew members and I have come up with a nearly perfect method for data recording and specimen collecting in our new desert environment and we continue to perfect it every day.

Final Thoughts

Although the transition to desert plants and desert heat has been a challenge so far, I’m beyond excited to explore New Mexico and all it has to offer. I can’t wait to meet more new, weird plants and animals and start collecting some seeds! I feel so grateful to have an enthusiastic mentor behind me and fellow plant nerds beside me. And hopefully the heat won’t kill me.

Brilliantly camouflaged horned toad

Beautiful views in the Guadalupe Mountains



SOS crew member, BLM Carlsbad Field Office