The 2010-11 Owens Peak crew has left the field. Our last hitch combined several days of hard work with a lot of enrichment time to enjoy the desert that we’ll soon be leaving. After completing pre-hitch and setting up camp in Indian Wells Canyon, the crew drove to Weldon to visit Keith Axelson, an off-the-grid enthusiast and birder who often hosts SCA crews, among other visitors. We camped on his property side-by side with a group from the Audobon Society and got to spend a day talking with them and admiring Keith’s property. He showed us his solar and propane energy setup, the fence he has been building to keep cattle away, and taught us a lot about the birds we saw while roaming his land.
We returned to Owens that evening, and the next day as we approached the incursion we had restored last hitch, we were met by sad, broken creosotes and trampled grass transplants. We realized that a truck had run over our work, and we had to start almost from the beginning again. However, when we left it at the end of the day, it looked even better than last hitch, with beefed-up creosotes and other vertical mulch, seed pits, and data all complete. We felt good about leaving it for the summer and glad that we were able to fix the damage.
On our final day in the Owens Peak Wilderness, we decided to again tackle the climb that we had done during First Five, way back in early October when we were practically strangers to each other and to the area. It was a beautiful day as we arrived at the Owens Peak trailhead (and parked in the area we had defined with hard barriers on our first hitch) and started up the mountain. It was a great way for us to see how far we’ve come since the beginning of the year – we were all able to identify many of the bushes and flowers we saw, Diana fearlessly breezed through the scrambling portions, and Michelle reached the summit without getting sick from altitude and exertion. The view from the top was a reminder of why we love working out here and what we have accomplished this year.
The next morning, we said good-bye to our wilderness, packed up camp, and took it all to the Jawbone Canyon Area, where all of the California crews were gathered for Final All-Corps. Our camp was replete with Joshua trees, hills to climb and rocks to scramble on, and across the road was even a large well with actual water, where crew members would often take a dip after work, and ranging cattle stopped every afternoon to drink.
All thirty-some of us spent three days working on one hillside in Jawbone that was crisscrossed with steep incursions. Our main goal was to stop erosion, so building check dams was the bulk of the work. Everyone tired themselves out carrying rocks and playing Tetris to fit them perfectly into trenches for the first two days. That job complete, we moved on to vertical mulch and got one section thickly planted before our time was up.
Although the work was hard, we also wanted to enjoy our free time together in the field as much as possible. Afternoons and evenings were full of swimming, sing-a-longs, games, and more. The tradition of sharing and showing off food with theme nights continued, and the stakes were raised on Top Chef night. Each crew improvised a meal including the secret ingredients of mangos and strawberries, provided by our administrators, who had come up from Yucca Valley to work. Our sweet and spicy “Rasta Pasta” with deep-fried veggies on the side was a big hit, but the ultimate winners were WildCorps, who made crepes with a choice of sweet or savory filling. On the last night, we got to watch a slide show of pictures from this season and then have a No-Talent Show, where the Rands crew impressed everyone with the story of how Will Smith became a pirate.
Finally, our last day in the field was spent recognizing everyone for the work they did this year, packing up camp for the last time, and hanging out in the afternoon at Lake Isabella – unfortunately, it was too cold and cloudy on that side of the mountains to do much swimming. Now we are back home in Ridgecrest and will be spending our last days cleaning and organizing everything we own. In less than ten days, we will all be heading off to different jobs and different parts of the country, but our season here spent working on community, getting to know the desert, and building fences has taught us all lessons that we will likely carry with us into our future unknowable lives. But I guess that’s where faith comes in.