Back in December 2019, it seemed like a fine idea to sign up for a Wilderness Volunteer service trip in the Providence Mountains of Mojave National Preserve. It would be my first volunteer gig of the year, and would help get me into shape for a spring/summer of hikes, backpacks, and more service trips. The project was advertised to be 2 days of fence building, 2 days of invasive plant removal, and a day to explore the Preserve. The variety of work, the suggestion of mild weather, and the location (only 7.5 hour drive) appealed to me. I hadn’t been to this area in about 20 years — it was time for another visit.
Over the next few months, leaders Kathleen Worley and Maidie Kenney sent dispatches to prepare us for the project. I had met Kathleen a few years prior on a WV trip to Castle Crags, and was looking forward to seeing her again. Meanwhile, the corona virus was wreaking havoc worldwide, but hadn’t hit the US yet. A week before the trip was to start, we were informed that the project would be slightly modified as the agency ranger wasn’t able to join us, and that we would end our project a day early. Then a few days before the project was scheduled to begin, corona virus warnings began to emerge. Our group was pared down from full to 7.
Assured that the project was still on, I loaded up my Prius with camping equipment, my ukulele, and plenty of reading material (for long nights in my tent). I woke up @ 5:30 AM on March 15, leaving time to shower and eat breakfast before I hit the road. It was raining as I headed south from Modesto on highway 99, which didn’t let up until south of Fresno. I looked forward to a short break at my favorite stop — Kohnen’s German Bakery in Tehachapi.
Arriving at Hole-in-the-Wall visitor center at 3 PM, I walked inside to procure some maps and other info. I was stunned to find it empty except for a few brochures. Thinking that the Zombie hordes had hit the Mojave hard, I asked the ranger what was going on. He said that the VC had just opened a couple of days ago, and that they were just beginning to set things up for the season. No Zombies.
A short drive took me to the group campsite where I met the rest of the work group — Gary from Mt. Shasta, Cathy from Bend, and Pauline and Rick from Albuquerque. After setting up our tents, we all met to discuss the schedule for the coming days. Dinner was prepared. We spent some time getting acquainted and going over protocols. Wilderness Volunteers has specific food preparation and clean up procedures, intended to keep all of the participants germ-free. There were additional steps added in response to the corona virus outbreak.
As the evening was cool and windy, we didn’t linger after dessert. After a bit of time reading in my car, I headed to the tent. I was comfortable on my air mattress with my warm down sleeping bag. I drifted to sleep with wind and coyote howls as the soundtrack.
Over the next 3 days our group of 7 worked with MNP volunteer extraordinaire John Hiatt. Besides having a wealth of natural history info, he is an expert fence builder. Our project was to rebuild a fence to help protect the native vegetation from cattle grazing. We lugged and installed almost 3 tons of metal fence posts, wire, tools, and rock. We hauled some of this stuff over 1/2 mile. I needed to dip into my stash of vitamin I as muscles cramped and begged for mercy.
As we were installing barbed wire, we needed to be extra vigilant to avoid the barbs. For added fun, we also kept our eyes peeled for cactus spines and yucca spikes. When we had a few spare moments to let our gaze wander, we appreciated the beauty of the desert landscape, particularly the interesting volcanic rock cliffs. The abundant opalite rocks kept us intrigued with all of the lovely patterns and colors.
After 2 1/2 days of hard work, we finished the project that John had planned for us. We walked over to look for a peregrine falcon nest, and enjoy our lunches. We headed back to the campsite and said good bye to John. After a short rest, several of us hiked the Rings Loop trail, checked out the petroglyphs, and walked up Banshee Canyon, hauling our bodies up several sets of metal rings in the steep canyon walls.
As the week progressed, the temperature became colder (AM temps in the 20s) and the wind picked up. The sky was becoming cloudier. Too cold to sit and sing/play the uke, or just sit around and chat. The campground was to be closed. We decided to break camp the following morning. Maidie and Kathleen handed out some WV swag and thanked us for the work we had accomplished. We all agreed that it was a worthwhile trip.
Our last morning, Thurs. March 19, was spent preparing breakfast and lunches “for the road.” After loading our vehicles and helping the leaders pack up the gear, we bid each other farewell.
Well, it wasn’t exactly hot in Mojave this time around……
Interesting flora and fauna:
—many types of cacti, including barrel, cholla, prickly pear. None in bloom.
—desert birds including phainopepla, golden eagles, hawks, house finch, Say’s phoebe
—beside the omnipresent bovines, we saw/heard coyotes, deer, and had a rare sighting of a badger.
By Elaine Gorman
All photos above were taken by volunteers on the Wilderness Volunteers 2020 Mojave National Preserve service project. You can see more photos from the project in the photo gallery.