Getting Out and Giving Back in Mojave – A Volunteer Vacations Adventure
Many people dream of spending their vacation time in a comfortable lounge chair on a sparkling white beach, with aquamarine waves gently breaking on the shore and puffy clouds floating overhead. Other people, like the folks I’m writing about in this blog, make a very different choice – spending their vacation time wielding shovels, dodging cactus needles, and sleeping in tents.
Last fall, with a hefty amount of frequent-flyer miles burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to fly out West in April and spend a week as crew leader of American Hiking Society’s Volunteer Vacation at Mojave National Preserve. As a staff member for AHS, I wanted to get the “Full Experience,” including first-hand familiarity with the trail stewardship activities conducted under our Volunteer Vacations program.
Being a newbie crew leader, I selected a project in the modest “1-shovel” category – thinking that I’d opt for a strenuous “3-shovel” project in some future year (or not!). I also chose the Mojave project on the basis of accommodations that sounded pleasantly rustic, with tent camping in a group site that was nicely outfitted with a pavilion, potable water spigot, permanent latrines, and – best of all – hot showers in a building located about a mile away.
Fortunately, the project description also sounded appealing to eight other people, and in mid April we came from all corners of the country and gathered on a Sunday night at the Hole-In-the-Wall campground at Mojave. Following a dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup prepared on propane burners in the pavilion, we began the process of getting to know each other and coming together as a team.
For the next few days, we built and maintained hiking trails across the beautiful desert landscape, stopping periodically to admire the vibrant orange blooms on the cacti and to watch cleverly-camouflaged lizards dart across the path and seek shelter beneath rocks.
Under the watchful eyes of our National Park Service hosts, we learned how to block off cattle trails that might lead hikers astray; how to maintain a “dime” (a ten-foot safety circumference) when using sharp tools; and how to build rock cairns to delineate the trail since there are very few trees on which blazes could be painted. We learned about Mojave, too – with its singing dunes, lava tubes, petroglyphs, desert ecosystem, cinder cones, Joshua trees, lovingly-restored railroad depot, and a million twinkling stars in the velvety night sky.
We also learned a lot about each other — that Charlie would lovingly transplant any cactus that needed to be moved out of the path; that Evelyn is a shutterbug who would rarely be seen without her trusty (and impressive) camera; that Sue could teach us how prevent erosion on the trail by creating an escape route for rainwater; that Ann could maintain her upbeat attitude even when her car developed a flat tire — 60 miles away from the nearest town; and that Julia was nervous about seeing a snake (so, naturally, was the only person who did). And we found out that our fellow volunteers have interesting lives back home, too – that Rich owns an organic citrus farm; that Cristina grew up in Portugal and is fluent in several languages, and that Molly works as a librarian at Ohio State University and is a frequent participant in cycling events.
I can’t imagine trading all that I learned at Mojave for a week in a lounge chair on the beach. My vacation souvenirs are the kind that last – including the confidence that comes from rising to a challenge and the satisfaction of knowing that the trails in Mojave are better than we found them.
Sound like an experience you’d like to have? Check out our Volunteer Vacations schedule and find a trip that’s right for you. Get Out. Give Back.
Volunteer Vacations are made possible by the generous support of our corporate sponsors – Backpacker’s Pantry, Klean Kanteen, Mountain Hardwear, REI and Vasque; as well as our Federal Public Land Partners – the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the USDA Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.