Caprock Canyons State Park Hitch Recap 4/28/19

Caprock Canyons State Park was beckoning us for our 6th hitch to do maintenance on the quickly eroding trails there. Waterbars, check steps, rubble walls and drainages needed to be built, put in, and touched up. Few of us had experience doing that and some of us have never been in the desert or seen a canyon before. We were excited for red sand canyons, bison, primitive camping, higher elevations, and the desert!!! Far away from home in Austin, as enchanting as it looked in photos, (with its rugged rocky terrain,) the desert provided only heat, and no access to drinking water. The absence of other amenities like showers and outlets, designated flat tent pads, and a nearby town showed how spoiled we were at Guadalupe River State Park. Some of us have never primitive camped before, but we are TAT. With our knowledgeable leaders, (Amber, who had extensive backcountry living and trail building experience in California with CCC, and Sam who has built 800 lbs granite stairs on the Appalachian Trail in NY), we had justified confidence that we are going to not only survive but thrive on this hitch solidifying our tribe’s bond and learning cool new trail building techniques with just a bit of extra planning this time. We were stoked to do good work and looked forward to exploring new territory.

After a full long day of driving, we entered the park at sunset. Wow! Mountains! Bison strolling on the road! As tired as we were after a whole day of driving, we all crawled out of the van at the visitors center and limped on our half asleep from the drive legs to the edge of a cliff to snap photos of the setting sun behind the towering canyons and grazing bison in the distance.

The next morning we chewed on our breakfast and watched million of stars fade away, the early sun rays illuminated the vistas all around us. Red, orange, brown cliffs with splashes of green on the towering canyon walls were aglow all around us! Whoa! Everywhere you looked the red giants guarded us, giving their morning salutations to welcome us. These gorgeous lands and canyons were going to be our home and walls for the next ten days!

We had two set work sites going on Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail, which is about 600ft of elevation gain from the trailhead to the top. One worksite, which was at the very top, needed rock steps and a rubble wall built. The other site, about 300ft below that point, needed waterbars and check steps built and a few features reinforced. Our legs protested carrying all the tools up the steep with loose rock and way over 8 percent grade trail. The two-ton griphoist was extra nasty to the knees, but our hearts and minds loved it.

Some of us struggled with the steep hike to the worksite in our bulky workboots and  pounds of water in our packs. The heat was excruciating, the red sand was in every nook and cranny of our clothes, gear, pots, and bodies.  A few of us got away with just scratches from spikey desert plants, some of us sunburnt, and some with smashed fingers, but the tribe persevered and we not only completed the planned work but did extra maintenance, fixing up eroded waterbars and junk walls in many areas. We put in 6 new huge check steps, 4 waterbars, repaired a check step, cleared 3 existing waterbars, and installed 8 rocks stairs!!!

Our strong team bond helped us excel, work well together, and exceed our set goals on this hitch. Heavy winds and epic thunderstorms broke one of our tents and everyone was glad to have helped rebuild and come up with shelter solutions. Instead of retiring to our tents after dinner, like we were used to (maybe because of the heat), all of us stuck around after dinner and hung out together playing games or just cracking jokes and just lounging in each other’s company. It was a whole other camping experience with the crew this hitch. We were closer because of our isolation from the public and being in a new territory, everyone got along brilliantly. We were eight people working and camping just a few feet from one another on daily basis and all was well. Caprock is truly magical. It brought us even closer together.

A few days before the end of our hitch, our off-highway-vehicle, Ranger, got a deflated tire. We waited for the park’s staff to come rescue us. Dennis from maintenance showed up to save us and fixed the Ranger’s flat only for the other one to get another flat later in the day. Dennis helped us with numerous back and forth rides to carry out our camp stuffs and tools back to the parking lot. He helped patch the injured Ranger up and answered our trillion questions about the park. Dennis is officially a trail angel and a good relationship advice counselor. We think you should meet him when you visit Caprock Canyons before he retires.

This hitch has been a productive adventure. We did good work, grew as a team, and explored together. On behalf of TAT, I want to thank everyone who planned our work hitches, this one and previous ones, and who made it all possible. Such exposure to skills, people, parks, and new regions of Texas are tremendously valuable experiences, making everyone a better person and the world truly a better place. I wish many future TAT teams to have amazing hitches and mind-blowing, life changing experiences like we are continually having this season.

P.S.: Oh, and we like eggs and high fives!

Happy trails,

Yuliya Semenova

LaCC – Kisatchie National Forest, Kincade Recreational Area

With a bright blue sky and stick of humidity, the ever perky, Crimson Crew members arrived as usual on Monday morning with the goal to get things done on our newest adventure. In the true spirit of a hitch to a new project we of course had to start with the obstacle of leaving the actual parking lot. Typically this part of the day is quite simple. We get the tools, grab the gear, stuff in our personal baggage and with the crack of a joke or smart comment we are off to do what good we can. This Monday decided it wanted to be difficult however, but after switching vans, trailers, and a 3D game of tetris we managed to head out.

2.5 hours or so later we arrived to one of the most breathtaking areas of Kisatchie we have been to. The forest of tall pines and scrubby undergrowth encircled a glittering, peaceful lake. It took but a few minutes to find Sonny, the camp host, who directed us to the plots he had reserved for our arrival and took a moment to talk with us while we settled in. One of my favorite parts about working with LaCC is the camping. Rain or shine, we have been very lucky to end up near beautiful places that make up for sleeping on the hard ground.

Our week started slowly. A morning of cleaning one of the soon to open recreation areas and bucking up some fallen trees. For those who dont know; bucking is the process of chainsawing a tree that is fallen into smaller, more moveable pieces (it is something we do to keep areas open to the public looking clean or clear pathways for trail users). Wednesday our task was similar, though at a boat ramp and involved a lot more trash pick up. PSA: there are usually trash cans in your park area and though sometimes inconvenient, the critters and people who use public areas greatly appreciate the effort you put in when going to the trash bin with your disposables instead of turning nature into a garbage can. In the afternoon we tottered off to more “strenuous” work clearing underbrush that was engulfing pine trunks. As Thursday gave way to a much needed thunder storm, we experienced the first taste of true conservation work in a sense. By this I mean we stayed out, and were drenched, until the lightning and thunder signified the storm was too close and we kicked those shrubs glutious maximi. We finished as the sun came out and the accomplishment I felt was gratifying.

Friday was the day to head home. Before we could, tents and personals had to be repacked, the trailer reorganized, and then the fire pits of every campsite cleaned. Arriving home to Baton Rouge, for me at least, is one of the more challenging parts of our hitches. Yes by the end I am grateful to have my comfy bed and my own shower and alone time, but coming into the city is such an experience of it’s own. From the tranquility and bliss of forest life to the meaningless urgency of the city. It’s a contrast. That is the greatest thing about this program though; getting to experience both sides of life here on our planet. Getting to do what little I can to try and make it better and getting to bring what I learn in the woods to my city life and being content with what I have and the time I have. Slowing down to experience everything at my pace. We unpacked, cleaned every tool used, and said our goodbyes for the weekend; that brief, but much needed, moment of time where life seems to be on pause now because we’re not out in the woods. Who can say what it is going to feel like at the end of our term, but that’s 6 months away so I am more than happy to enjoy the time I have left with my new family and keep doing good.

Brook Mize – Conservation & Disaster Crew Member

LaCC in the Winn District – Kisatchie National Forest


This past work trip we returned to the Winn District of Kisatchie National Forest for ten long days. Our project was again prairie restoration, working for project partner David Moore – a botanist with the US Forestry Service – to remove nuisance plants from imperiled calcareous prairies. The primary target of this work project was Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), a fast-growing woody tree encroaching on the prairies. While Sweet Gum is native to the region, usually restricted to seasonal wetlands and woodland edges; it is considered a nuisance species in this particular habitat, as an historic lack of wildfires due to human fire suppression allow Sweet Gum and other woody vegetation to grow unchecked – and this is where we come in. Armed with an arsenal of tools including loppers, handsaws and hatches (with Shawnee and myself busting out the chainsaws when necessary) we got to work bright and early each morning working in a circle around the perimeter of a nine-acre meadow, cutting down the small trees and saplings and spraying their trunks with herbicide. Ever-present were the various forms of “green briar”, several thorny vine and shrub species of the genera Rubus and Smilax growing across the ground at knee height or wrapped around our target trees tangling branches and scraping skin.

Early in the week the weather acted against us, bringing windspeeds over 13mph which impeded our spray time and a major storm front moving in Wednesday which forced us to take a half-day and sleep beneath a downpour and heavy winds. However, once the rain cleared up the remaining five days bore beautiful sunshine, fair temperatures and a gentle breeze.

My personal highlight of the week was encountering a beautiful Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortix contortix) with brilliant white edges to the dark mahogany bands crossing its back. The highlight for the rest of the crew, of course, was probably watching me sprint across a nine-acre prairie in full chainsaw protective equipment like a madman leaping over fallen limbs and briar patches to reach the other side when people began shouting “snake” upon its discovery. Despite being a venomous species, the copperhead posed no danger to us as we all kept our distance and left the animal alone, allowing it to slither off into the woods without incident.

On Tuesday afternoon we ended the workweek with David taking us on a nature hike. Starting with an area that previous Louisiana Conservation Corps and Texas Conservation Corps had completed and leading us through a patchwork landscape of hardwood lowlands and with pine forest uplands and more open prairie ridges. The climax of the journey was a clear stream running the bottom of two ridges. Hidden amongst the clay mud and pebbles were a variety of fossil artifacts, including seashells, petrified wood and coral – a few crew members even found remnants of fossilized crabs preserved in the clay. After a long trip in the field (literally), it was a perfect combination of fun and informative to close out the hitch before our departure for Baton Rouge the following morning.

Alec Jarboe – Conservation & Disaster Crew Leader

Water Quality Protection Lands

Red Crew has been working in Buda, Texas for about a month cutting Mesquite and Ashe Juniper to help maximize the amount of water reaching the Edwards Aquifer to help recharge the City of Austin’s water supply.

We have been using herbicide to minimize the growth of the Mesquite to help inhibit growth and prevent future encroachment. The tools used to for this project have been chainsaws so progress can be the quick and fast with minimal impact to the area (unlike heavy machinery).

The project so far has been fun for crew bonding time and has made Red Crew closer. So far this project has been great because Red Crew has the honor to work for the City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, which Texas Conservation Corps has not worked except for as a training site in years. We’re happy to build and develop a good partnership for future projects.

Grant McKenzie – Conservation & Disaster Crew (Red Crew)

Purple Crew removing Invasives

Purple crew was charged to do some work on Harper’s Branch watershed, off of Kenwood Avenue in our beautiful home city of Austin, TX. We removed invasive Nandina and Ligustrum as well as cleared an area near the road for folks in the neighborhood to enjoy their little slice of nature. Pulling up to our work site, I think that it’s safe to say that we weren’t expecting a whole lot, being in the middle of a block of houses, but what we got in such a small space was something special: a particularly beautiful and diverse strip of sloped, verdant land running parallel to a small stream. We found non-venomous snakes, lizards, various birds including a Coopers hawk that visited daily, pretty Texas Redbuds, Primrose Jasmine, and Lantana.

Spirits were high and the work flowed like we were doing it for fun, not even a relatively heavy shower on one of our days could damper our mood. Of course, no work is without its irritations, in our case it came in the form of a dense patchwork of poison ivy which left half of the crew welted and itching; nonetheless, we worked on. And when we were finished each and every one of us were proud of the work that we had accomplished. I, for one, am proud to be working for TxCC with such amazing, hardworking, caring, friendly people by my side. I wouldn’t change a thing (of course that may be because I’m not one of the members who had a reaction to the poison ivy)! Much love to Elijah, Richard, Crystal, Sofia, Caroline, Kim, Francois, and our amazing crew leaders Alex and Michelle! Purple Crew 4 lyfe.

Jacob Walters – Conservation & Disaster Crew (Purple Crew)

Manifesting Motivation

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You join a conservation corps with expectations. Expectations like meeting a bunch of interesting people, forming your own little community, discovering things you never knew about yourself when faced with adversity in the face of the seemingly endless expanse of nature. People quit because it’s too much! The proximity of camping with the same people was too intense – thrust into a community; the work too exhausting. the wilderness inconsiderate of the physical comforts and the proximity inconsiderate for the emotional. And when you overcame that you felt like you won something, like you overcame a weakness you didn’t know you had and you walk with your chin up, ready for anything.

Now reverse that. What happens than. Take the boulder from Sisyphus, what does he do the rest of the day? When your crew hears about your tales from hitch, the drama, the intensity. You use that as the carrot to get them excited for the first 2 weeks of cutting Ligustrum – the unforgiving expanse of nature replaced with the hum of passing cars, the intimacy of the group replaced with 9 other people who you complain about money with while doing menial labor. And it works… kind of – every week they ask ‘when will we go on hitch?’, because you’ve built it up so much – this is why people do corps. This is why we come back even though the our backs hurt and our cars are falling apart. Why our bank accounts are bare and we don’t care. Because we do something not everyone can do, and that’s what we want.

Robert Ryan – Conservation & Disaster Crew Leader (Silver Crew)