We began our seventh hitch with a road trip down south to Blythe, California to meet the other Desert Restoration crews for three days of work and community at All Corps. Caravanning with our Golden Valley friends, we made the six hour trip filled with desert valleys, gas stations, coffee, junk food, and pee breaks to catch our first glimpse of the Colorado River and Arizona on the other side. The irrigation canals, green fields of alfalfa, and giant stacks of hay seemed out of place surrounded by bare, rocky hills. Our campsite sat just a bit outside this boggling desert agriculture on a wide plain of desert pavement spotted with creosote and semi permanent RVers.
The New Mexico crew, our hosts, welcomed us warmly, some of that warmth emanating from the ugly sweaters they had requested everyone bring to ward against the cold desert nights. Over our few days at All Corps we experienced thrift store finds ranging from the mildly unfashionable and ill-fitting to a few special, barely comprehensible exemplars of the craft of knitting complete with questionable colors, dubious patterns, and even a dash of glitter. Our last night as six crews culminated with an ugly sweater catwalk/dance-off fashion throw down under the desert stars with a blaring truck stereo providing the sound track. Ryan of the Owens crew made a fantastic and revealing showing amidst some hideous woolen competition, but in the end the coveted, edible prize was awarded to Sarah and human strobe light Marketti of the Rands crew.
Besides ugly sweaters, food was the other major theme of All Corps. Every night each crew cooked something to share, resulting in deliciousness and overeating. The themes of the meals were burritos, meals based on seitan (a strange, dense, often chewy mass composed mostly of vital wheat gluten), signature dishes, and, lastly garlic night. All the contributions were wonderful. And as a bonus, Michael of the New Mexico crew had a birthday, and his reward for enduring dozens of renditions of “Happy Birthday to You” was dessert from every crew. We were supposed to supply a cake to the festivities, but forgot the flour so Michelle and Scott concocted an amazing apple/walnut/cinnamon/ ginger/crisp/crumble spectacular in the dutch oven.
Three of the four nights down south were spent with food, conversation, and a bit of music provided by ukulele, guitar, mandolin, and voices. The other night was spent mostly huddled in tents that swayed and filled with dust in the furious and constant winds. Our cooking tent, the Green Monster, earned a new name, the Jellyfish, undulating up and down in the gusts. The wind lasted throughout the next day of work, filling eyes and throats with dust.
Our work site was near the Blythe Intaglios, which, as the entrance sign charmingly states, are Giant Desert Figures created by Ancient Man. Before starting work we made a quick visit to one of the impressively large figures dug into the desert pavement. The figure was of a man, about hundred feet tall and arms outstretched for a nearly hundred foot wingspan. We worked nearby restoring five deep scars dug into a hillside created by off road vehicles. Our three days of work were filled with hauling rock from the bottom of the hill and dirt from the top to fill and hide the scars. In the midst of the picking, digging, and hauling we kept things interesting with new games and catching up with members of other crews.
After another travel day we returned to Owens Peak, fence building, and our usual schedule for our final three days. We enjoyed a new, sunnier campsite on the side of the LA aqueduct overlooking Ridgecrest. Highlights included two amazing meals created from our CSA box, a dutch oven banana chocolate bread, a waxing crescent moon, and story time. Our biggest challenge was one night of epic wind (70mph gusts!) that kept a few of us from sleep and blew out half of the Green Monster along with anything without a large rock on top of it.
We ended the hitch with a short scouting mission up a wash filled with tiny, early wildflowers, huge and ancient creosote, and an oasis of trees and green grasses, along with rocky outcroppings populated by lizards and chucker. We soaked up the beauty and silence of the wilderness and afternoon weather before heading back to camp and, after one more night outdoors, back to Ridgecrest.