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.