I have spent five months in Carlsbad, NM as an intern working with the Bureau of Land Management. People still ask me what I was doing here, and why did I go. I look back and think…why did I come? The upfront answer is quite simple: I came to get experience in a career I was hoping to pursue. It gave me a chance to practice the skills I have learned throughout my school and education. The internship program focuses on getting recent graduates interested in careers revolving around conservation and botany, careers I am told that are on the brink of endangerment.
This will be my final post about my internship experience in Carlsbad, NM. I was asked to reflect back on my experience to be able to share it with future CLM interns. Of course, you can get a sense of my experience through my previous posts, but reflection is an important part of understanding recent experiences, especially one such as this. I want to start by mentioning that working in Carlsbad has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, and I do not regret any bit of coming here. I saw many amazing things, and met many different people. Yet at the same time, as elevating as the internship was, it was also a very difficult experience.
I often relate my life to Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” a delightful book I read way back in high school that left an everlasting impression on me. This is where I start my reflection of my internship:
“People are capable at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
About three years ago, I spent a field season at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado; it was here I was introduced to plant science, to botany. I got to spend my summer in fields of wildflowers, studying how they work, their role in the mountains. Ever since this experience, I was hooked. Throughout school I dreamed of the day I would be a researcher working in botany in some shape or form. There are some people in life that believe they need to get a job, any stupid job that will pay the bills, and often times find themselves miserable where they are at. But if you have a dream, what is keeping you from following through? The only thing keeping most people from pursuing their dreams are themselves. Again, this is where I start: I found out about this internship, and found it would help me pursue my dreams and long-term goals. After spending time in a federal agency and botanical field the last five months, I found this is still a career I would like to pursue. I would highly suggest this internship program to anyone interested in pursuing wildlife biology or field botany. We are all capable of following our dreams and finding a career in our lives that pays the bills, but also being able to do something we enjoy every single day. I can tell you that on more than one occasion, I found myself saying “I can’t believe they pay me to hike and hunt for wildflowers!” Everyone should have that chance; that chance to tell yourself “I can’t believe they are paying me to do what they call ‘work’!”
This brings me to my second reflection point about myself, in the words of Mr. Coelho:
“Love never keeps a man from pursuing his destiny.”
The people that surround you every day should be supportive, and encourage you to follow your dreams and be happy. This is something that I believe should be a requirement to surviving this internship: supportive people in your life. I have family that were (and still are) happy to push me out the door to travel and experience the world. I don’t think I would have been able to make it all the way through this internship without my people at home encouraging me, supporting my need to get away and try new things, such as moving to Carlsbad for half a year. That being said, tread lightly on this fact: if you have significant others (i.e. boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses…), maybe consider taking them with you. My position was unique in that I left my fiancé at home and we took on the long distance relationship thing so that he did not have to drop his school and job during my internship. Even so, I came home halfway into my internship to get married, then headed back quickly afterwards (for more details, read my previous blog posts). We have been together a long time, but even with our long history, the long distance relationship was still one of the most mentally difficult things I have ever done. So in order to survive your internship experience, here is my advice: make new friends while you are there; the people in the Carlsbad Field Office are incredibly nice and many would be happy to hang out with you after work. Don’t forget to keep in touch with the old ones, and definitely keep supportive people in your life. Of course if possible, drag the ones that really matter out with you. Otherwise leaving home will be mentally straining and difficult, and meeting halfway on the weekends can get expensive. But if the people in your life really love you, they will let you go pursue your destiny.
Alright, I am almost finished with the whole reflection thing. Of many more points I could make, I will just make one more point of personal reflection:
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.“
I think this is probably the biggest takeaway from participating in the CLM internship. This internship gives recent graduates the opportunity to gain experience in a career that appears to be dwindling. It surprised me to find out how little experience people in federal agencies have with botany. Some rangeland employees spray chemicals on “troublesome” flora seemingly without blinking an eye as to how that would negatively affect the ecosystem, only thinking about the money that would be made on giving that poorly treated land to some cattle rancher. People put trust into those who manage our public lands, but some of those people do not seem to fully understand what it takes to maintain healthy ecosystems. My point is that there are very few botany “experts” placed in federal agencies and land management, and this is an excellent program to learn about jobs that need passionate, enthusiastic people. If you go through this program and love what you are doing, then you know that this is the place you should be (and an added note: you don’t have to love the location your placed to still know this is the kind of work you want to continue). I had a very valuable experience working for the BLM, and I absolutely loved working as a Seeds of Success intern. I will be honest, the town itself is a little rough around the edges, but if you love the work, and “strive to become better than [you] are, everything around [you] becomes better too.”
Now that I have done some reflecting on my experience as a CLM intern, I want to help the next Carlsbad, NM interns out as much as I can. Here are some things to keep in mind for your transition into the Chihuahuan Desert in Carlsbad, NM:
General information about the area:
- Carlsbad, NM is located at one of the northern tips of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are ecotypes here that are seen in very few places in the world. The fine gypsum soils that are located here also house many wonderful endemic plants that you will not see anywhere in the world. So go out and enjoy it whenever possible. The plant life here is truly amazing.
- Yes, as a Carlsbad intern you are located in the middle of a desert. However, because this desert is at a higher elevation than other deserts in the world, it also makes it slightly cooler than other deserts. So when you are enjoying a 106°F field day, just remember you are not in the Sonoran desert where it is probably 115°F. Don’t worry, most of those days you will probably find an excuse to be inside, and the seasonal monsoons will be around soon after the hottest time of the year.
- Being that you are going to be located in a desert, you may never truly know what the weather will be like, and the patterns are rather sporadic. On a normal year, it will be very hot (in the triple digits) through the most of June and early July. The monsoons will hopefully come towards the end of July to cool things off. What you want to be weary of is the lightening and flash floods. During the monsoons, it will rain every day, so pick and choose wisely where you are going to go so that you don’t get stuck out in the field in a flash flood and thunderstorm. It will still be pretty warm through August, but will cool down in mid-September to the mid-80s and low-90s. I have even experienced a few 70-degree days here, and they are marvelous! Take advantage of them when you can.
- The Carlsbad Field Office will be unlike any other BLM offices in the country. They brag that they are the busiest BLM in the nation, due to the oil and gas business that reign upon the land. Almost everything you do here will be in the shadow of gas and oil pads. Among the oil pads there is also an amazing array of life and animal life, so don’t let the oil life bring you down. One of the reasons interns come here is to help preserve and restore land that the oil and natural gas industry destroys. There is a unique ecosystem here, so make sure to look at that before deciding to say no to the area.
- Make sure to be involved with the other departments of the field office. As an intern, you will likely be located with the wildlife biology department, but it doesn’t hurt to go out with other departments and try out other things. You are coming here for experience, and going out with the other departments is only going to make you a more well-rounded person, and a marketable employee in the end.
Places to Go: Carlsbad is somewhat of a rustic gem…as it is a town built off of gas and oil, the town itself is stereotypical: Small but widespread, one grocery store, very few things to do in town, and you can smell the natural gas when you walk out your door. It is practically western Texas. But there are quite a few things just outside of Carlsbad that are worth going out to visit on the weekends to save your sanity, when you are tired of being in Carlsbad.
- Carlsbad Caverns: This is the one place that everyone thinks of and goes out to see when they pass through Carlsbad. The Caverns is a short drive from town, and definitely worth visiting at least once. They have an elevator into the actual caverns, but I suggest taking the natural entrance in.
- Washington Ranch, Cottonwood Day Area: The Cottonwood Day Use area is maintained by the BLM, and a little oasis along the Black River, about 40 minutes south of Carlsbad. There are lots of cottonwoods, wildflowers, and even wild turkeys. I liked to go there on lunch breaks when I was out in the field, we also did quite a few collections near there. Even though it’s a popular and busy place on the weekends, an excellent place to sunbathe! There are also some nice hiking trails nearby, including Slaughter Canyon and Rattlesnake Springs.
- La Cuevas Trails: This is a little trail system in the Carlsbad area. If you into hiking and outdoorsy things, this is a nice place to walk around, and maintained by the BLM (and if you are lucky a good place to find rain lilies after the rain!).
- Sitting Bull Falls: This is a very popular area in the Guadalupe mountains, and well-maintained by the forest service. There is a small fee to pay per car that comes in, but definitely worth it! It is a little trickle of a waterfall, and very easy to get to.
- Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge: I loved going to this refuge on the weekends! It is located in Northern Roswell, about 2 hours away from Carlsbad. If you are a birder, this is a great place to see waterfowl. In late August/early September, they hold a dragonfly festival. I was even able to see the migration of thousands of Sandhill Cranes the last week of September, the week before I finished my internship!
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park: I only found out about the park in the last month I was in Carlsbad. If you are an avid hiker, than this is an excellent area for you (even if it is located in Texas). We even did a few SOS collections in the park, but would be a great place to go on the weekend. It is also one of the only places to see the changing colors of fall. A few good places in the park include Dog Canyon, McKittrick Canyon, Smith Spring Trail, and Guadalupe Peak.
- Cloudcroft and Sunspot: I am from the Colorado foothills where I like to hike in the mountains amidst wonderful pine trees and aspens. Cloudcroft is about a three hour drive, and definitely worth it to get some fresh pine-smelling air. Sunspot is a wonderful 30 minute scenic drive from Cloudcroft, where you can visit a neat but rundown solar observatory.
- Alamogordo, NM: To get to Alamogordo, you have to drive through Cloudcroft, so it’s a good to do in the same weekend if you want to save miles on your car. You want to visit White Sands National Monument here. The sand is white, and it is quite a site to see. They offer sunset walks and activities throughout the year that may be worth a visit away from Carlsbad!
- There are lots of other areas to visit while you are staying in Carlsbad. There are a few I didn’t mention (like the Living Desert Zoo). The main thing to keep in mind here is that no matter where you decide to go, almost everything is a decent drive away. But if you have a car, its worth the 4+ hour trips to Albuquerque, Santa Fe, even Taos to visit the “real” New Mexico on some of your weekends.
Restaurants in Carlsbad: There aren’t many restaurants to choose from, and no matter where you go the service is slow, but here are a few places that I enjoyed at least a little while I was in Carlsbad.
- Milton’s Brewing Company – This placed only opened I believe in July 2016. I don’t really drink, but it was a decent place to socialize. Like everything else in town, it closes early, between 9 and 10pm.
- Yellow Brix Restaurant – this was probably the best restaurant in town, although I did not venture out to many of the restaurants.
- The Lucky Bull – Most the food is greasy and the service is slow, but a decent place to go with friends.
- Blue House Cafe – I believe this is one of the only coffee shops in town. They close early (at 10:30am most days) and not even open on Sunday, but I liked to chill there on Friday mornings I didn’t have to be at work. They have food, coffee, a cat, even wifi.
- And there are of course some possible home pleasures: Chili’s, IHop, even a Hibachi Grill that I heard was pretty good.
Resources to prepare yourself for work: The Carlsbad field office will likely have just about everything you will need during your internship, from clicker counters to dichotomous keys. But here are a few extras I found to be helpful while I was here.
- Botany in a Day by Elpel- I love this book, and have had it for years. If you are new to Botany and need a quick guide to identifying plants to the family, this is a great book to bring with you.
- Land of Enchantment Wildflowers: A Guide to the Plants of New Mexico, By Finley and Nieland – This is an excellent resource and probably most up to date book to have in the field, when you need a quick reference before digging into the dichotomous key. This book has lots of pictures, groups plants by the color of their flowers, and even has pictures of what the mature seeds and fruits look like. OF course it does not have everything, but it is a great place to start to get an idea of the common plants of New Mexico that you will likely find in this area.
If you have more questions about the Carlsbad lifestyle, feel free to contact me at any time. If you have been accepted into the program, my contact information should be on the CLM website. I will be happy to help in any way I can to help you prepare for your stay in Carlsbad. Do your best to enjoy to hidden treasures of Carlsbad while you are here as an intern. Good luck, happy trails, and all the best to you and your new adventure.
Conservation and Land Management Intern 2016
Carlsbad, NM Bureau of Land Management