Thursday, March 18, 2010

Arches Arches Arches - Day 4

We awoke Thursday morning (30 mins. later than normal!) and proceeded with the daily morning coffee walk down the street. Upon arrival to Plateau Restoration for breakfast, we saw an Iowa girl with an eye patch on. We honestly and worriedly asked what happened to her eye. She immediately replied "Arghh, time to go." As a group we were stunned, and then started cracking up. After eating, we packed our lunches and then hit the road for Arches National Park!

Our first journey was to Delicate Arch. It was a very long hike to get to it, but it was totally worth it. It was just breathtaking. (Yes I am writing this portion from the arch). When we reached the arch, there was a couple getting their wedding pictures taken. They impressed us because she hiked in her wedding dress and boots and he was in his tux. Yes we creeped and took our own wedding pictures of them. We relaxed and ate our packed lunches at the arch, pretty much the best lunch location ever. Christine questioned if the digestion of our meal would be effected by the altitude. As entertainment for our meal, a random guy started doing backflips under the arch. We made him do it again so we could get a video. We could have sat there all day, but there was more of the park to see, so we began our hike back down, which was a lot easier and faster.

Our next trek was to Devil's Garden where Landscape Arch is located. On our hike, Tam and Mike decided to have a snowball fight, which was pretty funny. Tam hit the pirate girl from Iowa mentioned earlier square in the back with a snowball; she also had her sunglasses on crooked all day and at one point awkwardly chased a flying termite and caught it. We arrived at Landscape Arch and took our touristy pictures. As we were hiking back to the front, Tam became really fascinated about something on this huge wall. She picked at it and a piece of rock fell off. She then exclaimed "I just caused a thousand years of erosion." Before exiting the trail, we stopped at Pine Tree Arch (which some random lady told us was her favorite) and Tunnel Arch. These weren't as impressive as the previous two, but still cool nonetheless. To end our excursion we stopped for a few photos at Balanced Rock on our way out of the park. For the rest of our adventure, we have been sworn to secrecy because of it's awesomeness. Ok...we are kidding.

We helped make dinner tonight - burritosssss. A lot of prep went into it and they turned out great. The best meal of the trip, what can we say. Later we went to Maverik's (the gas station down the street) yet again for snacks. We made these soft serve ice cream/candy concoctions and then ate them at this conveniently located picnic table next to the gas station. Katie had this gargantuan bowl of ice cream, of which she ate the whole thing (You rock, Katie!). We got back to the hostel and started packing for home since we leave tomorrow for Grand Junction.

**Update on the Colorado group...
THEY SHOWERED!! And they were jealous that we left to get ice cream.

We look forward to what Moab has to offer on our last day in Utah...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tree Planting: Day 3

We decided to start our morning bright and early today! We woke up around 6:30 am and bundled up for a sunrise hike. We were led by our ninjas, Joe and Ryan.We hiked about 20 minutes up a trail and were able to see the sun rise over the snow covered montains in the distance. After our hike we joined the other schools and our Plateau Restoration leaders for a quick cereal breakfast.

We all loaded up in our vans and headed for Sand Island Campgrounds near the town of Bluff. The drive was about an hour and a half each way which allowed for some nice nap time! We spend most of our day planting 60 large Cottonwood Trees which were spaced around a new irrigation system. A large number of Tamarisk Trees had previously been removed from the grounds. The holes for the trees were already dug by a machine, and we just had to plant a tree and build a moat to keep water around it. We took a lunch break and shortly after continued back to tree planting. We played games to pass the time and distract ourselves from the exhausting sun. We have tried our best to keep applying sun screen to avoid getting burnt, but against all efforts some if us still have some nice farmers tans. We can't complain too much though because this weather has been perfect!

After a long days work and a yummy macaroni and cheese with hot dogs dinner, we returned to our hostel for a relaxing evening. We all gathered around the community tv downstairs and watched the movie, Sunshine, with some of our fellow hostel dwellers. We enjoyed our usual nighttime snack of candy bars and chips. We talked about wanting to find some fun outdoor adventures to do when we get back to Bloomington!

We are looking forward to our day trip to Arches National Park tomorrow and plan on taking lots of pictures!

Colorado update: They still have yet to shower...ewww..
Reese's debate update: After to continuing to survey people we have come to realize that it seems we have been pronouncing it wrong all along...owell...we think it sounds better that way.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Operation: Destroy All Tamarisk (Day 2)

We were greeted by a gorgeous sunrise over the large mountains surrounding the valley Moab residents call home. After breakfast (eggs and potatoes, if you're curious), we drove about 30 minutes outside Moab to Potash, where we continued our work from yesterday in clearing the area of a highly unpopular invasive species in the Utah and Colorado region called Tamarisk. It is very fire prone, and spreads like a weed throughout the region, consequently preventing the growth of native plants. In addition to clearing Tamarisk, we prepared areas for replanting to ensure healthy and beneficial wildlife grows in place of the invasive shrub.

During environmental work like ours, its often hard to see the benefits of efforts immediately, since replanting is a long-term process, but I would be very excited to return 5 or 10 years later and see the huge change that's taken place.

After lunch, we resumed our replanting adventures for a couple hours, and then hiked over towards the Colorado river - our favorite part of the day!

On our drive back to Moab, Dave asked if we "want to see something cool." To digress, Dave is an energetic man with a friendly disposition, who could easily strike fear into the heart of Chuck Norris, if he felt so inclined. An ex-accountant, Dave now lives at the bottom of the Grand Canyon working as a medical biller (aka repo-man) while climbing mountains in his free time. His catch phrase, "git-r-done!" can invigorate Mounties and city-kids alike, and the liscence plate on his Jeep, "Hike Naked," raises more questions about the man than we could hope to answer in just a weeks time. Needless to say, Dave is awesome. So, when Dave asked "want to see something cool?" we said "Sure!"

After a 15 minute detour, we found ourselves near a hiking
trail on a large rock-face with Indian wall paintings and dinosaur tracks fossilized in the rocks. Ryan and Joe, our group ninjas, quickly scaled the rocky trail as the rest of us followed behind. From up high, we had an amazing view of the Colorado River and nearby mountains. Taking advantage of the Kodak Moment™, the seven of us pulled out cameras and began photographing everything in sight, like any good tourist would.

Ready for dinner, we returned to the Plateau Restoration home base, and later walked to Milts for milkshakes and banana splits in order to make up for all those pesky calories we'd burned throughout the day (we didn't want to be too healthy).

Overall, we had a very fun and interesting day. We have a great group, fun volunteer projects, and beautiful scenery, and are looking forward to the rest of the week!

The Reese's Debate

With all 3 student groups excited for day two, we began the day with pleasant chatting with Iowa and Colorado. At one point during our breakfast, I mentioned my distress at having dropped my Reese's Peanut Butter Cup last night on the not so pristine hostel floor. Having overheard my conversation, a girl from Iowa commented on my "weird" pronunciation of Reese's. I've always called them "ree-sieze", but the Iowans insisted it was "ree-cez." And so, the Great Reese's debate of 2010 commenced. We have decided to conduct a survey to settle the issue once and for all.

So far, we are at a stalemate, with Indiana, Georgia and Utah pronouncing it what I've deemed the "right way", and Colorado, Iowa, and New York pronouncing it the "wrong way."

Why Colorado is Awesome (according to Colorado)

Roughing it in tents, while we are warm and comfortable in our Hostel beds, Colorado and Iowa complained of waking up with ice on their sleeping bags this morning. This is the definition of "roughing it" according to Iowa, but not quite enough so for Colorado. To fully become one with nature, and all that involves, Colorado has decided not to shower...for 3 days so far. They're currently going strong, but we expect the smell to increase throughout the week. This should be interesting.

So, what will tomorrow have in store for us? What is the proper pronunciation of Reece's? Will Colorado ever shower? Stay tuned to find out!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Arriving in Moab & Day 1

At the wee hour of 3am, we departed Bloomington to start our journey. Flying through Denver to Grand Junction we hopped into a van for the 2 hour drive to Moab. Most of us were deservingly tired, but we all managed to wake up to see the giant red rock walls which soared into the sky and welcomed us into the town. We headed straight to the Plateau Restoration site where we were greeted by Mike, Tam, David, Mark, and Onyx (our new four-legged friend).

We learned about the agency and got a preview of our week while we ate a delicious snack. Then we headed over to our hostel. We had an option of camping or staying in the hostel and considering the freezing cold nights of the desert, we all appreciated having a warm place to sleep! After getting settled in, we were able to go on a walk along a creek that led us into the town. The quaint Mormon town is full of shops and we enjoyed looking at all of the touristy items.

Back at Plateau Restoration we met the other two university groups which are volunteering here over their breaks. They are from Central College in Iowa and Colorado State University. After dinner, we headed back to the hostel and bonded over a game of yahtzee (and learned that Ryan has a lot of luck!). At that point most of us had been up for the better part of 36 hours so it was off to bed!

We woke up bright and early this morning and headed over to Plateau Restoration and learned about the beginnings of the agency. It was started by Michael Dean Smith back in 1995 after he worked as a park ranger and river guide. He wanted to show Moab that college students are more than just tourists who come and abuse the natural ammenities. The agency does work for the park service and other natural agencies and they host university groups for about 6 weeks out of the year to teach them about restoration and to have them work on various projects. In the morning, we filled seedling boxes which we had assembled the day before. It sounds simple, but like all the ecological systems we are learning about, there was a lot more to it than we originally thought. We had to assemble the box frames, line them with weed cloth, put in all the seedling holders, sift sand to get the rocks out, mix the sand with potting soil, fill the seedling holders, put in the seeds, and then cover them up. They are going to grow into plants which can be used to revegetate burned or other disturbed areas.

After lunch, we headed to Jackson Bottom, a plot of land along the Colorado River that Plateau Restoration is working to restore. A lot of the land in this area is covered by tamarisk trees which was brought over from the Mediterranean to help protect the Colorado River bank decades ago. The trees have spread like crazy sucking up water from the river and suffocating other plant species. Plateau Restoration's goal is to clear the tamarisks and revegetate it with native plants which will attract wildlife that currently has no place to roam. We worked on preparing some of the land for new plants which we hope to plant tomorrow!

We had spent a good portion of our day working in the field and so we decided to try out the hot tub when we got back to our hostel. We met some nice Utah natives who told us more about the area.

Overall, it has been a good start to our trip. We are surrounded by breath-taking scenery, have learned a lot about resoration, met other passionate students, and started work on some projects. Stay tuned to see what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pre-Trip Volunteering at Wapehani Mountain Bike Park

On Saturday, we headed to Bloomington's Wapehani Mountain Bike Park for an awesome pre-trip volunteering experience! We worked with Kevin from Bloomington Parks and Recreation and another ASB environment group that will be serving the Cumberland Island National Park Service during Spring Break.

We completed the following trail beautification projects:

*Removed invasive rose thorn bushes, a potential threat to bikers
*Mastered the use of a weed wrench to make a new Easy-level trail
*Transplanted baby pines to a new home

Our group enjoyed the beautiful weather, help improved biking trails at Wapehani Mountain Bike Park, and learned valuable skills to impress Plateau Restoration. Our journey begins next Sunday, departing Bloomington at 3AM. Arches National Park, here we come!

Happy Trails,