Life in Death Valley – My First Days

Life in Death Valley – My First Days

A little sunset picture of me on my first day with my uniform on!

Death Valley…

When I found out I was going to be a Natural Resource Management Assistant at Death Valley National Park, I remember being overjoyed to have the opportunity to work with the National Park Service, but that death in the name echoed in my head. I pondered it in my ignorance, and a little fear struck my heart. When something has the word death in it, or anything really adjacent to that, it’s probably for a good reason.

I felt a little conflicted with this sentiment since my goals as an intern are to conduct plant monitoring surveys of various species in the park (rare, invasive, flagged, etc.) and learn all about the botanical wonders hidden in the desert. Now… connecting the life I sought to find, with the death that was littered all throughout the park’s reputation, I wondered how I would accomplish my aspirations. What did I sign up for? 

I did some general research on the area before applying to the position, and more before my expedition to the desert. One of the first pictures I found was a little skeleton in a park uniform greeting visitors. I guess they really lean into the whole death thing. Why on Earth am I, a born and raised NYC tristate area girl traveling across the country to go live in a desert in the summertime with the hottest recorded air temperature ever recorded? I thought back to the skeleton park ranger… maybe that was my fate. I just graduated with my B.A. in Biology from New York University this past May, so city ecology is my comfort zone. But this new adventure would catapult me out of my urban luxuries into an entirely new world. I had some serious field work ahead of me right on day one, so quite naturally, I was so nervous my bones rattled.

The next day, I hit the ground running. Nervous and anxious were an understatement of how I was feeling. I had no idea how my body would adapt to this new place… if I would adapt at all. I was off to the Panamint Mountains, the tallest mountain range the park has to offer, to help with some surveys in the area. I mustered up the courage to escape my AC-filled room, making my way out into the air fryer that is the valley floor and onto the highway. Hopping on some backcountry roads, my incredible supervisor Carolyn J Mills and I traveled up the mountains of the park, watching the thermostat of the work truck cool from a toasty 110 degrees down to about 75, and hiked another 5 miles to reach some truly wild areas at around 10,000 ft in elevation. 

I road-tripped to Death Valley over 5 days with my brother and father in my cramped little Subaru, spilling over with my camping gear and dorm supplies. I remember my first opinions in my new home being: there is so much dirt, so much rock, so much salt, so little water, and it’s oh so very hot. I will never forget the concerned look on my dad’s face as he wished me goodbye, leaving me in the valley sitting at a sizzling 110. I was on my own now… and at the point of no return.

A stoic Bristlecone pine enjoying the Telescope Peak view!
A queen caterpillar catching some shade under a desert milkweed plant!
The land of extremes. This is a photo I took from Telescope Peak, looking down at Badwater Basin.

On my first day, I was handing out in the Limber pines, scaling the steep mountainside to take their diameter breast height. When I was done, I had a thick layer of nats and pine sap coating my sweaty body, but I had the biggest grin. The next day, I was down lower in the mountains, logging the presence of desert milkweed along a roadside, counting the stems, estimating individuals in the area, and collecting coordinate data of their location. I evaded multiple Tarantula hawks, which happen to love hanging out on desert milkweed, and also happen to have a Schmidt sting pain index of 4 (the highest level on the scale).

I had to commemorate the incredible hike to get to Telescope Peak with a photo with these awesome signs. On the right is a co-worker of mine, Jane Anne, who is also in the Scientists in the Parks program working in the Wilderness sector and Claire in the middle, who is also a NPS worker who came to visit Jane Anne from Fort Collins, CO.

1 Comment
  • David
    Posted at 11:11h, 24 June

    The Desert is truly beautiful