The last hitch

A view into the valley from camp.

Having forgotten ice for our cooler during the last hitch, we find some snow at the end of a work day and bring what we can carry back to camp.

Our summer NCC crew, minus Young and Luke who took their remaining discretionary days before the NCC term ended. We're standing by completed tread (not pictured) in the Mount Rose Wilderness Area.

Assistance arrives

To lessen our weight burden when hiking miles to our camp location, the NCC managed to get us some pack horses to carry our food and kitchen supplies up the mountain. Unlike our food, we had to walk up the mountain.

The NCC crew meets the pack horses before parting ways up the mountain to our campsite.

After retrieving tools from our tool cache made during the previous hitch, crewmembers continue hiking up the mountain.

Dan, Dylan and Luke look into the valley towards Reno.

Treading to the Tahoe Rim Trail

NCC members hike to location where they will continue the construction of a trail that connects the Thomas Creek trailhead to the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Dylan Stiegemeier adds wood to a fire at camp.

NCC crews have been working on the Rim to Reno project for months. Because of the now extensive distance between the closest vehicle-accessible location and where we are now working, we are camping back country. Normally, when car camping, we would bring jugs filled with water in our trucks, but as a result of our remote location and the displeasure we experience at the idea of hiking 50-pound water jugs up a mountain four miles, we are instead filtering water from nearby streams. Here, Lucas French maintains the water filters to ensure we're getting a steady availability of water.

NCC crewmembers take a break to eat.

An NCC crewmember slides down a snow-covered area by camp in July. Snow on Mount Rose usually hits a peak at the beginning of April and then starts to melt off. That wasn't the case this year, which has been referred to as the snowiest winter in the last 25 years.

An Alpine Lake in the Sierra Nevadas

People jump from boulders into Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. Its surface elevation is 6,225 ft. For comparison back at home, Syracuse, NY has an elevation of 380 ft. Lake Tahoe is also the United States' second deepest lake, the first being Crater Lake, OR.

Visitors at Sand Harbor, on the east coast of Lake Tahoe.

NCC crewmember Trent Lieber jumps into Lake Tahoe.

Beach-goers play in Lake Tahoe in the early evening.

NCC crewmembers in Lake Tahoe. The Sierra Nevada mountain range is the background. The mountains encapsulate the lake. The highest peak in the mountains immediately surrounding Lake Tahoe is Freel Peak at an elevation of 10,891 ft.

Sierra Nevada Wildflowers

We have been working outside of Thomas Creek for the past four weeks, building a trail that will eventually connect to the Tahoe Rim Trail. Having to hike about four miles to our back-country camp location for the hitch, we pass a lot of wildflowers. Below are some of them I've documented using a Sierra Nevada field guide.

Alpine Penstemon |  Penstemon davidsonii

Alpine Penstemon | Penstemon davidsonii

Applegate's Paintbrush (orange) |  Castilleja applegatei

Applegate's Paintbrush (orange) | Castilleja applegatei

Applegate's Paintbrush (red) |  Castilleja applegatei

Applegate's Paintbrush (red) | Castilleja applegatei

Bitterbrush |  Purshia tridentata

Bitterbrush | Purshia tridentata

Checker Bloom |  Sidalcea glaucescens

Checker Bloom | Sidalcea glaucescens

Crimson Columbine |  Aquilegia formosa

Crimson Columbine | Aquilegia formosa

Dwarf Chamaesaracha |  Chamaesaracha nana

Dwarf Chamaesaracha | Chamaesaracha nana

Elephant's Head |  Pedicularis groenlandica

Elephant's Head | Pedicularis groenlandica

Giant Mountain Larkspur |  Delphinium glaucum

Giant Mountain Larkspur | Delphinium glaucum

Granite Gilia |  Leptodactylon pungens

Granite Gilia | Leptodactylon pungens

Hartweg's Iris |  Iris hartwegii

Hartweg's Iris | Iris hartwegii

Heart-leaved Arnica |  Arnica cordifolia

Heart-leaved Arnica | Arnica cordifolia

Horsemint |  Agastache urticifolia

Horsemint | Agastache urticifolia

Peony |  Paeonia brownii

Peony | Paeonia brownii

Scarlet Gilia |

Ipomopsis aggregata

Showy Penstemon |

Penstemon speciosus

Sierra Nevada Pea |

Lathyrus nevadensis

Sierra Onion |

Allium campanulatum

Sierra Plum |

Prunus subcordata

Sierra Stickseed |

Hackelia nervosa

Snow Plant |

Sarcodes sanguinea

Soft Arnica |

Arnica mollis

Spreading Phlox |

Phlox diffusa

Spur Lupine |

Lupinus arbustus

Woolly Mule's Ears |

Wyethia mollis

Subalpine Shooting Star |

Dodecatheon subalpinum

Sulfur Flower |

Eriogonum umbellatum

Western Blue Flag |

Iris missouriensis

Western Wallflower |

Erysimum capitatum ssp. perenne

White Rein Orchid |

Platanthera leucostachys

Mount Rose Vistas

The early evening sun lights an alpine meadow in the Mount Rose Wilderness Area outside of Reno, NV. Mount Rose is the leftmost peak in this photo, at an elevation of 10,776 ft, the highest mountain by Reno and in Washoe County.

The crew begins a day of work on the Tahoe Rim Trail by Mount Rose. Snow is still present and several feet deep despite it being mid July. Reno is located in the valley visible in this photo.

Katie, a Harry Potter enthusiast, surprises us all by waking up in costume the morning of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2. As we are in the middle of an eight-day hitch and she can't watch the movie until getting back to Reno, Katie is nonetheless excited about the day.

The crew works on building tread as part of the Tahoe Rim connection trail in the Mount Rose Wilderness Area.

At least this means we can sit down

Traditionally, towards the end of the hitch when we are done using our tools for the week, we perform tool maintenance. During an eight-day hitch like this one, multiple tool maintenance sessions are usually a good idea. Tool maintenance is also good for us mentally, as it makes the work day that much shorter. Depending on the tool, maintenance can include sharpening, metal treatment (with motor oil) and wood treatment (sanding and then linseed oil). Here, an NCC crewmember sharpens the edge of a polaski with a file.

Motor oil is rubbed on this mcleod to help protect it from rusting.

Luke puts a cover on this 8-foot perforated lance tooth crosscut saw.

Well-maintained tools make for happy crewmembers. Or at least, happier than they would be otherwise.

Camp life in the alpine forests

The crew eating dinner together at the end of a work day in the Mount Rose Wilderness Area.

NCC crewmember tents in our designated camping area. While not normally so close to one another, the frightening prospect of bears coming by at night convinces us to set up our tents near each other.

Crewmembers hike items up to the campsite, located over four miles from where our trucks are parked with a gain in elevation the entire way. Here we take a short break on trails the NCC built just recently before hiking the remaining distance.

The crew watches as our crew leader, Phil, attempts to throw a rope around a branch in order to secure our bear hang. Due to the hiking distance from our trucks to our campsite, the idea of carrying a bear box up is out of the question. Instead, we hang our food from a tree. Setting up bear hangs can be very, very frustrating.

Phil secures the bear hang. The bags go up at night and up during the work day. Down for breakfast and down for dinner.

Crewmembers try to catch popcorn from a Jiffy Pop aluminum pan gone awry after dinner.

Phil walks under one of the bear hangs.

Another Day in the Office

The crew commissions single track trail in a recreational area by Pyramid Lake, NV managed by the BLM. We were charged with creating a re-route for OHVs around an area that was recently designated as culturally sensitive. We were apparently not qualified to know what was culturally sensitive about the area, but we gathered that this area, named Spirit Canyon, was of significance to neighboring Native American tribes who perhaps performed rituals in this Canyon. Above, the crew walks through Spirit Canyon.

After work on Thursday, the last day of hitch, we take a dip into Pyramid Lake.

The crew walks over the trail at the end of the day to return to camp for the evening.

A GBI vehicle has no choice but to venture through a flooded road. There were certainly no intact, water-free adjacent roads we could have taken instead.

GBI Special Forces

The crew rendezvous near the trailhead of the Wilson Canyon trail by Yerington, NV, at the end of the day for a brief meeting. After two hitches, we had completed 3.7 miles of trail. As a result of such a feat, Austin has designated our crew as GBI Special Forces.

The Wilson Canyon area is teeming with petrified wood. This petrified stump is becoming exposed after years of erosion. This area outside of Yerington used to be covered in pine trees before climate change resulted in the arid desert that exists today. Although there is no volcanic activity now, the topography used to be very erratic, and fallen pine trees would be covered in soils, leaving them no oxygen needed to decompose. All organic materials in the wood are eventually replaced with minerals while maintaining the original structure of the wood.

Phil, Austin and Luke build cairns, or reassurance markers, alongside the trail in Wilson Canyon.

After more strong winds at Wilson Canyon, some tents needed to be taken down.

Sand Mountain

NCC crewmembers worked 20 miles east of Fallon, NV at Sand Mountain to decommission unauthorized OHV roads. Sand Mountain, a Singing Sand dune, began to form when the nearby Lake Lahonton dried up. As wind blew across the delta, sand picked up and blew northeast. Trapped by the Stillwater Mountain Range, the sand would fall into its present day location. Over centuries of accumulating sand, Sand Mountain currently stands at almost 600 feet.

The dry lake bed of ancient Lake Lahonton can be seen in the distance. Formed by glaciers over 10,000 years ago, climate change led to the gradual dessication of the lake. As the water level dropped, the lake broke up into a series of smaller lakes. The lake here dried up about 4,000 years ago.

NCC crewmembers decommission roads during precipitation in the Sand Mountain area outside of Fallon, NV. The mountains in the distance belong to the Clan Alpine Mountain Range.

A lizard sunbathes on a rock in the Sand Mountain Recreation Area.

Decommissioning of unauthorized OHV roads in the Sand Mountain Recreation Area. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages these 4,795 acres of designated recreation area, used primarily by OHVs. An endemic species called the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly lives only in this area and was recently petitioned to be listed as a threatened or endangered species. The butterfly is almost completely dependent on Kearney Buckwheat, a plant that continues to diminish due to unchecked OHV use on non-designated areas. Decommissioning unauthorized roads at Sand Mountain will prevent further lose of habitat for the endemic butterfly.

NCC crewmembers take a break.

Sand Mountain.

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.

Trail Maintenance in the Valley of Fire

Nevada Conservation Corps Crew No. 3 finishes their trail work for the day at the Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada.

Jamie Sauer at the Petrified Logs area of Valley of Fire.

Me at White Domes, Valley of Fire.

Ben Nicklay pauses from creating a trail feature at White Domes, Valley of Fire.

Joel Ogulnick at White Domes, Valley of Fire.

(Click and drag to rotate.) The Elephant Rock area of the Valley of Fire.

(Click and drag to rotate 360 degrees.) Our campground at the Valley of Fire.

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.

Southern Nevada

NCC crewmembers place rocks in front of unauthorized trails in the Sunrise Mountain area outside of Las Vegas to prevent off-roading.

I wasn't planning on setting up my tent on this hitch. I was just going to sleep in my sleeping bag on a tarp. This tarantula, which was just a few feet away from my spot, changed my mind. Gold Butte, NV.

Keyhole Canyon, NV.

Ray, Macki and Marisa install vertical mulch to decommission an unauthorized road. A lot of our work so far has been dealing with unauthorized roads that run through environmentally sensitive or historically significant areas. One method of decommissioning roads is to install vertical mulch. We cut branches off of native creosote bushes, dig holes in the road, and then "plant" the branches in the holes. Although dead, the green creosote leaves last up to a year and helps make roads less visible to those who are searching for them.

Hugo prior to removing this unauthorized road in the Sunrise Mountain area, just northeast of Las Vegas.

Macki and Jamie install vertical mulch. Sunrise Mountain area outside of Las Vegas.

All NCC crews worked on an eight-day hitch in Corona, California the week prior to Thanksgiving. All crews set up their tents in this area.

Keyhole Canyon, NV at dusk.

Hugo, overlooking Lake Maed in the Gold Butte area of Nevada.

Crewmembers of the NCC carry salvaged irrigation tubing to be used for future projects. This land outside of Corona, California was previously used as a citrus orchard and materials like this tubing were left on the land when the land managers left.

A waterway exiting Las Vegas, which is seen in the background.

(Click and drag to rotate 360 degrees.) At Ash Meadows, NV, NCC crewmembers installed native riparian plants alongside a man-made channel.

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.