Project Leader: Scott Nordquist Project Dates: August 8, 2010 - May 17, 2011 E-mail address: email@example.com
Our ninth hitch brought an abundance of weather, wildflowers, and wildlife. When we left Owens Peak after the last hitch the flowers were huddling against cold, windy nights. Five, warm, relatively calm days later and the increase in number and variety was amazing. Former buds displayed their yellows, whites, creams, purples, and occasional scarlets, ranging from tiny, millimeter-wide dots carpeting wash beds to broad petaled blossoms to impressive clusters. Marty, our BLM contact, visited us our first night out in the field and told us this could be a bumper bloom season, casting a new light on the rain and snow we’ve lived through. Marty also brought a delicious cake, homemade from a family recipe, which further brightened our day.
Along with the profusion of wildflowers, the wildlife recognized a change in seasons and the desert came to life with the warming days and nights. A coyote (very likely a wily one) and a road runner greeted us as we drove to a new campsite our first morning in the field. The coyote proceeded to greet us most mornings at around 4:00am. Lizards and scampering ground squirrels were once again a common sight, along with skittish and sneaky quail. Near the end of the hitch we came across a large bullsnake wrapped up in a creosote bush. I was quite impressed by its length, around four feet, and with its beautiful cream and black square pattern. I was even more impressed when Ryan informed us that bullsnakes imitate rattlesnakes when under threat, coiling and waving their rattleless tails, and that bullsnakes are also immune to rattlesnake venom and rattler makes up a large part of their diet. Definitely a nice snake to have around work.
Most excitingly we saw our first desert tortoise. After a day working on the fence a BLM ranger drove by making his rounds and sighted it and kindly backed his vehicle a hundred yards down the road to let us know. It was an awe inspiring few minutes as we stood on the road and gazed up at its nearly motionless figure, nobly tortoising on the edge of a high bank. Michelle noted its large guler horn, a continuation of the underside of the shell under the head, indicating that it was probably male. Brogan imagined what it would look like without a shell. The rest of us merely basked in its glory until it eventually tortoised off into the brush.
For five days of our hitch our Golden Valley friends joined us to help with the aqueduct fence. I loved the chance to share our wilderness and work with them and repay the hospitality they showed us on our stays in Golden Valley. We spent some incredibly productive work days with them (I had trouble keeping up with new projects and supplies) and they had the chance to experience some of the difficulties particular to building fence in Owens as well as the range of weather the our wilderness throws at us. We had a few beautiful calm, warm days and nights but also some impressive wind. One ominous day Owens was wreathed with dark clouds and strong winds buffeted line after line of clouds out over the valley and impressive gusts brought bits of precipitation falling from clouds far away and up the mountain. Huge dust clouds were visible flying up and over the hills opposite of us to the east. That evening we were met by the confusing occurrences of a southwest wind turning suddenly into a northeast wind and the clouds above us moving in opposite directions and even splitting apart to blow in hard to conceive angles from each other.
That night was rough. Tents shook and bent in the wind, and those without tents were met with an early morning pelting of icy raindrops and gusts that tore tarps off of sleeping bags. For myself, I ended up starting the morning early, piteously hustling through the cold, wet night with my belongings heaped into a tarp, taking refuge in our cooking tent the green monster. The day brought some truly amazing, destructive gusts. Even after bomb-proofing both Owens crew’s green monster and the Golden Valley crew’s white cooking tent, the afternoon saw both in bad shape. Stakes and lines snapped on our tent and canvas ripped and poles bent and general destruction wrought on Golden’s tent. Personal tents and belongings also ended up scattered. Amazingly, I saw a hummingbird hovering next to a red desert paintbrush, unperturbed by wind that caused us so much grief.
Our last day with the Golden Valley crew was mercifully calm and beautiful, and perfect for a scouting mission up an incursion that dead ends in rocks high above our fence line. It offered beautiful views and a chance to show the other crew a bit more of what our wilderness has to offer.