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!