If there’s one thing about this internship that I wasn’t quite expecting, it’s the driving. Harney county is the largest county in Oregon in terms of area, and much of the land is owned by the BLM. Driving to field sites takes hours upon hours on black top, gravel, dirt, and rocks. The single activity I have done the most this summer is to drive or ride in a pickup truck which is the single most valuable tool I use to get field work done.


The last apple:

Back during the first week, we had finished field work for the day. There was still a little bit of time before we had to head back, so some of the guys we work with were driving us out to see Krumbo Reservoir. I had been sitting in the truck for what seemed like forever. I had a little motion sickness, but felt like I could handle it. Then we turned down a slightly bumpy and curvy gravel road that led down to the reservoir. By the time we reached our destination, I was about dying and ran to the bathroom to lose the better part of my lunch.

Right before we were about to go back, I ran over to a trash can just to make sure I was done. When we climbed in the truck to head back, Kyle asked if I was sick. I said it was just motion sickness. He looked kind of concerned and said we were going to be doing a lot more driving this summer and I should get some medicine or something. He asked if it would help if I drove, and he let me drive the rig home.

I knew my mistake though. While they aren’t solely to blame, apples generally make me car sick for whatever reason. So now I eat oranges at lunch. That was the last day I brought an apple.


Learning to navigate in Harney county was a bit difficult for me at first. The dirt roads all looked the same, and the rolling hills of grass and sage looked the same. When giving directions, my boss would use phrases like “you can’t miss it”. Needless to say, the four of us interns all missed that spot the first time and started driving to Nevada. Even the guys who weren’t new had to backtrack occasionally when seeking out our field sites.

Into this sea of navigational troubles walked Randy. Randy, a salt-and-peppered fifty-something was born and raised here in Burns. Randy spent much of his life exploring the backroads of Harney County, and has been driving to BLM field sites for five years now.


Randy drives through a herd of cattle


A coyote watches us stop for some typical scenery

ArcGIS and the Disappearing Roads:

ArcGIS, the most prominent program for mapping and geographic analysis is all the rage these days. There is even a version of the program called ArcPad that is made for use on a tablet. We have ArcPad on our fancy Trimble tablet GPS units, and are therefore able to track out position relative to the expansive network of back roads without too much difficulty. You would think it’s impossible to get lost with this technology.

This past week, we were assigned to mark sagebrush seedling establishment plots in several specific patches in the Miller Homestead Fire region. We set out with a map, a GPS, and Randy. We were making good time and had gotten three sites marked when we hit a lovely stretch of road heading for the fourth site. The road curved up and over a patch of rim rock, and was entirely made of rocks. At one point, I had to get out and roll a particularly large rock out of the way, and another time we went up a stair of rock that was larger than an average stair. Both sides of the road were lined with more rocks sticking out and threatening to rip up our tires. And that was the site we made it to. Randy just gritted his teeth and drove. We got back to the office an hour late that day. Randy looked at the tires and pointed out where a chunk of rubber had been gouged out of their thick tread. “I thought these tires were new; didn’t you get them a couple of weeks back?”  “Well they ain’t new any more.”

The sites we didn’t make it to came the second day. We came to an intersection and the road we needed to take completely disappeared. There was another road present which was not on the map and went off in a different direction. This happened again on the third day. While GPS and ArcGIS are wonderful technologies, they have limited usefulness without regular updating. Even when a map has a road drawn on it, that doesn’t make the road a reality. Navigation would also be easier if a measure of road roughness were included on the map.

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