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Falling Down an Avalanche

CLM Internship Blog - 2 hours 22 min ago

I’ve never been skilled at identifying grasses. In all of my botanical college courses, we focused on eudicots and I had little to no problem learning the language of plants. For some reason, though, grass terminology has never stuck with me. Any grasses I’ve learned have quickly been forgotten. This internship is the first time I’ve ever had to actually use a dichotomous key to identify a plant. And yet, I’ve successfully avoided keying grasses for the past 4 months. But this avoidance has finally come to an end. My mentor has officially gone on maternity leave and while Hector is well versed in grasses, I knew it was time for me to step up to the plate. A couple weeks ago, I discovered a wispy, cobwebby grass in the wetland Hector and I were scouting for Spiranthes diluvialis. It definitely had potential for an SOS collection and as we are becoming desperate for species to collect as the field season wanes, I was determined to identify it.

I spent two hours slowly making my way through the key, learning and relearning terms such as glume, spikelet, panicle, awn. This field office boasts a slew of PowerPoints dedicated to the plants of this area rife with photographs and descriptions. Every time I thought I had the answer, I would look it up in the PowerPoint. Time after time, I had to admit that my sample looked nothing like the grass I had keyed it to be. Finally, I had it: Muhlenbergia asperifolia or scratchgrass. This particular species is an oddball compared to the others in its genus and I had gotten severely confused by its unique open panicle inflorescence. Nonetheless, a success is a success.

With my mentor on maternity leave, Christine, a Natural Resource Specialist with a background in botany, has taken over as our supervisor. In mid-August, Christine and our usual gang headed to Green River, Utah for a 3 day River Rescue course. A large part of the remaining field season will be spent spraying weeds on the A, B, and C sections of the Green River. The most intense rapid in all three sections is a Class Three called “Red Creek Rapids,” but for the most part, floating the Green River is pretty easy and uneventful. My mentor, Jessi, is pretty safety minded, though, so she sent the five of us to this course.


Morning view from our campsite.

Morning view from our campsite.

The instructor, Nate Ostis, was a great teacher and he obviously had a lot of personal experience both rafting and rescuing on the river. He succeeded in terrifying me of all moving water, but not to the point that I’ll never raft or kayak again. He always referred to the river as a “lubricated mountain” or people boating on the river as “falling down an avalanche.” By using that language, he really changed my mindset on rivers. He has been a part of many rescues and even more recoveries so he’s acutely aware of the hazards of the river.

Me in my "avalanche" gear.

Me in my “avalanche” gear.

We spent half the time out of the water, learning knots, throwing throwbags, and talking safety. The rest of the time we spent in the water. Our first assignment in the river was to swim down some rapids! It was one of the best classes I have ever taken.  I highly recommend Nate Ostis and the River Rescue course to anyone interested in river safety.


Demonstrating the strength of our shore-based, 2 point load sharing anchor.

Demonstrating the strength of our shore-based, 2 point load sharing anchor.

We had the chance to put our newfound skills to the test with one last trip down the Green River. The four of us teamed up with two weed technicians from the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge to tackle the Canadian thistle and teasel on the “B” section. Along the way, we discovered a whole island full of Spiranthes diluvialis, in bloom over a month later than Jessi had originally estimated.


The "B" section of the Green River.

The “B” section of the Green River.

Red Creek Rapids are nearly visible upstream.

Red Creek Rapids are nearly visible upstream.

My other highlights include making it all the way out to the Book Cliffs! I’ve been close several times for seed collection or weed spraying, but I finally travelled those last 10 miles to see what all the fuss is about. Additionally, one last seed collection enabled me to make it out to Nine Mile Canyon – another gem of this area.

The Book Cliffs!

The Book Cliffs!

"The Great Hunt" petroglyph panel in Nine Mile Canyon.

“The Great Hunt” petroglyph panel in Nine Mile Canyon.



Vernal, UT


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