Hitch 9: Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls

Indian Pass Wilderness

It was another beautiful morning on the far reaches of the American frontier when we made it to the suspiciously named Imperial Valley. After a brief operational pause to air down our tires and search for Prussians, we rattled and jounced our way down a washboarded back road with the squeals of our brakes and the high whistle of our turbochargers adding to the standard regional music of Border Patrol sirens, low-flying Navy attack aircraft, and I think at one point we heard an actual bird.

As our first foray into the El Centro Field Office’s area of operations, we were constantly reminded of the somewhat challenging nature of our work in an area that is well-known for its…international tourism. According to our BLM contacts, if you want good Mexican food you have to to go Mexico. Thing is, that’s actually something people do for dinner! Very cosmopolitan. We aren’t allowed to leave California, so we kept on truckin’ towards Picacho Peak, an extremely aesthetic and imposing desert monolith that has been added to our off-hitch hit list. Along the way, we ran into more law enforcement officers than we have ever seen in the desert. Not just the ubiquitous Border Patrol, but also the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and our personal favorite, State Park Rangers! Being the wayward volunteers that we are, we flagged down State Ranger Sue and asked her advice about routes, campsites, and the best access to our monitoring areas. Like every good ranger, Sue was incredibly helpful and even pointed us to a semi-secret spot along the Colorado River. Don’t get me wrong, we love a good dry camp as much as the next crew, but there’s something wonderful about waking up in the morning to watch the sun start peeping over Arizona while Coots and Canadian snowbirds paddle their way downriver.

Our work for the next six days was to monitor guzzlers, tanks, and tenajas in and around the Indian Pass Wilderness, a small and not very visited tract of land sandwiched between the Imperial Wildlife Refuge, Picacho State Recreation Area, and the vast agricultural machinations of the Imperial Valley. Monitoring is an interesting thing and it goes like this. “Here are twenty sets of coordinates. Go to those places and let us know what’s there. See you in a week.” Of course, we needed some water monitoring practice, so we started by testing the effects of cannonballs, swan dives, and belly flops on the Colorado River, and the effects of mud fights on our ear canals. After that warm-up, we split up and tramped our way deep into the wilderness core, always alert for the telltale palm trees that we have associated with oases. Unlike our Needles hitches, palm trees in this area were very hard to come by, and we had to resort on our fall-back indicators, bathtub rings on the rock and tons of burro poop!

We also managed to get out to the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness, monitoring sites with BLM biologists who had a lot to say about wilderness, holes, and the inherent challenges of the federal job process. Trekking across the wavering expanse of dunes as far as the eye could see, we realized that this was the desert we had all imagined as kids, the desert that exists in the memories of people who have never been to it. As the end of our season draws closer, its hard to say what the lasting memories of our desert year will be, but it will probably have something to do with all of the wonderful and interesting people we have met, from Big Tim and Ron to Ranger Sue, and all of the hours we have spent behind the wheels of our trucks listening to the music and each other on our search for adventure. And water.