My Time in the Desert

Let’s set the scene.

The date is July 27th, 2020 in Boulder City, Nevada. The air, well over 100 degrees, feels like you’re standing in an oven on full blast. The roads are littered with tumbleweeds, like actual tumbleweeds straight out of a cartoon. Surrounded by a desert filled with coyotes, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas. This is what I walked into as a newly recruited intern for the Joshua Tree Genome Project at the USGS.
After losing an internship due to COVID-19, I was desperate, scratch that, very desperate, to find work anywhere I could. Call it fate, divine intervention, or just dumb luck, I received an email late May informing me of a position open in a little town just minutes away from Las Vegas. So, I packed up my Jeep and made the 26-hour drive from Northwest Arkansas to the Mojave Desert, having no idea what I was in for. Little did I know that it would be one of the most rewarding and enriching times of my life.
Over the past 6 months, me and my fellow interns have put blood, sweat, and tears into the Joshua Tree Genome Project. From breaking open pods and counting thousands of seeds in a basement, to working in a greenhouse until 2 am planting those same seeds, our time on this project has been nothing short of an epic adventure. We have spent countless hours mauling over massive excel datasheets, so much so that we began to dream about data, pivot tables, formulas, and Rstudio scripts. We spent days upon days camping in the desert where, much to my extreme delight, I was able to encounter the Mojave Green Rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) for the first time. We camped under the stars and worked in the blazing heat, assessing the growth of plants that interns in previous years had planted. We met incredible people along the way, but none more so than Dr. Lesley DeFalco and Dr. Todd Esque.
Dr. DeFalco and Dr. Esque, or as we now call them, Lesley and Todd, have been the most amazing mentors I could have ever asked for. Through their guidance and leadership, we have been able to achieve things I would never have imagined 6 months ago, and their attention to detail and effective communication skills have left a lasting impression on all the interns. They have been patient, understanding, unfathomably useful, and a joy to work with.
I have nothing but praise for my fellow interns as well. Moving across the country can be a culture shock in and of itself, but add on three strangers from very different locations, the move can seem much more daunting. However, I wasn’t prepared for some of the nicest, smartest, and most hardworking group of people I would have the privilege to call my fellow interns. They have taught me so much and have been a great “quarantine” squad over the past 6 months. My roommate, Nick, has been a constant source of laughter, inspiration, and random nonsense, I a will look back at my time at 629 Avenue L fondly because of him.
My time in the desert has been the time of my life. I have learned from experts, gained some valuable contacts, and made lifelong friends. I look forward to reading the papers that our work will produce, and I can’t wait to see how our findings are used in the future.
Well, that’s all for me, I have lots of work to do, and my time in Boulder City is limited.

Thank you CBG and the USGS for a wonderful experience


Hit the Ground Running….Or Should I Say Transplanting

Josh Poland

August 21, 2020

Hello everyone! My name is Josh Poland, 1 of the 4 interns here in Boulder City, NV working on the Joshua Tree Genome Project. It’s been over a month since my move from northwest Arkansas to Southern Nevada and I have to say, they are quite different places to live. In Arkansas, summer days with 90% humidity was not uncommon and would leave you sweating bullets within minutes of walking outside. In Nevada however, it works much differently. While the humidity never exceeds 10%, walking outside (no matter what time of day) is like sticking your face near an open oven. Fall cannot get here soon enough.

The past month has been a whirlwind of information, training, zoom meetings, and data collecting. We have gone from breaking apart Joshua Tree fruits in a small basement in our house, to working in a USGS owned Greenhouse with hundreds upon hundreds of Joshua Tree seeds. Making the move from the basement to the greenhouse, the other interns and I were told that the seeds we had collected would begin to germinate in 10-12 days, plenty of time for us to set up planter trays (that we would eventually transplant the seeds into) as well as set up an organized plan of collecting and recording data. But being 2020, those plans changed very quickly one weekend when we discovered the first radicles emerging just 2 days after being planted. Needless to say, we were a little stressed out.

One of our Joshua Tree seedlings

But that was over a week and a half ago and things have (slightly) calmed down. Since the first radicle emerged, the other interns and I have worked from sunup ‘till sundown building and filling planter crates, collecting germination data, continuing upkeep on the seeds and the greenhouse, and creating seemingly endless excel spreadsheets pertaining to seed growth. It has been difficult work, but it has been rewarding work. I walk into the greenhouse every morning to see new radicles, hypocotyls, or cotyledons emerging from the trays and I can’t help but get a little giddy. In the craziness that the world has experienced in 2020, it’s quite a feeling to see these plants growing so well and gives me hope for their populations in the future.

As of today (August 21, 2020), we have finished transplanting 1,600 Joshua Tree Seedlings and have up-to-date data of their growth, transplanting dates, and their location in the greenhouse. We have an estimated 49 deaths so far and replacement seeds from the same matriline will soon be transplanted in their place. While it seems that the “rush” is over for now, we will continue to be vigilant with observations and data entry so we can continue forward with as little stress as possible.

Transplanting JT seeds into planter crates

Thank you all for reading, and now it is time for me and the other interns to enjoy a long-awaited break!

Until next time!

Josh Poland