Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy
AmeriCorps Blue 6 Team
April / May 2013
The 2013 AmeriCorps Blue 6 Team from AmeriCorps NCCC arrived in Borrego Springs on 2 April 2013. After a day for stowing gear and becoming familiar with the Palm Canyon Campground, the team had its first introduction to the Anza-Borrego Desert at the Visitor Center on April 4th. David Garmon and Chuck Bennett described the Service Project, Mark Jorgenson gave an unforgettable presentation on desert safety, and Larry Hendrickson presented detailed information about Sahara Mustard.
After a quick lunch at Calico's, the team set out for Palm Canyon wash with Larry Hendrickson, Paul Johnson, and David Garmon for a hands-on experience with the wily Sahara Mustard. In short order the team developed the ability to spot Sahara Mustard in all its developmental stages and in all its favorite hiding places. The team practiced pulling Sahara Mustard out, including its long taproot.
During the first two weeks Blue 6 worked under the supervision of TCDC board members, Lori Paul and Robert Staehle, while in Tubb Canyon; and under the supervision of Paul Johnson while working on State Park property. Lori and Rob introduced the Blue 6 team to desert fauna, including a non-venomous desert rosy boa; birds, such as the Gambel's and California quails; black-tailed jackrabbits; antelope ground squirrels, pocket mice and kangaroo rats; along with numerous nocturnal "creepy crawly" insects, scorpions, and one giant desert millipede. The team also observed California tree frogs and their tadpoles in canyon streams, photographed well-camouflaged horned lizards, and caught glimpses of endangered Peninsular desert bighorn sheep.
Not to be outdone by their predecessor team, Silver 5, the Blue 6 team also encountered hurricane force winds during their first weeks in the Borrego Valley. Blue 6 witnessed the destruction of the three Mongolian yurts that had survived last year’s winds at their base camp in Palm Canyon, and they saw the most intense sand storm to occur in recent memory. Because of the recurrence of high winds, the team took shelter on subsequent nights in the bunker-like Visitor Center, which provided safety and respite from the incredible winds that roared through the valley. The team had to shake sand out of their clothing and possessions and lost some sleep to the howling wind, but otherwise emerged unscathed.
Despite the challenges posed by the recurrent hurricane-force winds, the team worked diligently and during the first three weeks were able to scout out and remove Sahara Mustard from over 160 acres in Tubb Canyon, 140 acres in Plum Canyon, and another 40 acres in Palm Canyon wash!
At the end of the first three weeks, the team began to range further from the center of Borrego Springs in search of Sahara Mustard. Under the leadership of Paul Johnson numerous infestations were located along the shoulders of roads leading out of the valley, especially S22. During this phase of the project the team removed 90 50-gallon bags of maturing Sahara mustard!
By the beginning of May triple digit temperatures and lack of rain brought about the end of the germination and development of Sahara Mustard. Coming to the end of the season for Sahara Mustard meant the team could turn its attentions to other invasive species, some of which were at higher (and blessedly cooler) elevations. Under the guidance of Park personnel, Blue 6 Team eradicated large swaths of African Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum), Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), and Woolly Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), restoring three miles of hiking trails in Palm Canyon and 12 miles of hiking trails in Cuyamaca and Palomar Mountain State Parks to native vegetation.
In addition to the extensive service the team performed in eradicating invasive plant species, Blue 6 Team reached into the Borrego Community and gave presentations about their work with Sahara Mustard. Blue 6 continued their outreach into the community that was begun by Silver 5, speaking to local school groups, church groups, and service organizations (Rotary Club), encouraging everyone to become involved in the eradication of Sahara Mustard.
As if all of the above accomplishments were not enough, during their “off hours” team members searched for additional ways they could be of service to the community. Blue 6 Team's Independent Service Projects ranged from assisting park personnel dismantle the remains of the damaged Mongolian yurts, to assisting Anza-Borrego Foundation personnel in reorganizing one of its large storage facilities, to staffing a daylong meeting about water resources held at the Steele-Burnand Research Center.
During the team’s stay in the Borrego Valley, a number of community members had the pleasure of hosting the team for a lunch or dinner. John and Kay DiFrancesca hosted a barbeque, as did Rob Staehle and Lori Paul at the Garmon-Gilman residence. Bill and Suzanne Lawrence provided lunch and an afternoon of swimming at their home. And Mary and Chuck Bennett hosted a farewell dinner for the team at their home on May 24th. Thanks to all those who made the AmeriCorps Blue 6 Team feel welcome!
It is with gratitude and admiration that I say goodbye to the extraordinary members of Blue 6. Tubb Canyon Desert Conservacy wishes each one of them the best of luck in their next service project in Hawaii and in their plans for the future. As you pursue your plans, Blue 6, I hope you will never let a little thing like impossibility stand in your way. We hope you will take fond memories (and a little bit of desert sand) with you wherever you go. Please return to the Anza-Borrego Desert someday. We would enjoy seeing you again!