Hitching Post (weeks 1-3)

When I started this blog, I made a rule for myself that I would never apologize for tardiness in posting entries. I didn’t want it to start to feeling like an obligation. Nothing kills passion like a deadline, at least in my experience.

I mention this because I intended to get an update out after my first week of work. Instead, I got food poisoning. This was a wholly unpleasant experience, exacerbated by my choice to live apart from the wonders of running water. Fortunately, I camp close to the Utah State University campus, and my appearance fits in well among the general demographic. I moved surreptitiously across the institution, doing my best “stressed student” impression as I walked stiffly and quickly in search of a new bathroom to defile. Panic is a feeling that, blessedly, is almost entirely absent from my life. However, I think that the flood of adrenaline associated with rushing into an unfamiliar building hoping you’ve picked the correct path to the nearest toilet while violent abdominal contractions tell you in no uncertain terms that one of your sphincters is about to fail spectacularly might be considered a kind of panic, if a rather specific one. Fortunately, all traces of my digestive distress were captured by the porcelain throne that is surely one of man’s finest achievements (there is something profound about the feeling of cold porcelain against one’s forehead post-retch: during a time when one’s entire body is in the process of destroying one’s sense of control, health, wholeness, and dignity, the sole comfort (and what a comfort it is!) is the condensated ivory that cools one’s sweat-covered face).

Happily, that experience is so far removed from the wonderful time that I’ve been having as to allow me to recall it with some comic fondness.

HITCH 1 (week 1)

The first week of work found our crew in Kemmerer, WY.

Kemmerer, Wyoming

Kemmerer is a little town in the Southwest part of Wyoming. Apparently, it’s the site of the original JC Penny store, as well as the fish fossil capital of the country (at least according to locals). The JC Penny says “MOTHER STORE” across the stone edifice out front, which led us to mistake it for a maternity boutique. It seemed oddly specific, given that the town has no more than two working traffic lights.

We spent our time working on BLM-owned lands, including campsites and protected areas. I felled my first tree, which was pretty exciting. It’s a surprisingly complex task, and can be somewhat dangerous, so I was encouraged that it went smoothly. We also did some fence repair, trash clean-up, and general campsite beautification. The scenery was big, wide, and beautiful, and the work was varied and fun.

Felling... (photo courtesy of Sarah Gilmore)

Felling... (photo courtesy of Sarah Gilmore)

Mid-fell. Turns out real sawyers don't yell "timber" when a tree goes down. Very disappointing. (photo courtesy of Sarah Gilmore)

Mid-fell. Turns out real sawyers don't yell "timber" when a tree goes down. Very disappointing. (photo courtesy of Sarah Gilmore)

I was amazed at the amount of wildlife that we encountered. Pelicans and Osprey lived on the river next to our campsite, and we saw Pronghorns daily among the ubiquitous sage brush. We scared up a Greater Sage Grouse (definitely a life-list bird for me) in the field, and spotted plenty of mule deer on the rolling hills. We also had a couple late night visitors to our campsite. The first was a beautiful Great Horned Owl. The second was a pugnacious raccoon I took to calling Connor. We had a staring match one night around 2 AM in which he showed me the purest form of indifference that I’ve seen in another living being.

Weeping Rock campsite, where we stayed for the week.

HITCH 2 (weeks 2 and 3)

Weeks two and three were spent at Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, outside of Vernal, UT. We worked 8 days there, a schedule that I much prefer, because it results in a travel-friendly 5-day weekend. 8 consecutive 10-hour days is exhausting, but you get into a rhythm (wake up in the cold and dark with a very full bladder, work for 10 hours, jump in river, eat all the food, crawl into sleeping bag at 8:30, repeat).

Ouray National Wildlife Refuge. That's the Green River. We worked along the banks spraying invasive plants.

This hitch we spent spraying herbicide – all day every day. It was a far cry from felling trees, but it was a well-organized project. The refuge has been battling invasive shrubs, mainly Russian Olive and Saltcedar, for the last 3 years, and they’ve made incredible progress in some areas. I’m not usually a fan of chemical warfare, but this is a case in which it’s clearly the right tool for the job.

Ouray National Wildlife Refuge

I purchased a pair of binoculars prior to this hitch (I lost my last pair sometime in the last 2-3 years), and had plenty of opportunities to break them in. Birds sighted included tons of White Pelicans, a Northern Harrier, Flickers, Sandhill Cranes, an Osprey, Red-tailed Hawks, Western Grebes, Rednecks, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Great Egrets, Towhees, and another Great Horned Owl, to name a few. We also saw a pair of gorgeous red foxes and a small group of coyotes, both of which came quite close to us.

The Uinta Basin Hookless Cactus, an endangered species that lives in the refuge.

We also toured their fish hatchery, where they’re breeding four species of endangered fish that are endemic to the Green River, where we were working. It's an innovative operation with a surprisingly interesting history. We may get to work with them for a day or two next hitch.

On Monday, we head back to Ouray. After that, back to Kemmerer. Should be good.


-Austin

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