Wow, can you believe it's week 16??? The crew has been together for four whole months, enduring 110 degree days in August, and below freezing nights in December. We have worked with chainsaws, pulaskis, rock bars, chisels, and our own hands. We've gotten dirty together in the field and sat together in the classroom. We learned to work as a team and challenged each other and ourselves. It's been a crazy action-packed season, and our last week was no exception.
We started the week in an unusual state - clean and dressed up. We went to the BLM for informational interviews. Each crew member was paired up with several BLM employees with different specialties. The guys spent time with their interviewees, asking them questions about their jobs and how they progressed in their careers. It was a very informative and engaging day.
After spending a day doing wrap-up paperwork and tool cleaning, we departed for our last trip together - to the Grand Canyon!!!
First, we drove up to Flagstaff and explored a lava tube cave and it was quite impressive at 1.5 miles deep and ranging between 2 feet and 30 feet in height. We hiked in, marvelling at the mineral deposits on the walls and enjoying the complete darkness when we turned off all of our headlamps. We couldn't even see our hands right in front of our eyes!!
We arrived at the Grand Canyon just in time for a beautiful pink and orange sunset. For many of the crew, it was the first time they had ever seen this natural wonder, and everyone was blown away by it's beauty. As the sun set, we lingered on the rim, enjoying looking into the depths of the canyon, in awe.
The following day we set off from the Grandview trailhead towards Horseshoe Mesa. Hiking was hard, down down down. We observed and admired the trail work - the timber retaining walls! the rock retaining walls! the riprap! the rock staircases! Wow! Being at Horseshoe Mesa was surreal. Seeing the canyon walls both a mile above and below created a sense of insignificance in us all. The guys were intrigued by the "Caution: Radiation Area Keep Out" signs and wanted to explored that further, but were content to walk away given the uphill hike awaiting us. It was steep, but the guys' lungs proved themselves worthy and everyone made it out without a hitch. We then, with some sadness at leaving the canyon behind, left to return to Phoenix in advance of an impending snow storm that dumped almost three feet of snow in Northern Arizona.
The entire program came to a close on Saturday December 15 at our graduation ceremony. Approximately 70 people turned out at the Audubon on a rainy afternoon to honor our eight graduates. Speeches were given by Hannah Wendel from the BLM, Bill Gibson from the BLM, Adam Soto from ACYR, and Trevor Knight from the SCA. Everyone acknowledged the students' hard work and contribution to the world of conservation over the last sixteen weeks. The crew leaders Mel and Sean gave out award certificates to each member, appreciating them for their unique contribution. Then, the members received their final, overall certification for the entire program. Congratulations!
The guys then presented framed photographs of the crew to our agency partners to thank them for all of their hard work pulling this program together. The final speech was a heartful description of our entire experience, written and delivered by George and Angel. The applause led into a big Mexican feast with delicious burritos and guacamole. Families mingled, introductions were made, food was enjoyed. When it was time to leave, we tried not to say goodbye, but see you later. The crew is determined to keep in touch and promises to continue to support each other into their next phases of life. And if we've learned one thing about these eight young men over the last four months, it's this: when they're determined, look out, because they will accomplish their goal.
Congratulations to the Fall 2012 Phoenix Field School!!!!!!!
The 15th week of the SCA Phoenix Field School program was devoted entirely to training. Seen as somewhat of a capstone of the program, Wildland Fire Fighting (S-190 & S-130), spanned four days in early December. Three of the eight members had taken this training prior when enrolled in Franklin Fire High School; so our group had high expectations of this training spurred by the romanticized tales of their colleagues.
The training entailed three days in the classroom learning as much as possible about fighting wildland fires. Topics included; factors affecting fire behavior, safety precautions when fighting fires, techniques commonly implemented on the fire line, and an introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS) utilized by federal agencies during emergencies such as wildland fires. One the final day of the training; the class traveled to a remote facility to practice fire-fighting techniques described earlier in the week. This included; constructing a fireline at real speed with real fire-fighting tools, maintaining the tools afterward, and practicing deployment of a fire shelter (a integral piece of safety equipment that serves as the last line of defense when caught in a wildfire). Everyone passed the final exam and our entire crew received S-190 and S-130 certifications!
The next day, we participated in a ATV Safety Training course. This one day course strived to teach the crew have to ride All Terrain Vehicles safely. The members deftly zoomed around cones in figure-eights and banked upon steep slopes for six hours until finally, the last of many trainings undertaken by the crew this year was complete.
Our thirteenth week was a short one, with just three days in the field before getting five whole days off for Thanksgiving. We returned to the rock work site to see if we could finish our rock retaining wall and maybe even move beyond it to begin digging the trail through the rocky outcropping. It was a tall order, but the crew was excited about finishing and gained energy from the thought of the upcoming vacation.
The crew worked tirelessly moving rocks, crushing rocks, and placing rocks. And just like that, the rock retaining wall was finished, with a beautiful crush and fill tread for the hikers to travel upon.
The next stretch of trailbuilding was challenging, as it required the removal of a large portion of the rocky hillside before solid, flat ground could be found. The guys were up to the challenge and would have worked straight through lunch each day (if they had been allowed).
The result of the long days was that a trail now exists where once only rocks lived. A job well done, and a good excuse to eat lots of turkey and pie.
In the 12th week of our program, we had rock workskills with Rebecca Pike. It was a wonderful experience because it took hard team work and determination to move boulders. The work site, a different section of the Copper Mountain Loop we worked on previously, was very beautiful. The hike there from our campsite was roughly two miles.
The rocks that we needed to move for the rock wall must have been at least 800 pounds each, if not more. But we didn't have to move just any rock - this rock was schist, a metamorphic rock. It tends to break apart with any rough movement, so we had to be very careful when moving them around.
We were able to move enormous rocks to a certain location to construct a rock wall after Rebecca taught us how to use rock bars to move large rocks safely and efficiently. We learned how to place the rocks with multiple points of contact to make a strong, sturdy, and long-lasting retaining wall.
Finding large rocks to build the wall was fun. We broke off pieces from the surrounding mountains or dug rocks out of the ground. We also learned a method called crush and fill to fill in the spaces in the rock wall. We smashed rocks with a double or single jack hammer to make pieces as small as possible. It was very tedious and hard work.
We finished the week with a great sense of pride in our wall. Although we did not accomplish a lot of distance, we know that the wall we built is strong and will support many hikers, bikers, and equestrians and will allow many people to enjoy the Copper Mountain Loop.
On week 11 of our amazing work together, we were supplied with Juniper wood to construct wood benches for people to sit on at an historic schol site at the Agua Fria National Monument. We had three teams to make three benches; Josh teamed up with Jacob and AJ, George teamed up with Chris, and Rip teamed up with Aron and Angel. First we started by taking all the bark off of the logs to make them easier to work with and last longer. Afterwards we used saws and wood chisels to shape the benches.
While Jacob and AJ figured out the dimensions for their bench; Rip, Aron, and Angel worked on a bench of their own. There they chiseled a lot of bark off to make the wood look as elegant as possible. We ended up carrying parts of our bench far into an archaeological site. When we got there, the team finished was left. The result was a nice looking and stable bench. The bench took hard work and determination, but in the end, it was successful.
It was a wonderful experience to know that our hours of timber work will improve the lives of the hundreds of visitors the site will receive. The camp site was next to the worksite so we didn't have to hike far at all. One night, as Josh, Rip, and Chris were going to the tents, they shined the light down the river bank to see ten pairs of eyes staring right back at them. It turned out to be five bulls drinking from the water. "Scariest thing to see before going to bed," says AJ.