Follow Me: SCA member blogs from the field

Follow Me is the place to read field dispatches from SCA members serving the planet all over the USA.

At first it was simple. As we marched from the road through the desert, there was a small Sahara Mustard here, a small one over there, but really not many. With about one invasive plant per ten SCA volunteers, it wasn’t really much of a job. I was just letting my guard down, only to navigate around a creosote bush and BAM.

A pressing point which I missed in my last post is the concept of “dry water”. I have been to many different laboratories, but never have I seen a substance as strange and fascinating as dry water.

Our first day on site at Joshua Tree National Park opened with sun and clear skies, a pleasant surprise after a night of wind and torrential rain In the desert.

Last week wrapped up Alternative Spring Break in the Everglades. Be sure to check out Teresa’s blogs and follow her adventures with wildlife and restoration projects.

Our last day at the Everglades. Even though it seems like we’ve been here for a long time, I didn’t think too much about leaving throughout the week and now it seems to be coming up very suddenly!

We spent our rec day touring the park, going to all of the neat places we’d passed without visiting on our way to work.

For our last day of work we headed out to the Hole-in-the-Donut, a former agricultural area where invasive plants like Brazilian pepper have overtaken the native habitat. Our worksite was a large artificially formed mound that would barely count as a hill in the north, but which towered over the flat Everglades like a small mountain.

We left our camp this morning before the sun rose because we had a two hour drive to our worksite of the day, Lake Chekika. After meeting the other park volunteers who would be working with us, we stopped at a pond to see a pair of large alligators and several generations of their babies basking on rocks.

We spent our second day here in the Everglades cleaning the Long Pine Key campground. It’s on one of the Florida Keys – but it’s not an island at this time of year.

Our “before” picture on the social trail

Having been on two SCA trail crews, I usually associate SCA with trail construction (I spent the past two summers on high school crews building trails at Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania and Denali Alaska.) But today, my first full day with SCA’s alternate spring break crew in Everglades National Park, I did the opposite - I made a trail disappear.

If anyone had told me a year ago that I would spend spring break 2012 planting seedlings on a burned out hillside, yanking weeds from a sandy desert basin, or counting turtles in Southern California, I would probably have been skeptical; but, as things have turned out, this has been a great week.

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.

Our Joshua TreeHuggers were hard at work last week as they battled invasive Sahara Mustard and tracked desert tortoises.

Photographer Michelle Zafico caught up with our Joshua Tree crew last week. Check out the full set on SCA’s Flickr page and enjoy the highlights in this slideshow:

We are halfway through March, and two awesome crews have enjoyed the Alternative Spring Break projects in Everglades National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

Have you ever pulled weeds in a flower or vegetable garden? If so, I’m sure you’re familiar with the aching feeling that develops in the small of your back and hands after a few hours labor. Now, picture a garden two miles square with weeds as big as a St. Bernard. Just such a land lies on Joshua Tree National Park’s eastern border.

Since all work and no play makes Alternative Spring Break the dull boy, today our crew spent the day enjoying all that Joshua Tree National Park offers its 1.7 million annual guests. After splitting into two groups, half of our team went rock climbing, and half went on a tour of Key’s Ranch.

It occurred to me after I finished yesterday’s post that you might wonder just how we went about planting trees across that burned out ridge. Since we spent today “plowing” the same ground, I decided to provide a step by step explanation of just what goes in to planting a Joshua Tree.

Step One
Dig a Hole.
It sounds simple, but, here in the desert, the ground fights back.

Picture, if you will, the site of a forest two years after a wild fire. In my mind’s eye, the scene is dotted with burned out pine hulks and heaps of ash, but is dominated by green undergrowth and leafy seedlings. While this might be consistent with the sites of eastern and northwestern blazes, fires in dry climates leave a different, more permanent, impact on the landscape.

Joshua Tree Photo © Jarek Tuszynski / Wikimedia Commons

After walking into the baggage claim area of Palm Springs Airport, I knew from the heap of camping equipment that greeted me that my spring break had begun. I introduced myself to Tyler, our group coordinator, and was shortly on the road to Joshua Tree with seven other students.

The Alternative Spring Break to the Everglades changed my life in so many ways. Not only did I meet an amazing group of people who I made real, lasting connections with, I learned about an ecosystem so unique and different than what I had ever experienced before.

The Everglades is a beautiful place and the national park really shows the diversity of the area.

Photos by Erika Barker

We worked at Lake Chekika yesterday, clearing brush and invasive plant species like the Brazilian Pepper Tree. We worked so hard the rangers had to kick us out—we were tiring them out! It was a good thing though because the pepper tree has overtaken the park and the native plant species.