Yes, we work ever further south than Tucson.
We started our southern parks work with an 8 day hitch at Fort Bowie National Historic Site. Fort Bowie is the most isolated NPS unit in Arizona so it really felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was nice and cool in the mornings and balmy come afternoon. We worked on two projects; seed collecting and invasive species removal. Previous to our first hitch at Bowie we scoped out sites with a variety of native grasses and few invasives. These areas became our collection sites.
Sunday we took the fort tour starting at the park’s parking lot, which is a 1.5 mile hike away from the visitor’s center and main park site. It was likely one of the best interpretation tours I’ve ever had. Ft. Bowie has so much history. Seeing as there is not much water available in southern Arizona, European settlers often followed routes based on the availability of water rather than ease of terrain. Ft. Bowie was created in part because it was near a major water source for European travelers as well as Apache tribes. One Apache chief named Cochise maintained peace for most of his lifetime but war began between Apaches and settlers. A fort was erected in the area to insure access to water and safety for travelers. The park still has the remains of buildings, an old cemetery, and the wagon trail road taken by many settlers as they moved west. It’s pretty rad.
We worked under the high desert sun during the days and watched the Milky Way and listened for the coyote pups in the evenings. The sand cranes are migrating to the sulfur springs for the winter so we would all pause and watch as they passed overhead. We also had a grey fox stop by for a visit and a coatimundi spotting by Stu. Tarantulas, grasshoppers jumping up in bursts of color like camouflaged fireworks, and Larry Ludwig providing movies made for a pretty great hitch.
The last two weeks of December were spent at Chiricahua. We had the group campsite at Bonita Canyon all to ourselves. Chiricahua is another Arizona gem; unique landscape with few visitors. The park if full of hoodoos, winding roads, and the smell of pine trees. The last week of December we were joined by nine people from the SCA Field School out of Phoenix. Our force of thirteen took on mesquite eradication at Ft. Bowie as well as tackled a variety of jobs at Chircahua. The Field School folks were able to see both parks and work on projects involving species removal, seeds collecting, wood splitting, trail maintenance, and monsoon management. Stu, Ben, and Bobby led the Field School at Ft. Bowie and completed work in First Fort, the cemetery, and Indian Agency Trail. The last day everyone was able to work on a project of their choosing and explore the park in the afternoon. They were a huge help as well as a blast to have around. We ended up working on Halloween so we had our own party at the park. We all packed into headquarters to watch a Halloween movie fill up on cider and caramel apples. It was a pretty fun hitch.
We are now down to the final stretch. And Tucson is just starting to cool down. Did you know there is a ski resort in Tucson?
Documentaries and darn good folks.
Agave planting was brilliant. We packed up and headed south to Coronado for the big agave planting event Saturday August 18th. It was a blast. We worked with folks from different parks around southern Arizona including two SCA interns from Organ Pipe. We seriously went to town digging hundreds of holes in preparation for the agave planting event. The event went smoother than ever before; the result of hours of planning, good people, and a lot of sweat. The morning was spent teaching volunteers how to plant agaves, playing quality control, and making sure no more snakes found their way back into the planting area. By the end of the day we had about 1400 baby agaves in the ground and a bunch of muddy volunteers. To top it all off, Coronado was absolutely beautiful. Last time we were there we were walking through fields of brown grass under the unforgiving desert sun. Now the place was full of life with wild flowers dotting green fields and white rocks peeking through lush mountain sides. We enjoyed storms every day and spent an evening watching an amazing lightning show over Mexico. We wore pants and sweatshirts for the first time in months, made veggie soup with Irish soda bread, and baked batches of everything cookies. It was the perfect reprieve from the desert heat.
Tucson must have missed us because when we got back the heat was easing off. The cooler weather and the rains really stirred up life here in the Sonoran Desert. We’ve seen quite a few diamondback rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, a baby bobcat, black widow spiders intent on taking over our work building, tarantulas, coyotes, grey foxes, jackrabbits, coachwhip snakes, red-tailed hawks, and the occasional owl.
Cooler weather also means change for our crew. We have reached the end of our 3 month stint here at Saguaro National Park. The other Southeast Arizona team said goodbye at the end of August but not before hosting the first annual NPS verses SCA Olympics; a tribute to conservation work everywhere. Tandie and a few other NPS folks took off to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Brian Doughty came to visit and tromp around the desert with us for a few days. And after our final day of bufflegrass spraying, (and a delicious goodbye cake), we are headed southward to seek our fortunes elsewhere for the next 7 weeks. Soon we will be dusting off our tents and breaking out the ol’ Colman stove. Can’t wait to kick it out in the wilderness again!
Otter pops and highway treasures,
BEEP BEEP BEEP! The alarm goes off at 3:30am. It’s still dark so you fumble to the bathroom and splash cool water on your face. You rustle up some grub and grab your pack as you head out the door. New Zealand and Australia are chatting about the Olympics on NPR as you drive through the quiet city. Eventually suburbia fades into winding back roads occupied by only a few avid cyclists. At headquarters you unload, give a few mumbled “good mornings”, and fill multiple liters with ice and water for the day ahead. Radios, GPS units, electrolyte supplements, and frozen Gatorade await you if only you venture into the florescent lights.
Cars roll up, people roll out, and debrief begins. A massive wall map is consulted and groups are established. As the sun begins to rise above the Rincon Mountains, the Saguaros become silhouettes with silver auras created by the glowing of their needles as they catch the sun’s rays. In the lingering darkness 20 odd people form a circle and contort themselves into the most peculiar positions while discussing bees, rocky slopes, hydrations, and the potential cholla level for the day. Safety circle concludes as the sky fades from pink to gold with a bright blue sky replacing the stars. Loaded up with water, electronics, equipment, knowledge, and a stretched body, you head into the cactus forest to take on the enemy; Buffelgrass.
The spray season is here. We have been spraying atop mountains, down in washes, and along rocky ridges. There have been some pretty gnarly days of tough terrain and unforgiving heat as well as lovely days atop Javellina hill where the flowers are blooming and the butterflies dance in nearly cholla-free fields. But be warned, the battle against Buffelgrass is not for the faint of heart.
We have been working with some pretty awesome folks, including another SCA crew that’s been working around these parts for the past 6 months. We’ve been exploring Tucson together, including heading up the Santa Catalina Mountains on a rainy afternoon. To beat the heat around the city you can drive up one of the surrounding mountain ranges in Tucson and watch the cacti drop away to a coniferous forest. It’s pretty fantastic. Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak in the Santa Catalina’s, even has a ski resort. We drove the 6,000 feet above the city, ate warm cookies, and drank hot coco in a log cabin among the Ponderosa Pines. It was a nice reprieve from the desert heat.
In the spirit of cooler weather, we decided to host a two thirds Christmas party as well. So the following weekend we donned Christmas sweaters, cranked up the Christmas music, and placed our $1 white elephant gifts under an agave tree adorned with Christmas lights. We grilled out by the pool and drank homemade eggnog. It was the best two thirds Christmas any of us could remember. We also started a synchronized swimming team, and took gold. Quite a successful evening I’d say.
Now we are headed to Coronado for their agave planting event. Last year there were 150 people that volunteered to plant agaves in a 7 acre field. The agave planting is part of a restoration project to restore an area that was once an illegal farm turned staging area when the border fence was being built. Native grasses have been planted in an effort to stave off Lehman’s Love Grass (another invasive grass) as well as encourage the spread of native seeds. The agaves also provide nectar for the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat whose numbers have been decreasing over the years. Restoration is a slow and laborious art, but hopefully the work we do at Coronado will bring the mountains alive with these little critters once again.
Until next time,
Mountain cookies and desert breezes.
The crew has been killin’ it out here in Arizona. Recently we’ve been working at Saguaro National Park. The Saguaro crew has been awesome. We’ve been doing a lot of training, learning about Buffelgrass, doing systematic mapping, and getting used to walking across the desert for 10 hours a day in 110 degree heat. We are pretty hardcore.
We met a gila monster, visited the Desert Museum, harvested Saguaro fruit with members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, saw a few desert tortoises, a horny lizard, rattle snakes, found a good looking arrow head, saw some petroglyphs and found another in a cave, and got close and personal with too many chollas. Snake chaps? Yes please.
Previous to Saguaro we spent some time even further south working at Coronado National Memorial and Chiricahua National Monument. We pulled Lehmann Lovegrass and London Rocket off the side of a mountain, up rock formations, along roads, and in an open meadow along the Mexican-US border wall.
Our first month was spent doing camping hitches, which were awesome. We made some serious back country meals and saw some pretty great night skies. But now that the monsoons are a’comin, Buffelgrass season has begun. We are back to living in Tucson, getting up before the sun, and getting to know our city by night. It’s a pretty cool city. And now that we all have bikes, the city is our oyster.
Sending warmth and desert sunsets.
Bobby is from the vast corn and soybean fields of central Illinois. He is a recent graduate from Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville with a degree in Geography and a minor in Environmental Sciences. During the summer of 2011 he worked at Gateway National Recreation Area serving on the Native Plant Corp for the SCA. Some of his favorite things consist of baseball, rock climbing, attempting to golf, concerts, meeting new people, and going on adventures. Get the fun outdoors!
I am the project leader for the 2012 Southeast Arizona Restoration Team based out of Tucson, AZ.
This will be my third SCA position. I first participated in the Florida Trails Alternative Spring Break in 2011 and then spent three months with the X-Corps in the Eastern Sierras. Each experience taught me more than I could have imagined. Enough cannot be said about the places I’ve worked and the people I’ve met. An ease dropping elderly couple summed up these experiences perfectly when they asked if I was recounting a dream after overhearing me tell my family about our travels. That’s the kind of stuff we do; dream worthy.
I was born and raised in Michigan. During my stint as a Spartan I studied a plethora of subjects. Environmental policy, psychology, and sustainable agriculture eventually equated a degree in the Social Sciences.
I enjoy good conversations, healthy competition, building communities, living, working, and playing outdoors, sustainable farming, eating local, talking food, dirty beats and sick drops, ice hockey, mountain biking, and good people.
SCA Project Leader
Conservation Corps - Native Plant
Saguaro National Park
|Southeastern Arizona Restoration Team Project Information|
|Sydney Schulz - Project Leader for Southeast AZ Restoration Team|
|It's here. The spray season.|