Howdy, and welcome to the Rands! Whew, two months have swept by as quickly as the desert breeze. We have a lot of catching up to do. The Rands crew shared these past months in the desert, a place quite alien to most of us, training for this year’s work and learning how to live in the desert. We have finally incorporated our sixth member into the crew bringing both new personality and a refreshed identity to this small community we have all thrust ourselves into quite head-on.
There is much to consider for what to think about the desert. A favorite quote I recently came across goes a little something like this:
This is the desert
There’s nothing out here
Certainly the desert does upon initial survey appear to be a rugged, vast expanse as far as the eye can glean. Coming from the East Coast and growing up in the woods, it is admittedly an altogether different “wilderness” experience. The desert does ooze the majesty, the wisdom, and the palpable passing of days in the seasons. The desert is discreet, it remembers a history much too long to recount but shows no sign of age or time. The desert has a rough edge, drawing in and catching some unprepared for its needles, sun, wind. The desert, if given enough time, can evoke an other-worldly enchantment.
The patch of desert we call home in the Rand Mountain Management Area has a very different story than other groups in the DRC. According to Roberta Starry’s “Exploring the Ghost Town Desert: A Guide to the Rand Mining Area, its Natural and Historic Points of Interest” the Rands was the veritable pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and the site of substantial precious metal and mineral extraction. However, like most natural resource extraction sagas; the frenzy waned, the wagon was packed, and people moved on leaving behind the house, mine and all, to be reclaimed and consumed by the desert. Our first hitch placed us at ground zero, and the effect of such extensive mining was visceral with abandoned mines dotting the landscape and relics of the food cans scattered nearby. With arsenic in the soil and considerable bulldozing and digging crisscrossing the desert, vegetation was brown and the ground scarred with mine reclamation and restoration. Nevertheless, the Rands had quite a surprise for us on this hitch – the sighting of four Desert Tortoise hatchlings right in the midst of our first work-plan polygon.
After fearlessly tackling several small incursions the crew was finally tested with a four-hundred meter incursion cutting clear across the desert, a shortcut to somewhere for OHV riders. The length tested the resolve, the muscle, and the eyes to continually come back and stare down a formidable restoration project. Sure enough, Rands completed planned projects for the first hitch and worked well into the second and third hitch, successfully tackling seven incursions for our first stint at desert restoration.
In what appears to be an evolving theme among group conversations and meetings, food is at the forefront of the crews mind. When, how, what we eat – “How good does _____ sound right now?”- cue “Oooo (mouthwatering)”. Nonetheless, there is a shared passion for food which makes meal time a congenial experience, gathering in the cooking tent taking shelter from the ever-chilling temperatures.
By Noah Creany