Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Nevada Conservation Corps goes to...Arizona?

This past week my crew went somewhere I never expected to have a project: Arizona. I'm not sure if other crews have gone there in the past, but it seemed quite unusual to me because I didn't think we would ever leave the state for any of our projects. The reason we did was because we were working with Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is located in both states, and it just so happened that the work they needed us for was over the border. I wasn't complaining, though, because it meant that we got to see another amazing place that I never expected to see. The scenery where we were working was breathtaking because we were right where Lake Mead NRA meets Grand Canyon National Park. The work we were doing was road decommissioning and installing barriers to keep people from off-roading in the areas we were closing off; and for the entire week, anytime we were working, we could just glance up and see the mouth of the Grand Canyon where the river flows out of the Canyon and meets up with Lake Mead. You can't ask for a better view than that while you're at work. It's things like that that are constantly reminding me how lucky I am to have a job that allows me to be outside so much, seeing new places and having new experiences.

One part of the experience, recently, that has not made me feel quite as lucky is the cold weather. It did get colder much more gradually in Vegas than I am used to from New England but usually it is slightly colder than Vegas in the areas where we work, and this week was no exception. I don't know exactly how cold it got during the nights but it was definitely below freezing (which was quite apparent when the milk in my cereal began freezing to the side of the bowl while I was eating breakfast). Sleeping in weather that cold can be quite uncomfortable, so when we have those cold temperatures during a project I've taken to sleeping with all of my layers on, including hat and scarf, and using my sleeping bag liner inside my sleeping bag to add more warmth (this past week Corey lent me his liner also so I had 2 liners in addition to my sleeping bag), then pulling my sleeping bag over my face to keep it warm. My feet also get very cold during the night so my strategy for that is to put hot water in my metal water bottles before bed and stick them in the bottom of my sleeping bag to warm up my feet. Unfortunately the heat usually dissipates completely by around 3:00 am, but for those first few hours my feet stay wonderfully warm. The morning also presents several challenges of it's own, other than frozen milk. Since we have to wake up before dawn, it hasn't started to get warm yet, so getting out of the sleeping bag can be a challenge, although sleeping in our Carhartt work pants instead of changing into more comfortable pajamas makes it slightly easier because you don't have to undress or put on freezing cold pants in the morning. The boots are a different story though. There is no good way to keep boots warm during the night, even if they are inside the tent, so putting my boots on in the morning can feel like putting my already-cold feet into ice boxes. Then, breakfast involves trying to eat as quickly as possible so I don't have to expose my hands to the cold for too long; and then on the last morning of the week, when we have to pack up our tents, it can be a difficult choice between trying to finish taking the tent down without gloves on before your hands are completely frozen, or fumbling with the buckles and clasps wearing gloves and possibly taking twice as long. On these cold mornings it can be a blessing when the worksite is far enough away to require driving because then we can put the heat on in the truck to warm up. As much as this might sound like a terrible situation to deal with, and sometimes it feels pretty terrible, it's worth it because it's all part of the experience. If there were no challenges the job would not be as rewarding, and by the end of this year I will feel very accomplished being able to say that I lived in a tent most of the year in all types of weather.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Getting Oriented

And so it begins, another year in the NCC. On one hand I’m extremely excited – why else would I have stayed on as a leader – on the other, I’m terribly nervous. A year in the program has taught me that not every day is a walk in the park. Already we face challenges.

Orientation lands smack dab in the middle of monsoon season in the Mojave. Camp Foxtail, nestled away in the upper reaches of Lee Canyon, is at the epicenter of southern Nevada’s “Thunderstorm Alley.” The Spring Mountains present a massive barrier to warm, moist air rolling in from the West. The rugged range wrings all the moisture from the air, leading to torrential downpours and flash floods; like the one we were trapped by this week.

After two and a half days of classroom instruction we're ready to hike out to Rocky Gorge and get some tools in the ground. We arrive on a gray, drizzly morning; everyone groaning in protest as we explain the scope of our day’s work. As we practice our trail-building techniques the rain only grows heavier. Soon a barrage of thunder and lightning shuts us down. Swinging large metal tools on a treeless ridge is asking to get struck. So, we must sit and wait for the danger to pass, cold and miserable in the chilling rain.

Finally, the rain stops. The leadership gathers around and begins discussing options when suddenly I hear what can only be the sound of rushing water. We all turn to look at the wash below us. There it is, a 6 foot wide, 3 foot deep river. Frothing and churning where only seconds ago was nothing but damp sand and gravel. A mile away – on the other side of the flood – are our trucks. Now what? The water looks unsafe to cross, but further up the canyon we can see the rain coming down hard again. It’s decided, we move now. Otherwise we risk ending up more stranded than we already are.

“Everyone grab your tools and move now! Stay together and watch out for more flooding and lightning!”

Thirty minutes later and we’re all safely in our trucks again. We've only had a couple of hours of practice on the trail, but mother nature has the upper hand. We end our orientation with less experience, but more memories, than we had planned on. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that I've been stuck in a sticky situation. This year comes with greater responsibility; I have the safety and well-being of four others to look out for. But, I've always loved a challenge, so bring it on!

-Nick Brasier

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chainsaw Training and Trail Building with the NCC

 Nighttime fun at the campground
Our week started off with a day in the classroom at our Field Office. Throughout the lesson, we learned felling techniques as well as different parts of the saw, and safety instruction. It was a lot of information that was thrown at us the first day of training, but a must before we were allowed to operate the saw. That evening, we made the 4-and-a-half hour trek to Indian Valley, set up camp and cooked dinner. The next day was focused on maintenance and troubleshooting on the saws. We were ready by our usual time of 7 am, with our breakfast eaten and ready to learn more about the saw. It was a cold morning, probably in the high 30's, yet the warmest morning that we would experience that week.

The morning started as usual, with our safety circle (because it was our first day with the chainsaw it was longer than usual), and a stretch to get our muscles moving and blood pumping. In the safety circle we discussed all the hazards related to the chainsaw and felling trees, as well as how to mitigate those hazards. That first day, we learned the ins and outs of the saw with regard to maintenance and cleaning, as well as chain sharpening. It was cold, and the 5 of us were huddled around the saw, taking it apart and learning troubleshooting from our Crew Supervisor, KV. Once we were versed on maintenance, troubleshooting, safety and felling techniques we were ready to operate the saw.

Chainsaw safety and operation
Wednesday morning, we woke up with our normal routine, and drove out to the site for our first day operating the chainsaws. Once at the site, we started with stretch and safety circle, which we do every day, so we do not get complacent, ensuring a safe work environment. Wednesday and Thursday, as well as Friday morning, involved limbing and bucking of the trees. Limbing is the process of cutting off the limbs, and bucking is cutting the fallen limbs into appropriate lengths. We were critiqued on our technique, as well as our body mechanics, to make us feel confident for future tree felling projects. On an additional note, it snowed on Wednesday, and when we woke up Thursday morning there was even more snow on the ground, which got me stoked for winter. Thursday morning was probably the coldest of the mornings, with temperatures dipping into the mid 20s, but even with the cold it was a fun and exciting week.

Limbing and bucking practice
The next week, the week of 10/15-10/18, we were scheduled to be in the only location we could work at, the Spring Mountains. Because of the federal government shutdown, we were not able to work with any of our other project partners. All 6 of the Las Vegas crews and the 2 Reno crews would be sent to The Springs mountains to work. Our crew, Crew 6, was sent up to Mack's Canyon along with 3 others crews. Mack's Canyon is an offshoot canyon accessible from Lee Canyon. There is beautiful dispersed camping available there with no facilities, so if you want to get away from the summer crowds, here is the place to camp/hike/relax. There are plenty of trails and peaks to be summited here such as Mack's Peak (easy class 3 scramble), and The Sisters, which consists of 3 peaks.

Our crew was designated to work on a reroute section in Mack's Canyon. Reroutes are done for a number of reasons such as increasing/decreasing the length of the trail, or creating better tread (walking surface) that is less steep and more sustainable (which allows for the trail to exist without having a large impact on the environment). The hike into the reroute was just under 2 miles, a nice warm-up for the long workday.

Return to trail work
Once on site, the reroute we worked on over the course of the week was a bit more intensive than our previous trail builds; this trail contains limestone rock in the tread. Much of the time was spent on chipping away at the rock in the tread to make sure it was at a reasonable level and safe for horses and hikers, to minimize the tripping hazard. Not everybody on the team enjoyed the rock work. I personally enjoyed sitting at the rock chipping away at it, making it into my vision of how it will blend into the tread. One thing we all try to keep in mind is what we refer to as PMA (positive mental attitude), because sometimes the work can be frustrating. Keeping a PMA is a skill that will not only help us in trail building, but I believe it is a skill we can take with us and use in our future careers. With all of the intense work we did, we still had fun as a crew and enjoyed our time with the other crews in close proximity - sharing tools, talking and enjoying our time in the mountains together.  

Trail reroute in Mack's Canyon - before and after

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Flash Flooding in Great Basin Nat'l Park

My first 8-day project was at Great Basin National Park, which is about 6 hours north of Vegas and right on the border with Utah. The first day consisted of driving there and working for a few hours, clearing some trees from the sides of the road up to our campsite, then going and setting up camp. Our campsite was about 30 minutes from the main road, up a dirt road into the mountains. The whole drive up the road, and the whole way to the park initially, I was just staring out the window at all the beautiful mountain scenery. Everywhere I go around here is so different than anything I'm used to on the east coast, and I find myself constantly mesmerized by the beauty of the mountains and the cool colors of the rock. At first it was almost like being on another planet. I'm getting more used to it now, but I still think it's amazing to look at.

Day 2 turned into quite an adventure. In the morning we had to drive about an hour to get to the site where we were working, then we had to hike about 2 miles carrying our tools. Then we worked for about 4 hours maintaining a trail that was starting to get overgrown, then we hiked back the 2 miles to the trucks, leaving our tools cached at the work site so we could come back to them the next day. As we got back to the trucks it started to rain, so we tried to get out as quickly as we could. While we were driving down the dirt road, we started to see water flowing over the road from the hill on one side, which was worrying because of the potential for a flash flood. We thought we were doing good and were going to beat the water down the mountain until we came around a corner and saw tons of water coming down the mountain from the road that was about to intersect with ours. We stopped to assess the situation and it turned out that the huge flash flood, although not a danger to us where we were parked, came dangerously close to the road a little bit farther down, so we couldn't drive past it. We radioed to the park rangers to see if they could come pick us up, and it turned out that the flood had washed out a part of the road farther down so the rangers couldn't get all the way to where we were. The only solution was to leave the trucks where they were and hike down the road to where the rangers could pick us up. By that time the flood had calmed down a little but had not died down completely, so it wasn't dangerous to walk but debris had been pushed onto the road by the water so we couldn't drive to where the rangers were; walking was the only option. We made it to the rangers without any incident, found a safe place to jump across the water, and they drove us back to our campsite.

Then the next day was a little of a logistical nightmare because we had no trucks and still had tools stuck at the work site. The plan we came up with was for the project partner to shuttle us by crew back to the trucks and then we'd go back to the work site to get the tools. But since the trucks were about an hour away from our campsite the shuttling process took hours, the first few of which my crew spent waiting at our campsite for the project partner to come back for us. Once we got back to the trucks we only really had time to make the hike to the campsite, get the tools, and then leave again, so that's pretty much the only thing my crew accomplished for the whole 10-hour work day. Those two days reinforced yet again how much plans can change in this type of work.

Day 4 was back to actually getting projects done. We didn't go back to the original work site for obvious reasons, so we moved on to the next project. This one involved hiking 4.5 miles from our campsite over a mountain and into the valley on the other side. The hike was really steep on the way up and the way down, and it took us over 2 hours of the hardest hiking I'd ever done to actually get to where we were working. Once we got there, we worked on removing downed trees that were blocking a path so that more work could be done on the trail later on. Then we had to hike the same 4.5 miles back over the mountain. So after hiking 9 miles, we were all pretty tired at the end of the day.

Day 5 we hiked the same hike again, but this time it took less time. I think we all went faster just so we could get it over with sooner. The work was pretty much the same, but it rained for parts of the day so we were all slightly less enthusiastic because of that. Rain is never very motivating when you have to be outside all day. Day 6 we hiked the same mountain for a third time, and this time was by far the hardest because I was so tired from the other 2 days of the same hike. By that point in the week we had hiked almost 40 miles altogether, so I was really struggling. On the way back up the mountain in the afternoon I felt like I had to stop every 2 minutes to catch my breath. I had learned in the past few days that I was one of the slowest hikers in the group on the steep uphill sections, and that last day was even worse than usual. But eventually I made it, and was really happy that it was the last time I had to do that hike.

The last 2 days we did more of what we'd done the first day - clearing trees from the sides of the road. The last day we only did about an hour of work because we had to drive back to Vegas and then do about 2 hours of "de-rig" once we got there. It was a long, tiring, but good week, and the 5 days off afterwards were great. There were challenges and ups and downs, but all-in-all it was a great start to the year at the NCC.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pearls of Pahranagat

With endangered birds in the balance,
Cat-tails with claws
And cows on reconnaissance,
The marsh in the midst
Gave us reason for pause.

From whence the fence
could no longer dispense
any defense
of any culpable consequence,
We do not know.

But hence,
no expense was spared.
Each NCC crew member pared.
To set the stage
For a full fence repair.

Not a feather to be lost.
Nor a breast to be sauced.
We readied our cat-tail salads
To be tossed.

With brush cutters and weed eaters in our paws,
Each cat-tail and bull rush reminisced us of our in laws.

And when the cutting came too condensed.
We each looked over our shoulder
To see whom among us was the most dense.

Kaitlin cut claw to claw.
While Lizzy laid down the law.
And Alison left the ranchers in awe.
Nate's bush was seen as far as Utah.

But Paul's pitch fork took the cake.
While I was left with only a mooo and an ache.

"The Valley of Shinning Water"
Has a special place in our hearts.
Water in craft.
And shimmering in art.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NCC 2013-2014 Supervisors!

This season the NCC welcomes 6 new staff supervisors to the Las Vegas field office! Corey, Nick, Nathan, KV, Cal, and Nate all started as AmeriCorps members in the NCC within the last 2 years...whether they spent summers in Great Basin National Park, the Spring Mountains, or were part of our year-long program, these folks know their stuff when it comes to the NCC!

All six started working together when they were accepted into the NCC's Leadership Development Training (Crew Leader Training) this past spring. After the 13-week training program these folks, along with five others, earned their place as summer Crew Leaders. Each had the opportunity to run a five-person crew for three months, digging tread and cutting trees out of our Reno and Ely field offices. Putting their leadership and technical skills to the test, they showed that they have what it takes to successfully lead our crews in the field!!

They are already off to a great start this season, and we could not be more proud of the level of communication, initiative and positivity that they are bringing to the table. We're looking forward to a great season, and are excited to watch these six facilitate awesome corps experiences for their members. It's going to be a stellar year!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The End of the Road

Our time here draws to a close. Some of us are counting the days, content to hurry on to the next exciting chapter of their lives. Others try to not think of the dwindling days. Each days that manages to slink by means one less day in this western wonderland. One less majestic sunrise greeting us on the short drive to the work site. One less placid mountain sunset to see our tired bodies off to bed.
    It seemed like only yesterday we were in Winnemucca. Wide-eyed and unsure. Back when the tools used to feel heavy and the worked used to feel difficult. But here were are, a mere two months later. We have cut a lot of tread and driven a lot of miles together. We have grown both more competent and stronger; gently hardened over time by the resplendent Nevadan wilderness.
   I used to associate Nevada with words like "barren" "lonely" "desolate" and "arid". But after my time here I have found the Nevadan wilderness is a place of stoic grace and life and growth can be found here if you happen to know where to look.
    I will never forget this experience. I will not forget what I have seen, what I have helped accomplish, the people I have met, the hardships endured, and the bonds I have forged.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Finding Beauty in Winnemucca

When we arrived at Winnemucca we saw a sign, “Winnemucca, Proud of it.” We all began to wonder, what were they proud of in this town? What did this land have in store for us? The answer was simple, the mountains. In the mountains we found our solace. Atop the mountains where we labored, Winnemucca provided a sunset worthy of kings. With a great place to camp we found that beauty can exist side by side the urban landscape. It reminded us that what we were helping to sustain in the trails simultaneously sustained our spirits. With the Sonoma Mountains in view all day and night we knew that what we were building might bring a smile and glimmer of happiness to every mountain biker and hiker for years to come. During our two week span the mountain’s in the distance began to melt their coats of white snow and the sun made it’s presence known. The labor was arduous at times with the heat beating at our backs while we attempted to cut out the perfect back slope, yet somehow, we managed to complete the task the project partner desired. The trial’s were wider, less dangerous, and durable for the rain’s and winter’s ahead. We camped near a mine site the second week and felt the mountains warmth beneath our tents. Every night we ate creatively, even capping off one days work with some local Winnemucca BBQ. We felt the late night winds speak on the mountains behalf, thanking us for what we had done. It would harbor the future generations of Winnemucca and we played a role in it. Perhaps Winnemucca would have something to be proud of for years to come and we were indeed proud of the land we’d inherited for that short span of time we toiled in its midst.

The Pleasantest Hitch!

As I arrived at work on Monday morning, the usual case of pre-hitch butterflies were
in full flight. Did I bring my headlamp? Would the amount of layers packed be sufficient for
the weather? Did I forget the grocery bag with the week’s supply of peanut butter? All were
thoughts that flitted through my mind as I unloaded the car and filed into the office for our
morning meeting. I knew that we were headed to Lovell Canyon Wilderness Area, and so I
chatted with fellow Crew Leaders in an effort to gauge what sort of week I was in for. The
results were a bit grim: the hike in was long and difficult, the weather had been getting into the
teens at night, and the project itself was strictly rough-cutting steep tread. And so I began to
mentally prepare myself for what I thought I would be in store for during the next four days.
Nothing that anyone told me could prepare me for what would actually happen though. It would,
in fact, be the PLEASANTEST hitch in the history of hitches. Just delightful…

We left the hot temperatures of Las Vegas behind as we drove into the mountains. There,
the wonderful spring air was filled with the scents of Ponderosa pine and Juniper. Hummingbirds
darted around camp as if part of a Disney film. The hike in, while difficult, was filled with some
of the most beautiful scenic vistas I have seen since being in Nevada. Our group of six Crew
Leaders, plus Amanda, worked as a well-oiled machine after training together for the past 3
months. The work days passed quickly as we joked with each other and listened to bluegrass on
Cal’s brilliant mini iPod player while cutting tread. We each had the chance to talk with Amanda
at length during our evaluations, giving everyone fresh perspective and goals for the upcoming
summer. After work, we all hung out together. We agreed that as a group, we got along
exceptionally well and very much enjoyed each other’s company. And to top it all off, we shared
delicious chocolate, caramel waffle wafers, and cheese that Guy had recently brought back from
Holland. It was the best.

There were multiple moments every day on this hitch that struck me as too good to be
true. Moments that left me thinking, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.” And while certainly
not every hitch goes nearly so well or is filled with the number of idyllic moments as this one
was, it is still the perfect example of why I love conservation work. I had worked hard, with a
great group of people, for a pretty cool cause, in the great outdoors. Like I said before: just the

Russian Hordes Advance On the Alamo

After a year and a half or traveling in great circles around North America; from Panama to
Denali, I have found myself back where I started, killing Russian olive in the Southwest. Undoubtedly
the World has changed over these last 18 months and I know that time has changed me as well;
however the invasive Olives seem to have remained the same. They still have the tenacity to attempt
to remain alive despite saws, spray and sweat. Perhaps they have even more thorns then before, as my
scratched up arms seem to suggest. But here at the Nevada Conservation Corp we don’t have time to
bleed and the battle continues.

It always seems ironic to me that Conservation corps spends so much time killing things but I
have seen what these trees can do. I’ve witnessed the Russian Jungle overwhelming canyons in Utah,
choking out the native willows and once mighty cottonwoods, leaving nothing but impenetrable olive
thickets. Here at our Alamo, the Russian hordes are on the move, matching their way from the spring
head down through open fields and pasture, flanking cattle and advancing down the irrigation ditches,
towards the nature preserve. The native fauna offers little resistance and the cows are asleep at guard
duty. Only we stand in the way of the Russian invasion. Heavily armed with chainsaws, hatchets and
herbicide we remain vigilant against the tide. We will remember this Alamo, where we drew a line in
the cow paddy covered swamp and made our stand.

Here at least some advantages are ours. We have caught the olives not fully prepared. Yes they
still are covered in five inch thorns that turn gloves to Swiss cheese; they grow sideways out of
waterways and will always try to fall on you if you give them the chance. But here at least they are still
young, not fully established, spaced out an easier to isolate and kill then when they are established in a
fortified mass. Here we have a chance. However, we must remain vigilant, some regrowth is inevitable
and there will always be a few survivors. Hopefully our Alamo will be remembered and in the future
crews will be back to finish the battle and mop up any invasive trees that have escaped our net. For
now we will busy ourselves killing as many olives as we can find, with hope that future crews will pick up
where we left off.

Brent Killingbeck

How to Work (A Successful Week)

How to work at Moapa Calley N.W.R.:
1-Go to the office Monday morning by 6:00.
2-Gather all tools and camping gear and pack them in the truck.
3-Circle up.
4-Drive to the worksite to meet project partner and get lined out for the week.
5-Drop off gear at camp and head to work.

Daily duties:
1-Wake up at 5:45.
2-Make coffee/breakfast.
3-Pack lunch and fill waters.
4-Drive to worksite.
5-Stretch and safety.
6-Dig holes and plant seedlings according to the colored flags placed in the field distinguishing the different plants.
7-Make sure all roots are buried and the burn around the plants is a solid and tall one.
8-Hook up irrigation system to each individual plant.
9-Run irrigation system.
10-Check to make sure all plants are being watered properly.

If you do all things above correctly, you have had a successful week working at Moapa Valley N.W.R.

Step 1. Pull weeds, Step 2. Put weeds in bags

This week we went to the Katherine’s Landing area of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Our job was to remove the invasive species Brassica tournefortii, commonly called Sahara Mustard. In many areas it forms dense fields which crowd out native plant species. We removed it from two sites: along a horseback/hiking trail near Davis Dam and around a marina/campground at Katherine’s Landing. Sahara Mustard is an annual plant, which means individuals only live one season. Survival of the species depends on producing a lot of seeds and reproducing during that one season. We were removing the plants as seeds were beginning to form, but before they were dispersing. To prevent the seeds from spreading we packed all the plants we pulled into trash bags. This method and timing will reduce the number of seeds in the area which means there will be fewer plants to eradicate next season.

The funniest story from this week was about our supervisor, who had made a new year’s
resolution to eat vegan. She had obviously been considering giving it up lately, and about half way
through this week she did. One evening, as she ate yet another pita, she decided she was officially over eating the same old vegan meals at work every hitch. The very next day she was in the grocery/gift shop at the marina buying a pack of Bologna! Not sure that’s the first meat I would go back to.

On the last day we were able to visit The Grapevine Canyon Petroglyph site for education. These
are prehistoric rock carvings and at this site they were really well preserved. This was a beautiful site
which overlooked the expansive Newberry Mountain range. After that we drove through Christmas Tree Pass. The locals have a tradition of decorating the juniper trees with various Christmas tree ornaments. As cool as the trees look, the BLM unfortunately classifies this as litter; therefore we removed many of the decorations along the way. This probably sounds like a really boring week to readers, but I enjoyed it and would actually consider this one of my favorite hitches. Now there wasn’t anything particularly exciting about it, but the work wasn’t difficult, the weather was nice, and it was pretty satisfying seeing the sites after we removed the Sahara Mustard.

Muddy River Restoration

This past week our crew along with Crew 1 was doing some restoration along the banks of the Muddy river near Moapa. The goal of this project was to restore the areas around fish barriers that had recently been put into place. For the most part we were planting willow cuttings in and near the water. Among other things, the willows would replace the habitats of the southwestern willow flycatcher, which are currently inhabiting the tamarisk tree, an invasive species. We were also collecting some seeds of native plants to scatter on the banks.

This project was really awesome for a few reasons. For one, it was way different than anything that we have been doing. Recently we have been out at Sloan Canyon constructing new tread at Dutchman’s Pass. The work out there is great and the views are beautiful, but it is nice to change it up every now and then and this was a great change of pace. Second, on a projects like this one you can see the progress that you are making right away. When we got there the banks were bare and by the time we left they were green with willows. It was super cool to see our hard work right in front of us! Lastly, the willow cuttings that we were using were from a construction area near the Las Vegas Wash that were going to be cleared to make room for development. It was nice to know that we were able to save them and plant them somewhere else where they were going to make a big difference.

Beside a few falls into the water this was a great week. It was exciting to see all the work that we did at the fish barriers. We are looking forward to see how this project progresses and see the area restored!

The Great Wall of Tamarisk

So maybe I’ve never seen the Great Wall of China, but I believe that now I’ve seen something that surely must match it in its grandeur, and what better name to refer to this something than by the Great Wall of Tamarisk. This was my second journey to Death Valley. What the first hitch provided in regards to downtime and adventurous opportunities, this hitch made up for with sweat, blood and achy muscles. Each day began with a half hour hike over sand dunes, mud, and puff dirt until we arrived at the Amargosa River – Death Valley’s only river. From there we’d look out over the previous days’ progress which was made evident by the growing line of tamarisk slash pulled up on the upper banks. When, at the beginning of the hitch, our supervisor walked out with us all that she wanted us to accomplish by the end of the week, I think that all of our hearts sunk into our stomachs a bit as we all realized that the feat she was asking of us seemed an impossible one to take on. But our chainsaws were strong and our will was stronger, and each day giant clusters of the stubborn plant fell victim to our wrath. Half way through day seven, the 532nd and final tree was mowed down, marking the completion of that goal which 6 days previously seemed so impossible to reach. That didn’t stop us. We keep on going like the freaking Energizer bunny. MACC crew, out.

p.s. Camping, good.

MACC @ Sloan Canyon


The apple pie was a surprise. A scrumptious, homemade, cinnamon n’ sugar-filled surprise. Ever since starting work in Las Vegas there’ve been many surprises, but this was the sweetest. When the MACC crew moved from Reno in January I knew it would mean less time on the chainsaw and most likely a bit of trail work. That’s about all I knew to expect – the tools, the terrain, and the trail users all came as surprises.

My only experience with trail work occurred this previous summer as a part of the Minnesota Conservation Corps. My crew maintained multiple portages, the trails connecting canoeing lakes in the northern wilderness area. We’d used loppers, handsaws, and cross-cutters to clear overgrown trails of baby balsam firs, mountain maple branches, and downed pine trees. The tools in Nevada are designed to handle rocks and dirt. I knew how to use a shovel, but the McLeod, pick-Mattock, double-jack, rock bar, and geo-pick were new and took some getting used to. It wasn’t until this second hitch working on the Black Mountain trail that I had the chance to use every one of those tools to chop, hack, lift, roll, scoop, and pound out the trail. Until this hitch I never knew how much satisfaction could be found in swinging a double-jack to flatten some bedrock.

The next surprise came in the form of scenic vistas. In Minnesota the colors and hues are cool, green trees and blue lakes. Here in Nevada most everything is a variation of warm tones, rusty reds, burnt browns, and weathered whites. The mountains are the canvas upon which this array is painted. As we hiked down from Black Mountain at the end of the day, muscles aching and sweat drying, we were treated to the refreshing site of a sunset over Vegas.

Lastly, working in a wilderness area you don’t run across many trail users. However, working near a residential area, like Sloan Canyon, everyday there’d be several people coming by to ask about our work, express appreciation, and even take photos. On our third day we were invited to the meeting of a local hiking club. We went not knowing what to expect, except perhaps a small break. Walking into the nice facility after a morning of work we became aware of our unkempt looks, smelly clothes, and general griminess. We mingled with the Anthem Hiking Club, introduced ourselves, and were ready to leave when they presented us with a token of their appreciation – dozens of cookies and two freshly, baked pies. Later that night sitting around camp and digging into the delicious pastries, I realized that while conservation work can be filled with monotony, it makes the little, pleasant surprises that much more enjoyable.

Lovell Canyon

Lovell Canyon is nestled in the shadow of Griffith Peak on the southeast side of the Spring Mountains. Although only a 45 minute drive from the Vegas valley, the rapid gain in elevation creates an ecosystem vastly different from the desert surrounding it. While the other crews enjoyed warm, breezy days all week, we were stuck with nighttime lows in the teens, biting cold wings, and a day of endless snow flurries.
Despite the frigid temperatures, Lovell Canyon is one of my favorite project sites. It's rare that we're surrounded by trees at camp and work and I truly savor the time we spend in the forest. Each day work begins with an hour long, 3-mile hike up the canyon to the lower slopes of Griffith Peak. Along the way we take in the beautiful views of the canyon, teeming with a surprising amount of life. A diverse array of plants - many endemic to the Springs - support flocks of songbirds, carelessly flitting from perch to perch. Small mammals and reptiles flourish here and deer are known to frequent the area. Some times at night, if you listen closely, you can hear the distant growl of mountain lions, announcing their reign over the canyon.
For me, this week was even more exciting. For the first time since last September I was cutting new tread somewhere other than Black Mountain. On the other hand, the work was quite a rude awakening. Trail at Sloan tends not to be too steep. While there are many loose rocks in the dirt, rarely do we run across bedrock or extensive root systems. Lovell, however, possesses many of these challenges. What may look like a simple section when rough cutting often turns out to be a nightmare as more and more obstacles are unearthed. Regardless, the sheer volume of soil that must be excavated is staggering. Each shovel full of dirt blown back on to the trail by unforgiving winds is literally and figuratively a slap in the face.
Still, looking back at the new trail at the end of the week is a thoroughly satisfying feeling. Seeing the nice smooth tread where there once was only thick stands of Manzanita reminds of just how much you've accomplished. Over the next several decades hundreds if not thousands of hikers and people on horseback will walk over this section of trail. As they gaze out across the canyon the last thing on their minds will be where the trail they're standing on came from. Just as planned, my hard work will almost always go unnoticed. Yet without it this place would remain out of reach to most. Worse, without the trail those brave enough to beat their own path would slowly eat away the pristine quality of this wilderness.
So, despite unpleasant weather, back-breaking hiking and digging, and a lack of recognition, I am still very satisfied with my work. Looking back it will begin to blend in with all the other hitches we've been on, but Lovell Canyon will forever retain a special place in my heart.

Death Valley National Park

This week our crew was on an 8-day adventure through America’s hottest, driest, and lowest land; Death Valley National Park. But it was December and temperatures didn’t rise above 70, nights were cold and windy with some rain showers. Not how one would imagine the desert.
Our campsite was in Breakfast Canyon at an ole CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp with grills, a vault toilet, picnic tables, a fireplace and firewood! Such a luxurious place to stay at while on hitch. During the night coyotes and kit foxes would regularly visit our kitchen area.

Our mission was to use chainsaws, loppers, hand saws, herbicides and a big ole’ power drill to treat and remove the invasive plants. We worked alongside a National Park Service project partner to remove the unwanted plants in the Park.