Transitioning to the Desert

This marks the end of my second month working in Carlsbad, NM and I have to say I feel like I’m in the twilight zone… Being from North Carolina, I don’t think I have ever seen so much cactus in my life and I also find it kind of surreal that there are just no trees (besides a ridiculous amount of pecan trees). I ended up joining a group of interns from the Carlsbad field office on a trip to Santa Fe this weekend and I almost cried out of joy when I saw a pine tree. Though, I will say that I am enjoying the lack of humidity in spite of how hot it can get out here.

I have started getting used to seeing cacti everywhere but that doesn’t stop me from getting excited when I see one in flower

Despite the drastic change in environment, I am thoroughly enjoying my time here. I have seen and experienced so many new things I never would have without taking this internship and moving across the country, for example the Carlsbad Caverns! They are definitely worth a trip out here if you ever get a chance. The sheer size of the caverns is humbling in my opinion.

Entrance to the caverns

There are so many different landscapes within New Mexico that it makes every trip exciting, even if you get lost! I can now honestly see why its called “The Land of Enchantment” and I am eager to continue exploring the state during my stay.

Got lost on the way to Tent Rocks and stumbled upon a hot spring! Well more like tepid spring… Photo Credit: Julie Mao

We eventually made it to Tent Rocks!

Bandelier National Monument

Petroglyphs near Santa Fe


And now, as a botanist, here are my obligatory plant photos:

Centaurium maryannum

Zephyranthes longifolia

Unidentified thistle

Kicking Things Into Gear

Things around the Buffalo Field Office in Wyoming have really picked up since I returned from the workshop in Chicago. Upon our return, my fellow intern, Christine, and I have been going out to the field together to start our inspections. What we do is a bit different than what most CLM interns are working on. To explain briefly, she and I inspect abandoned oil and gas wells to check on their status and how the reclamation process is progressing. Reclamation is the final requirement in releasing a well from bond, and if it isn’t being completed properly the operator will be notified by the BLM and can be fined if necessary.

On our first solo mission out to the field, Christine and I chose 5 wells out of our assignments for which the office had received notice that the operator was to plug and abandon the well. No further paperwork had been sent in in the few years following the notice to plug and abandon, which we thought was odd. So we decided to investigate. Prior to heading out, we created a map of the site and roads to load into Avenza (an app I highly recommend checking out). Something I’ve learned working this summer is that navigating dirt and two-track roads in Wyoming is never as straightforward as you think. Locked gates and roads in rough condition were the major obstacles we faced that first day out. A good portion of that day was spent trying to find the right road into the site, but we succeeded after plenty of trial and error. The wells we inspected that day still had infrastructure in place and lots of cheatgrass around them. Clearly, the reclamation isn’t going well.

We went back out to that site a few days later to check on the rest of the wells in that grouping. All were in a pretty similar state to the ones we saw on the first day. As we were leaving the site, we heard a call over the CB radio that there was a fire right off the main road we took into the site. I scanned the horizon and saw smoke rising in the distance. After a moment of irrational panic that somehow we had caused the fire, we realized it was a few miles from anywhere we had been that day. There were already BLM firefighters working on it, so we continued on with the rest of our day.


The CLM internship is no cake walk. Our days are long, arduous, and exhilarating. Our mornings are early and turbo-charged. I don’t know how most people’s mornings go, but I need something quick, delicious, nutritious, and calorie-packed that I can eat with one hand as I swirl about packing all my other necessities for a 10-hour field day. I’m sure lots of people need a breakfast like this.

I give you: the quiche. Spend a couple hours on the weekend making one (or two), and you’ll have fantastic breakfast you can eat on auto-pilot all week. You can make several, cut them into servings, freeze them, and simply reheat in the morning – they’ll stay good frozen for about 2 weeks (if they last that long). And yes, you can make one. I promise.



9″ pie plate makes 6 servings, est. 400 calories each serving. This quiche has feta and cheddar cheeses, broccoli, spinach, and a little kale. Add or substitute suggested ingredients as you like!

Perfect Savory Pie Crust

Prep time: 15min

Wait time: 1 hour

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 10 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled & cubed
  • 2-4 Tbsp ice water, reserve in a wide-mouth dish

Quiche Filling

Prep time: 30-45min

Wait time: 1 hour

  • 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of sliced shallots (sub: 1/4 cup diced onion or 3-4 Tbsp minced garlic)
  • 10 oz (two big handfuls) fresh spinach and/or kale
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli, chopped
  • Pinch or two each as you like of salt, cayenne, thyme, and oregano.
  • 1 cup grated cheese. Consider cheddar, gruyere, feta, or Monterrey jack.
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream (sub: half & half thinned with water)


If you bought a pie crust (boo!!), preheat the oven to 325F and skip to step 8.

  1. Pulse the flour and salt together in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fluffy sand with pea-sized chunks of butter in it.
    • If you don’t have a food processor, use a pastry cutter, a fork, or just crumble the butter and flour by hand.
  2. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until the dough just comes together. It should stay in a ball if you press it in your hand, but not seem wet.
  3. On a clean counter, scatter a little flour. Turn out the dough onto the floured counter and gather it into a ball. Flatten the ball into a firm disk, wrap in a clean terry cloth towel or wax paper, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
  4. When you’re ready to bake the quiche, remove the dough & let it warm on the counter for about 10 minutes. Lightly dust the counter and a rolling pin with flour. Roll out your dough to about 1/4″ thick. Start by gently rocking the rolling pin until the dough gives, then make longer strokes. Alternate rolling directions so you get a circle, not a weird oval.
    • Preheat the oven to 400F.
  5. Gather the pie crust pancake by sliding your fingers under the dough, starting at the edges and working into the center until you can pick it up and transfer to a 9″ pie plate.
  6. Fold the overhanging edges inward into the pie plate, and pinch them so they look nice on the lip of the plate. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like the store-bought crinkles, it’ll be good!
  7. Line your pie crust with some parchment paper, and pour in some dry beans to keep the crust weighted down. Or, use baking weights if you have them. Bake for 10-15min until just starting to brown, then remove from oven.
    • Turn oven temperature down to 325F.
    • Now you can either put the beans back in the jar, or throw them in the crock pot for a ready-made meal. Breakfast and lunch!!
  8. While the pie crust is baking, sauté the shallots (or onion or garlic) in butter. Add the broccoli and stir for about a minute, then add in the spinach until it is just wilted. Remove from heat.
  9. Whisk together the eggs and cream in a bowl, adding in your chosen seasonings & spices (salt, cayenne, oregano, thyme, etc.).
  10. Layer the green vegetables in your pie crust, and sprinkle cheese generously over the greens. Pour the egg mixture over the cheesy greens, and add more cheese on top. 🙂
  11. Bake your quiche at 325F for 50-55min. Top will be golden brown, a knife will come out clean but a little moist (not clumpy or runny). Remove quiche from oven and let stand 10min before serving. If making lots for later, let the quiche(s) cool completely and cover before refrigerating or freezing.
    • Reheat quiche in a toaster oven for approx. 5min at 350F, or pop in microwave for 1 1/2 min on a medium-high setting.

Hope you enjoy!!

Stay fed out there, CLM Interns!

Living La Vida Lander


Not to start out with a cliché, but time really is flying by! I have already been working at the Lander, Wyoming field office for a month and a half, which seems like a scary amount of time considering it is only a five-month stint overall. The drive over from my home north of Seattle was an awesome way to take in the scenery of the “West” (side note: it took me awhile to call it the West being from the West Coast). I drove through Idaho and Montana and then stopped over in Yellowstone for two nights for my first time in the park and fell in love…mostly with the bison. From Yellowstone, it was a four-hour drive to my new home and I will admit that the closer I got to Lander, the more nervous I became that there was not a single tree in sight! Luckily, that was not the case once I got into town and I am enjoying the contrast between Wyoming and Washington landscapes.

Even after the hundredth time, I was still excited to see a bison in Yellowstone!


“Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”



















Starting as a rangeland monitoring intern, I had zero background in how grazing on federal lands worked and I have learned a ton in the last few weeks. On my third day, I was able to go out with a permittee who grazes his cattle on one of the allotments we monitor, which offered valuable perspective and insight into the work we do and how it can affect someone’s livelihood. Working for a multi-use agency has been eye opening and some of my opinions on conservation and land use have changed to be more flexible and open minded.

Red Canyon, outside of Lander.

Range pups

My botany skills have also grown immensely over time and my general idea of there being “lawn grass” and “not lawn grass” has broadened to the point that I am always bugging my partner to help me identify new (to me) species in the field. There is so much plant diversity in the sage steppe ecosystem and it has been fun to learn about their adaptations for such a dry environment. Since I have a background in wetland ecology I have been interested in seeing where things will grow and how the slightest changes in elevation and gradient can cause a total shift in the vegetation.  I was also interested to learn that the majority of wetlands here are created from flood irrigation practices and the creation of reservoirs and that a shift to alternative irrigation methods could have some pretty negative consequences for the remote wetland ecosystems that provide great habitat for birds and other species.

The Sego Lily has a sweet tasting bulb (depending on who you talk to).

Can’t help but grab every one that I see.

Daily views for a rangeland monitoring intern.

Outside of work life has been pretty great as well. I am really thankful to be working in a town with so many social and recreational activities. The international climber’s festival was last week, which brought people from all over the country and beyond, and provided for some great activities to watch, such as the dyno comp and pull-up competitions. There is frequently live music at one of the various parks or bars in town and everyone congregates to dance with no concern for who is watching. I have done a couple local hikes and camped up in the Shoshone National Forest and will be planning a backpacking trip up to the Wind River Range soon as well. All in all, it has been a great summer so far and I only see that continuing!

Coli Huffman

Lander Field Office

Lander, WY

My roommate’s tent, “the bullfrog”

Hiking in Shoshone



A whirlwind of recreation activities.


The last month was a whirlwind of recreation activities. In the foothills of the Steens Mountains, I participated in a trail dedication to a family who lost their son to wildland fire fighting 20 years ago. There were many representatives from the BLM and it was a special time for the family.

I hiked Pike Creek trail, which is all up-hill, to monitor a remote campsite.

I spent a whole week up in the Steens Mountains putting up barbed wire fencing to keep cows out from the wilderness area. It was definitely the most difficult week I have had during my internship. The wildflowers, which are still blooming, were a great reward for such difficult work. There are four species of my favorite flora, Indian Paintbrush. The Indian Paintbrushes  were red, orange, yellow, and green.

I also found a beautiful multi-colored species of (what I believe to be…) columbine.

The Alvord Desert is a special recreation area, the most recent being for gliders. I was able to watch gliders take off and land, as well as sit in a glider!

Finally, I was recently able to shadow the archeologist. He is currently working on a dig-site that has been going on for multiple years with students from the University of Oregon. By dating volcanic ash, they have found evidence of life from 15,000 years ago! Making it one of the oldest dig-sites in the US.

Students from the University of Oregon are earning credits for working on this dig-site. Evidence dates back to 15,000 years ago! Making it one of the oldest archeological dig-sites in the US.

 Outside of work, I finally figured out where the recycling center is after two months of living in Burns. The recycling center is only open twice a week for a few hours. It is a major adjustment to have to physically bring in my recycling and sort it out. Back at home, in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, we have single sort recycling and it gets picked up at our house. Needless to say, the recycling center here has made me think more about my consumption of consumer products.

After two months, I finally found the recycling center!

(Insert witty title here)


Things have tamed down a little bit here at the Klamath Field Office. Most of the projects that usually take place during the season, aren’t, so Jeff and I have been delving into some new projects of our own.

One such project that I’ve started working on involves taking x-rays of sucker fish and categorizing them by number of vertebrates. Eventually, the x-rays that I’ve saved will be used in morphometric analysis in order to see the shapes of specific types of species of sucker fish! How cool!

Another project involves taking juvenile sucker fish to some designated ponds and performing an experiment to see what results in the highest levels of survival. We designed four floating cages with three smaller cages inside each of those. The cages will float at the surface of the water and the fish will be placed inside. Each of the smaller cages will provide a controlled environment where we can manipulate what is taking place inside. We are thinking we will have our control (nothing in the cage), a cage with vegetation, and a cage with only silt on the bottom. We are really looking forward to getting this project rolling!

From these same ponds, we have been collecting water samples and observing zooplankton under microscopes. We have looked at a LOT. OF. ZOOPLANKTON. They are incredibly interesting, though, and really get the wheels turning about how often you forget about this magical microscopic world that is happening all around you all of the time (and also of all of the strange creatures that swim in the water with you).

Yesterday, Jeff and I went electro-fishing at Gerber Reservoir in Northern California and it was my first time! We didn’t get any suckers, but we got a few minnows. It was great practice for future electro-fishing. We also came across some petroglyphs and got to do some hiking along a stream making observations and twiddling away in our notebooks.

All work and no play makes Marissa a dull girl.

Other than work shenanigans, life in Oregon has been pretty spectacular! I’ve been trying to explore as much as possible! Jeff and I just got some piercings, too (his ear lobe and my nose)! Klamath Falls is a fun city with a great night life and a lot of recreational activities in the area. I couldn’t ask for anything more 🙂

Marissa – Klamath Falls, OR – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Update from Prineville

It has been a while since I last posted, but things haven’t really changed too much.  The major news is that the golden eagle nest that I have been closely monitoring has produced 2 chicks that have survived.  They should have fledged a couple weeks ago, but still are hanging out at the nest, apparently reluctant to head out into the real world (I get where they are coming from).  This was a major victory for us, as the eagles in this area have been unsuccessful many consecutive years, presumably due to climbers in close proximity.  To celebrate the occasion I even made a cake (I am going to bring it into the office tomorrow).

In other non-eagle related news, I just got a new work truck.  While I really loved my 2012 white Chevy, after a short drive from Portland back to the office, I have really come to fall in love with my sparkling new 2017 Ford F-150.  Starting off with only 5 miles on it, I should be able to add some miles this summer!!  I am sure the whole wildlife department are also going to be quite happy in the upgrade to the truck.

In terms of what I am doing now, I have finished up a flurry of bat-related work and am going to go back to Juniper clearances to improve habitat for sage-grouse.  For the bats, I set up acoustic detectors and then return then next day to collect them and the memory cards which stored the recorded calls.  I also got to go out mist netting with my boss, although I was not able to handle bats due to my lack of a rabies shot.  This was really fun and I even got some cool photos and some video.

Townsend’s Big Eared Bat

Cool video of a bat flying away (sorry that you have to download it and then open it).


All in all things are going quite well as we make our way into the heart of summer.  Hopefully, the work continues to be diverse and diverting through the rest of the year!

High and dry, with a side of unexpected waterfalls: Tales from the Land of Enchantment

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

What is enchantment, exactly? Is it reflected in the arc of a rainbow over the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range at sunset. Or is it some kind of ether, which rises like the rich resinous incense of pinyon-juniper woodlands after a monsoon rain? Perhaps enchantment is something more elusive, like the spirits of ancient cliff dwellers who vanished before the Conquistadors even stepped foot within their ancestral canyons. And yet sometimes enchantment is impossible to ignore, like the hypnotic palpitations of a powwow drum and the flash of dancers retracing the traditions of millennia with their footsteps. Enchantment is fleeting, but grips like the first taste of red chile on the tongue.

Aspen groves and Castilleja spp.

Over a month has progressed since the start of my internship in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In that highly concentrated burst of time, my sense of enchantment has only increased as I become more acquainted with this place. My journey has taken me southward from Montana State University, to my homeland in Idaho, all the way the the Southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. I am grateful to be placed in a location at the intersection of such incredible natural and cultural beauty. The mountains, rivers, and hot springs remind me of Idaho… and yet everything else feels so foreign. I was surprised to learn that New Mexico is a biodiversity hotspot, due to its location at the intersection of the Rocky Mountains, Southwestern plateaus, Chihuahuan desert, and Great Plains. And yet in encountering the life that abounds in this arid landscape, I am not surprised at all. The flora of the mountains and sagebrush steppe comforts me with the familiarity of a common biogeographic link. But the desert is new. From the sandy mesquite of the Chihuahua, to the high sagebrush and juniper of the plateaus, the desert entices my botanical senses with an onslaught of spiny, scratchy, and surprising greenery, insistent on growing in spite of the harsh sun and erratic rainfall.

Typical Chihuahuan desert view, with Opuntia spp.

Zinnia grandiflora, looking quite happy to be growing in the sand

Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) graces the desert with its Dr. Seuss-like fluffs

Monk’s hood (Aconitum columbianum) grows along a lush stream in the mountains.

Alpine sunflower (Hymenoxys grandiflora) lights up the scree above treeline

Pika striking a pose – eeeeek!

Aquilegia spp. next to some gneiss rock

Dasylirium wheeleri – a Yucca look-alike with an epic inflorescence of wormy green flowers

Western Diamondback – thank God for rattles!

My internship with the BLM in Santa Fe is not only introducing me to many new ecoregions, but also to several programs critical to plant conservation in New Mexico. Under our mentor Zoe, my fellow interns and I are responsible for carrying out the Seeds of Success program and also for creating new rare plant monitoring protocols for species of critical concern. I enjoy splitting my time between these two very different and similarly rewarding tasks. With the excellent guidance of Ella, a second year SOS intern, I am collecting and scouting for seeds from a variety of native species. In New Mexico, the BLM has partnered with the Institute for Applied Ecology to forge the Southwest Seed Alliance. Together, we are helping to increase accessibility to regional seed stocks. With each seed plucked, I am become aware of its contribution to conservation of Southwestern botanical biodiversity. Even the peskiest of seeds soon scratch a place into my heart when I appreciate that they will be assisting restoration somewhere down the road. The other aspect of work, monitoring rare plants, is an immersion into the life history and conservation challenges of each individual species – many of which are lacking any demographic data whatsoever! Gathering the first insights into the predicament of rare species instills a sense of relevance and urgency to the work. Quoting Dr. Seuss inspiration, “We speak for the plants!”. After hours of scouring the desert floor for Brack’s cactus (Scherocactus cloverae ssp. brackeii), we did indeed start speaking to the plants.

A fairly large Brack’s cactus (Schlerocatus cloverae subsp. brackeii) hides from the scourge of wild horses, gas development, and disoriented botanists


After a month of enchanting experiences, I have surrendered the urge to summarize. But I would like to part with a particularly magical experience we had while camping in Chaco Canyon National Historic Park. Upon returning from an after work hike, thunder rolled into the canyon and a sprinkle quickly turned into a deluge. I took shelter in my soaking tent, bathed for the first time in a week. From my polyester cocoon, the pelting of the rain fly rose to a distant roar. Curious about the noise, I unzipped the tent and beheld three cascades rushing over the amphitheater walls, bone dry just minutes before. In its wake, the passing storm left a rainbow and breathtaking mammatus clouds, and a clear announcement of the monsoon season underway. More tales to come!


In exploration,

Samuel Larkin

(Help: Titles are hard)

The collecting season is in full swing within the Shoshone Field Office as Patricia and I have already completed 8 collections! Among my favorites was Eriogonum sphaerocephalum due to the satisfying sensation of stripping those perfectly ripe heads off, sometimes multiple at a time. *ohh yeahh*

Although I have been very busy with work (lots of driving, sweating, checking seed quality, and more sweating), most of my photos were taken during my days off (holy cow, Idaho has been showing off: see below).

I’ve been improving in my ability to assess seed ripeness and quality but have not had much time to hunt for or key unknowns. I feel that SOS can only advance my botanical knowledge so far, so I hope to find time to learn more of the non-target flora throughout the rest of the summer. However, I’ve been fortunate to have several exciting opportunities including leading a nature walk for 4Hers, sampling for beetles in the roots of Eriogonum spp., rare plant monitoring (Downingia bacigalupii & Astragalus oniciformis), and touring the Lucky Peak Nursery.

Here are some of my favorite recent photos:

One of many Wyethia helianthoides found in a subalpine meadow while leading a nature walk for kids at a local 4H camp (North of Ketchum, ID)

Sunset over the Sawtooth Mountains from our epic July 4th weekend camping spot (Lower Stanley, ID)

Backpacking trip day 1: Goat Falls (a few hundred feet below Goat Lake, Sawtooth Mtns)

Day 2: Our snowy abode at Goat Lake to celebrate (fellow CBG intern/roommate/outdoor adventure queen) Savanna’s birthday, complete with a morning polar plunge — ouch

Day 3: Beautiful fields of lupines, Castilleja, Balsalmorhiza sagitatta, and Calochortus nuttallii on the decent towards Red Fish Lake (Stanley, ID)

SOS Partner and fellow lover of the outdoors, Patricia, in her native habitat (same meadow as above)

Calochortus nuttallii always brightens my day <3

The morning sun while collecting Purshia tridentata; not the worst place one could work

Savanna crushing the nation’s “steepest 5.10” with the Snake River in the background

Until next time, you can bet I’ll be harvesting seed, sweating profusely, and taking more panoramas that fail to capture Idaho’s true beauty.