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.