Early morning, September 25, 2012- The Rand Mountains crew of the SCA Desert Restoration Corps has just finished its simple, but satisfying breakfast of oatmeal, coffee, and toast. Soon after, the trailer was loaded with all of the necessary gear and we were headed to the Jawbone region of the Mojave Desert for 17 days of SCA training. Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the other four crews that were to be doing desert restoration work this season. That night, the groups came together and had our first meal together; there were close to 40 of us, project leaders and cooking staff included. We had gathered in the desert to learn everything from restoration theory to wilderness medicine - “Septoberfest” was upon us.
First on the agenda for Septoberfest was a variety of community building and conflict resolution skill workshops. These first few days were spent practicing inter-crew confrontation techniques and perfecting our “community contract” (rules that we, as a crew, agreed to live by for the coming eight months). We closed this portion of Septoberfest by sharing some of our personal life stories with our fellow DRC members. As we began to know more about each other, our desert community seemed to grow closer, and we quickly became quite comfortable with one another.
Following the community building portion of Septoberfest, we dove into the actual meat and potatoes of our training. We split into three groups (each led by two project leaders), and began to discuss the theory and methods behind the restoration work to come. We were taught that, although vertical mulching (our primary restoration method) may seem like no more than the planting of dead sticks in the ground, it actually serves several purposes in the restoration process. Primarily, and perhaps most obviously, it disguises the incursion (a name given to illegal OHV routes) and thereby keeps riders from continuing to ride on it. Additionally, vertical mulch bushes provide habitat and shade for all kinds of desert wildlife, and work to reduce the habitat fragmentation caused by the creation and use of illegal routes. Finally, the vertical mulching process allows for the breaking up of soil which has been ultra-compacted by years of OHV use; this allows seeds to take hold and promotes new growth of local plant life. After being lectured on the science behind restoration theory, each group was assigned an incursion near camp. We put our new-found knowledge into practice by spending the next two days vertical mulching our assigned incursions.
After restoring our incursions, we were all given one day off before our week long Wilderness First Responder course. On this day, several groups went on hikes and attended a variety of environmental education programs headed by the project leaders. The following day Aerie’s instructors arrived at our camp and we began our Wilderness First Responder training. This training lasted a week and covered everything from CPR to anaphylaxis, from arterial bleeds to hypothermia, from hypoglycemia to head injuries. We became well versed on splints, and practiced our assessment skills in a variety of hands on scenarios. We were tested in adverse environmental conditions in the cold and dark of night. We were tested with the daunting task of managing a multiple casualty incident (MCI) in which we were required to care for a group of 7 injured campers. At the end of the week all of us were subjected to a final test, after which we all became certified Wilderness First Responders.
Following our WFR course, our training was complete - the crews prepared to depart to their off-hitch housing. We had spent 17 days in the Jawbone region of the Mojave Desert and had been trained on everything from restoration theory to wilderness medicine. As we set off in anticipation of the coming 8 months, we were prepared with not only a solid foundation of work and wilderness skills, but also a sense of community amongst our fellow DRC members that would carry us through the season.
By Ryan Ledden