2018 PFIG Recipient James Lord
Journal Entry #1
Sunday June 17, 2018 - 9:33 PM
Eight days ago I flew into the quaint regional airport of St. George, Utah. I landed around 1:30 PM, and I stepped off of the plain to temperatures near a hundred degrees. The town of St. George is located just outside the limits of the Mojave Desert, and from the looks of the flat, red landscape, I thought it may as well have been. I was picked up by a woman named Sheryl, who has worked within the U.S. Forest Service for over thirty five years in Idaho, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and now Utah.
After picking up some groceries in Cedar City, Sheryl and I head "up the mountain," into Dixie National Forest. There is roughly 3,000-5,000 feet elevation change from Cedar City to the land encompassed in the Cedar City Ranger District, where I will be working. As we climb in elevation, going up a series of winding, switchbacking roads, a gradual shift in scenery occurs from the iron-stained earth and monoliths of the valley with short juniper trees scattered among small grasses, to a few more juniper trees clinging near the banks of the dry riverbed alongside the road, and finally into the forest: white-barked aspen trees with bright green leaves fresh from spring, ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, blue spruces, and a few others whose names I've yet to learn. Enormous walls of white rock tower to the right of Sheryl's Forest Service truck as we pass around a bend, several ropes dangling from a popular climbing spot. Farther up the mountain areas of red rock are exposed in the midst of dense green trees, as if someone took a bite out of the mountain. Near the top of the mountain, there is a pull-off that overlooks Zion National Park which is about sixty miles southwest, but it looks like just a stones-throw away.
We shortly arrive at the Duck Creek Visitor Center, where I will be staying for the summer. I live in a bunkhouse right behind the visitor center, with a sophomore at Ohio State University named Tyler originally from Kentucky, a French geology student named Manon who will be studying at Northern Arizona University for a semester this fall, and Emily, who has just finished high school and will be attending a university just outside of Kansas City this fall. Although forty-five minutes away from Cedar City, the bunkhouse is not as isolated as you may think. The small town of Duck Creek is three miles west of our bunkhouse, where there are a few small restaurants, a few shops, a hardware store, and a large stage where live music is played every weekend during the summer. The bunkhouse is equipped with standard amenities: hot water, full kitchen, climate control, showers... even Wifi. Since there are so few volunteers staying in the bunkhouse I have a room to myself.
Emily, Manon, and I were picked up Monday morning at nine by our supervisor, Andrew, to begin work on the Virgin River Rim Trail. Andrew has been a volunteer at Dixie for two years living in the bunkhouse, and now he is a paid employee of the Forest Service. The Virgin River Rim Trail (VRRT) is a thirty-two mile trail that runs along a ridge that overlooks Zion National Park. Our job as a trail maintenance crew is to remove trees that have fallen in the trail, to create stormwater drainage pathways, and to clear the trail of any overgrown vegetation that may be cumbersome to hikers and mountain bikers. We begin our day by driving ten minutes to a trailhead of the VRRT. After giving us a brief talk on safety, we grab our packs with lunch and water, work gloves, protective eye wear, several tools, and we make our way down the trail. Before reaching the core part of the VRRT that lies on a ridge, we begin on a section that winds around the hills of a valley that houses Navajo Lake. After a comically short distance of hiking on the trail, we come across an enormous spruce tree that has fallen directly down the trail. As Andrew cuts the tree into logs with a chainsaw, we roll and flip the logs off the trail and remove all sticks and debris. The altitude has really been something to adjust to; after doing harldly any heavy lifting, or even just hiking uphill, all of us (except Andrew) were winded. Coming from the Eastern Shore of Virginia where any place is no more than twenty feet above sea level, 9,000 feet will take a few days to adjust to. It took roughly an hour to completely clear the trail of the one tree. After removing a few more trees, we stop for lunch on a section of trail that overlooks Navajo Lake. We all agreed that we had earned our lunch for the day.
Since then, we have cleared most of the trails that run alongside Navajo Lake, as well as four connector trails that give campsites surrounding the lake easy access to the VRRT. From Emily's Fitbit, I think that we hiked roughly twenty miles over three days. Next week, we will be be clearing the actual VRRT moving southbound. Another trail crew has begun on the south end of the trail, and our plan is to keep clearing until we meet with the other crew.
Picture #1 is of Cedar Breaks National Monument, around a ten minute drive from the bunkhouse.
Picture #2 is of Navajo Lake from where we had eaten lunch on first work day.
Journal Entry #2
Thursday July 5, 2018 - 8:09 PM
Since the last blog entry, we have cut more of the Virgin River Rim Trail, as well as a number of other shorter trails close by. We have been hiking on average of around 22-25 miles per week. I think that I was relatively adjusted to hiking at the high altitude after about two weeks. The majority of the trees that have fallen across the trails have been dead blue spruce. Andrew told us that at sometime in the 1990s almost every blue spruce tree in the district had been killed by an invasive beetle. I haven't seen many spruce trees that have been taller than eight feet. Seen from any view on the twenty seven mile drive up the mountain, dense regions of light green from aspen trees are irregularly spotted from the bare and brown spruces that were killed by the beetle. Aptly referred to as 'beetlekill' by Forest Service personnel.
While some trees have recently been killed, there are others in Dixie that have been around for millennia. The Bristlecone Pine can live for upwards of five thousand years, and there are multitude of them scattered along the most drastic parts of Dixie. Nearly all of the trees have half of their root system hanging off of a cliff. As they were once rooted firmly in the ground, they are now living storytellers of just how much the land has eroded in their life span. Another interesting facet to the Bristlecones, is their impressive ability to stay alive. Tall and wide trunks extend upwards of fifteen feet in some cases, however the trunks are mostly dead, and have been visibly broken off. The tree will let the affected areas die off, yet keep smaller limbs alive.
In addition to maintaining trails, our trail crew helped another trail crew create a new trail. The Bunker Creek trail was a popular mountain biking trail until it was destroyed this winter. Last year there was an enormous fire in the district that consumed 80,000 acres, nearly a quarter of the disctict's forest. The forest floor staves off weathering and erosion by holding down the sediment with tree roots, moss, grasses an more. In burn areas where the erosion controlling plants have been burned off, any rain or snow washes sediment down the hillside. This past winter/spring, the melting of the snow had completely destroyed the trail. This was one of the first trails to be reopened in the burn areas since the fire, however the scorched remains of the fire can be seen from much of the roads. Most of the burn areas are barren and charred, however there are small grasses and flowering plants that have grown just starting this spring which add vibrant color to the burnt ground. From an ecological standpoint, these grasses represent secondary succession, which is when a species begins developing in an area that has supported a previous ecosystem.
Journal Entry #3
more information coming soon...