That’s a wrap

Not much has changed since I last posted, most days consist of scouting spots with noxious weeds and treating those areas. We have also taken time to scout for rare plants in the district to make a herbarium voucher based on past known sites, but unfortunately we were unable to find any. My partner was out of town for a week so I did get to mix things up for a week by working the night shift with wildlife. I got to participate in Spotted owl surveys, in which we go out at night to set points and use a pre recorded owl call to call them in hopes of a response. I was told in the past they would fly right up to you, but now due to habitat loss and the increased population and competition for territory with the barred owl, their population has been dwindling and will rarely make their presence known. The barred owls though will always call back, in fact one juvenile flew to the tree right in front of us as seen in the picture below.

I have also been able to participate in a frog survey, were we waded down a creek looking for mostly frogs but took note of any other animal found. The stream for the most part was at our ankles but went as deep as our waste, but it was amazing to be surrounded by an old growth forest, unfortunately due to the fear of wetting my phone I didn’t get any photos. We did find several yellow and red legged frogs, a couple of crayfish, and water snakes.

A red legged frog

Unfortunately, my time as a CLM intern will end at the end of the month and I will soon become an official BLM employee for two more months, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my experience as a CLM intern. I learned so much during my time here, not only on species identification but also invasive weed control methods and gained some insight what its like to work with a government agency. I am so thankful for everyone at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, especially Chris Woolridge and Krissa Skogen, for making this experience possible!

WYde Open Spaces

It has been quite a long time since I made a blog post, so this one is definitely going to be a long one. I have been insanely busy traveling, exploring, and working in between. BUT, it is so nice to hear people looking forward to these posts, and so writing them is really enjoyable. I got to explore Sinks Canyon State Park even more in the past month, and ventured through some shorter hikes like the Nature Trail and the North Slope to The Rise in the park. The Rise is where the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River comes back out of the Earth, after going into and under it at the natural sink further upstream. It just so happens that The Rise is also a natural trout spawning pool and (thankfully) no fishing is allowed. That being said, this makes it possible for a small variety of HUGE trout to live there in the summer — harm free. Depending on water levels and its flow, the sandbar you see in the bottom of the picture below may be bigger, or even nonexistent. This is definitely one of my new favorite spots in Sinks to take friends and family to see and feed the trout.

The Rise trout pool in Sinks Canyon State Park. Trout species that live here mostly include Rainbow and Brown trout. You can see the trout swimming in the highly oxygenated currents here.

Back at work, Jon and I had still been learning the country we are currently monitoring. I just recently asked my mentor exactly how big that was, and was shocked to hear his answer. We are monitoring over 400,000 acres of land! That is crazy to me!! Despite the size, we are really getting into the rhythm of things in our allotments, and are starting to make quick(ish) work of the acres we drive through. Towards the end of June, we were ecstatic to find a herd of elk nearby one of our favorite transect sites in the Arapahoe Creek Allotment, Lost Creek. I still don’t know how I managed to get a decent picture of them — they were so fast! They can also make some of the strangest noises I have ever heard in my life.. I love them.

The beautiful elk herd we saw from a short distance, with the genus Cervus. I still have to ask about the specific epithet… but am hopeful that our Wildlife Biologists at the office will know.
One of the many photo points we have taken out in the field. This one is at our SW of Cold Spring Reservoir upland transect site. We take these photos in order to document how the transect sites look every two weeks. We take at least two photos at each transect, if not more, noting the orientation each time. Meanwhile, we get some really incredible landscape shots while we are at it! In this one, there’s nothing but sagebrush — one of THE best smelling plants.

That week, I found another one of my favorite hikes and lookout spots down the Loop Road. This is the road that continues S/SE past Sinks Canyon State Park and into Shoshone National Forest. You definitely want a four-wheel-drive car for this road. Haha. The trailhead starts at one of the most ambiguous “parking lots” near the top of the mountain and is (ironically) called the Blue Ridge Lookout. This only makes me think of home when I see it (I do miss it a bit sometimes!). It reminds me of the East Coast’s Blue Ridge Mountains and all of the fun adventures I had in them with some of my greatest friends. Anyways. The short, but completely uphill, hike takes you straight up to an awesome old stone fire tower, and has become one of my favorite spots to watch the sunset.

The trailhead for one of my favorite hikes to the top of a mountain in Shoshone National Forest.
A beautiful sandwort flower, with the genus of Eremogone. I am unsure of this specific epithet well, because it looks so much like other sandwort flowers in this area.
This is one of my favorite flowers I have been able to identify in Wyoming. It is called American bistort, or Bistorta bistortoides. It is so fluffy and cute!
One species of flower I stumped the entire BLM with.. I can’t even find it on Google image search.
The last 50 or so stairs to the top of the Blue Ridge Lookout’s old fire tower. The view is just a few steps away at this point!
One side of the views at the top of the fire tower and me 🙂
Another side of the incredible landscape you can see at the top of this hike. If you can find the tiny white dot at the bottom of this photo, a bit left of center, you can see my cute little car.
The cutest, chubbiest, little chipmunk I found on my way through the hike.
As the sun sets on the fire tower, a whole new world of beautiful emerges.

The next week at work, we had some serious car problems. Haha.. We had a flat tire, a flat spare, and several engine problems that seemed to come at us all at once. Needless to say, the next couple of days were spent fixing her up, and getting her ready to get back on the road the week after.

Hahahahahahahaha. This truck was a mess by the time we took her into the shop!
The first flat tire I have ever experienced as a driver. We expected to hear a loud popping sound or something, but the truck’s dashboard screen just started telling me our tire pressure was low, seemingly out of nowhere. Apparently, we ran over a huge Granite rock, that made our tire pop, and unrepairable. Ooof.

The weekend after all of the car issues, I drove to Thermopolis to meet a fun friend of mine from JMU, Lucas, who is also a BLM intern out here! What are the odds. He was placed in Buffalo though, so we figured Thermop was a great halfway place to meet and explore. We hiked the Round Top Mountain butte, went to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, soaked in the Hot Springs State Park Bath House, and explored the town all weekend. We had such a great time! The smell of sulfur was seriously… uh… something. Haha. I drove home smelling like rotten eggs. 🙂

The short trek up the Round Top Mountain butte hike was so worth it. Look at that view!
“May Peace Prevail On Earth.” The most perfect surprise at the top of the butte hike.
The incredible Archaeopteryx fossil specimen that the Wyoming Dinosaur Center had. The Archaeopteryx was discovered almost 160 years ago, and is the physical proof of an intermediate between modern birds and non-avian feathered dinosaurs. I literally learned about this thing in Biology classes back in college… to say I was amazed is an understatement.
Thermopolis’ Teepee Fountain! A structure that formed from the deposition of hot mineral water over a smaller tower that exists underneath.
A cute picture Lucas took of me sitting on decades of mineral water deposition! This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.
The emergence of the natural hot springs water, apparently measuring at about 135 degrees Fahrenheit! All of the green/bluegreen colors you see in the water are the thermophile eubacteria that can live at this high temperature.

For some reason, once I got back to work the next week, I was determined to get better pictures of the pronghorn antelope and wild horses we constantly see out in the field. Both are super skittish and unaccustomed to people, so this has been a pretty difficult thing for me to accomplish. I brought my nice camera out with me to the field for the first time, and seriously benefitted from it. I got pictures of both. 🙂 A couple days later, Jon and I went to finish fixing the fence around Hadsell Pasture. We thought we had a nice and easy drive over Green Mountain, but quickly realized that this was not the case. We drove over (what seemed like) miles of boulders that I didn’t think we would clear, and around ditches that I swore to Jon we were going to fall and flip in. Thankfully, Jon is a bit more reasonable in these tricky situations than I am, and so he helped me drive through all the tough spots. I am so thankful for his help and his friendship! We made it safely down the mountain, and to Hadsell Pasture. On our way home, we both did not want to go back up the way we came, and ended up finding one of the easiest ways home… probably ever… Hahaha.

A lone pronghorn antelope, or Antilocapra americana, posing so nicely for me.
A small herd of wild horses we saw out in the field. These beauties sometimes get herded and sold by the BLM to keep the populations down out in the fields. The locals in Wyoming that I have talked to have loved these horses they get from the BLM, despite having to take the time gentling and taming them. I love seeing all the cute little foals mixed into the herd — somehow they can always keep up with their larger family members.
An unknown variety of paintbrush (Castilleja) flowers with a beautiful view of the South side of Green Mountain — something we almost never get to see out in the field. These are some of the last blooming flowers; it was so nice to seem them still out on the mountain.
Just above the Castilleja flower, an impeccable landscape was just begging us to take photos of it. This was right before our tricky descent down the mountain started.

After a bit of a stressful week, I was ready to travel again, and found myself driving to explore Buffalo with my friend Lucas again! We tried to get to Outlaw Canyon and the Hole-In-The-Wall, but sadly got rained out. I have gotten used to the weather here; it can be so unpredictable, no matter how many times you check it in advance. Still, it is pretty disappointing when it ruins a new adventure. But! On our way back, we saw an awesome double rainbow, and some really spectacular cloud formations. I only spent a day or so there, so we did a lot of shopping, but did not have much luck venturing outside of the town of Buffalo.

The rainbow we saw on our way home from Outlaw Canyon. Seconds after this photo was taken, it started down-pouring rain and hail. There was enough that we had to pull over to wait it out!
The other side of the highway: fluffy, beautiful blue skies.

These past few weeks have definitely exhausted me bit more than usual, but I was ready to roll heading into work last week. I have started bringing my camera every time I work out in the field now, because there are just so many possibilities of capturing some amazing Wyoming wildlife. Last week, I managed to get pictures of some prairie dogs, as well as more elk! I was ecstatic. When we found the elk, we were monitoring compliance in a very confusing pasture called Magpie, and got very lost on our way out. But, through our exploration of the entire pasture, we saw that herd of elk, a coyote, several Magpie birds, and a sage grouse that nearly scared me to death. She literally popped up out of nowhere, flapping her wings and squawking like a chicken. We had quite the adventure to say the least. On top of that, this happened after our first full 7-8 hour day with the Seeds of Success (SOS) team in our office. We spent that time with them collecting seeds, testing soils, and collecting specimens, honestly having the best time. Still, Jon and I were soo worn out by the time we got home.

One of the prairie dogs, or Cynomys ludovicianus, I was able to capture with my camera! They were so cute and let us take their photo for a few minutes before retreating to their tunnel homes.
Two of the elk we saw from the herd in Magpie Pasture. This was my second time finding elk out in the field, and I really don’t think I will ever get tired of them.
Just a small sketchbook layout I made for my pressed grasses. Next step is identifying them!

I have come to love Wyoming, its abundance of wildlife, the small amount of people here, and the WYde open spaces. 😉 Almost everyone around me seems to be on the same page: willing to converse, willing to share, willing to learn. I couldn’t have been placed in a more perfect town, or BLM office. Lander is seriously the best and I’m so thankful I still have a few months left here.

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 Red Wall

Famous as the site where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Hole in the Wall gang hung out, the Hole in the Wall area is quite the spectacle. The massive red wall seems to stretch for miles, only broken up when its wavy path is visually blocked by the wall’s own protrusions and dips. In the distance, hills made of the same red sediment disappear into the blue and grey of faraway vegetation, and the only sounds that pervade the landscape are the wind and the mumbling of cattle, insects and birds.

Vista from on top of the wall.

I was lucky enough to visit the Hole in the Wall via an odd route. While I had previously attempted to reach the site by the normal designated roads, the mixture of bad weather and a computer malfunction in the car meant we had to turn back before reaching the base of the wall. So this time, we went in over the top of the wall. Our goal was to see if the marked road was still accessible to trucks.

The road started off decent enough, with only a few tight spots and turns. But as we approached the edge of the wall, we found ourselves at our first really iffy area. The road sloped steeply downward with a layer of loose stone on top, making slipping inevitable. At this point, we switched drivers to that the member of our team who had been driving Wyoming roads since she was a kid could tackle these sections with much more confidence and know-how than me or my supervisor, both from the East. We made it down with little incident and continued on, getting right up along the edge of the wall at one point. Then came the scariest slope of all; what felt like 50% slope up on that same broken and loose stone. I’d be lying to say I didn’t close my eyes and grip the seat, knowing that even if we made it up, we’d have to take the same crazy slope back down on the way back. While we made it, I didn’t really relax for the rest of the drive, which became much more pleasant but less stunning as we moved into the grassy areas further in from the edge of the wall.

While in one of these grassy areas, we ran into a rancher herding his cows. Well, more like we were suddenly surrounded by cows and sat waiting in the truck until the rancher, some ways away, drove over in his ATV. It is clearly a lonely job, roaming the fields each day with cows and not interacting with people very often, so we all had a nice long chat. He also gave us a heads up on a mountain lion in the area, alongside a terrifying story of watching a hunter behaving oddly in the distance who, upon questioning, said that he had been preparing to shoot the mountain lion lurking on a ledge just above the rancher if need be. Needless to say, we proceeded with even more caution.

By the time we finally made it to the end of the road, three hours had passed since we first entered the gate. Though only 13 miles, the landscape had made the passage difficult and safety standards necessitated caution. But the final destination was worth it. We wandered the landscape above the wall, locating the specific sites our team’s archaeologist wanted to find. We found several pieces of flaked stone, likely broken off from the rocks used to form tools hundreds of years ago. Obviously, we left them at the sites, relatively confident that others would not find them, or if they did, have no idea what they were really looking at.

Stone flake from making tools – Archaeological artifact

When we walked over to the edge of the wall, we could see the hiking trail that lead from the official rec site parking lot winding its way through the landscape. This trail required hiking up the steep wall, with only one section of “iffy scaling” as my supervisor put it. While we did not plan on taking that trail today, I know it is in my future, a challenge for both my bad knees and my dislike of heights. In any case, we had our wander, examined the sorts of vegetation growing in this area, and made it back to the car without being mauled by a mountain lion. The drive back didn’t take quite as long, and the dangerous slope, which had us all slightly shaken, did not prove fatal. We returned to the starting gate and let out a sigh of relief, for while the landscape was incredible, its boldness only served to remind me that I am a mere speck in the history of this place, a land that can and should never be tamed by the ambitions or pride of humans.