Day Five – Desert Hide and Seek

In keeping with the application of much of our free time around camp, I’ll lead off today’s post with a trivia question: what weighs five pounds, looks like a pair of pie plates, and likes to hide next to Yuccas, under bushes, and in holes? Answer: the desert tortoise.

Today we spent the day working with some of Joshua Tree’s resident naturalists to determine how many of these animals were in a section of the backcountry desert. The project we helped with is intended to test the accuracy of a line point census (measurements made by a single person on a narrow path with the aid of gps tracking) conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service about ten years ago. Rather than checking a single track and applying that data to a larger area, we walked 30 abreast across 500 meters (half a square kilometer) of desert to definitively determine the number of tortoises there.

Studies dating to the 1960s indicate that this specie’s population has crashed in the last couple of decades. Rather than the 25-30 tortoises observed on a similar plot at mid-century, our group turned up only four in as many hours. Looking to the future, this information will be used to determine the cause of this collapse and, hopefully, reverse it. Special honors are due Brent, Arati, Jake, Brook, and Breyon for turning up what tortoises we found.

Following work, we returned to camp for what will be our last night in Joshua Tree. Echoing the sentiments of my fellow ASB’ers, none of us really wants to go back to school. In the short time that we’ve been together, we’ve bonded not only as coworkers, but as friends. Thanks to the frank and casual atmosphere cultivated by our leaders (and demanded by the lack of such niceties as indoor plumbing) we learned more about each other in five days than most people would in several months. Faced with the reality that our time in the west has nearly drawn to a close, our collective feeling is one of sadness for having to let the week end, but happiness for having made new friends in a new place.