So it’s come to this. Our last full hitch as a crew and our first non-training-related sweat-a-thon, as the desert finally matched its stark visual brutality with surprising heat. After months of cold, windy nights where our crew dressed more like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story than southern Californians, we finally caved to peer pressure and removed our pants. Our task this time around was to head into the Newberry Wilderness near Barstow on a quest to find and monitor golden eagle nest sites. These nests are generations old and are located in steep, remote, and inaccessible areas within the wilderness. Or on top of power lines, either way is fine. We met up with the California Desert District Biologist for the BLM, the much-renowned Larry LaPre, who came with his spotting scopes, binoculars, radio direction-finders, and his encyclopedic knowledge of desert biology to us as we slogged up washes, traversed across scree slopes, and poked in a whole lot of nooks and crannies looking for birds. At first, we only succeeding in being divebombed by falcons and cooly observed by a pair of Great Horned Owls. For days, we didn’t see anything of the eagles other than their nests, which are composed of large sticks, several feet deep, and perched with commanding views of surrounding terrain. Each night we retired to our camp feeling sadder and sadder, and maybe thinking that the eagles had been poached, much like in the Disney documentary, The Rescuers Down Under. We consoled ourselves with gritty omelettes at the Bagdad Café, the epicenter of the American Route 66 Experience for European tourists on Route 66, a place where the jukebox plays AC/DC, and when you tell it to play a choice track from The Backstreet Boys, it plays AC/DC. But all was not lost.
On our seventh day looking for eagles, we finally saw a pair of ravens soaring…..HOLY CRAP THEY’RE EAGLES! A mad scramble erupted over the binoculars, and we stared in amazement as the animals ﬂoated high above us on thermals, taking in the terrain and probably laughing at us, for like ﬂightless birds, we dreamed of the ability to ﬂy. Our hitch picked up from there, and was marked with several highlights, including: Finding a 3” scorpion in my shoes, hugging a 20lb bag of ice as it melted on the 45 minute drive from the gas station (where we repeatedly got ice cream) back to camp, and seeing desert bighorn sheep on two non-consecutive occasions! Oh, and we saw a baby eagle! Le cute.
All cool things must come to an end, and we headed back to Yucca Valley thinking about our lives after the DRC, with our clothes stiff and crusty with salt, and the pleasant odors of our unwashed feet wafting on the hot desert air.