Project Leader: Shannon Y. Waldron Project Dates: August 8,2010-May 17,2011 Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Is this really Hitch 11? Time certainly does fly in the DRC. You would think that having ten previous hitches would mean that we’re pretty much prepared for everything, right?
Even as we first drove into the valley we noticed the change. As we pulled up to camp we realized that something profound had happened; spring. The hard, barren earth where we habitually placed our tents had traded its sparse brown grasses for new, more robust tufts of green. The concrete slab where many a morning we have stretched was now surrounded by an army of fiddlenecks. Little did we know, these delicate yellow flowers were only disguising the near-invisible, cactus-like spines that seemed to have a supernatural affinity to our skin.
Not surprisingly, this was not our only foray into the world of botany. We had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with two biologists from the Bureau of Land Management, Carrie and Shelly. That afternoon we picked their brains on everything from tortoise habitat to invasive grass species. At the end of the day we headed back to our valley equipped with considerably more knowledge on desert plants.
As you may imagine, spring brought us more than just wild flowers. Besides our multitude of many-colored flowers, out came the herps. Now when I refer to herps, I mean the reptiles of the desert. It was this hitch where we had our first encounters with two highly anticipated reptiles; the desert tortoise (G. agassizii), and the Mojave Green Rattlesnake (C. scutulatus). I love all herps, so this posed no problem to me, but it did cause a little anxiety amongst some members of the crew. This was especially the case when (on separate occasions) a Mojave green was spotted on the road right next to camp. Another, more relaxed, encounter with herps happened with the federally protected Desert Tortoise. Again, on two separate occasions, we played hero and removed a tortoise from the road. Although the tortoises and deadly snakes were cool, we also saw some more low-profile species. Lizards of all colors were out and about, soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the 80 degree warmth. We were also stunned by the well-camouflaged horned toads (P.p. calidiarum) who became almost invisible when placed against the rocky soil of Golden Valley.
Beyond our interactions with the natural world, we also had the pleasure of hosting a multitude of people! For the first three days of hitch we were accompanied by a volunteer group from the Sierra Club out of Lancaster. For a day and a half they showed us that despite their age, they could work just as hard as we did. In return, we took them on a hike into Golden Valley. Once in the wilderness, we caught numerous horned toads, saw a red racer snake (and yes, I attempted to catch it), and got up close and personal with a Mojave Green Rattlesnake. Nearing the end of their time with us they pointed out a metate near our camp, and explained its use in ancient times. All in all we had an excellent time with the volunteers and even learned a thing or two from them!
This hitch we had the good fortune of being able to celebrate the Captain’s 76th birthday! For this, all of the Ridgecrest DRC crews drove out to spend the evening with him. During this time we gorged on two cakes and burnt an effigy in his honor. This also served as an excellent opportunity to share the beauty of our valley with the rest of the DRC.
When all the crews left, there was only one that remained; the faithful Owen’s Peak crew. Owen’s crew worked with us for two days and brought us right up until the last hill climb of our fence. We’ve put in a lot of time with the Owen’s crew so it was awesome to have them here one last time.
Such a busy hitch right!? But there’s more to come! Midway through the hitch we took a break from fencing to do some wilderness monitoring. We monitor to get an idea of the trespass that is occurring within Golden Valley. To do this we hiked through the valley up to Klinker Mountain, then once up continued on to summit Dome Mountain as well. This ten mile hike was breathtaking as we got a real taste of Golden Valley in the spring. Sadly we found a few fresh tracks, but hopefully our fence will help remedy that!
Our last visitors of the hitch came only for the last night. WildCorp made their way down from Saline Valley to spend the evening with us. It just happened to be their project leader Emily’s birthday so to end our hitch we once again gorged on cake and went to bed with humming something that may have sounded like the ‘Happy Birthday’ tune.
In the end I’d have to say that the changes we discovered in Golden Valley were for the better. To compare the seemingly lifeless winter Mojave and the promising fertile green of the spring Mojave is seriously mind blowing. All of these changes taking place in just a single location. I mean come on, where else can you have 80 degree highs and 20 degree lows in one week?
All this really makes me wonder what changes we’ll be seeing next, not in the desert but in ourselves.
Signing off for the last time- Maddie