Approaching the middle of month four and this SOS crew has a solid routine down pat! Since most of our work is in the field, we decided that a four-ten schedule was best and Monday through Thursday is spent out in the field, typically doing overnight trips. Our driving routes incorporate previously scouted sites as well as new areas where our target plant species may be found. These evolving travel routes have taken me down many dirt roads and through plenty of small desert towns that I would not have seen on my own. Some of the towns are made of only a few rusted trailers, a collapsed house or two, and fields of junk vehicles! We still haven’t decided what so few people are doing with so many possessions on wheels but it sure gives the towns’ character and I really enjoy the look of the collapsing houses. The towns feel like modern versions of the old west.
With the daily temperature steadying itself in the upper nineties/low hundreds and getting up to 109 degrees some days, we have started to modify our daily routine to try and work around the heat. We rent motel rooms to escape from the heat, sometimes during the middle of the day and definitely at night. While I miss sleeping with the stars and waking up to the sun, it is blissful to get in to that air conditioning after a day in the heat and we all, definitely, sleep better. The heat also means that most of the annuals have already passed peak bloom and all that are left are skeletons to remind us that they were recently there in droves. We have moved on to collecting perennials, such as Larrea tridentata (Creosote Bush), that withstand the heat more effectively and are waiting for some of the late bloomers such as Eriogonum fasciculatum to be ready to collect.
Some of the highlights of recent weeks include getting to see the Cylindropuntia ramosissima (Pencil Cholla) in bloom, with the plants having either yellow or orange flowers. Very few botanists have seen this plant bloom and our original theory was that this was because the species simply didn’t bloom very often. Our new theory is that many botanists chose not to go out in the heat at this time of year so they miss it!
Another highlight was getting to explore Surprise Canyon, a location we have been trying to get to for some weeks now. My teammate Drew even made a mixed CD for the drive with a song called “Surprise Valley” on it. On the way there, we were trying to guess what the surprise might be, with guesses ranging from a new plant species to absolutely no surprise at all. What we actually found were two surprises that no one had guessed. First, there was running water rushing its way through part of the canyon, which is miraculous in Mojave at the start of summer, and, second, there was a small burn area that had consumed a small shack and the trees around it. All in all, it was a very surprising canyon.
In a nod to upcoming events, I am looking forward to training week at the Grand Canyon! It will be great to meet some of the other SOS teams and see what they have been up to and the Grand Canyon is a wonderfully scenic location in which to do this.