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.

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.

A successful weekend

Jen looks at screen in the control room of the USS Pampanito, a submarine built in 1943 at the Navy Yard Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in just nine months, and at a cost of $6 million. After use in the Pacific during World War II, the Pampanito docked at San Francisco.

Dylan walks up stairs to Ghirardelli Sqaure in San Francisco, where we proceed to eat chocolates and purchase wine.

It was gay pride weekend in San Francisco when we went, and the Mission Doroles Park was a center for rallying around the cause.

Suddenly in San Francisco, there was lots of honking and people shouting out in the streets, as well as cars swooping by equipped with Mexican flags. We were walking back home and had no idea what was going on. Apparently, Mexico had won a soccer match against the United States. As Dylan said, "only in the United States would it be tolerated for the winning team to celebrate so openly in the losing team's country."

How will we ever return to a two-day weekend?

Dylan waits for the tube (BART - Bay Area Rapid Transport). We went to San Francisco for our three-day weekend and stayed at a hostel called El Capitan.

Dylan, Jen and Erica sit by a railing on the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge as we contemplate where we're going next.

The longest line we've ever seen for an ice cream shop. It's the Bi-Rite Creamery by Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco. Delicious but probably not worth the price and line.

The crew heads down the stairs to a BART station.

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.

Wilson Canyon and a New Crew

A week after the NCC summer orientation and formation of new crews built from both old and new members, newly-fashioned NCC crews began work around Nevada. We are building new tread at Wilson Canyon, a gorge of volcanic cliffs cut by the Walker River a little west of Yerington. The new trail will have been started and completed by this crew in a period of two weeks.

On the third day of hitch, winds between 60 and 90 mph picked up, causing a small sandstorm and preventing us from continuing work for the rest of the day.

Waiting for the entire crew to gather before leaving Wilson Canyon due to severe strong winds.

Young Kim prepares dinner for the crew after work.

The crew continues building tread.

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.

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.

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.

Throwback 2 - Fog Party

It was seemingly out of nowhere that a heavy fog had descended upon one Ackerman apartment that night, shrouding all visibility save for a few feet. As navigation equipment ceased to function in the overwhelming mist, several Syracuse University students, disoriented yet determined, willed themselves to tread forward confidently, steadfastly, perseveringly, at the road ahead.












A quick scroll through all my frames taken that evening. Song is "Liza" by Django Reinhardt.

Throwback - Mayfest 2010


Joe Blum films and participates in the Syracuse University 2010 Mayfest held in Walnut Park. Click to see "Mayfest according to Joe Blum" on the Newshouse site.


Despite the official SU Mayfest 2010 being held in Walnut Park, a sizable number of SU and ESF students continued the trend this year of partying in front of houses along Euclid Ave.


Max Nepstad and Jenna Passmore in Walnut Park.


Syracuse police monitor the Euclid area during the 2010 Mayfest.

You can see a couple of these photos on the Newshouse site: "Walnut Park wins Mayfest, but Euclid Ave. survives"

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!