Northwest Colorado Adventures

I’ve gotten my first glimpse of the seasonal field life this summer, and I know I want more to come. There wasn’t much time to think about how the work day was dragging because there was always something interesting to do. I worked with the BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) AIM crew out of Meeker, CO doing vegetation and soil surveys throughout the Northwest Colorado District. AIM stands for assessment, inventory, monitor and is representative to what we did on a daily. There were times when I thought, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to hike and learn about plants!” If only flowing season were year round and this position were permanent, nonetheless I’ve had a priceless experience this summer.


AIM crew taking a break from a long hike.

I’d like to share a little of our daily routine for those of you interested in joining a similar team in the future. Random pre-designated locations were prioritized and assigned to different groups in our region. Everyday we’d drive anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours in a treasure hunt for the day’s plot location. Many times, the plot was in remote locations requiring the use of topographical maps, GPS unit, a truck to drive us close and our chevrolegs to hike to the desired coordinates. Once there, we’d set up 3 transects 25 meters in length, starting at 5 meters from the center point, and we’d analyzed and record various data along each transect. To collect data for ‘line-point intercept’, we would record the vegetation present at every 0.5 meters and the height and species of the tallest woody and herbaceous plant at every 2.5 meters. We also recorded the length of canopy gaps along all three transects. Since my team was a group of three, two people would observe and record that data while the third dug a soil pit 70 cm deep (not an easy endeavor when there’s gypsum and big rocks in the soil, but it makes for a great workout). Soil assessments entail categorizing each soil horizon by rock fragment type & volume, texture, % clay, effervescence, color and structure. The soil pit and all three transects’ start and end locations need to be recorded on a GPS and photographed with a photo label. Since the season is so short, we needed to take advantage of the good weather so we did as much field work as possible, leaving all the plot research details to be filled out at the end. The past couple of weeks that’s exactly what my team and I have been compiling, this entails researching what type of allotment we evaluated, weather trends and fire history to name a few. Throughout this summer we evaluated some very diverse plots with over 60 different plant species and others that had less than 15 species, consisting mostly of cheat grass. Although the plots with the most diversity typically took longer to evaluate, I enjoyed doing those most because I learned a wider variety of species and the locations of these were typically in a prettier much healthier ecosystem, making for a scenic lunch break.


Petroglyph presumably by Ute or Fremont tribe.

Another aspect I’ve enjoyed about this internship is having the opportunity to join other BLM employees out on their field days and aid in various projects. The archeologist in the office often goes out to log GPS routes of archeological sites and I’ve caught a glimpse of some epic pictographs and petroglyphs, presumably from prehistoric Ute and Fremont Indian tribes that cruised by Northwest Colorado.

We also shadowed archeological students from Colorado State University as they excavated various plots. This one particular canyon is about an hour and a half from Meeker, CO and has long been known to have archeological remains like large granaries and scattered points made of chert and various stones throughout the land. Due to an intersecting plot of private land, access to the area was restricted until recently so we went out there to explore the site and help student sieve out prized items from their digs like arrowheads, glass beads, fossils, corn cobs and they told us about some intact jewelry pieces they had dug the day prior. Most of the students were ecstatic about the work they were doing and their focus and pep made me smile. All items found will be analyzed and stored in safe locations, like museums, which is much better than the alternative of being sold on the black market. It’s a shame that this particular site had already been looted and those pieces of history will remain a mystery, but at least access to the site was finally achieved, aiding to piece together the puzzles of prehistoric humanity.


Brook Trout realizing the end is near. Electrode in the foreground.

I’ve gone out on various fish and wildlife adventures, including electrofishing and assessing streams for viable fish feed. I had the preconceived notion that electrofishing was only done when people wanted to collect data from the fish, briefly shocking the fish but allowing it to live. Although this is typically what’s done when electrofishing, this trip entailed a different outcome. Roan creek had a bank failure that caused the brook and rainbow trout to invade the cutthroat community downstream. Brook trout is native to Eastern North America in the US and Canada and the state fish of nine states, but in Roan Creek, CO it is an invasive species that is forcing out the native Cutthroat. Our goal this particular day was to completely eradicate brook trout and rainbow trout whenever we spotted it. Since first timers aren’t allowed to use the Ghostbuster looking electro line, I was designated euthanizer and would place all unwanted fish into a bucket containing MS222 which is a poison that kills fish within seconds. I asked if there was an alternative to euthanizing and tossing the fish, like using them as fertilizer or feed if MS222 wasn’t used, but I was told that statistically speaking the amount of fish we were euthanizing wasn’t enough to outweigh costs of alternative options. In my team of two we saw 3 cutthroats, euthanized 153 brook trout and 1 rainbow trout. All euthanized species were measured and length recorded before sadly putting them in bag to be tossed. Truth be told, it didn’t affect me too much to euthanize the fish, but it did make me sad to hear that these organic creatures were going to waste in a dumpster. Nonetheless, it was great to gain some hands on experience electrofishing and I was grateful they allowed me to tag along. Assessing a stream for feed was a completely different process where the goal is to collect all insects present within a 12×12 by brushing rocks and collecting the specimens with a net. This wasn’t your ordinary net; it had a platform at the mouth of it, and a cylindrical ‘dolphin’ catcher at the end, making it easier to contain the bugs being washed by the stream. We did this 8 times every 50 meters upstream, designating each random point with start and end riff locations that were logged on a GPS. There was lots of bushwhacking and mud scrambling involved, but using waders in cool stream water was a great reprieve from the scorching heat that day.


Pictograph in Canyon Pintado, CO.

On office work day, I helped the rangeland crew build a fence in efforts of preventing illegal grazing that is occurring in Canyon Pintado, CO. This site contains a pre-historic structure at the top of a cliff and just like all other archeological sites, there are many theories as to why it was built and what it was used for. There are also pictographs and petroglyphs within close proximity of a hiking trail that was absolutely covered in cow piles, so I was stoked to know that we were making a positive impact by keeping the cows out.


Hanging Lake hike in Colorado.

During my time here in small town Meeker, I’ve explored quite a bit of Northwest Colorado that I wouldn’t have otherwise if it weren’t for this great opportunity that Chicago Botanic Garden has provided. The sites here are beautiful and I can’t express enough gratitude for my experiences. My advice for future CBG interns would be to explore different aspects of wherever it is you are doing your internship at, and I don’t just mean shadowing other professionals in your office, but also discovering the outdoors in your area. I’ve done a handful of hikes, including two fourteeners, camped in locations that look like they’re straight out of a Hollywood movie set, and seen animals I’ve never seen before; from tiny chipmunks to a black bear and even a mountain lion! I’ve gone duck hunting for the first time and sat in natural hot springs along the Colorado River. I hope you find your seasonal experience as fulfilling as I have mine and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Last few weeks in Susanville

Our time in Susanville has been wrapping up as the fall rains have been becoming more frequent and with that, increasing the amount of time that we have spent in the office. The roads are now wet and muddy, so it’s been difficult to get out into the field without completely trashing them. Two weeks ago, after we got a lot of rain over the weekend, we tried to go out in the field to visit some water rights, but unfortunately we couldn’t make it and had to turn around. It seemed like the road would be passable, but as soon as we started climbing up Spanish Springs Peak, we quickly realized that it wasn’t going to happen. The wheels started spinning and digging into mud and we lost traction, so all we could do was turn around and slide back down the hill. One exciting part to this adventure was that it was snowing! Snow in the desert is a stark contrast to the intense heat that we had in July, when I remember thinking that cold weather temps would never come, but here we are in late October and fall is in full swing.

To get a break from office work last week, Jocelyn and I took a work trip to the Jepson and University Herbarium at University of California Berkeley. This is the herbarium where our SOS collection vouchers are going to be kept, so instead of mailing them we took the opportunity to drive them to Berkeley and deliver them ourselves. We spent the afternoon there looking at plants of interest in the collection and learning about the organization of the herbarium, what they do there and what it is used for. I have never seen a collection of plants this large, so it felt very overwhelming and definitely a place that one could spend hours in. When we were explaining the concept of an herbarium to a friend, we described it as a museum of pressed plants, which definitely felt like an accurate description of the collection they had. At Cal they actually have two herbariums housed together, the University Herbarium has specimens from all around the world, while the Jepsen focuses on California specific specimens. I really enjoyed looking at some of the forbs that we collected this summer and ones that we have seen around the field office and on weekend trips. We looked at Clarkia lassenensis, that we collected for Krissa’s Onagracae project at the beginning of the summer. At the time of our collection the plants had already fruited, so we were fairly certain of the correct identification, but this gave us the opportunity to see the specimen in person. From what we could remember from our collection, it looks like we what we collected and the voucher matched up, although there was some variation in the leaf size from the vouchers at the herbarium. Additionally I also looked at the Mimulus guttulus, (common monkeyflower) collection and a few Castilleja sp. collections, (Indian Paintbrush). Its one thing to look at the collection photos online, but having the opportunity to actually see them in person brought our work to full circle and I am very happy that we had the opportunity to visit.


Castilleja. minata specimen that I found from 1917 !!

Our weekends have also been busy as always! Since my last blog post, we went to Desolation Wilderness, south of Lake Tahoe, for a backpacking trip. It was my first backpacking trip, which happened to be during the first snow in Tahoe! It was exciting, but also added a whole new layer of intensity to the trip. Luckily we were able to set up tents before the snow really got going and in the morning we woke up to around 2-3 inches of snow! For the rest of our hike we could see lots of animal tracks, including a few from
img_0006bears. The weekend after we finished our remaining sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail to finally complete all 165 miles of the trail, YAY! We are now part of the 165 mile club 🙂 The past two weekends have been city trips, which has felt a lot different than most of the trips we’ve done this summer.



BLM Eagle Lake, Susanville, CA


Sayonara, Susanville!

At the beginning of June I was fresh out of college with a fully packed car, ready to drive west across the country for the first time, eager to see places that had only been flat names on a map come to life, and unsure of how living in the wild west would feel. Sure enough, there were some frightening parts including rattlesnakes, marijuana gardens, forest fires, bears, and large boulders hiding behind sagebrush on barely drivable roads. Along my journey to Susanville, CA I gained a deeper appreciation for the vast expanse of our beautiful, diverse country. My first day at the office I eagerly walked in wearing a t-shirt and trail running shoes. I soon learned that the basalt rocks in Lassen county will absolutely rip your tread to shreds, and that the sun is so strong that wearing a t-shirt means you’ll be getting some irreversible tan lines. It is not possible to imagine how big the sky feels out west. Before becoming a CLM intern I’d never seen cheat grass or medusa head. The concept of a dry lake had never been illustrated to me in person. I had never gone more than three months, let alone three weeks without rain in the summer. I had also never hiked through snow pack in July, or seen flakes fall and accumulate on the first weekend in October. I have measured more JUOC trees than I ever imagined I would. I have gained a better understanding of how our land use practices have left us with the landscape we see today. I have seen how “natural” beef and wild horses can truly wreck the landscape and demolish natural springs. I have puzzled over a fair number of water rights, and wondered, how was this huge earthen dam constructed out here (and why)? I have had the pleasure of watching sage grouse flush out of the shrubs, coming across elegant Calochortus sp. blooming, witnessing pronghorn racing across the sage flats, and seeing some very cute Astragalus sp. growing in the dry sand. I have seen beautiful springs in the middle of the desert, and also helped clean up special designated shooting ranges with more shot gun shells and pieces of target clay than sage brush. I learned that unlike in the east, fences in the west are used to keep things out. I have a better understanding of range, and how trees are marked for timber cuts. My 22 weekends were spent on various trips adventuring to some of the country’s most well known outdoor recreation areas and some of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The past month I have had the chance to help with education outreach and visit with 4th grade classes at Lassen county elementary schools for the Every Kid in a Park initiative from the Obama administration, which gives every 4th grader a free annual pass to visit national parks. Visiting children, telling them about what the BLM does, and getting them excited to hopefully use their park pass has been a great part of my last month here, and gives me hope that we can help encourage the next generation to cherish and care for our public lands.