Saturday, December 08, 2007

Hitch #4: Santa Rosa Mountains

For our 4th hitch our goal was to locate and document natural water sources in the Santa Rosa Mountains. We were given aerial maps with approximate spring locations marked on them. In addition our GPS device had those approximate locations loaded in the navigation feature. Basically each day we walked up a different canyon using our GPS device to locate one or more possible water sources.

In each case finding the spot marked in the GPS device meant leaving the relatively easy terrain of the canyon and path finding up the canyon walls. Some situations were more difficult than others. Our first canyon was pretty rough. After hiking up the canyon about 3 miles our teams split into two groups so we could attempt to document groups of water sources in two different areas.

The farther group of water sources was another 3+ miles away and it was already past noon so we knew fading sunlight was going to be a problem. We decided that Kevin and Rosy would jog to the water sources with minimal supplies and I would following up at a slower pace with extra gear.

They jogged off with one liter of water, the GPS unit, a layer of warm clothes and few emergency supplies. I followed with all my stuff and extra water. Our plan was for them to mark where they left the canyon floor. Using that point I would then attempt to intercept them on their return from the water sources.

It was fun for me to track them through hard packed sand of the canyon floor. Unfortunately I was concentrating on it so hard that I missed their sign. To complicate things I found tracks that kept going that must have been someone else's. I followed those tracks until I lost those as well.

After wandering around a little I realized how inadequate the aerial map was in my situation. I pretty much had no idea how I would intercept them. I headed back to where we left their packs to meet them. I waited for about three hours as the sun went down and it got cold. I was pretty worried because I thought they should be back sooner and I knew they didn't have much water.

I finally started walking back up the canyon to see if I could find them. After 30 minutes of walking I saw their headlamps rounding the bend. It was a relief, but it wasn't over because we still had 3 miles to walk in the dark. It was a long day but we made it back safely.

That was our most intense day by far. The rest of the hitch was interesting as well. Kevin and Miz both had to leave the field with injuries after the second night so Rosy, Monika and I hiked the rest of the canyons with help from a BLM employee one of the days.

Left to right: Rosy, me, Monika

Climbing a dry waterfall in search of water.

It rained all day for one of our hikes. Luckily it wasn't too cold because each of us got wet, despite having waterproof gear on. We hiked into a canyon as far as we could go and came across a pretty cool oasis. There was no standing water despite the lushness.

Faulty waterproof jacket

Tomorrow we leave to do more water monitoring near Needles. It actually snowed at my house today. I didn't know that could happen in the desert. Hopefully we don't get rain on this trip... or snow!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Baskets Galore

In my free time during the last month I've been working on three different types of basket. It's been especially enjoyable to work on them because I've been teaching Rosy how to make them and we've been working together.

In gathering the material I've been very opportunistic. Some of the material I brought home from hitches we've worked on. Others I've gathered in town. Since almost all the material is from live plants, I've also had the opportunity to practice caretaking. I try not to take the best piece, but the one that being removed, makes the environment better.

The first basket of the three I contructed from pine needles. It's my first pine needle basket. I gathered the needles from the Northern Red Pine tree in my front yard. The basket consists of a coil of pine needles bundled together with thread. I suppose if I wanted the basket to be composed completely of primitive material I could have used yucca fibers instead of thread. These pine needles were very dry and brittle so I had to use green needles at the start where more bending was required.

The basket before I started taking the coil vertical

I wove together the second basket from yucca leaves that we cut during our second hitch. The leaves pointed out over the trail and needed to be trimmed back. Since we only cut them back as far as needed, the longest pieces were only about 18 inches long. We had a lot of them though so I played around and came up with this small basket in about an hour. It is my first woven basket. This type of yucca is very dry, thin and stiff and not ideal for basketry or cordage even after soaking in water.

My last basket is a melon basket. This is the third I've made of this style. The material for this one came from many species and locations. The wood rings comprising the handle and rim are scrub oak from hitch two. The darker colored yucca near the sides of the basket is the same as in the basket above. One wooden spoke is from an unknown tree in my back yard and the other came from sycamore gathered on a hike in Riverside, CA. The roots making up the God's Eye lashing on the sides were pulled during hitch three. Finally the yucca making up the middle of the basket came from the hills by home. I'm pleased with the basket's balance. It sits without leaning like my previous baskets of this style.

Here you can see the God's Eye lashing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hitch #3: Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

It would be hard to find back to back hitches that could be as opposite as these last two.

Hitch 2
Elevation: 5000 ft.
Climate: dry, desert
Work: strenuous - hauling heavy rocks
Accommodations: tent/sleeping bag

Hitch 3
Elevation: sea level
Climate: humid, ocean
Work: easy - pulling plants/roots, raking dirt
Accommodations: beach house with the first bed I've slept in in two months

Fortunately, our location for hitch three had equally as beautiful scenery as hitch two. After all we stayed in a beach house on a peninsula with a lighthouse. How many houses have you stayed in where walking out both the front and back door gives you a view of the ocean? Have you ever had elephant seals living on the beach 40 yards from your bedroom window? It was awesome.

On top of Piedras Blancas lighthouse looking north.

The lighthouse and surrounding area is currently undergoing restoration to become a historical site open for the public. For a history about the site including invasive plant removal and native plant restoration check out this BLM site. Our job was to create parts of a developed trail accessible to wheel chairs. This basically means that the trail can only be so steep and required flat rest areas.

Our work was made easier because Jim, the caretaker and lighthouse keeper, already marked out the trail for us. We also had the use of mechanized vehicles to get and spread the decomposed granite as well as level the trail.

We ate good meals and watched a movie each night. It was pretty cushy. Next hitch we'll be backpacking again in the Santa Rosa mountains where it might snow. Yikes!

Piedras Blancas lighthouse viewed from the coast (I enhanced the purple sky using software)

One of the Piedras Blancas ("white rocks") at the tip of the peninsula. It is typically covered with hundreds of pelicans and other birds as well as seals and sea otters.

This is a portion of the trail we worked on. It was covered in the woolly yarrow plant you see on each side. In the distance is the house we stayed in.

Young elephant seals on the beach close to the house. The adults that are closer to 14-16 ft. long won't be around till December.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hitch #2: Walker Pass

My crew and I worked on our second and third hitches without returning home in between which explains why I haven't posted in so long. Our second hitch lasted 8 days. It was our first backpacking trip. Luckily we had mule packers haul in water, food and other tools. We still had to pack in some tools as you can see in the picture below.

Here we unleashed our war cry as we began our 5 mile hike up to base camp. The rock bar I'm brandishing like King Leonidas of Sparta weighed over 10 lbs.

We set up a base camp where we were given special permission to have a fire. This was very nice because the nights were cold, windy and dark by 6pm or so. The fire gave us the ability to stay up till 8pm or later instead heading to the tent early. One night we even made S'mores for Kevin's birthday.

A lady named Suzanne (green hat) who volunteers on the PCT came and helped us for a few days.

Our project was to repair sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Many volunteers help repair and maintain the trail during the year, but we were given this particular section because of the terrain. It is simply a cliff in many parts and difficult to work on. Many parts of the trail were eroding and collapsing and needed a rock wall for support.

To build a rock retaining wall we first dug out the trail until we had a solid platform to lay a foundation of large rocks. The ideal situation is when the platform is solid stone, but half the time we had to just make a platform out of the soil and hope that it would stand up to erosion.

All the stones we used were gathered from the immediate area along the trail, uphill or even downhill. As you can imagine it wasn't easy to find many large, rectangular shaped stones and then move them to the site. Each stone we laid had to fit snugly with no wobbling next to or on top of other stones since we were not using any kind of mortar.

After building up a wall we filled the trail side in with smaller crushed rocks. Then we piled the dirt back on the trail to finish it off.

Rosy, Miz and I worked on two projects. The before and after pictures are shown below.

This project took the three of us five days to complete. It is a 7 meter stretch of trail. What a relief it was to finish that sucka!

One of the best parts of the day for me was lunch time. We were privileged to have a beautiful view the whole time we were working, but during lunch I had time to relax and enjoy it.

In the valley in the distance is the town of Ridgecrest where two other crews are stationed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hitch #1: Surprise Canyon Monitoring and Chris Wicht Camp Cleanup

Sunday we returned from our first hitch. We were located in Panamint Valley with the lower half of Death Valley National Park to the north and east and China Lake Naval Weapons Center to the south and west. I actually got a picture of some kind of fighter jet flying by very low to the ground.

We camped in the valley and the weather was amazing. While sunny during the day, we spent most of our day time at higher elevation in Surprise Canyon where it was cooler. At night it was warm enough to sleep with my bag unzipped. Two out of four nights I awoke to sounds of a wild burro. One was grunting pretty loudly close to my tent. I looked at the tracks and it looked like the burro had laid down for awhile. Unfortunately I didn't feel like getting up to take a picture of it that night and none returned the following nights.

Our second day we hiked from the Chris Wicht camp nearly five miles up the canyon and back. We gained about 4000 feet in elevation. The hike was pretty strenuous because the trail isn't maintained. On our way up we often had to bushwhack our way through brush and often came to dead ends from which we had to backtrack. We even ended up high on the mountain a couple of times. It made for a very adventurous hike.

The coolest thing about the hike was that almost the whole time we were following a stream. There were at least two springs that fed it. It was refreshing to have flowing water in the middle of the desert. It was also nice to see familiar flora like cottonwoods, willows and cattails.

Here you can see the band of lush vegetation encompassing the stream.

I guess the coolest part really is that we were paid to go on a beautiful day hike. Our job was to identify and GPS map invasive tamarisk, flora and fauna, splits in the trail, cut vegetation and large debris (trash). It was a fun task because it forced me to be aware of my surroundings. I spotted tamarisk three times.

The remaining days were focused on cleaning up the Chris Wicht camp. The area was used for mining in the past. Then in the early 1900's, a dutch man named Chris Wicht made a pretty nice home in the canyon. He entertained many and had a pool for swimming which was a pretty big deal in the desert. The land was passed down through family. Last year an accidental fire burned up the camp and all the junk there.

This gives you an idea of what the camp looks like. There were eight or more busted up vehicles on the property.

Our job was to lead a group of volunteers in a one day cleanup. There was an interesting mix of OHV users who want the canyon open for OHV use and more environmentally minded people who want to keep it closed to vehicles. Everyone got along well and lots was accomplished. We filled two giant dumpsters with metal and had lots of metal and trash remaining.

Before and after pics of one of the many junk laden areas

Tomorrow we start preparations for our next hitch. I believe we'll be doing trail work southwest of our location for hitch 1.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wildcorps Training

October 9th my crew started training. It took place in the wilderness of the Mojave National Preserve. Our camp was very remote. The closest hospital was a two hour drive away. The picture below gives you an idea of the remoteness.

Camp from afar looking southwest

The facilities consisted of a covered picnic area, a water well and two pit toilets. Because water is scarce in the desert, there was no water for bathing. I washed my face once but that was it for 10 days.

Looking east

Being so far from civilization had its advantages too. I've never seen so many stars at night as I did there. An advantage of little rainfall is being able to sleep out under the stars nine nights in a row without much worry. To be safe we had tents to store our gear and hide in if rain did fall.

No rain didn't mean no clouds though and camping in a valley meant sunrise came late and sunset came early. Consequently we never missed one.

Sunrise looking southeast

Sunset looking west.

Our training consisted of community building, Leave No Trace ethics, tool safety/sharpening, desert restoration and a four day Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) course. Desert restoration in a broad sense is camouflaging illegal roads created by OHVers (Off Highway Vehicles) so that nature has a chance to be restored over time.

There are many techniques used and it is as much an art form as it is manual labor. One of the major limitations is not being able to plant live vegetation. The chance of survival of a transplanted piece of vegetation in the desert ecosystem is slim.

Some areas are easier to disguise than others. The pictures below show what one of our groups did during training. Obviously it still looks like a road, but hopefully it looks less obvious and appealing. Rocks and vegetation provide shade that promote growth of new plants.

Restoration Before Pic

Restoration After Pic

I should mention that my crew of five differs from the other four crews that were at training. They will specialize in desert restoration for the duration of the eight months. My crew will be performing desert restoration on one or maybe two hitches. The rest of the time we will be doing a grab bag of projects which you can read about in the future.

The WAFA course was pretty cool. The course was a mix between lecture and scenarios. The scenarios were exciting because they used Halloween make up to make it more realist. My favorite was dealing with a patient with a spurting artery in the lower arm. The person had a pump and sprayed out fake blood until we applied pressure and wrapped it.

We also had a night scenario where a camp stove blew up. One person had inhalation burns and died despite our best efforts. The other person didn't speak English and had boiling water burn the top layer of skin off her hands. It was pretty realist.

Meeting the rest of the interns and leaders was cool. Everyone got along great. Besides training we often played hacky sack, speedball (sorta like ultimate frisbee) and frisbee. At nights there was usually music playing going on. Unfortunately we didn't have a fire to huddle around. The mornings and nights were cold and windy; the days warm, but never hot.

After training, we had four days off. Everyone got along so well that close to all the interns came to Yucca Valley and partied at the other crew house in town. My crew mate and I made the long walk home that night and on the way took some pictures of which I made a collage. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I shaved my beard into a handle bar mustache for fun and to go along with my redneck look. I've since shaved it off.

Horsin' around after our crew party (Text in bottom right picture says, "Warning! Do not lean, sit, crawl, or stand on, or deface horse.)

The two days following the party was the Joshua Tree Roots Music Festival which most attended. Many of us got in free for volunteering which was nice since the cost was $40 for one day. My shift was from 10:30am - 1:30am Saturday night, but a wicked sandstorm blew around 8pm so I didn't man my post. It worked out great because the show went on anyway. Despite not being "all about" that kind of music I really enjoyed the free concert. I also received a free t-shirt for volunteering.

Tomorrow we head north for our first real project. I'll tell more about it when I get back.

Monday, October 08, 2007

New rocks and points

On my way out to California, I stopped at my uncle Wayne's house in St. Louis. He hooked me up with some nice flintknapping material not to mention dinner and a bed for the night.

I sawed off one antler tine to make a pressure flaker which I'll try out soon. Below the antlers to the right are three hammer stones. The rest are various rocks for making points. I believe the bottom left chuck with the red stripe through it is chert. I started working on this chunk the last couple days.

It is an absolutely gorgeous rock. It is pure white and looks like chalk. I hammered out a pretty nice axe shaped piece so far with hopes of making a spear point. I still have some issues to work through on the opposite side of this piece. I haven't knocked all the cortex off yet.

Taking one of the spalls I knocked off, I started making an arrow head as well. I just can't get enough of this beautiful white rock. I find it is pretty easy to work with too. I haven't made any major errors so far on this piece.

Here's another rock I received. I don't know what type it is. I think it is a kind of flint. It looked pretty round and dirty until I made a very nice strike and...

Tada! I cut off a nice arrowhead sized slice to work on.

I'm pretty excited because so far two of my crew mates have asked me to teach them how to flintknap. While teaching Kevin, I worked on a glass bottle bottom. Here is the point I made from a bottle of Negro Modelo.

I'm taking my flintknapping stuff to my 10 day training in the Mojave so hopefully I'll have some more to show after that.

First Week in California

I've been in Yucca Valley, California now for a week and everything is going great. Everyone in my crew is getting along swimmingly. Four of us live in a house and our crew leader lives in a separate house in Joshua Tree. The house is a normal two bedroom, two full bath house. The only things not normal are no that there are no beds, no tv and no lawn.

I'm fine sleeping on the floor using my camping mattress. It's nice not having a tv around because we all get so much done without one. Instead of a lawn the yard is sand which is cool because I can easily practice tracking anytime. The good news is we have two computers with DSL so when I'm home I can update my blog and check email.

Our backyard is pretty big. A couple days ago we all at dinner on the back porch and watched the birds. It was interesting to see 5 quails walk along the back fence like it was a straight out of a shooting gallery video game.

Having Joshua Trees in our yard is pretty neat too.

Our first five days of work have mostly been prep work for our trips and your standard new job training stuff. One day we drove into Joshua Tree National Park which you can see from the map below is southeast of us.

View Larger Map

There we hiked up Ryan Mountain. It was an easy 3 mile round trip.

Here is my crew at the top of the mountain. (Me, Kevin, Monika, Rosy, Mizuki (bottom right).

Here is my adventurer pose on the very peak of the mountain.

It is nice to finally be surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about nature as I am. We are all here to learn as much as possible. We are bonding well so far. We already run, do yoga, prepare meals, eat, read and goof around together and it's only been one week.

Tomorrow we leave and travel north to the Mojave National Preserve to do training with the other SCA desert crews. We will be learning wilderness first aid and other skills we'll need to do our job. We'll be in the desert with no showers for 10 days. Hopefully I'll have something to share when we get back.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hunting in Virginia

Saturday early archery hunting season began. My brother and I woke up at 5am and headed out into the Virginia woods about an hour south of Washington D.C.. Sometime after 7:30am I saw a small deer approaching. I was sitting on the ground with my feet in a dugout pit. It was as if I were sitting in a chair where my butt was level with the ground.

The deer was approaching from the side that had almost no cover. The hunting blind was set up for the deer to come the other direction. When I saw it, I slowly leaned over and laid my chest on the ground with my bow extended in shooting position. The deer continued in my general direction, but was starting to angle away.

Mentally, I called to her and told her there were acorns by me which there were. She turned and came closer towards me. At one point she was about 12 yards away. There was absolutely nothing between her and me and yet she hadn't seen me. I had a perfect broadside shot.

I let her walk on. Why didn't I shoot? It didn't feel right. I wasn't confident that I wouldn't just injure the deer. I was laying in a awkward position, with a shirt draped over one eye, using an arrow that shoots crooked about 3 yards outside the range I practice shooting from at a smaller than expected deer. This was also the first day of hunting. I thought I would surely have better opportunities.

As it turns out I went hunting four more times over the next 3 days and saw that same deer again, but no others. We think that the rest of the deer are hanging out closer to the river at this time of year.

It was exciting and having a deer so close with nothing between between her and me was a thrill. I learned a lot from each time in the woods. I saw a fox and heard him barking. I heard lots of different birds including two barred owls squawking at each other which is pretty funny to hear.

This is my first all natural arrow. The point is dacite stone. It was hafted in using pitch and sinew. The shaft is viburnum and the fletchings are sinew and turkey feathers.

Her you can see the shirt I wore on my head. I did this because the mosquitoes were pretty bad. Here I have the side tucked tightly to my head. The first day I didn't so they draped in front of my eye. To get this look I first dabbed on white ash to dull my skin. The black is charcoal and the lighter color is clay.

One day my brother showed me how to make a carrying case for my bow. This is made from braintanned deer skins. I cut long thin strips to sew it all together.

8 days till I start my journey out west.