Mistakes and Adventures

As I settle into Ridgecrest, I finally feel as if I am starting my job. Over the last few weeks, myself and the other SOS intern have started collecting seed and tissue samples. There has been a lot of difficultly in trying to figure out what protocol should be followed for each sample. Last week we filled out the wrong data sheets for the samples we mailed off. This mistake was mostly due to the fact that we still lack computer access at work, making it difficult to find the proper instructions for each species. Next week myself and the other SOS intern are going to meet up with an employee of the Santa Ana Botanic Garden, which will be extremely helpful in figuring how to properly follow their instructions.

Besides all of the mistakes, going out and scouting has been a lot of fun. It’s really amazing to get to hike/drive around see all the different ecosystems in the Ridgecrest field office.This environment could not be more different that the high humidity and total green of the southeast US. I feel that every canyon we walk into looks so different than the one we were in the previous day. The variability in plant diversity throughout the area is really surprising to me. Diversity here is not only controlled by soil type and moisture but by ability to be dispersed to that area.

Last week we went out to collect for a wildflower show that the Ridgecrest community is currently putting on. This exhibit showcases the high level of biodiversity in the desert. I never thought I would see riparian areas with amphibians and cottonwoods out in the middle of the desert but you can hike just a few miles and go from Joshua trees to willow trees. I feel really grateful to have the opportunity to come out here and have an experience unlike anything I could have had on the East coast. 

Hunting for Cactus

After a drizzly Saturday of cross-country skiing at Lake Tahoe, I was awakened by the sun pouring through the big windows next to my bed. It was almost 7 a.m., and I put on some hot water for tea. I checked my email on my phone, and was greeted by a late-night email from Dean, our mentor. He was going on a last-minute rare cactus survey, the results of which were due the next day – did any of us want to come along? He was leaving for the field in less than three hours.

One of my fellow interns and I went into high gear to prepare for the field. We scrounged together a little food, packed some clothes and gear, and bid goodbye to our other two housemates / interns who decided to stay home.

The drive to the field site took us through vast basins of sagebrush, sagebrush, and more sagebrush, dotted with occasional groups of grazing cattle or wild horses and rimmed by dramatic mountains. We spent the day searching for Grusonia pulchella (sagebrush cholla), a BLM sensitive species, near proposed mining sites. The first challenge was finding the sites, which were marked by a (sometimes fallen) wooden post that looked very similar to the multitude of other posts scattered throughout the area. We didn’t have GPS coordinates for the points, so we used a printed map with sometimes inaccurate points provided by the mining company. Getting to the points required driving on some semi-sketchy 4-wheel drive roads and subsequent rock scrambling, but we were rewarded by some amazing views.

We surveyed eight sites without finding any G. pulchella individuals, but we did find some other cactus species and were introduced to many new shrubs and forbs in the surprisingly diverse sagebrush community. We also found an historic sheep camp (evidenced by trampled soil and ubiquitous old sheep droppings), an old mining site complete with extremely rusty metal cans, and some Opuntia sp.(prickly pear cactus) individuals, all of which would be disturbed by mining activity.

Finally, on our last site of the day, we found the species we had been looking for! It was a tiny little cactus tucked in behind a small Artemisia arbuscula, and in the waning daylight we marked it with a GPS and flagging tape. I was struck by the fact that a mining company would be forced to change their plans because of the presence of this single rare plant – it really is awesome! Hooray for plant conservation!

We drove a short distance to a dry wash, set up our tents in the dark, and sat around my backpacking stove listening to the nighttime desert noises. Mostly, the noises consisted of crackling power lines and a mysterious high-pitched squeak/chirp/whine. I didn’t last long before crawling into my sleeping bag and falling asleep.

After a little more surveying and the drive back to the office the next morning, we spend the rest of the week doing trainings and attending a grass identification class at University of Nevada-Reno. We spent those two days of class with our eyes glued to the microscopes, picking apart tiny grass spikelets and sending glumes and lemmas flying across the table. Our eyes and bodies were tired after sitting still for hours on end, but now we are ready to identify any grass that comes our way – well, only if we are equipped with a microscope. After a long week, we were ready for another weekend of outdoor adventures before heading to Boise for a busy week of pest management class.

Britney, Carson City BLM

Medford, Oregon

In my first about week and a half, I have seen some of the beauty that lies in southern Oregon. 

A hike into the lower table rock shows vast landscapes, with beautiful views of the rogue river, farmland, and mountains in the clouds.

The table rocks are some geologically interesting formations that are left over lava flows that have been eroded away into horseshoe shapes, leaving about a mile on top of flat fertile land that is covered in vernal pools.

A Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa), found on a hillside in the Applegate.

We saw several around the area in bud, this was the only one in full flower. Absolutely beautiful.

A recent wildfire in the Applegate, that is helping to rebirth this forest.

In this area the western pine beetle, is extremely prevalent. Fires like these help to encourage the bug to attack these fire dead trees rather than healthy ones.

We passed some serious Morel mushroom hunters, that really take their off road vehicles seriously.

Insect tube, most likely from the western pine beetle.

This week has been filled with  training, and adjusting to the work schedule. I have found that the Medford area is quite a hip and trendy place. There is tons for me to do in my off time. I have also begun studying for my Oregon pesticide certification. This promises to be an eventful summer


Sierra Sampson

Medford, OR BLM