Hitch 12 marked the beginning of the end of our long desert sojourn here in the majestic Mojave. What a spectacular finale it was! Bobcats and BBQs, river plunges and hot spring soaks, Palm Springs adventures and fourth grade field trips. We rounded out the season with a variegated array of exciting experiences that could only have been had in this magical slice of xeric Californ-I-A. The hitch began with a BLM hosted BBQ at which all the crews were in attendance. This was to be the last formal gathering of all the 2013 DRC cohort and our lovely friends at the BLM. A bittersweet affair! We feasted on a delicious mix of goodies and mingled with our amigos and BLM buddies and said some sad goodbyes to our contacts at the BLM. They gave us some wonderful parting gifts, including awesome stickers, National Park passes, water bottles and hats. We will miss them dearly!
Our second day of hitch we had a wonderful time helping out with the Sand Canyon Environmental Education Program (or, SEEP), spending the day in pretty Sand Canyon playing with fourth grade students from local Ridgecrest schools, teaching them about local flora and fauna, among other environmental related topics. The art station was a big hit; many a satisfied student walked away with pretty paint drawings adorning their faces and/or appendages. It was a fun day!
We were all very excited to depart on day four of hitch for our Leave No Trace (LNT) training certification course which was held at the Whitewater Preserve just outside of Palm Springs. Sadly, one of our crew members, Mr. M. Bemus, was left behind in Ridgecrest in order to take care of some of his pre-Peace Corps checklist items…And before we left we were forced to say goodbye to the Rands and Jawbone crews who finished their season and were heading off to pursue new adventures elsewhere beyond the desert. We hope they are having fun wherever they are! Our first night at Whitewater we couldn’t resist the pull of the big city, and we spent the afternoon wandering wide-eyed around the bustling metropolis of Palm Springs. We were particularly enthused to see a Trader Joes, and then went to watch The Great Gatsby at the movie theater. Mama Cat bought us popcorn and candy. Happy mothers day, Mom! We also paid a visit to a Ben and Jerry’s and stuffed our faces with some delicious ice cream. The next few days we spent learning from the LNT master, El Cuchillo (aka Mr. Matt Duarte), about Leave No Trace and teaching techniques. We went on some splendid day-hikes along the Pacific Crest Trail, and each had the opportunity to present to the group on a specific LNT principle (such as “dispose of waste properly,” or “respect wildlife”). The highlights of our hikes included refreshing dips in the Whitewater river, spectacular aerial views of the austere Whitewater canyon and surrounding desert mountains, wildlife sightings including a bobcat (!), a Red Racer snake, a surfeit of ants (which forced us to cede the ground and set up our sleeping areas on top of the picnic tables), a couple of pesky nocturnal raccoons, and a brief sighting of a bighorn sheep by Lizzie and Cat! We also got to meet some really cool PCT thru-hikers one morning (they were Nolene from South Africa and Bill from Chico, aka Mike the Mechanic, his trail name), and invited them over for breakfast and coffee. Nolene, tragically, lost here sun hat that morning and so Cat offered up her own, earning her the epithet of “Trail Angel” (a term that PCT thru-hikers use to describe people of exceptional kindness they encounter on their 6-month journey). Nolene and Bill inspired us, and now Lizzie and Adam are making plans for their 2014 attempt to thru-hike all 2,600 miles of the PCT. At the end of LNT training, we spent an afternoon at Joshua Tree National Park scrambling around on rocks and lounging in the shade of the cacti. We also paid a visit to Pie for the People, a delicious pizza shop in the town outside the park. Then we said our goodbyes to Matt Duarte, our dear friend and mentor, and began the long drive back to Ridgecrest to finish up the hitch working on the remainder of the fence in Grass Valley.
Two days of building H-braces for the fence in Grass Valley later, (during which we were blessed with some welcome cool weather), and we had wrapped up our work in Grass Valley and the High Desert for the season! Our emotions were varied; part excited and relieved, and part sad and nostalgic to be saying goodbye to Grass for the last time on our final day of work.
Our last day of hitch we spent a day of fun and relaxation at the hot springs along the Kern River near Lake Isabella, about an hour and a half outside of Ridgecrest in the Sequoia National Forest. Carlie (Cat’s dog) joined in for the fun, and we had a wonderful time soaking in the springs, splashing in the river, and swinging from the rope swing (Lizze is particularly adept at swinging from the tree; she adopted the “limp body” technique, sort of just flopping gracefully into the river). It was a splendid way to finish up the final hitch. And now, as we enter these last stages of wrapping up our time here in the California desert, together for the last time, in Ridgecrest, in our little home on East Church Ave., reflecting on our experiences, I am reminded of the sage words of Mary Austin: that “for all the toll the desert takes of a man it gives compensations, deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars.” One might also add the “communion of friends.”
We will miss you, desert! Thanks for all the experiences.
The Grass Valley Crew
Hi Lizzie’s Mom! (And Zeus!)