This hitch has aptly been described as an odyssey. The journey seemed long, yet the adventure was always changing. We began with expectations of cleaning up trash around a historic cabin. Except we later found out that this cabin was actually burnt to the ground. A fine piece of vernacular architecture, complete with bottle walls, was lost by some unknown cause. And so, Jawbone, along with the other crews, suited up in gloves, respirators, and tyvek suits to dump all the rubble in an RV sized dumpster. The task was quickly completed and the rest of the day was spent preparing for our coming days in the desert.
The drive to our campsite aroused a bit of nostalgia as we drove by the familiar mountains that enveloped us during our 17 day training in September. We continued past them to what would be a new area for us. Our campsite was nestled in a wide wash complete with boulders, Joshua trees, creosote, and the occasional Sage Sparrow. In a couple of hours, the pup tents and white wall had been erected and staked into the sand. We were ready for tomorrow to come and start restoration.
The drive to the incursions was like a rollercoaster. The trucks crested over ridges and for a brief moment only the sky was visible in the front windshield. The incursions here offered a new experience. Formerly, creosote had been the primary plant species present. Here, the hills were densely dotted with small bushes, and the occasional Joshua tree could be seen in the distance. Some incursions had over 100 vertical mulch. Others had Joshua trees that took four of us to haul to the incursion. Restoration was not all we were up to though.
One night we had some visitors in our white wall. Kangaroo rats came hopping in to search for any crumb we may have left behind. The fearless rodents were nearly stepped on multiple times. The next night we visited some of our extended family, the Kiavah crew, for dinner. Soon after our odyssey took us all the way back down to Ridgecrest to join the Rands crew and our BLM contact for a feast at the Pizza Factory. Some feasted more than others, but no one managed to eat more than 10 slices of pizza. With full bellies, we headed back to our warm home and waved farewell to the Rands crew as they drove back to the desert.
The next day, we awoke excited to attend ATV training. All day the wind was fiercely blowing and sending clouds of dust over us. By the end of the training, our faces looked a few shades lighter. In spite of the wind, we all had a joyous time riding in the dusty cloud that engulfed the coned training course. However, it was especially thrilling to take the ATVs out of the course during the trail ride at the end of the day. Our day didn’t end here though; we dined out at a Vietnamese restaurant. The service was superb; hot bowls of pho and plates of chow mein quickly appeared before us. We savored every last bite as we readied our minds to once again return to the desert the next day.
In no time we were back to restoring incursions for the remainder of the hitch. We began where we left off planting as many dead bushes as it took to cover any sign of a trail. Our most notable incursion went down a steep hill then up the other side. Once we were finished there wasn’t any sign of the trail. Our program coordinator, Matt Duarte, also came to visit for the remaining days. Not only did he supply some exquisite mulch to be used, but he also brought Irish soda bread with cheese and butter. It paired excellently with the copious amount of garbanzo bean salad we had for dinner.
The next nights became quite frigid. Soon after dinner was over, the temperatures began to plummet into the low twenties, and our feet became blocks of ice. The coldest morning that we awoke to was 12°F. Our greatest respite from the cold was going to bed with a hot water bottle. But, hitch quickly came to a close and we made a final drive out of the field, back to Ridgecrest.
We spent our final day unpacking and cleaning hitch supplies. Then we began the process of repacking our possessions and preparing our minds for our trip home. Living in the desert can really change a person. You get used to rising with the sun and going to sleep when the air becomes too chilling. You get used to not showering, to sleeping on the ground, to eating a little dirt, to dry hands, to silence, to the slowness of the desert. All things we’ll have to forget for a bit as we return to our old lives at our former homes.
If you are reading this, than the December 21st wasn’t the end of the world. It wasn’t the end of the world, but an alteration of thinking. Our way of thinking changed to making us more sensitive to incursion restoring.
Hitch 4 started off joining the other crews; Jawbone and Kiavah suited up in Tyvex body suits to enter a cabin clean up event with the BLM staff. We all got prepared with the proper PPE to dive into this burnt down cabin. Dressed in a blue hazmat suit, hard hat, safety glasses, and of course blue latex gloves to match our outfit. We were able to fill a huge dumpster full of burned railroad ties, sheets of metal, and a ton of soot. The soot we wore very well if I might add. Zoe had a very distinctive mustache going on. We worked on cleaning up 3 cabins; Edith E and Mingusville are the names I remember. These cabins were fit for a king hauling 3 full couches, a love seat, and a rat poop infested mattress out to the dumpster. On the upside Kiavah was able to find an extra green monster to patch up their own green monster. We finished the day cooking and putting our creativity to the test.
Our first night in the desert in a while KNIFE (Matt Duarte) joined us for a few days. So in our crew tends to be jinxed. That night we were talking about how likely a flash flood was and how often it rains. Hmm… Next thing we know were all heading to bed and its sleeting. Rain in the desert is seriously unheard of. We all thought it would stop in 2 hours or so, but NO we were all proved wrong it stopped at 3am. Most of us ended up waking up in a puddle wet and cold then on top of that worked the whole next day in the extreme weather. Jeff and Zoe decided to hang their sleeping bags from the ceiling of the green monster to dry out for the day. KNIFE, Teddy, and Zoe even competed in a decompaction of soil challenge of one of our incursions. We all succeeded and finished 40 foot stretch by 4 pm. We ended up restoring far more land than we had thought before. This entailed a few more bollard signs and lining the 400m surrounding the campsite with rocks and at least 50 vertical mulch bushes. On a vertical mulch run Lizzie stumbled upon what we think was a Mojave green snake, which was one of the highlights of our hitch.
After a few days of camping in the desert we were brainstorming ideas to keep warm. We came up with ‘if only we had those blue Tyvex hazmat suits to sleep in.’ Also, Cat came back to the field from her Mexico trip and to our surprise she bought us doughnuts!!!!!!
So on Dec 17th we finally finished the 2 campsites that were on the priority list in Golden Valley. Cat, Erica, and Teddy went into town for Admin day. So we were left with the FAB FOUR! The Fab Four (Lizzie, Zoe, Matt, and Jeff) happily finished the rock lining of the designated route and sweeping out OHV tracks. Rock lining was very relaxing because we thought of kindergarten playing with blocks. Hey, it got us through the long work day of moving mountains…it worked.
Zoe had her Environmental Education (EE) Presentation on Renewable Energy, and she arranged for a field trip to Terra-Gen, which was the Wind Facility right near Mojave, CA. The group was able to see up close these massive turbines that create energy to be used as electricity. Todd Dobbins, the Terra Gen site supervisor gave us the grand tour of their facility along with a brief power point presentation on various projects they have going on. Terra Gen has about 5,000 turbines on their property. Just picture it, WIND Turbines for miles. Although, during Zoe’s EE there was some debate about why Wind Turbines are such a controversial issue, we all enjoyed discussing the pros and cons. It was exciting to listen to everyone’s thoughts about such environmental subject we knew very little about.
We spent our last nights in the desert, which were some of the coldest nights we have had yet. Jeff looked up the forecast which was in the high teens/ low twenties. Burrrr… Seriously, the Desert gets COLD???? We all had some difficulties staying warm this hitch. We all have Zero degree sleeping bags now and wool socks, but we still can’t keep our toes warm. We wake up with toe-cicles! There has got to be a science to layering properly and keeping warm at night in the desert. If anyone has any suggestions they would be appreciated!!! By this point some of us started doing laps around the green monster to warm up then head to bed warm. We tried almost everything to stay warm. The January hitch we can brainstorm more ideas and hopefully overcome this dilemma.
T’was our last day of work in the desert; everyone is happily working together to get our last incursion completed and monitoring the southern boundary fence line. We had our favorite falafel for dinner and finished our chores. We sat around the lantern telling stories, while Lizzie and I had a read 100 page challenge… WHICH DIDN’T HAPPEN! December 21st, the day the Mayan calendar ends. We’re all alive. We wake up pack up camp and were all ready to go. There has been a change, a change of thinking, formally known as Grass Valley Crew, woke up and “WE ARE GOLDEN.”
Sadly, on December 21st 2012 Vin Diesel didn’t make it through the night. Our truck had the same security light on as last time we got stranded in the field. Golden Valley-2, VIN Diesel-0. Cat stayed in the field for 5 hours waiting for a tow truck to tow Vin Diesel out. Vin Diesel and our entire crews working gloves didn’t make it past the December 21st.
Highlights of Hitch 4:
• We dug our last hole for vertical mulch and bollards.
• We planted our last vertical mulch of 2012.
• We went on our last vertical mulch run of 2012.
• We have placed our last rock lining the road for 2012.
• We survived December 21st 2012
We are all looking forward to start fencing hopefully in January with NEW WORKING GLOVES!
“WE ARE GOLDEN!”
Greetings from the Kiavah Krew!
Our 4th hitch was just as ducky as the last, filled with snow, cookies, holiday cheer, and a few unexpected surprises to boot...
We started out our first day of hitch doing a multi-corp project alongside the Jawbone and Grass Valley crews. We were told it would be a "cabin clean-up", but our sneaky, albeit cheerful archaeologist- Ashley, pulled one over on us. After a short presentation on the historic significance of the site, we spent the remainder of the day day cleaning up the debris of the cabin that had actually burned down in March. Regardless, it was a fun day to collaborate with the Ridgecrest BLM office in the El Paso Mountain Wilderness.
After the cabin clean-up, we headed back to our favorite Mojave Wilderness- Kiavah! Loaded with everyone's favorite holiday cookies, (we used 8 sticks of butter in pre-hitch cooking) we spent the majority of the hitch restoring OHV incursions in Horse Canyon.
The main dirt road that connects highway 395 to the Kiavah Wilderness is known fondly to us as LA 2, and is also the main route of the L.A. aqueduct. Throughout the hitch we capitalized on Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power's graded road debris. The plants sacrificed in the name of smooth driving were collected to use as vertical mulch for our restoration sites!
On Monday the 17th during a particularly jovial run to the LA 2, Aurora, Sam, and Max felt sudden turbulence on the starboard side of our Heavy Duty Dodge Ram 2500. We immediately skidded to a halt to investigate, only to find a brand new Leatherman open and askew a few feet behind. The Leatherman punctured a rather large hole in our custom desert tires. Surprisingly, the accident left the Leatherman intact and unharmed, but our tire as flat as the four grain flapjacks we ate for breakfast that morning. We fixed the tire in a jiffy and continued with a great day of conservation.
That evening, the Jawbone crew came to visit for dinner and we shared our wares; enjoying some homemade s'mores and gourmet popcorn thanks to an awesome package from Sam's parents!
The next day, Tuesday the 18th brought an even more exciting surprise for many of us who miss that east coast weather. It was particularly exhilarating for Wisconsin Molly who loves weather phenomena more than all of us combined.
It snows in the desert, who knew? After a stormy day, with menacing clouds blowing over the Eastern Sierras, the sky opened up and large white flakes began to fall! It is truly something to see the desert landscape, Joshua trees and all, blanketed in that white fluffy stuff. :)
We ended our hitch with ATV training from Ranger Jason Woods. I think everyone on the Kiavah crew got some insight into the psyche of why people ride OHV's so much in the desert- BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN! Ranger Jason spent all day teaching us safe quad riding. Now if only they were more responsible about staying on designated routes.
As the holidays and our winter break are fast approaching, Kiavah crew is currently busy in the kitchen cooking up a thunderstorm. Tonight we are heading to our BLM contact Marty's house for a holiday party and a white elephant with the Grass Valley crew! Will is "taste testing" the cookies, Molly is roasting fennel, Mal is wrapping white elephant presents, Max is putting the license plate on the trailer, Sam is making squash soup, Charlie is cleaning the kitchen, and I am writing the blog!
We are anxiously preparing to return home to our families for the holidays and the new year, but not before celebrating and saying goodbye to the desert.
See you soon and happy holidays!
Greeting from the Spanish Flats Mobile Villa. After hearing that SCA found a trailer for us to live in for the next six months I envisioned shag carpeting, wood paneled walls, and six of us squeezed into an area the size of a sardine can. However the past month has proven that life in the Villa is quite comfortable. We are living the high life in a double wide with everything an SCA crew could ever want; a refrigerator, stove, showers, and even a washer and dryer. All that is missing is the pink lawn flamingos.
Our agency partner, the Bureau of Reclamation, is having us construct trails in heavily used areas surrounding Lake Berryessa. Our first project has been building new trail at the Smittle Creek Day Use Area with the intent to open the area up to all users. Once completed, our trail will tie into the Smittle creek trail which currently connects the Smittle Creek and Oak Shores Day Use Area. On rainy days we are tasked with completing other projects that the Bureau needs addressed due to concerns of water contamination from the soil that is moved when we are building the trail. These concerns have entailed removing trash from the lake shore, checking erosion control structures and repairing fencing all in an effort to help protect the lake and its shoreline.
Outside of our time spent on the trail, we are working as a crew to become more environmentally conscious and active members in the community. One way we are working at becoming more environmentally conscious is by purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Every other week we drive into town to pick up our share; which so far has provided us with a bounty of fresh, organic produce ranging from Oranges to Romanesco. In addition to joining the CSA we participated in an olive picking which resulted in a 55 gallon yield of olive oil.