It's the stretch run now, folks. We're down a man, the temperature is creeping up, and the future looms, summer beckons. Hitches always seem daunting at the beginning, as the desert is slow and the days plod along like our heavy-booted steps through the sand.
Hitch ten, though, has passed in the blink of an eye. It seems that just yesterday we were in Sand Canyon helping fourth-graders discover the wonders of the desert, like just hours ago we came back from a magical trip into no-man's land (i.e. the naval weapons center) to see petroglyphs (and wild horses as a bonus!), that we just now drove out to Yucca Valley to begin Leave No Trace training... but suddenly, it's the end of the hitch and our adventures that took us to so many corners of the Mojave are all behind us, lingering in our memories like dust trails in the wake of our Dodge Ram.
This hitch certainly racked up the memories: entertaining elementary school kids with our particular Rands charm in Sand Canyon; holding our breaths and our bladders as we traversed through a canyon filled with petroglyphs; taking in the Dr. Seuss-like scenery of Joshua Tree National Park; inhaling the mouthwatering pizza aroma at Pie for the People after two days of backpacking; giggling over the antics of our BLM contact's nephew at our dinner party chez Rands; sliding down obsidian deposits at Fossil Falls.
We were spoiled this hitch with so many activities outside the norm that restoration now seems like a distant haze-dream, a foggy relic of our old days. We certainly took advantage this hitch of the lighter side of DRC life: trainings and outreach and environmental education enrichment and good ol' road-trips north, east, and south through miles of creosote and patchy forests of Joshua Trees.
We are true students of the Mojave now. We've learned of its secrets, its undisclosed wonders, its ebb and flow. We know its plants, its wildflowers, its geology, its whispered history, its storied past as a land of lakes, innovative peoples, and megafauna. We know how dynamic and diverse it actually is, and we know this in our bones, in our lungs, in our skin, a knowing that enters through subconscious means, at a depth we may not have even fully realized yet.
This year wasn't the best for wildflowers, but still our heads turn with every flash of green or burst of color. We celebrate the desert's small victories, and we rejoice in its subtle diversity. We have one hitch left, one more stint out in the dust, the final exam, the graduation ceremony. It's all coming together in one final synthesis, and at the end we'll raise our dusty Nalgenes in a triumphant toast to the season, to our new status as scholars of the dust and the sun.
This week we went to Ajo,Arizona to visit the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. On our first day there, we met up with our contacts from Fish and Game and went out to a wild life water tank where the endangered Senoran pronghorns can drink. There was still heavy equipment tracks everywhere from the installation of the watering hole. We covered the tracks and spread out vegetation to rehab the area and make it look more natural. We made short work of the project and thoroughly impressed our agency contacts.
The next day we went out and brushed an old original road as the reroute wasn't in accordance with the Wilderness plan. WE made short work of what the agency thought would take all day (there seems to be a theme here!) Along the way we encountered border patrol and had a discussion about the politics of managing border lands between different agencies. We really got to witness first hand how agencies are dealing with illegal immigration. During this week we saw several endangered species including the Pupfish and Senoran Pronghorn.
The great thing about this job is it allows you to be diverse in the work you accomplish and Hitch 10 was the hitch of many trades. In the early stages of the hitch, all four Ridgecrest crews were treated to a tour of the petroglyphs on the China Lake U.S. Naval Air Base. Getting on the Naval base required a highly intense screening process. We parked outside the base and every Truck was searched, Cameras had to be put away in a locked container, and all of us had to provide social security numbers and ID's. After we were let on the base, an hour drive up windy roads followed. The tour was great and it included numerous amounts of incredible petroglyphs. The trail took us down a wash with several dried up waterfalls that required scrambling to continue the hike. The end of the trail took us to a drop-off that overlooked the majestic Mojave dessert. It was a great experience and everyone was so happy to get to see a great piece of Mojave history.
We also returned to the Owens Peak Wilderness to clean up trash in Sand Canyon with the Grass Valley crew. It was a pretty day to do it and in the afternoon we visited Fossil Falls, the site of a now dry ancient water fall. We marveled at the super smooth rocks and the holes created by the force of water that were so deep you could fit a whole person in them.
We also got to go out for two days with Grass Valley to continue the work on their fence. We had intended to go out for three days with them, but high winds drove us out of the field for a night.
After out short stint to out with Grass Valley we headed down to Yucca Valley for our Leave No Trace trainer course in Joshua Tree National Park. This turned out to be the highlight for our crew. We all found the course to be really interesting, and the fact that we got to go backpacking in the park as part of it was just fantastic. Not to many folks get to say they went backpacking in a national park as part of their job.
4/1: Conservation Day
Today the team took some time to plan out future conservation days. A big part of the day was spent on the phone, email, and doing research to plan out the rest of the season. The plan paid off, so look for some great conservation projects in the next couple hitch reports!
Once again the team surveyed visitors to Waco, Belton, and Stillhouse Hollow Lakes. Things really picked up this weekend with so many families visiting the parks to celebrate Easter weekend, there were even a couple backups! We got a sneak peak of what summer season will look like, with visitors non-stop and and lines of cars. Everyone did a great job handling the traffic, and we probably set a Waco spring team record for our most surveys yet!
4/8-4/9: Survey Group 2
This week we switched things up! In an effort to keep the scenery interesting, and to let the whole team get to know all of our sites everyone switched survey groups this week. Annie and Josh will be spending their time at Belton and Stillhouse, while Stacy will be interviewing visitors to Waco and Belton Lake. It was a nice change of pace for the team, and everyone is excited to get to know some new sites and meet all the regular visitors (animal and human) we have heard so much about.
4/10: Conservation Day
For this week's conservation project the team volunteered with Waco Habitat for Humanity. We had the opportunity to do some work on a house for a local family in our own neighborhood. The house was pretty near completion, so it was exciting to work a house that would turn into a family's home so soon. We spent the day caulking anywhere air might leak through, installing outlet insulators and switch plates, and painting kitchen cabinets and the front door. It was a happy coincidence that we had the chance to do so many energy saving measures, giving us the opportunity to help that family practice conservation through home efficiency.
After a fun conservation day it was back to the grind! The team returned to their new sites for another couple days of surveying. The weekend crowd dwindled a little from the previous holiday weekend, giving the team a little time to relax and take in the scenery at some beautiful Texas lakes (check out Annie's lake photo's below and you'll see what we mean). This hitch also marked the start of one of Stacy's conservation projects, a Texas vs. Georgia vs. Tennessee site cleanup effort. All teams will spend a few minutes picking up trash at their sites (some really need it!) during setup or takedown, in a no holds barred competition to become the trashiest person and trashiest team of ACE VUS Spring 2013! The winner will be announced after hitch 4, so look for some serious bragging at that point. Annie also made some great recycling boxes for one of her projects, where we all do our best to recycle and reuse everything we can at home. The team also managed to squeeze in a little fun time to explore some unique Waco attractions like the downtown suspension bridge, the Waco Mammoth Site, the illustrious Texas Ranger Museum, and a free Eddie Money concert on the river. The town of Waco, Texas has earned some serious bonus points these last two weeks, and the team is looking forward to finding out what other hidden gems central Texas has to offer.
This week we traveled to El Centro, California. We were welcomed by the local BLM staff and were shown where we would be working for the week. Our first location was in the Yuha Desert. The first day at this location we did some exploring and observed several geoglyphs in the area that were pretty awesome. During the week we helped with park maintenance by putting up signs to mark the Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic trail that runs through the Yuha Desert. For the rest of the week we were at our other location where we were shown artifacts and archaeological sites in the area by the BLM's archaeologist. We also did restoration work covering illegal off road tracks and planted creosote. On Friday, we made the long journey back to Phoenix to do blog writing and time sheets.