This hitch has aptly been described as an odyssey. The journey seemed long, yet the adventure was always changing. We began with expectations of cleaning up trash around a historic cabin. Except we later found out that this cabin was actually burnt to the ground. A fine piece of vernacular architecture, complete with bottle walls, was lost by some unknown cause. And so, Jawbone, along with the other crews, suited up in gloves, respirators, and tyvek suits to dump all the rubble in an RV sized dumpster. The task was quickly completed and the rest of the day was spent preparing for our coming days in the desert.
The drive to our campsite aroused a bit of nostalgia as we drove by the familiar mountains that enveloped us during our 17 day training in September. We continued past them to what would be a new area for us. Our campsite was nestled in a wide wash complete with boulders, Joshua trees, creosote, and the occasional Sage Sparrow. In a couple of hours, the pup tents and white wall had been erected and staked into the sand. We were ready for tomorrow to come and start restoration.
The drive to the incursions was like a rollercoaster. The trucks crested over ridges and for a brief moment only the sky was visible in the front windshield. The incursions here offered a new experience. Formerly, creosote had been the primary plant species present. Here, the hills were densely dotted with small bushes, and the occasional Joshua tree could be seen in the distance. Some incursions had over 100 vertical mulch. Others had Joshua trees that took four of us to haul to the incursion. Restoration was not all we were up to though.
One night we had some visitors in our white wall. Kangaroo rats came hopping in to search for any crumb we may have left behind. The fearless rodents were nearly stepped on multiple times. The next night we visited some of our extended family, the Kiavah crew, for dinner. Soon after our odyssey took us all the way back down to Ridgecrest to join the Rands crew and our BLM contact for a feast at the Pizza Factory. Some feasted more than others, but no one managed to eat more than 10 slices of pizza. With full bellies, we headed back to our warm home and waved farewell to the Rands crew as they drove back to the desert.
The next day, we awoke excited to attend ATV training. All day the wind was fiercely blowing and sending clouds of dust over us. By the end of the training, our faces looked a few shades lighter. In spite of the wind, we all had a joyous time riding in the dusty cloud that engulfed the coned training course. However, it was especially thrilling to take the ATVs out of the course during the trail ride at the end of the day. Our day didn’t end here though; we dined out at a Vietnamese restaurant. The service was superb; hot bowls of pho and plates of chow mein quickly appeared before us. We savored every last bite as we readied our minds to once again return to the desert the next day.
In no time we were back to restoring incursions for the remainder of the hitch. We began where we left off planting as many dead bushes as it took to cover any sign of a trail. Our most notable incursion went down a steep hill then up the other side. Once we were finished there wasn’t any sign of the trail. Our program coordinator, Matt Duarte, also came to visit for the remaining days. Not only did he supply some exquisite mulch to be used, but he also brought Irish soda bread with cheese and butter. It paired excellently with the copious amount of garbanzo bean salad we had for dinner.
The next nights became quite frigid. Soon after dinner was over, the temperatures began to plummet into the low twenties, and our feet became blocks of ice. The coldest morning that we awoke to was 12°F. Our greatest respite from the cold was going to bed with a hot water bottle. But, hitch quickly came to a close and we made a final drive out of the field, back to Ridgecrest.
We spent our final day unpacking and cleaning hitch supplies. Then we began the process of repacking our possessions and preparing our minds for our trip home. Living in the desert can really change a person. You get used to rising with the sun and going to sleep when the air becomes too chilling. You get used to not showering, to sleeping on the ground, to eating a little dirt, to dry hands, to silence, to the slowness of the desert. All things we’ll have to forget for a bit as we return to our old lives at our former homes.