Hitch Ten saw the WildCorps cohort returning to the Palm Springs field office to conduct some of the most anticipated work of the season: tortoise monitoring. While all of our work has at least indirectly involved the desert tortoise, this was our first project directly working with the animal that the DRC has come to love and idolize. This particular project involved surveying a square kilometer parcel of land in the Palen McCoy wilderness, looking for any traces of tortoises on the desert floor. While attempting to slowly walk in a straight line for one kilometer and inspect the 10 meters surrounding your grounded graze (much harder than it sounds for some), any traces of tortoise—scat, burrows, tortoise carcasses, bone fragments, tortoises in the flesh—must be recorded in a GPS device and categorized in our handy-dandy tortoise dictionary. The particular site of our survey happened to be a fascinating, albeit dangerous, historic site; nestled within the dense ironwood forests, steep canyons, bajadas, and desert pavement of the Palen McCoy Wilderness hid the leftovers of General Patton’s WWII Camp Granite, just one camp a part of the larger Desert Training Center. Shells and landmines littered the ground of the camp that was used by the United States Military intermittently between 1942 and 1964. On the tortoise front, we managed to find quite a few instances of fresh scat, and inactive and active burrows. The second part of the hitch involved monitoring and effectiveness monitoring in the Palen McCoy Wilderness and the Big Maria Mountains Wilderness. We monitored sites that had previous restoration done as well as sites that had solely been monitored on their OHV activity. Fortunately, most of the sites that had been restored within the past 8 years had remained intact, and many sites with installed signs or previous monitoring had improved naturally. Seeing how well the restoration of these Wilderness areas has held up was an encouraging moment for me, as we (along with the rest of Wild Corps and the DRC) have been doing projects with fates that are up to the public and their respect for their public lands. On the last day of hitch, we helped BLM contact Beth Wood at the Big Morongo Canyon Preserves spring celebration with environmental education, and conducted some wildflower-themed arts and crafts. Lauren and Parker took turns as Smokey the Bear in the federally funded Smokey the Bear costume, and both exhibited some dance moves that gives the slogan “Get Your Smokey On” a whole new meaning. Getting out and interacting with the public in the land we have been living working was a great and relaxing end of the hitch, and gave us all a chance to take prom-style pictures with Smokey without feeling ashamed.
This hitch saw us way back out Shoshone way, where the horned lark and the chuckwalla roam. Our workplace was the Salt Creek Hills ACEC, while the Little Dumont Dunes we called home. Due to major last minute changes to our schedule, the job we were tasked with was renovating any and all facets of the interpretive trail at Salt Creek, which has not seen much maintenance since its installation in the mid 1990’s. Our work began with a basic cleanup of the trail; realigning rocks which lined the trail, installing steps at a stream crossing, rerouting around eroded banks, and learning about the sensitivities of the riparian and historical mining area itself. We then moved on to a picnic area beneath an athel grove, from whence we brought light back into that which had nought but shadows. After much chainsawing, pruning, trimming, and brushdragging, we proceeded to produce a prodigious pocket for practical picnicking. From the athel grove we spread out with various trimming apparatus, removing the reach of mesquite branches from passersby and loosing the tamarisk infestation from the runs of Salt Creek. Upon attempt to learn more about the trail, it was discovered that the majority of the informative signs at the trailhead kiosks and within the trail itself were illegible due to vandalism, the elements, and poor material. Thus we took stock of the BLM office yard and pulled forth from its depths a full replacement set of Salt Creek signs, which were soon thereafter fitted and installed in place of the decrepit. The same was done with several carsonites which demarcated the trail; more carsonites were installed in new locations as well to further aid the traveler. The end of the trail furthest from the parking lot bordered the Little Dumont Dunes off-highway vehicle recreation area, which meant lots of incursions and cut fences in to the Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The cut smoothwire fences were mended, incursions swept, and each of the signs indicating “no vehicular travel beyond this point” which had been shot and otherwise mutilated were replaced. A wooden set of fence-crossover steps was also repaired and refitted with a more user-friendly handrail. Our hitch also involved a field trip to Death Valley National Park for some environmental education.
Hitch 8 brought about new adventures. Incipiently this was the first hitch with our newest addition to the crew; of course we did partake in All-Corp together, but this was different in that we went out as a crew, not as the whole DRC. Thus we really had the opportunity to come together as a crew. Queue sentimental awes. Coincidentally, this hitch was idealistic for good ole Sir Sterling Collins-Hill, our new Project leader, who recently hiked the entire lengthy Pacific Crest Trail. Please take note; this ominous foreshadowing. This hitch we worked arm-in-arm with the Palm Springs Bureau of Land Management. Our target goal was to GIS map 400 miles of trails focusing on social trails. For those readers less savvy on technical terms, social trails are none-designated routes created by overuse. They are often unmaintaned. Estimatedly it takes ten people to walk in the same direction to create one of these trails -and once it's started, as the phrase goes “build it and they will come”. We perambulated nearly all of the northeastern section of the San Rosa and San Jacinto national monument. With miles and miles to go before we slept, an early start was the only way to beat the clock, or so we thought. Having neared the end of the hitch, one lesson that other crews may find helpful is that if you are in the Desert District it does not matter what time you start work because the sun will find you, and it will beat down on you with furious rays of ultraviolet beams that with literally make your sunscreen wish it was wearing sunscreen. Oh, and it you are using a Juno tremble make note as to whether the screen is on or not; because if it is off those two miles you just walked? Never happened. One beautiful thing about Sterling Darling, (as Wildcorp affectionately calls him... and if you know this lucky fellow in real life, please refer to him as 'darling', he really likes it. Trust me), is his ability to strategize. While myself and other unamed members believe in the, “eh lets just walk around, its bound to be the right way”, Ole Sterling believes in looking at the maps. Crazy, right? In actuality we were able to utilize this trait and use our time quite efficiently. We did our best and between us walked roughly 400 miles. Wildcorps get yoked, Palm Springs edition. This hitch was not just work, work, work, and no fun. To stick our tradition of lavish accomodations, we camped at the glamourous Ribbonwood Equestrian Camp (horses not included). With delicious potable water, flushing toliets, and temperamental “hot” showers. but The lush plethora of trees, and grass added a level of surrealness not usually found in the desert. With the summery daily weather, and nightly assemblage encircling our campfire, one could say Palm Springs Field Office knows how to spoil its work crews. In fact, we were in such a hot commodity spot that Nissan shut down the road we used to get to work sites to film a commercial. If that doesn't seal the deal for you then Idyllwild will. Just minutes up highway 74 from Ribbonwood is an oasis like none-other. Located at 5,303 feet there are copious pine trees and profusely grassy flat lands, deer and rabbits, bars, gas stations and quiant mom and pop Inns as far as the eye can see. Due to recent rainfall and snowy winter mixes the higher elevation mountains were efforescenic. This is where the wild flowers are. The stunning sunset are unreal. One can stare at the offing of Hemet Lake, as light succumbs to dark. Everything about this fetching little town is glorious. Idyllwild was quite possibly the cynosure of the hitch. Oh, and we also had a table at this pretty hip festival in Palm Desert. No big deal, but we made some radical new friends, and made off with some swanky Smokey the Bear bandanas. Our BLM contact even got us Chipotle burritos for lunch. We appriciated having a nice day off from extreme hiking ventures, while we sat in the moderately cool shade under our EZ-UP tent. Casually sitting in folding plastic chairs sipping cool water, and talking up the SCA to anyone who would listen – So SCA CEOs, HR reps, members (special shout out to our homeboys Jamie Webler and Matt Duarte) and alum, just know if you suddenly get a rise in member applications, Wildcorps has your back.
It was the first day of All-corps. WildCorps pulled up into the makeshift campground on Tecopa public lands and were greeted by a line of eight Dodge Ram 2500s. Slowly, a familiar pack of desert rats retreated from the cabs and welcomed our arrival with stares and awkward waves. The mildercorps had arrived the previous evening. “Uhh... welcome to your event,” the other crews said. They climbed back into their masculine ruminant vehicles and took off to enjoy the local desert offerings of the sand and mud (dunes and hot springs), leaving WildCorps XII in a cloud of dust, alone, to erect their green monster of a tent and do some real work in preparation of the days ahead.
A short drive from the campsite led us through a remarkable canyon to the China Ranch Date Farm. BLM contacts from Barstow and Brian Brown, proprietor of the farm and member of the Amargosa Conservancy, met with us to plan out the upcoming five days of trail work along the Amargosa River. We hiked out to an overlook where we could view the river. The wind picked up as our minds were blown by the beauty of Rainbow Mountain, the canyon, and the river. A quick Trimble talk was given by DRC guru Matt (The Knife) Duarte, and with that, WildCorps XII was prepared to co-lead pods of corps members with BLM partners.
The following days were a whirlwind of hard work and the chaos of group camp life. The hot days were spent working on various river trail projects, such as battling an infinite thicket of mesquite (the mesquite won), building bridges and rerouting and improving trails. The WildCorps crew enjoyed being bossy leaders and helping direct projects and take GPS data with our slightly temperamental Juno Trimbles. By night, WildCorps shined as culinary gods during the hectic themed potluck nights where we received rave reviews for our fried mini calzones and night of deep fried things (including deep-fried cabbage, pistachios, and avocado slices). The company and commotion of camp life was an enjoyable change from the usual quiet camp of our quad (now quint).
After saying goodbye to Rands and Jawbone, we moved camp to the town of Shoshone, population 10, to attend a two-day conference, The Sierra Club Desert Committee Meeting. We listened to many speakers and learned the hidden horrors of solar and wind farms in the desert. At the end on the day, WildCorps got to lighten the mood as we presented about the work we have been doing and our daily crew life.
We explored the quirky town of Shoshone during our free time. Our campsite was a surprising glamping experience for the DRC. Our ammenities included flush toilets, hot showers, a swimming pool heated by a hot spring, and a cozy library room filled with juicy novels. We made friends with the locals and some members were interviewed by Susan, the owner of the town, for a local paper.
This hitch was also our introduction with our new leader Sterling. We had a great time with him and we are looking forward to getting to know him better on our future hitches.
Sterling joins the DRC WildCorps halfway through the season with hopes of complimenting and contributing-to an already impressive team of desert restorators. This is his fifth SCA endeavor but first purely-restoration experience after primarily trail-maintenance crews. He looks forward to expanding his pallete of conservation techniques as well as practicing data collection and mapping. Sterling grew up in Maine, went to school in New York, moved to Los Angeles and then Portland, Oregon before going to work on the nation's public lands. In his free time Sterling enjoys reading, writing, making art, eating, live music and traveling.
Hitch 6 could not come soon enough as Wild Corps began work out of the long anticipated Palm Springs district office. Not only is Palm Springs the closest office to our humble abode in Yucca Valley, it also offers stunning views, outstanding weather, and (debatably) the crew’s favorite vegan restaurant—Native Foods. Before heading out into the field, we spent two days at home preparing for the spectacle that will be the All-Corps Olympics, aka hitch 7. To prepare the other Ridgecrest crews for the games, we bestowed upon them the first film to have ever been nominated for 21 Oscars in the genre-bending phenomenon entitled “The Invitation.” [See below for exclusive behind the scenes shots.]
This hitch, the DubCee had the privilege of doing trail rehabilitation in, yes, I am not kidding, a ZOO. The Living Desert Zoo & Botanical Garden in Palm Desert offers the surrounding communities access to thousands of diverse desert plant species, miles of beautiful hiking trails, and sand cats. In case you didn’t know, the sand cat is like a regular house cat, but with a boxy head and stocky legs, and two million times cuter. While not kicking and screaming because we could not have one of those sand cats for ourselves, we were using our McLeods and rock bars to polish up some of the washed out sections of the 3.5 mile Wilderness Loop (Eisenhower Trail Wilderness Loop)
Historically, the Wilderness Loop has been a popular hiking destination among the Palm Desert community; built about fifty years ago by a group of Boy Scouts with questionable trail building decisions, the trail has long been suffering from heavy erosive forces. So with clear eyes and full hearts, we put our bodies to work to turn severely cupped trails with 2 foot high berms into the sweetest trail you’ve ever laid your Asolos on. From backfilling to backsloping to outsloping to sauerkrautsloping, the Wilderness Loop will now hopefully stand the test of flash floods and heavy use. While the implementation of knicks will help with non-erosive water runoff, the installment of steps will mitigate berm build-up as well as improve safety for the public. I bet your Grammy could even hike this trail in her flippy-floppies.
On the home front, we were fortunate enough to stay at the Ritz-Carlton of all Forest Service campsites: the (read in your head like an old British woman, think Judy Dench in Skyfall) Ribbonwood Equestrian Campground. While previous hitches have involved camping under large power lines in the Palo Verde Mountains Wilderness, or a different set of large power lines in the Chemehuevi Mountains Wilderness, Ribbonwood had a stunning array tables, fire pits, and yes, again, I kid you not, a bathroom with hot showers. Although most members only indulged in the controlled deluge once or twice, we were grateful for the option, and forever thankful to those kind BLM souls who convinced someone to let us desert rats sleep on their fine soil.
The inauguration of the President coincided with Wild Corps’ inauguration of The Green Monster, an animal whose picture should be placed on the walls of every government building right next to the big man himself. The Green Monster, to all ye front country folk, is a large 10-man-Army-Surplus-Arctic tent that can very comfortably fit 4 people in the cold desert night. After the whirlwind rain-dance required to set up the Monstruo Verde under the leadership of DRC pro Matt Duarte, Wild Corps rejoiced in a week long inaugural ball that involved a hearty buffet of peanut-based dishes, Joni Mitchell’s “California” on repeat, and philosophical discussions about the mythology behind the Celtic cave-dwelling creature Anna Kendrick Lamar.
Some other highlights of hitch 6 include: opening up one’s pup tent to a snowy winter wonderland after working in the hot desert sun the previous day, Kettle brand Honey Dijon chips, sand cats, dried mango, the wonderful Canadian woman who called us “Angels” for improving the Wilderness Loop, all the other Canadian women who commended us for our work, aaaand sand cats.
Wild Corps Peace Out
SIDEWINDER aka Scottie
Yucca Valley, California, is a town of about 25,000 people located on California Route 62 (aka The 29 Palms Highway). Neighboring towns are Morongo Valley, Joshua Tree, Yucca Mesa, Pioneertown, Landers, Flamingo Heights, Johnson Valley, and Twentynine Palms. The two major economic stimulators in the area are Joshua Tree National Park and the marine base outside Twentynine Palms. Many people who live here commute down to the Palm Springs metro area about 40 minutes south. Yucca Valley is built up mostly against the highway, with supermarkets, a movie theater, coffeeshops (local and Starbucks), restaurants(local and chain), and a few big box stores. Driving up Route 247 (aka Old Woman Springs Rd) you can get a picture of what desert towns used to look like before four lane highways and big commerce.
One of the beautiful parts about living in a desert town is that the relatively untrammeled desert exists in close range. Yucca Valley borders Joshua Tree National Park, most of which is designated wilderness. Joshua Tree is an excellent place to take up rock climbing or get into the wilderness. There are 69 designated wilderness areas under the BLM’s management, several are a short drive from Yucca Valley: Sheephole Mountains, Cleghorn Mountains, Big Morongo, Bighorn Mountains, San Gorgonio. Just off the highway in Morongo Valley is the Big Morongo Preserve, a BLM-managed oasis where water flowing underground down from the mountains gets close or breaks the surface. It’s a world-renowned bird-watching spot. You will be close the Wildlands Conservancy Preserves as well. They are a non-profit land manager and we have a good working relationship with them. Whitewater Preserve has a trail that connects to the Pacific Crest Trail, following the Whitewater River. There is a thriving, if strange, artistic community in the desert, and a collection of people who believe in extraterrestrial contact.
The mission of the California Desert District (CDD) of the Bureau of Land Management is to protect the natural, historic, recreational and economic riches of the beautiful California Desert for generations to come. California is a state wealthy with resources and natural beauty, but this beauty can quickly disappear if not properly taken care of. The California Desert District is responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 11 million acres of California’s natural heritage.
In 1976, The United States Congress created the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA), which covers nearly one quarter of the State. As one of the government’s primary authorities for the management of public lands, the Bureau of Land Management - through the California Desert District - acts as steward for 10.4 million acres of this 26 million acre preserve. In an effort to provide the most benefit to the most people, while preserving one of the west’s most rugged and awe inspiring landscapes, the CDD developed a balanced, multiple-use plan to act as a guide for the management of this vast expanse of land. The plan, completed in 1980 with the help of the public, divides the desert into multiple-use classes. These classes were created in order to define areas of in critical need of protection, while allowing for the use and development of less-vital swaths of desert.
In addition to the lands under the CDCA, the California Desert District also manages 300,000 acres of scattered parcels in Kern, Inyo, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, Imperial and San Diego counties. The district is divided into five resource areas, governed by field offices in Ridgecrest, Palm Springs/South Coast, El Centro, Barstow and Needles. The CDD currently has over 200 full time employees.
- via BLM, CDD website (http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/cdd/about_cdd.html)
My name is Sarah Throop. However, I prefer to go by Parker, which is my middle name. I am 22 years old. I just graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. My degree was in Anthropology. I am looking forward to the DRC. I think that it is very important to preserve our wildlife. With over population, desertification, deforestation, and modern industry the next 150 years will define the human race. We only have one Earth to live on, and giving back, preventing further devastation is vital. This will be my second internship with the SCA and AmeriCorps. It will also be my second internship with the BLM. I am very outdoorsy and active. I love bicycling, adventuring, exploring new places, Urbexing, and trying new things. I am also very personable and friendly. I also really enjoy joking around and puns. I am currently attempting to become fluent in French. I expect this internship will have its trials and tribulations but I welcome them.
My interest in conservation was seeded while I was growing up in Bellingham, WA in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I felt very connected to nature from hiking in forests with views of the Cascade Mountains and exploring tide pools on the coast. That interest grew when I moved to Asheville, NC to attend Warren Wilson College. The extreme biodiversity of Western North Carolina moved me to change my major from Education to Environmental Studies concentrating in Conservation Biology.
My passions include sustainable food and studying wildlife, particularly birds. I like to be active and outdoors as much as possible whether it be hiking, camping, biking, birding, or floating down a river.
I look forward to doing meaningful outdoor work with Wildcorps and exploring the Mojave Desert.
Having biked across the middle of the country and hiked all around the south and southeast, I am now looking to extend my learning and services to the American southwest. I grew up in beautiful western North Carolina and am still deeply moved by the right styles of bluegrass and bbq. I recently graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans, where I studied all things environmental and geology, and am looking forward to continuing my education in the outdoors. I seek to better understand the relationship between humanity and nature such that I may work to improve the public's knowledge of and respect for the environment. I believe that nature is as much a part of humankind as we are of it.
This hitch took all four members of Wildcorps to the far reaches of eastern California, Arizona, and for a short while even south of Mexico. Amidst our journey through the far east we were able to monitor 14 water sources, which required on the fly differentiation between old data sets rife with projection error. The sites we monitored required intense 4x4 driving, many miles of hiking, and an overnight backpacking trek. The “roads” (I use the term very loosely) in this area were so washed out and harrowing that at one point our beloved work truck became incapable of traversing a wash which happened to cut right through a designated route. After approximately 7 hours of intense road building, rock moving, and failed attempts at videoing our escape from the clutches of Julian Wash, we managed to turn around and make our way back out through the mouth of the beast.
It was the end of the day and to our dismay less than a klick away we became stuck in the gray. Our tired mount was beaten alas, this vertical washout too steep to surpass—up, up, karumph and down on its ass, a driveshaft sheared by the heft of our mass. Now seriously stuck alone in this wood we tried our best we did what we could, but sticks nor stones could splint the bones of our metal steed, now graciously digging us holes without need—deep, deep in the wash. So we slept in the truck a cold winter night and awoke the next morning without much delight, til o’er the horizon somebody spied two white trucks, blue triangles aside, come to rescue us— save our crippled ride.
Once we were reunited with our remaining truck and trailer, we decided to hoof it to the other side of the mountain to Senator Wash Reservoir North Shore Campground. Other than an obscenely long name, the campground did not offer much more than a vault toilet, amazing sunrises over a lake, and a quizzical look into the life of generally older people who camp in RV’s in areas designated by signs picturing a roadrunner over a snowflake… apparently the BLM takes its snow birds pretty seriously. Mr. Matt Duarte joined us for some backpackage and monitoring in the Indian Pass, Picacho Peak, and Little Picacho Wilderness areas just in time to catch a massive cold front sweeping over the new south from way up in Alaska. Fortunately, the front fronted forty mph winds for only a fraction of a fortnight, and the rest of our monitoring proved relatively uneventful other than the sightings of several owls, a large mountain cat, burros, jackrabbits, lizards, and snowbirds. We were also treated to a hike with BLM ranger Joya to see several natural rock arches and learn about the BLM’s youth initiative in California.
Until next time,
The name’s Scott Shinton, and I was born and raised in the creeks, pools, and shores of the second smallest state in the country, where a hop, skip, and a jump through the woods will (literally) take you to foreign territory (a farm in Maryland or Pennsylvania) within minutes. While spending the last four years in Connecticut studying history, art, and architecture, I have spent summers living and working in the hills of a medieval Tuscan town, a forest in rural Kentucky, and the East Village of NYC. Moving to the West Coast swiftly upon graduation, I have been smitten to find communities who love the Great Outdoors, good coffee and microbrews, and water-dwelling as much as I do.
I am extremely excited to be working with WildCorps on restoration projects in the diverse ecosystems of Southern California, and to live with a crew of awesome, adventurous people.
Remember: stay together, learn the flowers, go light.
|Yucca Valley, CA - Home Base|
|California Desert District|
|Sarah "Parker" Throop|
|WildCorps - Hitch 10|
|WildCorps - Hitch 9|
|WildCorps - Hitch 8|
|WildCorps - Hitch 7|
|WildCorps - Hitch 6|
|WildCorps - Hitch 5|