The elusive desert tortoise

The Great Basin Institute (GBI), which houses the Nevada Conservation Corps, also runs a program geared towards the study and preservation of the desert tortoise. This tortoise is a native of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of the southwestern United States, and is federally listed as a threatened species. We only saw a few in their native habitats, but GBI has a center southwest of Las Vegas where it attempts to rehabilitate tortoises that are sick or injured, or tortoises that people have illegally kept as pets. GBI also spearheads a population monitoring program in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This program conducts line distance sampling monitoring annually to determine the desert tortoise populations in Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

This GBI program. To prepare members of this program for work with GBI, our NCC crew was chosen to aid in setting up a training course for to-be desert tortoise monitoring members. GBI prepares a GIS (geographic information system) course that has fake desert tortoises set up at specific locations. Using GPS and compasses, members practice by locating these fake tortoises. Our task this week was to ensure the fake, polystyrene tortoises were in the exact position that they should be in according to the GPS numbers GBI had on file.

We would sometimes come across a dead desert tortoise while traversing the desert outside of Las Vegas.

Our crew supervisor, Amanda, stands above a polystyrene tortoise to measure the distance between it and a center line of the practice course to ensure the fake tortoise is in a precise location. The polystyrene tortoises are painted to resemble an actual desert tortoise.

An NCC crewmember uses a compass to line up the correct location where a polystyrene tortoise should be located for the practice course.

Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas

On a night off some NCCers and I go to the Las Vegas Hofbräuhaus. While expensive, our reservations on spending money on the food and beer were quickly lifted.

Joel enjoys a liter, the default size offered at $14.50.

Jamie (in blue) participates in a contest on the stage with nine other women on who can drink finish a liter first. The winner got a free beer stein. Unfortunately, Jamie did not come in first, but at least she got a free beer out of it. We all enjoyed German appetizers and called it a night before becoming bankrupt.

Mandatory Volunteerism

As part of our year-long term with the Nevada Conservation Corps, we are required to participate in a number of extracurricular volunteer activities. These "mandatory volunteer days," as we like to call them, are spread throughout the year and between Las Vegas and Reno. On this day (which is Martin Luther King Jr. Day), when we'd normally go off on hitch for the week, we get the day "off" but then must come to the volunteer day. That's how our holidays generally work... Oh and we still need to make up the one day of hitch we lost by working an extra day at the end of the week (Tuesday - Friday; we normally get Friday off). No bitterness there. None at all. In any case, we worked with Habitat for Humanity this day to help place clay roof tiles on new houses for low income families. There was also painting to be done and a few other odd jobs.

NCCers work vigilantly on this scaffolding to transport clay roofing tile on top of these houses.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval showed up to the site during this volunteer day, gave a small speech in front of the press, then helped out a bit.

NCC crewmembers pass tiles along to be brought up to the roof.

My new year's resolution is 1680 x 1050

Despite the colder than usual temperature of about 30 degrees, a record low for December 31 in Las Vegas, more than 320,000 people came to enjoy New Year's Eve on the Vegas strip.

At midnight, all the casino resorts along the strip synchronously shot off their fireworks.

Las Vegas Blvd. and some surrounding roads were closed to accommodate the large influx of party-goers. The city's Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) waived all bus fees after 6 p.m. on Friday to 6 a.m. New Year's Day.

End of the Spring Mountains

The night sky over our camp, Blue Tree, in the Spring Mountains.

A few of our tents at night at Blue Tree.

Joel stands atop a boulder he climbed in Zion National Park, Utah.

A scorpion in the Spring Mountains.

Heading back to camp after work in the Spring Mountains.

The Spring Mountains.

Nevada Conservation Corps Crew #1 on our last day of trail work in the Spring Mountains.

Moving in Las Vegas

On Friday the 13th of August I left Syracuse, NY to Las Vegas, NV to begin my year-long term as a Nevada Conservation Corps crewmember. It is unbelievably hot here.

Because we weren't able to sign the lease to our apartment and move in until the 14th, I stayed my first night in the Gold Spike Hotel and Casino. Immediately at the entrance of every building I walk into, including my hotel, are slot machines and seizure-inducing flashing lights.

This was my hotel room (click and drag to rotate 360 degrees):
Surely the bright light coming through that window is daylight.

Oh wait it's actually a spotlight aiming right at my window in the middle of the night.

After moving out of this hotel the day after, I took an expensive Taxi ride to our Oasis Meadows Apartments.

View from our doorstep (we do also have a patio on the other side of the apartment). Incidentally this is also our house number where all gifts and care packages can be sent (3150 S. Nellis Blvd. #2131 Las Vegas, NV 89121).

Some Oasis Meadows apartments.

The size of this living area really surprised us all. It's bizarre that a living community this large has virtually no information available online. In any case, it's a very surprisingly nice place, and our three bedroom apartment is equally delightful, albeit unfurnished.

We did manage to pick up our first items of furniture from a couple of the garbage dumpsters located in the community, including a 1.5x1.5 ft. end table and a huge (in size and weight) 36" CRT television that we all thoroughly struggled bringing from the dumpster to our 2nd floor apartment (no elevators!). Our furniture count is now two, unless you don't count TVs as furniture.

One quickly apparent plus about Las Vegas is how cheap food and alcohol are.

While the apartment is nice and we'd all like more time to get settled in, we begin our NCC orientation tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. and won't be returning to Vegas until later this Friday.

At this point, things aren't too clear on where we'll be going exactly during our orientation week, but we did get an orientation schedule that more or less outlined our activities. It seems that a lot of this week will be spent in "classroom" settings, where we'll be learning about controlling erosion, trail design, layout (brushing corridor, constructing tread, drainage features) and theory, tool maintenance, Leave No Trace, and hopefully how to survive in the scorching heat. It's hot enough wearing shorts, but we have to wear relatively heavy Carharrt pants during our shifts everyday.

Notably, we'll be camping out the entire time starting Monday night at a location called Spring Mountains, which I believe are west and a bit south of Vegas.

Ben, Rosie and Sarah immediately after carrying this remarkably heavy TV to our apartment from by a dumpster. We were so happy to see static, ensuring it was in fact a functioning TV.

Ben, Rosie and Sarah after recovering from carrying the TV to the apartment.

Ugh, our forecast:

It better thunder on Wednesday. Only 30 percent chance? Come on thunderstorm, you can do it!