BEEP BEEP BEEP! The alarm goes off at 3:30am. It’s still dark so you fumble to the bathroom and splash cool water on your face. You rustle up some grub and grab your pack as you head out the door. New Zealand and Australia are chatting about the Olympics on NPR as you drive through the quiet city. Eventually suburbia fades into winding back roads occupied by only a few avid cyclists. At headquarters you unload, give a few mumbled “good mornings”, and fill multiple liters with ice and water for the day ahead. Radios, GPS units, electrolyte supplements, and frozen Gatorade await you if only you venture into the florescent lights.
Cars roll up, people roll out, and debrief begins. A massive wall map is consulted and groups are established. As the sun begins to rise above the Rincon Mountains, the Saguaros become silhouettes with silver auras created by the glowing of their needles as they catch the sun’s rays. In the lingering darkness 20 odd people form a circle and contort themselves into the most peculiar positions while discussing bees, rocky slopes, hydrations, and the potential cholla level for the day. Safety circle concludes as the sky fades from pink to gold with a bright blue sky replacing the stars. Loaded up with water, electronics, equipment, knowledge, and a stretched body, you head into the cactus forest to take on the enemy; Buffelgrass.
The spray season is here. We have been spraying atop mountains, down in washes, and along rocky ridges. There have been some pretty gnarly days of tough terrain and unforgiving heat as well as lovely days atop Javellina hill where the flowers are blooming and the butterflies dance in nearly cholla-free fields. But be warned, the battle against Buffelgrass is not for the faint of heart.
We have been working with some pretty awesome folks, including another SCA crew that’s been working around these parts for the past 6 months. We’ve been exploring Tucson together, including heading up the Santa Catalina Mountains on a rainy afternoon. To beat the heat around the city you can drive up one of the surrounding mountain ranges in Tucson and watch the cacti drop away to a coniferous forest. It’s pretty fantastic. Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak in the Santa Catalina’s, even has a ski resort. We drove the 6,000 feet above the city, ate warm cookies, and drank hot coco in a log cabin among the Ponderosa Pines. It was a nice reprieve from the desert heat.
In the spirit of cooler weather, we decided to host a two thirds Christmas party as well. So the following weekend we donned Christmas sweaters, cranked up the Christmas music, and placed our $1 white elephant gifts under an agave tree adorned with Christmas lights. We grilled out by the pool and drank homemade eggnog. It was the best two thirds Christmas any of us could remember. We also started a synchronized swimming team, and took gold. Quite a successful evening I’d say.
Now we are headed to Coronado for their agave planting event. Last year there were 150 people that volunteered to plant agaves in a 7 acre field. The agave planting is part of a restoration project to restore an area that was once an illegal farm turned staging area when the border fence was being built. Native grasses have been planted in an effort to stave off Lehman’s Love Grass (another invasive grass) as well as encourage the spread of native seeds. The agaves also provide nectar for the Lesser Long-Nosed Bat whose numbers have been decreasing over the years. Restoration is a slow and laborious art, but hopefully the work we do at Coronado will bring the mountains alive with these little critters once again.
Until next time,
Mountain cookies and desert breezes.