The many-faced desert

There are many faces to this desert. The vast expanse of the Vernal Field Office allows me to cruise through several ecotones on a daily basis. It is so vast, in fact, that I have managed to put 20,000 miles on the work truckĀ in just a few months.

Perched high above Nine Mile Canyon, the site of many infamous petroglyphs

Cruising the top of the Book Cliffs

Just outside town, looking back at Vernal and the desert beyond

Red Fleet Reservoir

The ephemeral beach of Vernal… it’s ocean front property every few million years. This sand dune is actually one of my favorite locations. It hoards several species I’ve yet to find anywhere else in the basin, including a grass-like rhizomatous ephedra.

Occasionally there are other methods to roam the hills, like hiking and boating.

In the Uinta Mountains, on the hunt for Heliomeris multiflora

I joined two rafting trips on the Green River. They were seek-and-destroy missions, patrolling the shores for invasive species like Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum).

The purpose of all this exploration is to locate new populations of desirable species, and to bolster previous collections with genetic diversity from different climate zones.

A population of Cleome serrulata, one of our priority species to collect for reclamation. It does well in disturbed areas, as exemplified by this roadside patch.

Cleome lutea is a highly desirable species for pollinator habitat, yet we could only collect small amounts due to the short window of time where seeds are ready to pick.

The exploration doesn’t stop when the week ends. Outside of the internship, the local area has provided many opportunities.

For the total eclipse, I traveled just a few hours North to Wyoming’s Wind River range. I selected a gnarly Jeep road to filter out the tourists, but was followed by 50 other Jeeps and ATVs with the same idea. We all wondered if it was worth showing up for a two-minute spectacle. However, the moment of totality turned out to be an entirely different experience from a partial eclipse. Doubts were erased by a 360 degree sunset at noon, and the eerie glowing ring visible to the naked eye.

On Labor Day weekend, I explored a bit closer to home. At the heart of the Uinta mountain range is the ceiling of Utah, King’s Peak.

View of along the Henry’s Fork trail leading up to King’s Peak

View from the cliff edge on top of King’s Peak. The horizon is hazy and obscured from the smoke of dozens of wildfires that were active throughout the West.

I have also stayed in town and had the opportunity to check out local events of Vernal.

There is a local shooting range. I happened to be in town on the day of a range festival, so I took advantage of the rare opportunity to fire some large caliber revolvers I’ve been meaning to try, and a Desert Eagle just for fun.

That night, I also turned out to be in right place at the right time for the championship race at the local speedway.

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