A few weeks ago I was given the incredible opportunity to go out into the field to gather samples for my Mojave Milkweed project. Yay field work!
The plan was to fly into Vegas, hitch a ride with my lovely collaborator Steve (check out his cool research here) to Primm (a teensy town straddling the CalNeva border) and stay at Buffalo Bill’s Resort. I have been SO PUMPED for the resort because the outdoor pool is shaped like a motherlickin’ BISON y’all!
Little did I know, Primm would be resort town of maddening weirdness. The roller coaster? Didn’t see it running until Friday night when I was too tired to care about endangering my life on rickety-ass joyrides. The log flume ride? A little dried up canal with creepy wax people gracing its sad banks. The pool? Only three and a half feet of bitterly cold water with not one but TWO bored-looking lifeguards.
But enough of that. It’s time for some research!
On our way back from the airport, Steve told me that he had already gone to Unit 1 of ISEGS, which has three collection towers surrounded by mirrors. While at Unit 1, he had found next to no plants. Oh no! However, he also said that Unit 1 is usually the driest of the three areas, so he figured we would probably see some planties at the other units. Yes, I call them planties. DEAL WITH IT.
Day one had me up at the crack of dawn (okay, it was like 06:00, but I we didn’t get to the hotel until 21:00 the night before, which baked my poor little Eastern Time Zone brain). The plan was to hit Unit 2, breaking for lunch sometime around noonish.
Mirror mirror on the wall…Please stop blinding me k thanks. ISEGS is a Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, which means there are a bunch of mirrors circling a colossal tower that has some sort of fluid (in this case it’s water, however in newer facilities, they are beginning to use molten salts). The mirrors angle the sunlight to concentrate the rays on the upper portion of the tower, and it boils the fluid, creating high-powered steam that turns turbines that generate electricity. Yay science!
What this means is that for the poor scientists scuddling around on the ground, during certain times of day the glare will hit you and make you feel like you are frying your poor eyeballs, even through sunglasses. Like my Madre says, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! You also aren’t supposed to look directly at the flux of the towers, something about actually frying your eyeballs.
Anywho ISEGS was finished in 2014, and they decided to avoid blading all of the ground under the mirrors to try and mitigate the impacts on the local wildlife. They also had to relocate some Mojave Desert Tortoises (sadly I did not get to see any of those). The facility is home to some rare plants such as the milkweed, desert pincushion, desert mallow, and a few others. There is also an abundance of lizards, some kit foxes, jackrabbits, insects, and a few brave (or maybe suicidal) birds. I guess now is a good time to mention that if birds fly through the flux, it’s hot enough to singe them and boop! No more birdie. There are fulltime consultants that are quantifying the impacts of the facility on birds. I saw one carrying around a bag of dead birds on the last day we gathered samples. Eesh.
Steve is looking at the ecological impacts of the facility on the milkweed, and I am looking at the population-level genetic implications of the facility, and also just what some of the populations look like in general. I am especially keen to get a good idea of how the gene flow is affected by the facility. I can also look into how large the genets (groups of a single tuber with lots of clonal plants) get. We found a genet that had a purple-leafed ramet (a term for a single plant of the genet), which is super cool! We aren’t sure about why the entire plant would turn purple, although there is some speculation that darker coloration serves as sun protection. However, the milkweed in the facility receives more shade than their “natural” counterparts, so it’s hard to say if the color change is due to sunlight without further testing.
Steve and I also saw lots of cool caterpillars, including Queens (Danaus gilippus), a single Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and an unknown fuzzy critter.
Overall, I loved this trip! I am excited to process my hundred-odd samples and get a genetic picture of the milkweed in the area. It was nice to go back into the desert for a bit and see mountains, although my skin dried out almost instantly Le sigh.
Also, the water in Primm tastes and smells like used pool water. I’ve had some funky water in my day, but this took the cake. Maybe I can make my fortune selling “I Survived Primm” shirts to the poor vacationers. I like to keep my future open to all possibilities.
I think I have said all I need to tell about my first adventure in the field. Keep it classy, y’all.