Howdy, and welcome to the Rands! Whew, two months have swept by as quickly as the desert breeze. We have a lot of catching up to do. The Rands crew shared these past months in the desert, a place quite alien to most of us, training for this year’s work and learning how to live in the desert. We have finally incorporated our sixth member into the crew bringing both new personality and a refreshed identity to this small community we have all thrust ourselves into quite head-on.
There is much to consider for what to think about the desert. A favorite quote I recently came across goes a little something like this:
This is the desert
There’s nothing out here
Certainly the desert does upon initial survey appear to be a rugged, vast expanse as far as the eye can glean. Coming from the East Coast and growing up in the woods, it is admittedly an altogether different “wilderness” experience. The desert does ooze the majesty, the wisdom, and the palpable passing of days in the seasons. The desert is discreet, it remembers a history much too long to recount but shows no sign of age or time. The desert has a rough edge, drawing in and catching some unprepared for its needles, sun, wind. The desert, if given enough time, can evoke an other-worldly enchantment.
The patch of desert we call home in the Rand Mountain Management Area has a very different story than other groups in the DRC. According to Roberta Starry’s “Exploring the Ghost Town Desert: A Guide to the Rand Mining Area, its Natural and Historic Points of Interest” the Rands was the veritable pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the site of substantial precious metal and mineral extraction. However, like most natural resource extraction sagas; the frenzy waned, the wagon was packed, and people moved on leaving behind the house, mine and all, to be reclaimed and consumed by the desert. Our first hitch placed us at ground zero, and the effect of such extensive mining was visceral with abandoned mines dotting the landscape and relics of the food cans scattered nearby. With arsenic in the soil and considerable bulldozing and digging crisscrossing the desert, vegetation was brown and the ground scarred with mine reclamation and restoration. Nevertheless, the Rands had quite a surprise for us on this hitch – the sighting of four Desert Tortoise hatchlings right in the midst of our first work-plan polygon.
After fearlessly tackling several small incursions the crew was finally tested with a four-hundred meter incursion cutting clear across the desert, a shortcut to somewhere for OHV riders. The length tested the resolve, the muscle, and the eyes to continually come back and stare down a formidable restoration project. Sure enough, Rands completed planned projects for the first hitch and worked well into the second and third hitch, successfully tackling seven incursions for our first stint at desert restoration.
In what appears to be an evolving theme among group conversations and meetings, food is at the forefront of the crews mind. When, how, what we eat – “How good does _____ sound right now?”- cue “Oooo (mouthwatering)”. Nonetheless, there is a shared passion for food which makes meal time a congenial experience, gathering in the cooking tent taking shelter from the ever-chilling temperatures.
By Noah Creany
Early morning, September 25, 2012- The Rand Mountains crew of the SCA Desert Restoration Corps has just finished its simple, but satisfying breakfast of oatmeal, coffee, and toast. Soon after, the trailer was loaded with all of the necessary gear and we were headed to the Jawbone region of the Mojave Desert for 17 days of SCA training. Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the other four crews that were to be doing desert restoration work this season. That night, the groups came together and had our first meal together; there were close to 40 of us, project leaders and cooking staff included. We had gathered in the desert to learn everything from restoration theory to wilderness medicine - “Septoberfest” was upon us.
First on the agenda for Septoberfest was a variety of community building and conflict resolution skill workshops. These first few days were spent practicing inter-crew confrontation techniques and perfecting our “community contract” (rules that we, as a crew, agreed to live by for the coming eight months). We closed this portion of Septoberfest by sharing some of our personal life stories with our fellow DRC members. As we began to know more about each other, our desert community seemed to grow closer, and we quickly became quite comfortable with one another.
Following the community building portion of Septoberfest, we dove into the actual meat and potatoes of our training. We split into three groups (each led by two project leaders), and began to discuss the theory and methods behind the restoration work to come. We were taught that, although vertical mulching (our primary restoration method) may seem like no more than the planting of dead sticks in the ground, it actually serves several purposes in the restoration process. Primarily, and perhaps most obviously, it disguises the incursion (a name given to illegal OHV routes) and thereby keeps riders from continuing to ride on it. Additionally, vertical mulch bushes provide habitat and shade for all kinds of desert wildlife, and work to reduce the habitat fragmentation caused by the creation and use of illegal routes. Finally, the vertical mulching process allows for the breaking up of soil which has been ultra-compacted by years of OHV use; this allows seeds to take hold and promotes new growth of local plant life. After being lectured on the science behind restoration theory, each group was assigned an incursion near camp. We put our new-found knowledge into practice by spending the next two days vertical mulching our assigned incursions.
After restoring our incursions, we were all given one day off before our week long Wilderness First Responder course. On this day, several groups went on hikes and attended a variety of environmental education programs headed by the project leaders. The following day Aerie’s instructors arrived at our camp and we began our Wilderness First Responder training. This training lasted a week and covered everything from CPR to anaphylaxis, from arterial bleeds to hypothermia, from hypoglycemia to head injuries. We became well versed on splints, and practiced our assessment skills in a variety of hands on scenarios. We were tested in adverse environmental conditions in the cold and dark of night. We were tested with the daunting task of managing a multiple casualty incident (MCI) in which we were required to care for a group of 7 injured campers. At the end of the week all of us were subjected to a final test, after which we all became certified Wilderness First Responders.
Following our WFR course, our training was complete - the crews prepared to depart to their off-hitch housing. We had spent 17 days in the Jawbone region of the Mojave Desert and had been trained on everything from restoration theory to wilderness medicine. As we set off in anticipation of the coming 8 months, we were prepared with not only a solid foundation of work and wilderness skills, but also a sense of community amongst our fellow DRC members that would carry us through the season.
By Ryan Ledden
Since our last update, we have completed one of our greatest hitches to date and it was right in our own backyards! We came to the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area located just South of downtown Phoenix. Our goal was to improve the waterfall (which was only a fast-flowing trickle down a steep hill at this point) by digging out 90-degree steps and inserting flatten rocks or slabs of concrete, causing the water to make a number of aesthetically appealing drops. We arrived at the "waterfall" while there was water still flowing, so while we waited for it to be shut off manually, we put logs on a hillside with burlap sacks and stakes. This method prevents erosion of the bank by holding up the rows of logs to create terraces, which slows down the flow of water and organic material.
The next day with the water shut off, we started working on the waterfall. We starting digging out the drainage and strategically placing slabs of conrete and smooth river rocks to create a rock staircase. We were particularly careful to place the concrete slabs in locations that would stand up to the constant flow of water without eroding, even during the numerous spring flood events. In addition to the functional pieces of the waterfall, a vast number of river rocks were needed to both line the bottom of the stream and build retaining walls. One unique feature of the the completed waterfall was an improvised "infinity pool" devised by placing a single concrete slab vertically at the mouth of a small basin.
While we were working, locals would often come by and visit this popular site near downtown Phoenix. The first reaction of the public was always awe followed by appreciation of our hard work. We were amazed at how much a difference we were making to the people who visit these places on a daily basis. It motivated all of us by helping us realize we truly are making a difference. As a great cap to our project, on the final day of work a gigantic red-tailed hawk flew swooped right over our heads and sat in a nearby tree for over an hour before catching a squirrel and flying away.
We began our week by traveling to Copper Mountain located about an hour North of Pheonix Arizona. After the craziest journey yet to get to a worksite, involving dirt roads and nearly capsized trailers, we arrived at the our campsite. Tim Craig, a renowned SCA instructor, camped along side us for the duration of the project.
We discussed the process of trailbuilding and learned the different parts of bench cut trail. The first work day involved clearing the trail by removing a vast amount of vegetation with loppers. Afterwards, each member of our team was assigned a 20 foot section of trail to complete individually from start to finish allowing us the opportunity to understand each stage of construction. After that, we began to build trail at an astonishing rate in teams of two, albeit for only a day. We built a quarter of a mile of new trail, however it was built to perfection.
Finally, we built a grade reversal and drainage dip along the trial. It may have been a bit overbuilt, but it also served as a classroom example and we can be sure the trail will never flood in that spot as long as it is reasonably maintained. After a quick "trail-derby", a friendly competition involving the scale-model construction of trail structures, we headed home with a greater knowledge of tread and drainage fundamentals.
Hitch # 2 for the Grass Valley crew is now in the books. Hitch 2 began in the El Paso Mountains and ended in Golden Valley. The Grass crew got the chance to perform a variety of duties. Responsibilities included site restoration, restoration effectiveness monitoring, guzzler monitoring, and fence monitoring. This allowed the Grass Valley team to obtain number of new skills for the 2012 – 2013 DRC season.
In the El Paso Mountains the team experienced some ‘bitter’ cold weather, with the temperatures dropping into the 20’s during the evenings. The team had the chance to hike near Sheep Springs, where petroglyphs can be found left by shaman of the Kaiwaiisu Native American tribe. Images of animals and other shapes can be found on the rocks in the area. It is believed that the shamans were just passing through the area at the time these petroglyphs were made, about 10,000 BP.
Once the Grass crew finished up in the El Paso Mountains, the team had the chance to move to Golden Valley to complete some guzzler and fence monitoring. The BLM contact for the Grass valley crew, Marty, joined the grass team for a day to show the team around the area and possible spots where restoration monitoring is necessary. As the team was attempting to monitor 9 miles of fence line one of the truck’s alarm system decided to malfunction, and put the truck into anti-theft mode. The crew was unable to start the truck due to the malfunction, and the truck needed be towed out of the area. A friendly “bear” of a tow truck driver was brave enough to come deep within the Golden Valley wilderness and tow the truck out.
During the final couple days of the Hitch the team got the chance to leave the field a day early and learn a few things about desert plant life, which will be useful for future plant recognition for site monitoring. Carrie, the BLM wildlife biologist, took all the DRC teams on a short hike and assisted us in identifying some Mojave Desert plants, including the cheese bush, creosote bush, and the golden bush.
Overall, the hitch was a success, with a few bumps towards the mid-point of the hitch.