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

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)

Trail Work and Ditch Digging at the Water Quality Protection Lands

When we arrived at the site, our usual contact wasn’t there. Instead one of his coworkers greeted and took us through what we would be doing after finishing the other tasks. For some context, there are natural caves in the area that act as places for recharging groundwater. Our new contact took us to one such cave, which appeared like a hole of rock that snaked down into an abyss of unknown depth. Years ago, people would use such holes for disposing of trash, sometimes leading to the hole filling completely and being covered by dirt over time. A depressed patch of dirt (around 15ftx15ft) has been found and is suspected to be a sign of one such cave. It’s our job to dig in the area and look for the cave and/or signs of disposed trash, or rather, it will be our job. There is still work to finish by the creek so we leave the cave site and follow the dirt road deeper into the property. Stretch and safety starts as normal, but afterwards we split up into two main groups, one to finish steps and trail clearing from last week, one to make a separate set at a different point along the creek. I started on the new staircase, but switched to trail clearing after lunch. Monday went by smoothly, with the logs on both staircases being set in and suitable rocks found to complete them. Tuesday started with setting the base rock for a composite staircase (with log steps, steps made from metal pieces found on site, and one stone later decided to be placed at the bottom) that went down to the creek. This ended up being fairly tricky due to weight of the rock and the placement by the creek bed. The dirt turned to mud that slipped at the slightest provocation at a steep incline. It felt like the creek was dragging you in. Even with waders, I was confident that my pants would not survive the day dry. Although the present difficulties made progress slow going, with some effort and a little craftiness we were able to get it in place. The rest of the staircase had also been finished being drilled and rebar-ed and the other staircase completed, so after lunch we all headed back to the dig site. We spent the rest of the day there making pilot holes in the ground. The dirt only goes so far until being interrupted by bed rock, and we were looking for areas that went deeper, or any sign that we could find. Being sick Wednesday, I don’t know many details except that the rain did not make it any easier. Thursday our new contact came by and gave us some pointers on the way we were digging, and we switched from getting single data point holes to digging trenches to get a bigger picture of the rock we were hitting. The day saw much dirt moved from the ground, to buckets, to a wheelbarrow, and finally to a growing pile 10-20 feet from the dig site, but no signs of a cave. Friday was more of the same. Near the end of the day a small plastic looking piece was found, though we’re unsure if it was anything significant. We never did find a cave, but we moved enough dirt to bury a crew and that’s rewarding in its own right!

James Moriarty – Conservation & Disaster Crew Member (Silver)

UT Stengl “Lost Pines” Biological Station

Trekking through the woods
Crisscross applesauce
Oh man, I think we’re lost
That stump’s too high
Ouch! I stubbed my toe
Get it cut and get ’em low
Apply with caution
Sprayer full of herb
That straps done hit a nerve
My back really hurts
And my feet are sore
But it doesn’t really matter
‘Cuz we’re ready for more
-Lucas Lachica – Disaster Response Team Leader (Blue Crew)