Just as the Rands crew was getting used to the ups and downs of a normal work hitch, our post-
Thanksgiving schedule up and turned the whole durned thang inside out. For those who prefer brevity, here's a summary: We handed out permits, we monitored a fenceline, we cut things with chainsaws, we played hosts, and we even got some rain (or was that just extreme condensation?)!
The crew began the hitch on what the rest of America knows as Black Friday, and like much of America, we woke up with full bellies from the previous evening's Thanksgiving festivities (in our case, this included the most local and organic turkey EVER, which even our crew vegetarian bravely sampled). Instead of heading out to contribute to the economy, though, we met up with several hardy folks from the Ridgecrest BLM, who cut their vacations short to devote their energy to the busiest weekend of the year of Off-Highway-Vehicle riding. On both Friday and Saturday, the crew split into three groups and each group joined a BLM member in three different locations in and around the Rands. Our task: distribute free permits and maps to people looking to ride in the area, with the goal of raising awareness about the importance of staying on maintained routes.
Thanksgiving weekend certainly lived up to the hype we had been hearing about since our arrival in September. The tiny “living ghost town” of Randsburg filled like Disneyland on Christmas with riders of all ages on dirtbikes and quads. Amid clouds of exhaust and dust, riders dismounted their vehicles to meander into the General Store for a milkshake, into the art gallery for a postcard, into an antiques shop for who-knows-what, or into the White House Saloon for what I can only assume was a presidential pick-me-up. Outreach provided the crew with an opportunity to sink our teeth into a whole new aspect of land management: public interaction. The experience was predominantly positive, occasionally entertaining, and undoubtedly eye-opening. At the conclusion of our two days of outreach, we talked to over 1,000 members of the public, and the crew felt we had gained a broader perspective into the minds of OHV community members.
Following a sluggish Sunday of fence monitoring that left us all thankful to be a restoration crew, we began our much-hyped training session: S212 Chainsaw! We endured a day and a half of classroom instruction in order to get to the good stuff-- hearing the growl of the engine and the whir of the chain, seeing sawdust fly, and feeling the satisfaction of making a really good cut and sending our “trees” toppling (safely) to the ground. It was a personal victory to overcome my fear of the tool, and a collective triumph to emerge from the three-day training as a Chainsaw Certified Crew.
The collage-like nature of this hitch received some added color from our friendly neighborhood wilderness crew: Grass Valley. They joined us for dinner one night, then for the three days of chainsaw training, and then got to be our guests for two work days (see below)!
Everyone expressed excitement to be able to head back into the field for the final half of the hitch. We were all looking forward to our new campsite, a new polygon in a more interesting area, and a fresh new set of incursions to tackle in a short time. We packed our whitewall, our coolers, our rummy cards, our poetry books, our cameras, and our Nutella and headed out for six days back home in the Rands.
The field didn't disappoint, and the desert even held a few secrets for us during this short time out. We woke up each morning to dewdrops glistening on our tents. One morning was even sheathed in thick fog, so that the joshua trees emerged like mystical creatures from the hazy ground, and the sun's rays diffused into a golden orb that dangled above Fremont peak during breakfast. During the day, the clouds kept the temperature cool and the horizon interesting, and sunrises and sunsets were a sight to behold every day.
We had four days to accomplish a chunk of our self-created work plan, and for two of those days we doubled our numbers. The Grass Valley crew helped us patch up a number of incursions, and brought a new and amiable dynamic to our work environment. Hopefully they enjoyed their time in the Rands, as we certainly got a lot out of being hosts in an area we now consider home. Program Coordinator Matt also joined us in the field, and we enjoyed hosting him and learning from him, whether it was whilst constructing a check dam or playing rummy back at camp.
It was fitting to end such a hodgepodge hitch back in the prettiest part of our little corner of the Mojave, and though diversity in the schedule is never a bad thing, I at least felt a rush of gratitude each night in the field as I looked up at the sky. What a great place to live, what a great place to share laughter, food, ideas, and a blossoming sense of contentment and fulfillment at having landed here in this little pocket of the desert.
By Irene Gilchriese