Project Leader: Scott Nordquist Project Dates: August 8, 2010 - May 17, 2011 E-mail address: email@example.com 
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.
Earth Day Excitement 
The Owens Peak crew stepped into their final full hitch in the Owens Peak Wilderness Area with the promise of warm weather, wildlife, wildflowers, and a wealth of variety and visitors. The first bit of variety came in the form of a near concussion experienced by the hitch leader as the back door of the Suburban came crashing down upon her head. Although spouts of dizziness and nausea slowed her on pre-hitch day, the other crew members pulled through with a multitude of baked goods and other deliciosities. With the truck and trailer loaded, the crew set off to their old campsite in Indian Wells Canyon.
The first day of work brought the first round of visitors as the Rands crew came to teach the crew the joys of erosion control structures. The crews together faced the daunting task of a monstrous hill climb that had been subjected to severe erosion. The job consisted of a life-size Tetris marathon using heavy, strategically-placed rocks to create check dams intended to slow the flow of water and soil that had eroded the hillside. Initial fears of completing the project in the short duration of only three days proved to be mistaken as the diligent Owens Peak crew constructed a total of 29 structures by noon on the third day.
With the completion of the first project came the arrival of the next set of visitors: BLM representative Marty Dickes and her adorable side-kick, Skidoo the blind kitty. Marty joined the crew on the beginning of the next project, the creation of a hiking and equestrian trail to replace the unsightly vehicle incursion leading to the popular climbing area, Schoolhouse Rocks. The first step in the project was the installation of a step-over to allow hikers and equestrians to pass through the fence that the crew had previously constructed. Hole digging proved to be typical of the area, taking almost an entire workday of painstaking rock-barring and post-hole digging by Brogan and Michelle. Other crew members began the restoration of the incursion which included immense dirt work to narrow the incursion as well as make it appear natural and welcoming for hikers. Jon and Diana, pick-mattocks in hands, attacked the compacted soil of the incursion, creating berms mimicking those of the surrounding area. All were impressed by Jon’s firm berm at the entrance.
The following day Marty led the crew to the canyon next door, Short Canyon, for a much-needed and deserved “Recharge Day”. Even Skidoo joined the group for a day of hiking and exploration along a wildflower-lined trail. Diana used her Mojave Wildflower book to identify unknown species, while Jon relied on his sense of taste, sometimes tempting the others to try the new plants; most memorable was the surprisingly strong peppery taste of the bladder-pod. Sticking to a familiar plant, Scott and Ryan meticulously worked to remove a Chia seed from its flower. Parting ways with Marty and her tired kitty, the crew continued on up past the trail to the ridge-line where they experienced the beautiful views of the area before dropping down into the canyon itself for lunch and relaxation.
Feeling refreshed, the crew, along with Marty and Skidoo, went off to repay the Rands for their help with a day of restoration on their never-ending incursion. Rands crew members taught Owens how to build “Restor-osotes” formed by weaving branches to resemble a creosote bush. The crew was invited to stay for dinner, resulting in a high-spirited evening of conversation, jokes, and sing-alongs that even Marty joined in on.
Although not truly Earth Day, the holiday spirit was present in the lives of the crew as they went on to do community outreach at the Cerro Coso Community College annual Earth Day Celebration. The crew set up an informational booth to educate the public about the SCA, BLM, and work specific to the Owens Peak Wilderness Area. They also used the event as a venue to promote a volunteer work day. The day proved to be educational for the crew as well, as they explored the other booths at the event, learning about water, bees, and meeting the other SCAs: Society for Creative Anachronism and the Sister City Association. Crew members also got involved in fun activities throughout the day. Diana found a love for drums by taking part in a drum circle and Brogan was ecstatic about holding a baby tortoise. Michelle and Jon proved to be essential to the child development activity, where they helped daycare children plant flowers. The day was completed with a wildflower walk, accompanied by BLM biologists Carrie and Shelly and the Jawbone crew, which led to the discovery of rare and beautiful flowers such as the Desert Mariposa Lily and the Desert Candle. The crew learned more about the origins of Earth Day through Diana’s environmental education piece. Even the wildlife seemed to be celebrating Earth Day; the crew had sightings of jackrabbits, cottontails, sidewinders, bull snakes, and even a desert tortoise.
The hitch was finished off by the continuation of the trail restoration project that the crew had begun with Marty. Upon revisiting the site, the crew was upset to see that a motorist had torn through the berms that Jon and Diana had built. However, that did not stop them from enthusiastically continuing the project. With H-braces built and step-over in place, the crew was able to focus solely on restoration. The last day of hitch, reserved as a volunteer day, resulted in a cookie free-for-all for the crew when no volunteers arrived. Fueled by sugar, the crew was able to make monumental progress on the trail. Ryan used his trail-work experience to help carve out a natural-feeling hiking trail while Jon decompacted the surrounding soil. The others gathered vegetation and began forming plants. They quickly learned that a couple well-placed “Restor-osotes” and plenty of grass transplants can go a long way. By the end of the day, the crew was able to step back, cookies in hands, and admire the new Schoolhouse Rocks trailhead that they had created.
WE FINISHED OUR FENCE! The crew is very pleased to be finished with our 2 miles of fence through the rough terrain along the aqueduct road but also quite sad to know that there are no more notches to be notched, holes to be dug or wires to be stapled and clipped. After spending six hitches on the main project of the year, you get quite attached to it, and having completed it is somewhat a symbol of the end of our time here.
With many of us figuring out future plans, getting accepted to colleges, some off to fire crews and some to farms, completing our last .15 miles of fence this hitch made us realize what little precious time was left. The crew stayed in the house the first night of hitch due to a broken trailer, but early morning on day two set out to Owens. The next day, a lovely wildflower tour in the Natural Desert Tortoise Area led us to find tortoise mating rejection at its best. A male tortoise was bothering a female tortoise who was trying to eat by following her around, vigorously bobbing his head and attempting to mount her. She only put up with ten minutes of this before kicking sand into his face repeatedly.
It was quite a setback when, so close to finishing our fence, a necessary hole took a little over eight hours with people switching out. The hole was brutal but also allowed for Scott, who wasn’t there that day, to help finish the fence. The end was filled with cheers and close-up pictures of the last of everything (last staple, last clip, last stay). Six people working chaotically on the smallest bit of fence made for a great finale.
We took an afternoon to walk and bask in the glory of our extraordinarily straight masterpiece. Then we ventured to Golden Valley for Captain Falco’s surprise birthday party with all the crews, a few cakes, an effigy and games of Frisbee, soccer and hacky sack. It was basically a giant sleep over, though, as all the crews left the next morning. We chose to stay at our second home for a few days and get a little more fencing in while we could, for Golden was entering a boulder field and really needed the help. To polish off the hitch, we took a beautiful hike into Golden Valley to explore behind the mountains where we’ve worked for almost three hitches. A hitch filled with wild flowers, games and more gado gado than the crew could have ever asked for was a fitting transition from the lousy sMarch weather to the sunny days of April. I believe!
The Owens Peak crew had long been looking forward to a “normal” hitch – just our crew, in our own wilderness, working hard on our fence whose completion now looms near. Alas, it seems that normality is unattainable for intrepid desert restorers. Brogan was out of commission for the beginning of the hitch due to a skiing accident, so we had to set up camp with only five workers and double up on chores for several days. She joined us for the end of the hitch to help with chores and more stationary tasks, but we were still short-handed on our fencing work. Despite the difficulties, we had fun and built about a half mile of fence.
This also promised to be our corniest hitch (though bad puns had never been lacking before), as I had deemed our corn consumption far from adequate and planned a menu that involved a can of corn a day and such delicacies as hush puppies, corn chowder, and corn pudding. However, the most exciting meals of our hitches continue to be those improvised from the ingredients we receive in our community-supported agriculture box. This time, we chopped up beets, potatoes and seitan into a blood-red “Sopa de la Muerte,” which, served with sour cream and homemade corn tortillas, turned out to be a surprisingly delicious combination.
Our first two days of work were beautiful – cooler and cloudier than last hitch, to my delight. Beginning on the third day, however, the desert in its ineffability presented us with weather that contrasted sharply with the customary dryness and increasing heat of the past couple months. That morning, it began to rain, and then it rained and rained all day, while we dug holes, sawed notches, and stretched wire, feeling the wet and cold soak through our layers, run down our sleeves, and numb our fingers and toes.
That evening, we huddled in the Green Monster, surrounded by our hanging wet rain gear, thankful for our relatively dry changes of clothing and the after-work treats of hot tea and cookies. Putting on our still-sopping work boots, gloves, and clothes in the chill of the following morning was brutal, but that day was thankfully sunny, with a biting wind coming from the newly snow-capped mountains to our west that was at first numbing, but dried us out quickly.
The next rain event came on our last day of work. Before lunch, we finished both of the fence sections we had been working on, during a morning of temperatures that fluctuated wildly with every movement of clouds over the sun and a pleasant calm except for a five-minute sleet-snow episode. After lunch, we set off to scout potential incursions from the highway to a wash we had previously fenced off. As we climbed higher and higher toward Walker Pass, we could see snow falling on the other side of the highway and low clouds rolling in, obscuring the mountains in front of us. By the time we returned to the car, the rain had begun to fall, and we were forced to spend yet another afternoon in our tent, listening to perhaps the hardest desert rain we have yet experienced. We consoled ourselves, however, with double cookie rations and several rounds of Bananagrams, and after another wet, windy night, we were all glad to return to the house, where coffee and hot showers awaited.
Our last two days of hitch were spent commuting from the house to Sand Canyon, a couple canyons north of our usual worksites, for some community events. The first was the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Day, where we assisted volunteer instructors in teaching local fourth-graders the basics of desert riparian ecology. The kids got to go on a nature walk to look at plants, learn about the history of the area, create their own artwork, catch and identify aquatic insects, and more. And we got to show off our wilderness to a bunch of very enthusiastic participants.
Finally, we returned to Sand Canyon the next day for a volunteer clean-up, organized each year by a local man with family ties to the area who has adopted the canyon and helps the BLM with its maintenance. After a low-key, sunny morning of work scouring the ground for glass shards and shotgun shells, we enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers, and conversation with the others who had come to help out. Now we’re feeling refreshed, ready for break and then our final 0.15 miles of fence!
How to Tortoise 
Our ninth hitch brought an abundance of weather, wildflowers, and wildlife. When we left Owens Peak after the last hitch the flowers were huddling against cold, windy nights. Five, warm, relatively calm days later and the increase in number and variety was amazing. Former buds displayed their yellows, whites, creams, purples, and occasional scarlets, ranging from tiny, millimeter-wide dots carpeting wash beds to broad petaled blossoms to impressive clusters. Marty, our BLM contact, visited us our first night out in the field and told us this could be a bumper bloom season, casting a new light on the rain and snow we’ve lived through. Marty also brought a delicious cake, homemade from a family recipe, which further brightened our day.
Along with the profusion of wildflowers, the wildlife recognized a change in seasons and the desert came to life with the warming days and nights. A coyote (very likely a wily one) and a road runner greeted us as we drove to a new campsite our first morning in the field. The coyote proceeded to greet us most mornings at around 4:00am. Lizards and scampering ground squirrels were once again a common sight, along with skittish and sneaky quail. Near the end of the hitch we came across a large bullsnake wrapped up in a creosote bush. I was quite impressed by its length, around four feet, and with its beautiful cream and black square pattern. I was even more impressed when Ryan informed us that bullsnakes imitate rattlesnakes when under threat, coiling and waving their rattleless tails, and that bullsnakes are also immune to rattlesnake venom and rattler makes up a large part of their diet. Definitely a nice snake to have around work.
Most excitingly we saw our first desert tortoise. After a day working on the fence a BLM ranger drove by making his rounds and sighted it and kindly backed his vehicle a hundred yards down the road to let us know. It was an awe inspiring few minutes as we stood on the road and gazed up at its nearly motionless figure, nobly tortoising on the edge of a high bank. Michelle noted its large guler horn, a continuation of the underside of the shell under the head, indicating that it was probably male. Brogan imagined what it would look like without a shell. The rest of us merely basked in its glory until it eventually tortoised off into the brush.
For five days of our hitch our Golden Valley friends joined us to help with the aqueduct fence. I loved the chance to share our wilderness and work with them and repay the hospitality they showed us on our stays in Golden Valley. We spent some incredibly productive work days with them (I had trouble keeping up with new projects and supplies) and they had the chance to experience some of the difficulties particular to building fence in Owens as well as the range of weather the our wilderness throws at us. We had a few beautiful calm, warm days and nights but also some impressive wind. One ominous day Owens was wreathed with dark clouds and strong winds buffeted line after line of clouds out over the valley and impressive gusts brought bits of precipitation falling from clouds far away and up the mountain. Huge dust clouds were visible flying up and over the hills opposite of us to the east. That evening we were met by the confusing occurrences of a southwest wind turning suddenly into a northeast wind and the clouds above us moving in opposite directions and even splitting apart to blow in hard to conceive angles from each other.
That night was rough. Tents shook and bent in the wind, and those without tents were met with an early morning pelting of icy raindrops and gusts that tore tarps off of sleeping bags. For myself, I ended up starting the morning early, piteously hustling through the cold, wet night with my belongings heaped into a tarp, taking refuge in our cooking tent the green monster. The day brought some truly amazing, destructive gusts. Even after bomb-proofing both Owens crew’s green monster and the Golden Valley crew’s white cooking tent, the afternoon saw both in bad shape. Stakes and lines snapped on our tent and canvas ripped and poles bent and general destruction wrought on Golden’s tent. Personal tents and belongings also ended up scattered. Amazingly, I saw a hummingbird hovering next to a red desert paintbrush, unperturbed by wind that caused us so much grief.
Our last day with the Golden Valley crew was mercifully calm and beautiful, and perfect for a scouting mission up an incursion that dead ends in rocks high above our fence line. It offered beautiful views and a chance to show the other crew a bit more of what our wilderness has to offer.
On the Road Again 
Hitch 8 saw the Owens Peak crew on the road again. Fresh off our travels to Blythe, CA and All-Corps, the crew packed up again and rambled on down to Joshua Tree National Park for a lesson in Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics. After the long drive and an introduction on teaching methods, all of us were happy to have one more night under the shelter of a roof before heading out on a backpacking trip the next morning. While on the backpacking trip, each member was charged with one of the seven Leave No Trace Principles to teach to the other crew members, using the various teaching methods we learned earlier.
The backpacking trip had its highs and lows, of course. Everyone was ecstatic at the chance to get a free trip to see the beauty that lies within Joshua Tree National Park, but they were not so pleased with the fact that SCA protocols required them to carry six liters of water per day, which sent our pack weight through the roof for an overnight. The first night brought smiles to all of our faces, because in addition to the beautiful weather the crew collective mouths were watering over overflowing pots of gado gado, the crew’s favorite peanut butter and pasta concoction. However, the next morning did not greet us so warmly. We were battered all day from cooler temperatures and high winds strong enough to chase us from the park, but not before a couple hours of scrambling among the Joshua tree forest Hidden Valley.
After the crew’s time in Joshua Tree, the members spent some time on community and had a long travel day ahead of them as we made our way back to Ridgecrest. The crew made use of this day to recall forgotten card games, relax, and relish in the gourmet of roller-grill hot dogs before going back to work. However, it seemed like the weather that chased us out of the Joshua Tree National Park chased us all the way to Ridgecrest. Area forecasts warned of bone-chilling temperatures high winds and the possibility of thunder-snow, so the crew decided to spend a couple more nights in the warmth of their house in Ridgecrest and join the daily commute. But, after a day driving to work on our fence-line and a Sunday spent passing out permits for the Randsburg OHV area, the crew was chomping at the bit to spend some time among the newly powdered mountains east of Ridgecrest.
The cold temperatures were not able to chill the spirits of the Owens Peak crew as they finally arrived back at their home on the east slope of the Sierras. The cool breeze could not drive down the spirits inside the green monster as story time returned along with the playful pluck of a mandolin, and the ruthless clamor of games of Banana-grams.
The crew’s spirits were lifted higher when they started work on their dormant fence-line and were surprised with the early signs of the changing seasons. The vibrant reds, yellows, and purples of young desert wildflowers began popping from the soil beneath our feet, bringing hopes of warmer temperatures. Along with the wildflowers, another sign of spring surprised us with its presence; a hummingbird had crashed the party in order to feast on the freshly flowering plants. The hummingbird left in a hurry, but it left a smile on the faces of the Owens Peak crew as we dream of the pleasant weather of spring and the pleasant times to come.
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.
Homeward Bound 
After a short-lived break, the Owens Peak crew was off to their home in the mountains. It’s funny how much the crew began to miss our snowcapped peaks and rugged Five Fingers views. With over a month’s hiatus from Owens Peak, it was good to be back.
Saturday the crew set out to start the first section of a 3-mile fence building project. Digging holes, building H-braces, and stringing wire have now become routine for the crew, but the attention to detail and quality of our work has only grown. Sunday the crew got a welcome visit from our comrades at Jawbone. They came eager to learn fencing, and with their help we advanced on a lengthy and technical portion of fence. A low-flying helicopter and a military cargo plane passed overhead and supplied some added entertainment throughout the day.
There was a constant flowing stream near camp, and the trickling sound of the aqueduct as LA’s water rushed by us during work provided some memorable desert irony. The warmer weather has also been an added benefit to this hitch, allowing us to enjoy comfortable evenings outside under a fire-toned sky. The desert creatures seemed to be enjoying the beautiful weather as well. The nearby creek has fostered a plethora of frogs (possibly toads) which provided a pleasant calming tune as we lay down to rest for the night. This led to an unsuccessful frog hunt conducted by Michelle, Brogan and Matt. It turns out the frogs were too coy for the out-of-place hunters. Their croaks that night most likely consisted of snide jabs aimed towards the clumsy humans.
On Wednesday the crew went on a road trip to the Forest Service District in Riverside, CA. Sally Haase and company gave an interesting talk about prescribed fire and effects of soil chemistry/vegetation recovery after wildfires. The crew got to see just how tough this job can be. The primary priority of their program is to prevent erosion, which is greatly increased after a wildfire. Erosion can cause massive landslides that can damage infrastructure and threaten human lives. Luckily, with a relatively recent development in erosion control called Hydro Mulch, groups have been able to recover burn areas faster than ever before. Some have suspected that the runoff from the Hydro Mulch can have harmful side effects to nearby waterways because of the chemicals used in the substance. This left some of us somewhat skeptical of the technique.
Thursday was ATV training. It was a bittersweet day filled with fun but also sadness with the loss of a fellow crew member due to illness. It might seem counterintuitive to be training us on the very vessels that create the tracks we are employed to destroy, but it was an ABSOLUTE BLAST nonetheless! Our animated instructor taught us valuable techniques to keeping all four wheels of the ATV safely engaged with the ground. Some of us caught on quicker than others—some never attempted.
The rest of the hitch was spent building more fence. A brief intervention stalled our progress for some time when the crew was informed of a previously unknown archeological site too close to the fence. We immediately conducted surgery, leaving the archeological site with plenty of room for any spectacular finds the crew is sure it will produce.
The DRC Program Manager, Jamie Weleber, paid us a visit for our last couple days in the field. He came bearing gifts of cookies and offered his practical wisdom. He merged into our crew rather nicely, and we were glad to have him. Our greatly-missed crew member Ryan got to join us for our last night in the field. We ended the hitch in high spirits and excited anticipation to reunite with old friends at next hitch’s All-Corps event.
Feeling refreshed from a ten-day holiday vacation, the Owens Peak crew was ready to return to their home in southern California. Little did they know they would be greeted by a desert snowstorm powerful enough to leave two crew members stranded on their way home from the airport due to closed highways. Fortunately, this setback did not dampen the spirits of the rest of the crew, who, even with heads clouded by lack of sleep, pressed on with pre-hitch chores, picking up supplies and creating all the delicious foods that are essential to a successful hitch.
The following day, the crew, complete with all members and much needed sleep, set out to their greatly-missed wilderness area of Owens Peak. The morning appeared to be dreary, with a thick layer of fog encasing the Ridgecrest vicinity. Entering Indian Wells Valley, the crew ascended in elevation, climbing into the sunshine, and looked down upon the blanket of clouds, truly feeling what it means to be on an island in the sky. The crew was greeted by BLM Wilderness Coordinator Marty Dickes and set off to investigate and flag the proposed site of a fence that will be the work project of many future hitches. The day was complete with snowball fights and the discovery of an archeological site containing possible remnants of the construction of the LA Aqueduct.
The rest of the hitch brought the crew back to the Golden Valley Wilderness to continue the work on the fence line that was started before the holidays. Days were spent hauling materials via fire line the ¼ mile to the worksite and constructing 1 ½ miles of fence, creating the boundary between private property and wilderness. Crew members jumped back not only into work but also work-out routines with 14 person stretch circles involving pushups and ab workouts, and managed to squeeze work-outs even into the workday by spending time between material loads doing curls with T-posts, dropping to the ground for more pushups, or holding plank pose for more ab strengthening. Work days were followed by running the dirt roads, hills, and mountains of the region. Of course the health of the crew would not be complete without an array of delicious meals, including seitan gyros, sesame peanut noodles, and stromboli created by experimentation with the Dutch oven. The meals were finished off by the typical supply of close to one hundred cookies.
The weather of the hitch took on a much brighter hue than the previous one, as the crew was greeted by the warmth of the sun each afternoon. However, come dusk, the temperatures dropped dramatically, reaching lows well below freezing each night. Mornings resulted in frosty tents and sleeping bags, frozen fingers, toes, water spouts and soap bottles, not to mention the wilderness bathroom, the rocket box. Luckily everyone knew the sun would soon arrive, allowing all to thaw and in some cases even burn.
During free time, when not exercising, the crews enjoyed sharing stories and playing games with each other, challenging each other’s vocabulary with matches of Bananagrams. Evenings were spent watching the beautiful sunsets, followed by stargazing, when not hiding from the cold. Some of the crew members made use of evenings huddled up in the large army tent, the Green Monster, by learning how to make friendship bracelets and catching up on reading.
Although the company of another crew was enjoyable, the crew members cannot wait to return to their rightful home of Owens Peak. Next hitch will bring them back to higher elevations and fencing projects of their own.
Owen's Finds Gold! 
You’d think having seven people live and work together in the wilderness in the most efficient way would be challenging, but try 14. Our Owens Peak crew took this hitch to go help the Golden Valley crew with 5 miles of fence to be built along the edge of the wilderness. This project created more challenges than previous hitches because the fence we were building was not up against the road. The first day of fencing we needed to find a way to get over a mile’s worth of fencing tools and materials a mile into the wilderness without the aid of vehicles. The strategy was to form a fire-line with all of the crew members spaced a couple hundred feet apart walking materials to one another. Come the afternoon when the building began, we struggled keeping all fourteen people busy with only the first quarter mile worth of supplies at the work site. As a solution, six members worked on a restoration project on a previously restored road behind the Golden Valley Wilderness sign. The group re-lined the turnabout with rocks and put in some vertical mulch to liven it up.
With each crew cooking their own meals, there was quite a bit of eyeballing going back and forth across the big communal tent. From overstuffed calzones or ratatouille to the trading of flatbread recipes and ingredients, the crews both ate well. On day two, the Owens crew went to the Kernville Audubon Society to learn about the local birds and hear about volunteer opportunities. The employees were very excited to have young visitors, and the crew was enthusiastic about going from the flat plains of Golden Valley to tree covered mountains. The crew returned to Golden Valley for the night only to depart again the next morning to teach the Rands crew how to fence. We helped them build three and a half H-braces in a day and got to show off our new chainsaw skills.
Come Wednesday we were back in Golden Valley again to do another fire-line for an entire day. Each of us ended up walking five miles while hauling a total of 2 tons of fencing materials! Each person carried over 540 t-posts that day and four 60-pound rolls of wire, along with bollards, tools, and other fencing supplies. We spent the rest of the hitch fencing, splitting into two groups to cover more ground. Golden and Owens were equally split between these groups to stimulate inter-crew bonding. The Golden crew also taught Owens about GPS navigation by taking each group on a day trip of orienteering to petroglyphs and Klinker Mountain. The last three days of hitch it was joked that we were “under the sea” as non-stop rain pelted the crews, but we pushed through it. By the end of hitch we had completed over a mile and a half of fence. With the fence sections at all different stages, there will be much more work to be done in the following hitch when the Owens Peak crew will return to Golden Valley. The crews were sad to say goodbye but all more than ready for Christmas break.
House Hitch 
Just when we began to feel like camp was home and to lose ourselves in Magic Desert Time, Hitch #3 arrived with the prospect of chainsaw training. With a Friday-to-Sunday hitch, this training could only be completed smack-dab in the middle, during the civilized world’s work week. To maximize work and minimize packing and prep time, this meant spending the entire hitch sleeping in our house and commuting to work every morning.
The house affords many luxuries – heater, oven, and shower, to name a few – but the work week is not the same when the evenings are spent checking Facebook rather than watching the stars or sculpting with scrap wire. Similarly, our work days in the field were much more enjoyable than our days sitting in the fire station looking at PowerPoint presentations about chainsaw parts and operation. I think we can all agree that we’re glad to have the certification and glad that the training is over! Our next few fence projects will definitely go more quickly than the last, when we were only using hand saws.
On this hitch, however, we went back to restoration on our days in the field. We finished up the incursion that we started at the end of last hitch and then moved on to a slightly different kind of project. We were working on a loop trail that the BLM had fenced off and designated as a foot and horse trail. Aesthetically, however, it still looked like an ATV trail, a thick, blank scar in the landscape. Thus, our job here was not to completely hide the incursion, but to narrow it into a winding foot path. At the beginning, this approach caused some confusion with planning and plant placement, but we eventually got the hang of it and learned to combine vertical mulch, horizontal mulch, and rocks with extraordinarily pleasing results. We even finished in time to spend our last day and a half hiking the incursions along one of our future fence projects. We got to enjoy some exercise and great views while finding out exactly where all these trails we are blocking off go. Luckily, most of them dead-end, so we shouldn’t have to worry about vehicles coming up on our fence from other directions.
During free time, the big theme of this hitch was running. After our first day of work, Matt and Jon decided to start training for a 50k ultra-marathon in March. They immediately began working on a training schedule and made a commitment to start running the next day. The rest of the crew, motivated in part by feelings of solidarity, in part by a desire for personal betterment, and, finally, by the fear of falling behind in ultra points, decided to take up a running regimen of our own. It became routine for everyone to go for a run after work and before dinner, and even though we don’t all run the same distances or at the same pace, the group as a unit provides a great support system for pushing ourselves to new heights.
Our Own Little World 
The sun never seems to burn quite as bright when the eight to five starts before dawn, and the frowns will never be stronger when the falling sun dyes the sky orange before the workday is done. In the middle of winter though, when vitamin D is at its scarcest quantities, these problems become nearly impossible to solve, either sunrise or sunset must be compromised for the greater good. Herein lies the problem: in order to save a few hours of sunlight, the workday must be moved further back into the morning darkness. In principle, this shift solves the problem completely, but it brings forth another – the inevitable depression that comes with hearing the alarm at four o’clock. The brilliant minds that inhabit Indian Wells Canyon have now solved this problem.
The first day of the long work week may give you the blues with the pre-dawn wake-up call, but if you set your watch to read 8:15 when the sun peeks over the silhouetted mountains, the alarm clock will not seem so evil. For the rest of the work week, which for us is a short ten days, can now begin at the sensible hour of seven instead of four, and the sun sets hours after the workday has been finished at five. The post-workday treat has never been sweeter than when it is accompanied by the pink stained sky, especially when that snack is filled with the freshest local persimmons.
A rare treat indeed, the persimmon had evaded the lives of the Owens Peak crew until one fateful Saturday when the farmers of Inland Empire sent a fresh batch of them to the desert. Once again, the brilliance of Indian Wells showed through with a sugary concoction that resulted in seven cookie addicts. Members of local community-supported agriculture group in Southern California, the crew gets a shipment of fresh, local, and organic food every week. This specific time it was loaded with the rare fruit and will forever leave orange sparkle in the crew’s eye and a numbing sensation on the tastebuds.
The proof is in the product: with different food, a different time, a different goal, and a different state of mind, the crew members of the Owens Peak Wilderness Area created their own world and are more than happy to stay off the grid.
Before taking off on our first hitch, all four crews of the Ridgecrest’s Desert Restoration Corps went to the Local Bureau of Land Management to learn more about our public lands. After filling our bellies with grilled delights, we headed out to Indian Wells Canyon and set up what would be our base camp for the next 8 days. Everybody quickly huddled into our big circus tent, "The Green Monster", while storm clouds gathered overhead and the wind whipped off the Eastern Sierra. The high desert reminded us of its unpredictability with a late night rainstorm and near freezing temperatures.
Thorough helpings of hot drinks, grits and calisthenics helped warm us into our first work day. Just as we began to thaw, we were greeted by Marty, the BLM's Wilderness Coordinator, who dropped by to give us an overview of our first work project. A late summer wildfire caused severe damage to the upper sections of Indian Wells Canyon, charring Joshua tree forests and the main riparian corridor. Additionally, the burn exposed a vulnerable swath of wilderness near the Owens Peak Trailhead. We set out to redefine a new parking area adjacent to the trailhead in an effort to clearly delineate the legal road and thereby encourage vegetation recovery.
Our first work day found us bracing the power auger against 60 mph gusts sweeping off of the mountain-tops. Looking beyond the trailhead, we could just make out the first dusting of snow a few hundred meters above us. Clouds crashed across the jagged peaks as we excitedly began our work moving hard barriers. The wind blew hard hats off heads and bounced them hundreds of yards down canyon. When Jon got a bruise from a flying hard hat, we began to question if they were a safety precaution or a hazard! We headed back to camp feeling sore in muscles we didn't know existed. Although training was a blast, everyone agreed on how great it was to finally be out in the field and feel exhausted from a good day's labor.
The following day we headed down the canyon to work on a restoration site near Power’s Well. We took on a monster of an incursion with a direct line of sight of over 180 meters. The weather was more cooperative as we began gathering dead plants to form into bouquets. Strategically placing this “vertical mulch” on and around the incursion makes the illegal vehicle route disappear.
We knew we were doing quality work when visitors pulled up and couldn’t see the route we were working on. It’s the complete opposite of most jobs; when we do our work well, nobody notices. After four days of restoration we were able to share the satisfaction of stepping back and admiring our invisible piece of art.
On our last work day we hauled 35 more bollards back up to the trailhead to continue our first project. The technical skill involved in chiseling H-braces proved to be a popular counterpart to the aesthetic skills involved in traditional restoration. We made a ton of progress in the two days we spent up at the trailhead, and we’re excited to get back up there next hitch and finish the project!
Hitch Totals Dates:10/28/2010-11/05/2010 Hitch #:1 Hitch Leader: Scott
Restoration Work Log
# of Incursions - 1
Line of Sight (m) 182
Linear Meters Restored 237
Area Restored 474
# Dead Plants 213
# Seed Pits 193
Hard Barriers 35
Ryan Hughes recently graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in English and has since been unsuccessful in working his way into the business world, so he figured he might as well disappear into the backcountry. What better way to prove his worth to the business world than tackling bears and having staring contests with Big Horn Sheep?
In the past summer, Ryan dove headfirst into the Pacific Northwest on a SCA trail crew in Oregon and Washington's Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness of the Umatilla National Forest. Ryan has realized that he enjoys the fulfillment of exhaustion received only by physical labor, and thus has decided to fly south for the winter and devote himself to the natural world that has fascinated him all of his life.
Ryan has also held a strong passion and is extremely excited to have the opportunity to travel to paradise and work to keep it that way. Who knows, he may never leave.
Diana Portner is a 25-year-old Illinois native with a passion for the outdoors. She recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a certificate in Environmental Studies. Since graduation, she has been pursuing her love of the environment through various internships. She spent three months with the SCA as a member of the Florida Trails Team followed by 4 months in the Chicago region as a Research Field Station Intern with the McHenry County Conservation District. She hopes to further her education with graduate studies in Eco-psychology beginning in the fall of 2011. Aside from education and career life, Diana is a live music enthusiast, enjoying many different styles of music. She also loves camping, biking, hiking, canoeing and generally just exploring nature.
Though he will miss cross country skiing through the Wisconsin winter, Jon Hallemeier is happy to have the opportunity to explore southern California. Growing up in the Midwest, his interest in deserts and desert restoration is a fairly recent development, stemming from a few early hikes in Utah and then two years of trekking in Egypt and the surrounding region while studying Arabic and Arab oral folk traditions. Jon hopes in the future to combine his interest in Arabic and the Middle East with his passion for conservation issues, although is he is still working out the details. Besides harsh terrain he enjoys ultimate frisbee and playing mandolin and fiddle.
I'm 18 and just graduated high school in Camden, right on the coast of Maine, where the mountains meet the sea. I have grown up skiing, snowboarding, playing sports and lettered in Lacrosse & Field Hockey. I recently learned to mountain bike when I went out west this past spring. I got bitten by the desert bug when I hiked with family all throughout Zion Canyon. I love adventures and have no fear of heights. I have a strong passion for art and environmental science, which I hope to study next year in college. I currently have artwork in the Farnsworth Art Museum, showing how climate change affects bird migration and I sold my first painting last weekend (and no – it was not bought by a relative!)
Michelle Ort was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in the American Midwest (mostly Indianapolis, IN) and can prove it by kicking your butt in euchre. She spent most of her time both in high school and at the College of Wooster becoming fluent in French, German, Russian, and math. Her first post-grad year was devoted to teaching English through the Fulbright program in Ukhta, Russia - which, by the way, is NOT in Siberia. From northern Russia, southern California seemed a logical next step, and she is thrilled about substituting a cross-country drive for the usual transatlantic flight this fall, as well as about learning tons of new outdoor skills!
Scott Nordquist bio 
Much to the chagrin of close friends, Scott Nordquist overtly waves his hometown flag and proudly represents the Pacific NW. As a kid he spent as much time as possible skiing the deep Cascade powder, riding his BMX around the local trails, and finding every possible way to enjoy Lake Washington. An admitted Spanish dork, he lived in both Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Returning from the concrete jungle of Buenos Aires, he vowed to take advantage of plethora of outdoor awesomeness back in the States. He discovered SCA through the Alternative Spring Break program and then continued on to a fantastic summer as a conservation intern in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness. He recently escaped a rainy NW winter to volunteer as a trekking guide in Guatemala. Now, he’s leaving the rain again and excited to create a cohesive working community amidst the harshness of the desert!