The Journey Begins: 5 Months in Carlsbad, New Mexico

In May my life went through its largest progression so far.  On May 14th 2011, I finally received an undergraduate degree in Biology from Northern Illinois University.  Gone now are the days of cramming for exams or writing papers at dawn to insure they are turned in on time.  Gone are the ridiculous parties you only get to see/participate in while in college, and gone are the days of little responsibility—hello adult life!  Along with graduating I received the great honor of being able to participate in the Chicago Botanical Garden’s CLM internship program, which was sending me to the Bureau of Land Management office in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  With such a competitive program, I was ecstatic to be chosen for the position, but in all honesty was very nervous to be heading to New Mexico of all the states.  You see I have lived in Illinois my entire life and have never even seen a desert in person, let alone lived in one for five months!  While doing some research before the move, I saw that the weather here in Carlsbad would average around 105 for the month (yes the whole month!) of July!  This was a very large concern for me, as I had never dealt with even one day with the temperature over 105, but at the same time it had me very excited, as I would soon be experiencing a place/climate not many have seen or experienced!

The move was a very hard one, as I have many close friends in Illinois, some that I rely on for support and others that rely on me for the same.  I also had to cancel many of my activities for the summer including bowling, basketball, and beach volleyball leagues that caused me to feel as though I let some friends down since I couldn’t make good on my promise to play.  These same friends were very supportive however and were happy/excited to see me get to pursue my goals as a biologist that I had been talking about for the last few years.  The hardest part of leaving was leaving my home, it has always been a place of refuge for me when things got tough, and it has never been this far away from me for so long!  I have the most supportive parents in the world though, and they made it easier for me to leave, by helping me pack, and even putting a down payment on my new car!  When it was time to go I said my goodbyes and started on my 1600+-mile journey to Carlsbad.

The drive was a long one, over 22 hours of driving, but I was so excited to get down there that I made the whole trip in less than 2 days (no speeding tickets either :-))!  Along the way I got to see a few places I had never been; St. Louis along with the Gateway Arch, Oklahoma City, and Amarillo, Texas.  Along with the sites I also finally got to enjoy the food from Jack in a Box (they always show the commercials in the Chicago area yet there are none around there!), and Dyers BBQ in Texas, which of course was served with some Texas sweet tea lol.  The trip was a fun one, but I was glad to finally be in Carlsbad when it was over!

Carlsbad is a small town that is fairly isolated from any other major city in New Mexico.  The culture here is completely different from that of the Midwest, as everyone here is much more laid back, easy going, and approachable.  Though it is a small city (population of less than 20,000), as far as necessities go, everything can be found in the small town.  A major change that I am trying to get used to is the nightlife scene, because in Carlsbad there really isn’t one at all.  This is really hard for me to get adjusted to, because back in Chicago the bars or clubs is where I would go to hang out with friends, meet new people, or just kill time off.  Without it, I figured it would be much harder for me to find stuff to do or make new friends, but luckily I have made plenty at my workplace, the Bureau of Land Management.

As this is my first job working with the government, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from day one.  I was very nervous heading out the first day, all sorts of questions where running around in my head; what if I hate it, did I choose the right career path, if I hated it did I just waste the last couple years of my life in college, the list went on and on.  Luckily all those questions were gone after my first week, and now after three weeks I truly know this is where I belong.  My mentor, Johnny Chopp, has been nothing short of amazing since I have come down here.  He is not only my boss for the next five months, but my best friend down here and is always willing to help me with anything, even outside of work (last week he even took me to Roswell to buy a couch!).  His enthusiasm in the workplace is contagious, and it has rubbed off on me to where I love coming into work each day.  Along with Johnny I work with 11 other interns at the moment, all of which are still pursing a degree in college.  These interns have become my good friends down here as well, and we get together at least once a week, outside of work, to hang out and just enjoy each other’s company.  Each person lends their own expertise to the work we are doing, and it is humbling to find out how little I truly know about some parts of biology!

Right now our main work is focused on the Sand Dune Lizard, Sceloporus arenicolus.  This particular lizard is endangered, and is in threat of becoming extinct because of the destruction of their habitat by oil and gas companies down in New Mexico.  It will take your breath away to see the awful sight of the damage done to all of New Mexico’s public land by oil and gas companies, but is something everyone should experience so that things can be changed.  I want to go into more details about how we catch the lizards, but I will save that for another post, one that will contain pictures of everything I’ve seen and experienced so far while being down here (hopefully I will be buying a camera this week!).  Along with the Lizard, we do many other studies that, once again, I will write about very soon.  For now I hope you were able to sit through the ramblings of my first post, and can’t wait to write about everything else I experience over the next five months!




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