Beautiful vistas, dozens of rare plants, adrenaline-inducing encounters with a moose and a rattlesnake, as well as working with incredible mentors are just a few of my most memorable experiences this summer as a Siegele intern.
This internship had me traveling to many beautiful places in Colorado that I would have likely never seen otherwise. In the Gunnison basin we went deep into BLM lands, climbed to the tops of many mountains searching for a rare plant. From those peaks you can look out across a blue-green sea of sagebrush which swelled and fell with the hills it sat atop (left). I also spent a week in South Park monitoring a different rare plant in the Mosquito range where I got to climb up to many beautiful alpine fens. It was so nice to listen to the pikas chirping away on the hills around us and the steady trickle of water ice cold water that fed the fens.
In addition to all the gorgeous locations I visited this summer I also got to search for many rare plant species. I learned so much about the different processes that go into protecting rare plants from surveying historical locations to how to monitor plants with different methods. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences for instance between monitoring a very small and difficult to find plant like Eutrema penlandii (left) compared to the much larger and easier to spot Ipomopsis polyantha (center). I was also surprised to learn how little we know about so many rare plants, but it was wonderful to work with some of the scientists who were working on learning more about the life cycles of those plants (bottom). In addition to the rare plants we were searching for, a couple of times we stumbled upon other rare species such as a rare Physaria (right) and a rare Liatris that hadn’t been documented in those locations before.
Although I find rare plants fascinating, they may not get everybody’s heart thumping with excitement, but I had a couple adrenaline inducing moments this summer that would certainly get anybody’s blood pumping. On a cool and wet morning while checking Sherman traps for rodents a moose that was hanging around camp charged at a handful of us interns and a mentor, fortunately the moose was only bluffing and afterward took off. I was wide awake after that and I could see just how large and imposing a moose can be up close. A few weeks later in the dry heat of the San Luis Valley I had a close encounter of the slithering kind. While walking through some grass and brush I nearly stepped on a basking rattlesnake. I finally got my wish of seeing a rattlesnake for the first time unfortunately it was a much closer look than I was hoping for. This time my adrenaline was at its max and my heart was pumping wildly which caused me to jump at every grasshopper for the rest of the day. Fortunately, everybody including the animals, remained unharmed through these experiences other than a bit of fright on both sides.
The mentors this summer were amazing. I learned so much from everyone I worked with, and they helped guide me through each project helping me to understand why we were there, what the data would be used for, and the long-term goals of the project. In addition, the mentors went out of their way to teach me and others how to identify many plant species and families, how to use a dichotomous key, understand and use an element occurrence report, and even had us taste many edible plants. It was truly all the kind and knowledgeable mentors who made this an unforgettable experience and one I will treasure for years to come.