Taking its name from one of the longest living trees in the Arizona desert, the 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument is a true Sonoran Desert showcase. 🌵 Keeping company with the ironwood trees are mesquite, palo verde, creosote, and saguaro – blanketing the monument floor beneath rugged mountain ranges named Silver Bell, Waterman and Sawtooth. In between, desert valleys lay quietly to complete the setting. The national monument also contains habitat for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl and desert bighorn sheep dwelling, which makes hiking, wildlife watching and photography favorite activities in this desert jewel. Photo by Bob Wick, @mypubliclands.


Description from the Center for Biological Diversity:

Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) are a stocky, desert-adapted subspecies native to the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico. What sets them apart from bighorns farther north is their unique ability to go long periods without drinking water.

During hot summer months, desert bighorns can go as long as a week without drinking, while in the cooler months they can actually go as long as a month. Unlike most mammals, they can lose up to 30 percent of their body weight in water. That’s more water than a camel can lose.

Desert bighorns have also developed a chilled-out approach to life in the blazing heat of the desert – they spend large amounts of time hanging out in the shade relaxing.

Some of my photos of desert bighorn sheep, from the herd in Whitewater Canyon. (All photos by rjzimmerman)


Visiting the New Gold Butte National Monument

The new Gold Butte National Monument covers nearly 300,000 acres of remote and rugged desert landscape in southeastern Nevada. The area is less than two hours from the Las Vegas Strip, but a world apart. Here dramatically chiseled red Navajo sandstone, twisting canyons, and tree-clad mountains of the adjoining Paiute Wilderness punctuate vast stretches of the Mojave Desert dotted with Joshua trees and desert shrubs.

The 99 mile long Gold Butte National Backcountry Byway provides access to a cross section of the area’s features and begins just south of Interstate 15 near Bunkerville, NV. The first 20 miles of the byway to Whitney Pockets are mostly paved and accessible by passenger vehicles. Other unpaved portions of the route can be accessed by high clearance vehicles and some may require 4-WD. Check visitor kiosks for area information.

The brightly hued sandstone provides a stunning canvas for the area’s famously beautiful rock art, and the desert provides critical habitat for the desert tortoise. The byway and other routes provide access outdoor recreation, and visitors to the monument can camp (undeveloped), hike to fantastic rock formations and hidden rock art sites, and visit the area’s namesake mining ghost town. Wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities are available and the area even has a population of majestic desert bighorn sheep. A full array of visitor services are available in Mesquite Nevada just north of the new monument. Stock up on supplies as no services are available on the byway or elsewhere in the monument.


Utah’s National Parks

Island in the Sky: Canyonlands  

My first glimpse of this epic canyon was from the visitors center with a parking lot full of foreign tourists. Across the street was the edge of the Canyonlands, a barren wasteland full of millions of years of erosion and insane rock formations. When I walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down I saw this rinky-dink road that winded all the way down the canyons and trailed off into the distance. I wanted to lean over the edge and take a picture of the bottom of the canyons, but my extreme fear of heights kept me 3 feet from the edge at all time. A wonderful South Dakotan couple told me they would hold my hand if I wanted to lean over and take my picture. I grabbed the husband’s hand and scooched over the edge, snapping my picture. I put my life in another person’s hands, quite literally, and thank God they didn’t drop me. But I knew they weren’t going to drop me (on purpose at least) because South Dakotans are the nicest people. Life Fact: you can always trust a South Dakotan. 

The sketchy road I mentioned above was our destination: the 3-day camping trip’s itinerary was a 100 mile loop called the White Rim Trail. Our adventure started with seat-clenching switchbacks, 20 minutes of pure agony and that “Jesus, take the wheel” feeling.  Once on the lower level of the canyon, I was fully surrounded by a prehistoric landscape. What wasn’t a dirt road was cryptobiotic crust, cacti, or canyons. No matter how far down we traveled, the road seemed to descend even further. Scott and I are serious campers, but nothing could prepare us for this. 

The strange thing about Utah is that you can go from gorgeous Swiss-looking mountains to the surface of Mars within 2 hours of driving. For the majority of our stay, we were with Scott’s parents in a beautiful little valley, but for these three days our eyes feasted on unbelievable views only seen in one specific part of the world. It was like a scene out of Mad Max: Fury Road, clay dust kicked up from underneath the tires like a ball of fire and every inch of our bodies were stained red from the sun or dirt. During the entire trip I only saw about 5 species of animals. I was lucky enough to spot a Desert Bighorn Sheep on my first day - there is a population of 600 sheep in a 100 million acre radius. 

Scott and I pitched camp in a dried up flash-flood pool. There was sand at the bottom and it made the perfect nook for our tent. After an exciting day of vastly views and basking in the sun, we put our chairs at the edge of the canyon to watch the sunset. The amber glow of the sky highlighted every ridge of the canyons for miles on end. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Next thing I knew, Scott had got up from his chair and leaned in close to me on one knee. “Will you marry me?” We both jumped up and hugged, with tears in our eyes, kissing each other and telling each other how much we loved each other. My answer was “yes, absolutely.” I will never forget that day, that view, that moment, or that song - At Last by Etta James, that played gently in the background. Just thinking about it now makes me teary-eyed. I love Scott so much and his six months of planning definitely showed. 

Capitol Reef National Park

Now I know nothing else I say can top that proposal story, but I want to talk about the other parks we visited. I love ancient history, so seeing the petroglyphs in Capitol Reef was the highlight of this visit.  The rock art figures were created by ancient Native Americans around 600 AD. I may sound crazy when I say this, but my first reaction to the petroglyphs was the confirmation of the existence of aliens. There are some serious robot/demon  silhouettes going on on that rock face. Just think about it - if you were a primitive being and saw an extraterrestrial, wouldn’t you chip it’s profile into a rock? Makes sense to me. Life Fact: aliens exist. 

Before Capitol Reef was recognized as a National Park, it originally served as a uranium mine. There are dozens of small cave-like entrances that are boarded off with radiation signs. How amazing would it be to be able to go inside and explore one? I wonder what types of creepy things are left over inside the uranium mines. 

After a day of driving around Capitol Reef and three very long days of not showering (I know, Scott proposed to a stinky, hairy girl - he really loves me!) we got a hotel right outside of the park. The ranch-style abode had about 25 beautiful horses grazing around with a beautiful backdrop of the canyons. The speckled pony was beautiful! If only we had more time, I would have loved to go on a horseback ride around the canyons. 

Arches National Park

Our last destination was Arches. The beautiful landscape is filled with giant rock formations that were carved out by oceans many years ago. Still standing today are gargantuan arches. Can you imagine when it snows in Utah, all of these canyons and arches are covered in snow? At night, the stars fill up the sky and the entire constellation is visible, the smoky outline of the arches in the distance. I made Scott take some pictures of me standing underneath one of the arches and I looked like a tiny ant. It is amazing how these structures have stood the test of time. Unfortunately due to weather and wind erosion these arches may not stand tall for much longer, but I assume that won’t be for another thousands of years. 

My trip to Utah was absolutely unforgettable. Words can’t describe the amount of beauty, nature and breathtaking landscapes I saw. The White Rim Trail was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I am so happy Scott made it even more memorable. During a special anniversary date, we definitely need to make a trip back to that spot! Maybe we should drag our friends and family out there and renew our vows :) Thank you everyone for the engagement wishes and thank you for dealing with this excessively long post! 

As always,


Check out this bighorn sheep escalator! Once endangered and wary of human contact, the small number of desert bighorn sheep in Colorado National Monument are often hard to find, making this picture incredible and unique. Photo by Molly Murphy, National Park Service.


The 27,660-acre Mount Nutt Wilderness is located in Mohave County, 15 miles west of Kingman, Arizona and 12 miles east of Bullhead City, Arizona.

This wilderness encompasses an eight-mile-long stretch of the central (and highest) portion of the Black Mountains. Nutt Mountain, at 5,216 feet, presides over a colorful and wild terrain. Along the main ridgeline, prominent mesas have been cut into a series of steep maze-like canyons. Outward from the main ridgeline, numerous huge volcanic plugs ring the entire Wilderness.

Scattered springs sustain small oases of large cottonwoods, willows, and oaks. Hiking, camping, hunting, photography, and rock scrambling opportunities are varied and challenging.

BLMer Justin Robbins said, “This maze of mesas, mountains, canyons and cliffs provides habitat for desert bighorn sheep and a wilderness sanctuary for people.”  

Photos by BLMer Justin Robbins


Happy #fathersday!  Thanks to the fathers, grandfathers, brothers and mentors for teaching us to #fish #boat #camp #ride #explore – and most of all, appreciate the great outdoors.

This #fathersday weekend, #mypubliclandsroadtrip enjoys the rugged beauty and solitude of the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness in Arizona, a part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands. The wilderness includes the 11 mile long Aravaipa Canyon, surrounding tablelands and nine side canyons. Within the colorful 1,000 foot canyon walls, desert bighorn sheep and over 200 species of birds live among shady cottonwoods along the perennial waters of Aravaipa Creek.  A great roadtrip just two hours from Phoenix - explore #yourlands with dad!

Photos by Bob Wick, BLM.



“Five years ago, at just 22, I moved from Ohio to Rock Springs, Wyoming, to work for the BLM under the chicagobotanicgarden’s Conservation and Land Management Internship Program. I was a Seeds of Success Intern, so my field partner and I traveled around the field office collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds for restoration, research, and native plant materials development.

I worked back east for a year, but…the west is the best! So I applied to the CLM internship program again, and requested to work in one of the southwest deserts. I ended up in Needles, California, collecting seeds for the SOS program.

I was offered a Student Career Experience Program (now Pathways Program) position in Needles, was accepted into the Master of Science in Forestry program at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, and I’ve been here ever since.

At work, I’m researching the genetic study of sky island white fir populations in the Kingston Range Wilderness of the Needles Field Office. A fir is one of the more popular species used as Christmas trees – picture that in the middle of the Mojave Desert! These mountains are so special – they serve as “rest areas” for migratory bird species and are a hide-out for mountain lions, bobcats, and desert bighorn sheep. There are several plants that grow in this wilderness and nowhere else in the world.

At the end of the day, though, National Conservation Lands are important to me because, whether at work or on the weekends, I spend a lot of time in, on, and around National Conservation Lands. I’ve backpacked up crazy scary mountains in the Kingston Range Wilderness to look for the elusive white fir trees. During a backpacking trip in the Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness, it rained for almost 12 hours, and I got to hike in fog in the middle of the desert. I’ve been to all the wilderness areas in the Needles Field Office, and I always find something new and interesting - be it a tiny flower, a new water source seeping up from the ground, or bighorn sheep peering at me from the next ridge over.

When I get stressed out by school or overwhelmed at work, the only thing that truly fixes me is getting out into the wilderness. I ditch my phone, my computer, and my proximity to roads and cars and electricity. National Conservation Lands and Wilderness make you get out of your car, and totally surrounded by nature. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Note: The #conservationlands15 Social Media Takeover is a 2015 monthly celebration of the 15th anniversary of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands.


Just 12 miles west of Las Vegas, the colorful, bare sandstone of the aptly named Rainbow Mountain Wilderness emerges from the valley floor, standing guard over the surrounding pinyon-juniper forest and Mojave Desert scrub below. Its sheer, towering red and white cliffs are cut by rugged, narrow, twisting canyons lined with willow, ash, and hackberry trees. 

Encompassing 24,997 acres, this desert wonderland dominates the western view of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and is managed jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. 

With springs, sandstone ‘pothole’ water tanks, and an elevation range of 3,000 feet, topping out at the 7,070-foot summit of Mount Wilson, the wilderness supports a wide variety of wildlife and unique plant communities. Deep, cool canyons host chain ferns as much as six feet tall and ponderosa pines, which usually thrive at higher elevations like the rocky outcrops further up the mountainsides. 

Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lion, bobcats, mule deer, coyote, foxes, bats, squirrels, and numerous bird species also make their home in the Rainbow Mountain Wilderness.

Photos by Bob Wick, BLM

Desert Bighorn Sheep. Not many in Zion, but we managed to see ten of them! Here’s one up on a hill, silhouetted against the evening sky. We were on our way to a good lookout for the sunset when we spotted a Bighorn on a small ledge on the side of the road. Went back to the spot and found not only one, but ten(!) Bighorn Sheep, a mix of ewes and lambs (maybe a male or two in there, too… hard to tell). I climbed up on a short ledge and took a ton of photos of them and this was the very last. A Bighorn had made its way to the top of the hill and we patiently waited for quite a while until it turned to give us this great profile. Metered for the sky and used a combo of small aperture / fast shutter speed to get the image. Processed the photo in black-and-white.

Geoff Rowley 180 nose grinds a stones throw from Peninsular Desert Bighorn Sheep habitat. Also within earshot of Obama’s golf course of choice in La Quinta. Geoff explains, “I think he spends more time there than in office…I can’t tell you how many times we have been in the local mountains only to have cell phones scramble because he’s in town…pain in the butt!!” Photo originally ran as a cover for @theskateboardmag back in 2010.

Photo: @ryanallanphoto

Welcome to the world, little girl! Two week-old desert bighorn sheep. As I was looking up the cliff today, she was running fast across the face of the cliff, and then up and down, bleating away. Bighorn lamb are climbing cliffs and running along tiny ledges a day after birth. I can’t watch them without incipient heart failure.

This is the time of year when federal agencies do their annual bighorn census. Helicopters were flying over the canyons between Joshua Tree National Park and Mt. San Gorgonio the last few days, doing their counts. February and March are lambing months (i.e., babies born).

Photo by rjzimmerman March 6, 2016.


#GOWILDForEveryKid: BLM Colorado’s Dominguez Canyon Wilderness has Amazing Trails, Waterfalls and Petroglyphs! 

The Dominguez-Escalante NCA is nestled within the Uncompahgre Plateau, where Cottonwood, Escalante, Big Dominguez and Little Dominguez Creeks tumble through red-rock sandstone canyons to empty into the Gunnison River.

This area includes Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, where water running year-round through Little Dominguez Creek provides habitat for birds, mammals, lizards and other species. Desert bighorn sheep can also be spotted grazing beside cliffs.

In addition to excellent rock climbing in the area, the rugged canyons and bluffs hold geological and paleontological resources spanning 600 million years. Rock art on the canyon walls and archaeological sites on the mesas are evidence of thousands of years of Native American hunting and travel. In addition, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail passes through this region. 

Photos by BLMer Bob Wick.


This #WomeninSTEM Wednesday, meet BLM-California Wildlife Biologist Joyce Schlachter.

How many years have you been with the BLM? 


What do you like best about your job?

There is always something new to learn and to get involved with because of BLM’s multiple-use mission and the vast amount of land we manage. I have been able to experience working with a variety of wildlife in many different habitat types.  I have worked in the forests of southwestern Oregon, the Redwoods, the Mojave Desert and southern California, which is considered to be a world biodiversity hotspot.  San Diego County where I am now stationed has more biodiversity than any other county in North America.  I have worked on demographic studies for the northern spotted owl, desert bighorn sheep, Townsend’s big-eared bat and the Mojave Desert tortoise.

What did you do to prepare yourself for your career with the BLM?

My love of nature and animals, domestic and wild, has been my saving grace. It was only natural that I would someday work with and for the environment and animals.  I wanted to be a Veterinarian when I was a little girl but, instead my first job was for a dentist and I spent the next 17 years being a Registered Dental Assistant.  I also assisted in veterinary dentistry and worked on gorillas, lions and dogs used in Disney motion pictures. During this time I decided I wanted to pursue a college degree and do more.  I then studied at Humbolt State University and earned my bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management. During my studies I participated in a career day and was chosen by BLM to be in the cooperative education program.

My advice to other women wanting to work in science and/or as a Wildlife Biologist:

I believe it is never too late to begin to pursue your interests.  I didn’t know what I would be doing with my degree and I didn’t know I’d be working for the BLM.  As trite as it may sound, it is important to follow your heart, be open to new adventures-say “Yes” and don’t give up!  I also feel it’s very important to volunteer your services in a field that you are passionate about. In my spare time, I volunteer for Project Wildlife, rehabilitating bats; an opportunity that is priceless.

Interview submitted by My Public Lands Tumblr blogger Michelle Puckett