Farewell to the sagebrush steppe

It’s hard to believe 5 months ago I was fresh in Twin Falls, ID, starting my first botany tech job, adjusting to a new landscape that felt unknown and alien. 5 months ago I couldn’t see the end of it. I felt so far away, geographically and otherwise, to the things and places and people that felt like home. It was a rough transition, and to be honest I never quite adjusted to it. But people told me, and I knew, it would fly by. And it did. I leave Idaho in three days and could not be more excited, and am also grateful for what this experience has given me. It’s so important to step out of your familiar bubble- it challenges us to grow and communicate in different ways. It introduces us to new plants and ecosystems. It reminds us of how big the world is.

I spent a good amount of time kayaking on the Snake River. I <3 water sports

Kayak parking spot

It was an interesting experience to be the guinea pig of having a CBG intern on the fuels crew in the Twin Falls office. My official title was “botanical specialist,” though half the time I felt like I was floundering in plant identification in a place completely new to me, while having the people on my crew look to me as their expert. I was learning and teaching at the same time and it really didn’t make me feel very confident. I’m skilled in taxonomy but the speed in which I was expected (or felt like I was expected) to know these new species felt overwhelming at times. I also had almost no experience in grass identification, which was a huge percentage of what we were looking at.
There were a couple crash courses in plant ID of the area in the very beginning, but after that I felt mostly left to my own devices. There weren’t a lot of people I was able to turn to in the office. At least people I was introduced to- as the season went on I would randomly meet people to ask when I had an unknown, but it wasn’t facilitated.
It got easier, and I felt more confident as I saw plants more often, and honestly forb diversity was pretty low in most of the areas we monitored anyway, so there weren’t many I needed to commit to memory. I guess I was just expecting more of a botany mentorship.

Mimulus nanus looking adorable

Bitter root (Lewisia rediviva) is one of my favorite flowers and I got to see it more than I ever have before this summer. Look at those stamens dang.

Overall though, I did enjoy working in the fire program. I’m interested in fire ecology, and reading old reports on fires and then using them in conjunction with the new data we collected to write new reports was fascinating, and gave me a taste of what it takes to make management recommendations. It also inspired me to go out and get my Red Card next year, because I am interested in prescribed burns.
I also familiarized myself more with ArcGIS (my arch nemesis), learned to use Avenza and Collector, got better at reading maps and using compasses, learned techniques for rare plant monitoring, got really good at driving a 4wd truck for crazy amounts of hours on crazy back road mazes, and  learned how to navigate the bureaucracy that is work in the federal government. I feel more confident in applying to jobs now.
I still do wish I had been placed in the Pacific Northwest, not just because it’s familiar, but because it is where I plan on putting down my roots, therefore finding jobs. Monitoring sagebrush steppe is very different than monitoring coniferous forests, with it a whole other host of necessary skills specific to that ecosystem, which I didn’t gain here. But I do believe that my baseline knowledge and skills, along with obviously being able to quickly pick up necessary monitoring techniques and botanical skill, will be enough experience to help me find a job for next field season.

City of Rocks Natural Reserve. I got to work around here for a day last week.

City of Rocks

Truly the gem of this season though was being able to be in a part of the country that I would otherwise spend very little time in. I fell in love with the Sawtooth Mountains to the north. I got to explore Yellowstone. I met badgers and coyotes and moose and three bears (one of which I watched make off with our bag of food). I’m not much of a geology nerd, but I was constantly in awe of the canyons and valleys and volcanic history and crazy rock formations. There may not be jutting mountains or towering trees around Twin Falls, but there are beautiful swimming holes that you don’t see until you walk through farm fields and look into the canyon; and small, fleeting, beautiful flowers; and the stillness of being in an expanse of sagebrush. I appreciate the secret beauty of southern Idaho. I don’t know if I would come back on my own accord, but I am glad I got to know it, even briefly.

Secret lake, hidden from view by expanses of cornfields and pasture. My favorite swimming spot this summer.

Box Canyon- where the water is mesmerizing but frigid

The Bruneau Canyon

Dave’s Creek,The Jarbridge Wilderness. We had a work camping trip here to collect tree data.


I am obsessed with the Sawtooths


Monitoring Castelleja christii- a Paintbrush endemic to the top of Mt Harrison.

Anemone patens looking real good with my mani in SE Montana

So did this adorable Lewisia pygmaea- Pygmy Bitter Root

Seas of Erythronium grandiflorum in SE Montana (Glacier Lily)

Ok I did some pretty cool things this summer.

Sofia V

Five months later…

Well the time has come to leave the sagebrush expanse and be welcomed home to by the colors and smells of autumn in Pennsylvania.

Once upon a time I thought I couldn’t get anywhere without a GPS. Using maps was a long-forgotten memory… where my parents tried their best to plan our summer vacation, but there was always the sound of scrambling papers when we inevitably got lost. But out in no-service-land, maps were A MUST to navigate the Nevada wilderness. And now, with these brand new skills to navigate roadways, I remain biased and will never choose maps over a GPS (when there is a choice).

Shout out to Payton’s playlists and audiobooks. They have kept us sane when we spent an entire workday in the truck.

We usually saw Nevada wilderness through the windshield.

The Nevada wilderness conditions Payton and I have been exposed to makes me appreciate what we have taken for granted. I will never look at paved roads the same way, even with monstrous potholes. Once you’ve had to navigate narrow dirt roads sprinkled with sharp rocks and half-meter-deep channels overlooking a 200 foot drop, paved roads are a blessing. And let’s just say toilets with plumbing… toilets in general really are human’s greatest invention.

A shortcut through the Sillwater mountain range in central Nevada took us to anxiously high places.

I find it odd that I feel like I know western plant species more than I know eastern ones, and I shouldn’t resist this idea of change. I feel like this entire internship’s theme revolved around change. I’ve immersed myself into a new ecosystem, a new workplace, a new community and culture, and a new field experience. Adjusting to change has its benefits: I have a whole page of new skills to take me to my next job, internship, and future career.

Kalmia microphylla, western swamp laurel, is a reminder of home and PA’s state flower, mountain laurel.

Our work is only a small piece to the large puzzle, but progress is not made in leaps and bounds.I’m grateful to contribute to a program that promotes long-term restoration and conservation efforts.

It’s been fun!

Alyssa Hay