Day 1 – What Would Smoky Make of This?

Picture, if you will, the site of a forest two years after a wild fire. In my mind’s eye, the scene is dotted with burned out pine hulks and heaps of ash, but is dominated by green undergrowth and leafy seedlings. While this might be consistent with the sites of eastern and northwestern blazes, fires in dry climates leave a different, more permanent, impact on the landscape. Today, my ASB friends and I got to see such a sight first hand. Though we saw a couple of burned trees, the landscape overlooking Key’s View (a popular attraction visited by 70% of Joshua Tree’s visitors) was almost entirely barren. Across the ridge, little had changed since the fire there was put out two years ago. Our crew was tasked to change that.

In order to return the land to its former state, my ASB crew spent the day planting seedlings from the National Park Service nursery at Twenty-Nine Palms. Though our Park Service supervisors admitted that the effort would only reforest a small portion of what had been burned out, they hoped that the patches we added would spawn new growth in the future. While all of this sounds idealistic and pastoral, the mechanics of accomplishing the task were a little less academic.

Supplied with picks, shovels, and breaker bars, our group broke into 2-3 person teams to dig holes in which the seedlings will, hopefully, grow. While this task might sound simple to those familiar with lush, eastern forests, Joshua Tree is…different. After having clawed my way through ~5 feet of desert “soil”, I have developed a new respect for the plants and animals that make this place their home. I picked, shoveled, and sweated my way to the bottom of several holes along with Brent, my fellow crew member.

During one particularly miserable dig, the two of us took turns hewing our way through what felt like solid rock. After half an hour’s work, we managed to dig a hole 18 inches deep, and 2 feet wide; just big enough to settle a new Joshua Tree. As a group, we repeated this task 105 times over several acres of the burn site.

Speaking of the group, this week’s Alternative Spring Break crew has started to come together as a team. Besides equitably dividing our work in the field, we’ve also come to enjoy each others’ company. After ending work around 3:30pm, we headed back to camp with two free hours before dinner. Though we spent some of our time preparing skits on the basic principles of Leave No Trace Camping, we spent most of our time exploring the country around our campsite together. At around 4:45 pm PDT, seven of us started out on a hike that took us into a valley, through a dry river bed, to the foot of a beautiful red tinged canyon wall.