Greeting from the Spanish Flats Mobile Villa. After hearing that SCA found a trailer for us to live in for the next six months I envisioned shag carpeting, wood paneled walls, and six of us squeezed into an area the size of a sardine can. However the past month has proven that life in the Villa is quite comfortable. We are living the high life in a double wide with everything an SCA crew could ever want; a refrigerator, stove, showers, and even a washer and dryer. All that is missing is the pink lawn flamingos.
Our agency partner, the Bureau of Reclamation, is having us construct trails in heavily used areas surrounding Lake Berryessa. Our first project has been building new trail at the Smittle Creek Day Use Area with the intent to open the area up to all users. Once completed, our trail will tie into the Smittle creek trail which currently connects the Smittle Creek and Oak Shores Day Use Area. On rainy days we are tasked with completing other projects that the Bureau needs addressed due to concerns of water contamination from the soil that is moved when we are building the trail. These concerns have entailed removing trash from the lake shore, checking erosion control structures and repairing fencing all in an effort to help protect the lake and its shoreline.
Outside of our time spent on the trail, we are working as a crew to become more environmentally conscious and active members in the community. One way we are working at becoming more environmentally conscious is by purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Every other week we drive into town to pick up our share; which so far has provided us with a bounty of fresh, organic produce ranging from Oranges to Romanesco. In addition to joining the CSA we participated in an olive picking which resulted in a 55 gallon yield of olive oil.
Two and a half months… Really? Has it really been that long since we packed our bags and converged in the middle of the Mojave Desert? It doesn’t seem like it, but I guess keeping busy in a stunning area makes the time fly by.
This hitch was unlike the previous ones, and will probably be drastically different from our future hitches as well. This hitch was packed with different trainings and different areas, so Cat decided that being based out of our house in Ridgecrest was the best course of action- and I’m sure you know that we had no objections.
So our adventure started off with two days in the Golden Valley Wilderness Area. We were working on the Northern boundary monitoring a few spots on the fence line as well as restoring a few incursions. A neighbor of Cat's,Sara, came out to volunteer with us for a day to see if our line of work was something that she was interested in pursuing in the future. I think we may have convinced her just how awesome our gig was. Our crew had split into two groups that day to multitask a bit. When Matt, Jeff, Zoe and I went back to the western boundary to fix an incursion; Cat, Erica, Lizzie and Sara had an unplanned adventure.
The girls group had started the morning with some restoration, vertical and horizontal mulching, seeding pitting and broadcasting, (you know- the normal stuff) when the fun began. They pulled off to a nearby campsite midday to enjoy the leftover turkey sandwiches from Thanksgiving. They soon came to discover that no one had brought a knife to cut the bread, cheese, or cucumber, so the only tool they had to cut with was the wood saw... a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. As Cat is about to make her first cut, in her proper PPE after cleaning the saw with alcohol wipes a dirt biker approached them. He proceeded to explain that a member of his group’s dirt bike had broken down nearby from where our diesel truck (we named Vin Diesel) broke down last hitch, and asked if we could help them out. They jumped at the opportunity, but insisted in finishing their sandwiches first. The bikers didn’t have a knife either, so I am sure they admired the creativity. The girls quickly ate and followed the dirt bikers to the broken bike. They rearranged the tools in the truck to make room from the bike, and securely strapped it down. They then all piled in the very full truck and drove the dirt bike and the dirt biker himself to his campsite. Although they didn’t really get in a full work day in, the public outreach was priceless! Hopefully, they tell their fellow OHVers friends and community about the conservation corps that valiantly and fearlessly came to the rescue.
The following few days consisted of the Federal Government (The BLM) teaching us mature adults (immature children at best) how to properly and safely use chainsaws (TREE REAPERS OF DOOM) with the S-212 Chainsaw training course. It was a 3 days course where we coupled with the Rands Crew, with the first two days mainly entailing sitting in darkened room watching a power point about everything involving chainsaws. On the Third day we finally got to use the Chainsaws under close supervision of the experienced BLM Fire Fighters. Everyone, especially Zoe, learned how to easily start the cold chainsaw without flooding it, and we all had a blast felling and bucking the imitation trees. Alas, we couldn’t play- err I mean effectively operate chainsaws forever, so the next two days we unhappily drug ourselves back into the field for some more real work.
The first day back in the Wilderness, Matt, Lizzie, Jeff and I hiked the western boundary line all day looking for incursions heading into the park and recording them when we found them. It was one of the coldest days of our hitch, with a sustained wind of about 30 miles per hour and an overcast day, the lifeless grey clouds preventing us from absorbing whatever warmth the sun was sending. It made for a chilly day of hiking, following the fenceless boundary using our orienteering skills with our map and compass. Needless to say holding on to the map proved difficult, but at the end of our day we ended up near an amazing cave in the side of one of the mountains, where we huddled away from the wind and rested before we took the long drive home.
Unfortunately for us (fortunately for her), Cat left us half way through our hitch. Despite our pleas to take us with her for her planned vacation in Mexico, we were left to work without our PL for a few days. It was odd not having her with us, but we diligently finished up the tasks we had planned. Hope you’re having an AMAZING time in Mexico Cat!
This Hitch we cockily decided that we excelled at our work too much, so we decided to spend two days with the Rands crew in the Rand Mountain Area, schooling them in the ways of restoration as we assisted them in tackling a few of their bigger incursions. It was a wonderful change of pace to work alongside them in the field, and with 14 of us (Matt Duarte made an appearance); we nailed them out one by one. Our time spent with them was enjoyed by all of us and I hope we can work with other crews in the field in the future.
Our last activity of our hitch was ATV training with the BLM Law Enforcement Officers. It...Was... So AWEOSME! We spent the morning and the beginning of the afternoon going through the proper way to do every action on the quads. The beginning was tedious, doing the simple things like starting and stopping, basic turns, and weaving through different obstacles. Then it got interesting! We were learning how to hill climb, swerve and stop to avoid hitting objects (one of the BLM LEOs), as well learning how to turn sharply by breaking traction with the back wheels. Around two the training ended and one of our trainers took us out in two different groups for a joy ride through the surrounding desert. The first group (Matt, Lizzie and Jeff) left while the rest of us enjoyed a much needed lunch and talked to one of the rangers about his job patrolling the vast Mojave Desert. When they finally returned we quickly refueled the quads and hopped on to follow the ranger in this adventure. With Erica taking the second slot behind the ranger, and Zoe following her, I was left to take the back to watch for any accidents. The ranger leading us finally took off, and at a much faster pace than I would have thought. Cruising around at about 40 mph, I finally realized just how fun these ATV’s are. I found myself seeking out every possible bump and divot in the road. Constantly pushing my limits on the bike, I soon realized the euphoria that comes with riding on these trails, as well as the urge to go off the beaten path to climb a hill, hit a jump, or go over some obstacle. I even had the honor of watching Zoe “get some air” as she calls it, remembering her stray from the legal route into the desert scrub. There may or may not be one less creosote bush now, but I’ll never tell. Overall, I believe it was essential training to receive as desert restorators. It allowed us to see through the eyes of the OHVers and to better understand their mindset when looking for trails and paths to take. It will surely improve how we do our restoration.
Well its post hitch day now, it’s a fantastic 64 degrees outside, the sky is a striking blue with a touch of gray in the clouds, and the leaves are still falling off the trees. The trucks are clean, the water tank in our trailer is being fixed, and there is currently smoke coming out of the kitchen from Jeff and Zoe making one of their masterpieces. This hitch will surely go down as one of the best in our season.
I think we are all excited to get out of the house this break and have our own adventures in this wonderful state, but thanks for checking in on us! You’ll hear from us after our next hitch, but for now we’re going to finish up our tasks for the day. Farewell from Grass Valley Crew!
Teddy, Lizzie, Erica, Matt, Zoe, Jeff, and Cat.
Wow, can you believe it's week 16??? The crew has been together for four whole months, enduring 110 degree days in August, and below freezing nights in December. We have worked with chainsaws, pulaskis, rock bars, chisels, and our own hands. We've gotten dirty together in the field and sat together in the classroom. We learned to work as a team and challenged each other and ourselves. It's been a crazy action-packed season, and our last week was no exception.
We started the week in an unusual state - clean and dressed up. We went to the BLM for informational interviews. Each crew member was paired up with several BLM employees with different specialties. The guys spent time with their interviewees, asking them questions about their jobs and how they progressed in their careers. It was a very informative and engaging day.
After spending a day doing wrap-up paperwork and tool cleaning, we departed for our last trip together - to the Grand Canyon!!!
First, we drove up to Flagstaff and explored a lava tube cave and it was quite impressive at 1.5 miles deep and ranging between 2 feet and 30 feet in height. We hiked in, marvelling at the mineral deposits on the walls and enjoying the complete darkness when we turned off all of our headlamps. We couldn't even see our hands right in front of our eyes!!
We arrived at the Grand Canyon just in time for a beautiful pink and orange sunset. For many of the crew, it was the first time they had ever seen this natural wonder, and everyone was blown away by it's beauty. As the sun set, we lingered on the rim, enjoying looking into the depths of the canyon, in awe.
The following day we set off from the Grandview trailhead towards Horseshoe Mesa. Hiking was hard, down down down. We observed and admired the trail work - the timber retaining walls! the rock retaining walls! the riprap! the rock staircases! Wow! Being at Horseshoe Mesa was surreal. Seeing the canyon walls both a mile above and below created a sense of insignificance in us all. The guys were intrigued by the "Caution: Radiation Area Keep Out" signs and wanted to explored that further, but were content to walk away given the uphill hike awaiting us. It was steep, but the guys' lungs proved themselves worthy and everyone made it out without a hitch. We then, with some sadness at leaving the canyon behind, left to return to Phoenix in advance of an impending snow storm that dumped almost three feet of snow in Northern Arizona.
The entire program came to a close on Saturday December 15 at our graduation ceremony. Approximately 70 people turned out at the Audubon on a rainy afternoon to honor our eight graduates. Speeches were given by Hannah Wendel from the BLM, Bill Gibson from the BLM, Adam Soto from ACYR, and Trevor Knight from the SCA. Everyone acknowledged the students' hard work and contribution to the world of conservation over the last sixteen weeks. The crew leaders Mel and Sean gave out award certificates to each member, appreciating them for their unique contribution. Then, the members received their final, overall certification for the entire program. Congratulations!
The guys then presented framed photographs of the crew to our agency partners to thank them for all of their hard work pulling this program together. The final speech was a heartful description of our entire experience, written and delivered by George and Angel. The applause led into a big Mexican feast with delicious burritos and guacamole. Families mingled, introductions were made, food was enjoyed. When it was time to leave, we tried not to say goodbye, but see you later. The crew is determined to keep in touch and promises to continue to support each other into their next phases of life. And if we've learned one thing about these eight young men over the last four months, it's this: when they're determined, look out, because they will accomplish their goal.
Congratulations to the Fall 2012 Phoenix Field School!!!!!!!