Hitch 8, past the halfway mark of our stint in the desert. To some degree it brought normalcy back to our crew as it was the first time since hitch 4 that we stayed out in the field for a majority of hitch with just the Golden Valley Crew. We also got to venture to a new campsite in Grass Valley, the most remote one yet. A new place to explore, new scenery for us to wake up to, and new places for our rocket boxes! We had a familiar assignment too, barbed wire takedown. With the Shoshone Desert Conference to look forward to at the end of hitch, nothing could put a damper on our spirits. Hitch is so easy and fun when your crew is excited and happy all the time.
Grass Valley is really a beautiful place. Temperatures in the mid 60s during the day with a pleasant breeze and temperatures around freezing at night make living outdoors wonderful. The views you have of surrounding features like Red Mountain, the unnamed mountains in Grass Valley Wilderness, the Lava Mountains, the Almond Mountains, Cuddieback Lake, Fremont Peak, the Black Mountains, the Sierras, the San Bernardinos, the San Gabriels, and the Panamints breathe life into me every time I see them. Joshua Trees are stunning and the weather has been so warm that wildﬂowers are starting to blossom. I look forward to every sunset and sunrise because there is a good chance that it will be spectacular and a 100% chance that it will be better than what I could see at home. There is not a prettier night sky than one you’ll witness in the Mojave. Falling asleep to the most stars I have ever seen with a chorus of coyotes serenading me into slumber every night never gets old, never.
All that being said there is not much uglier than a barbed wire fence. Four ratty strands of sharp wire attached to rusty t-posts, now that’s just gross. If you have been blessed to have never been given the opportunity to work with barbed wire, I envy you. We were asked to remove an 8-mile long fence that spans the entire width of the wilderness. The way you disassemble a barbed wire fence is by removing the clips that hold the wire to the t-posts and cutting the wire into manageable sections approximately 30-50 yards in length. One then coils the barbed wire into what looks like a wreath that was hand crafted by Frankenstein or Quasimodo and leave it staged near the fence line for pick up. Barbed wire is also a real jerk to your hands and gloves. Most of the crew suffered from glove failure on the first day of wire-takedown. Our hands resembled pincushions and the whole crew is infected with tetanus. Only kidding, all of our shots are up to date. The 15 minute car ride from camp to the fence was spent passing around a roll of duct tape to fortify our gloves before heading to battle. There is a whole bunch of repetition involved and you spend the whole day walking in a straight line down the fence just coiling and coiling. We were only in the field for 7 days this hitch and each day was spent on the fencing project. The voices in your head keep great company during times like these. Of course it’s not all that bad, I mean remember how awesome this place is. Sure the work was not keeping me on the edge of my seat, but we are bringing the area back to the wild which is incredibly gratifying. And my forearms are more toned just in time for beach season. Had we worked on the fence for a normal hitch we would have finished. But the Shoshone conference was calling us and we had to wrap up work in the field a little earlier than normal to make the trip.
Shoshone was such a mystery to us. We had heard numerous stories about the place and people. My mind took off with outrageous ideas of the town and people in the days leading up to our excursion. This was the most excited I have been for a hitch event to this point. It was finally time to see what this shindig was really like.
To start things off on a good note we decided to caravan with the other hoodlums living in Ridgecrest. Naturally they were all late and smelled bad. That is a lie, we love all the other crews in Ridgecrest. For a nature geek like me the drive was so exciting! Four hours crammed 5 to a truck through Death Valley National Park while on the job, yes please!!!! The drive was beautiful but it had to come to an end. We had made it. I thought that Shoshone was a town of some size; I mean why else would you have a conference there right? Well it turns out Shoshone is a one road town with a gas station/general store and a bar/restaurant that takes less than five minutes to walk from end to end of. There is no cell phone service and the crowd drawn to the conference (about 60 people) probably tripled the population of Shoshone. During the actual conference we learned that there are multiple conferences all over southern California and that they make a conscious effort to stay away from cities. I find that fitting for the ethics taught at the conference. Shoshone is a perfect place for people who have intense passion for the desert to have a meeting.
We arrived in Shoshone early in the afternoon with plenty of time to set up a tarp for sleeping. Our campsite was kind of humorous for the passersby. About 40 young adults sleeping on a lot behind our caravan of trucks and trailers close enough to the highway to throw a rock onto it made me chuckle. The conference building was a one room building painted blue with ﬂowers all over it. The ﬂoor was concrete and there was just enough seating for most everybody at the conference. Getting to Shoshone the day before the conference gave us time to explore the town before dinner. Wildcorps was familiar with the area and took us to some hot springs for a relaxing night of scalding water and sulfurous mud. Huge ups to them for taking us! It was such a pleasant night! The conference didn’t start until noon the next day and the DRC way has us waking up with the sun. This gave us so much time for morning activities! Wildcorps came through again and conjured the idea of going to a date farm near the area. China Ranch Date Farm was an oasis in the desert. We drove from badlands straight down into a setting that looked like something from a Jamaican postcard. The property was surreally beautiful. We had time to hike and explore before the farm opened up for business. There are so many types of dates and they are all delicious! The store served date shakes among other date goods and desert accessories. We bombarded them with an order for 30 date shakes at 9 in the morning. After inhalation of our shakes and too many brain freezes to count we headed back for the conference.
When we arrived back to camp there were people crowded outside the building waiting for the conference to start. They were old timers for the most part, people who were extremely well versed in desert issues. Most of the people were reconnecting with friends they had not seen since the last conference when we pulled in. The meeting was called in session shortly after we got back from the date farm. As soon as introductions began the down to business attitudes of the meeting started to show. The people presenting were so passionate about protecting their homes. There were so many issues discussed ranging from the desert tortoise to renewable energy sources destroying the desert. The first night ended with a potluck and a really cool bird talk from Len the birdman. His love of birds made for quite a show. He also did the best Virginia Rail call I have ever heard involving artful handfarts and headbobs. The next morning the conference resumed and my brain continued to swell to the rapid discussion of so many topics. This day focused on the BLM and renewable resources, two things that most of these people have distaste for. It was interesting to watch these people ask tough questions to people who have inﬂuence in policy making and land use throughout the desert. Tensions were not high and there was not much hostility but people were all business and spoke their minds. The conference ended at noon and it was time for lunch and clean up and our drive back to Ridgecrest. Shoshone certainly left its impression on me and has encouraged me to become more knowledgeable about the issues regarding the Mojave. I could not hold a conversation with most of the presenters on the issues they stood for, but what I could relate to is a love for this place. With one stop at beautiful Zabriske Point in Death Valley, we were back home and our hitch had come to an end.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Shoshone. There are a lot of reasons for these people to be discouraged. Many of them are individuals taking on large corporations. These people have spent five to ten years fighting a losing battle or simply prolonging the inevitable. Some of the people have racked up personal debt fighting for what they love. Still the attitude of the people is best summarized by a man named Tom who stood up and said this: “I don’t want to hear the reasons why you can’t do something, I want to hear what you are trying to do to accomplish something.”
Hi Mom and Dad.
The Golden Valley Crew