After leaving the beautiful coast of Pacific Grove, California I made the 780 plus mile trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to catch up with Joel for our volunteer project working to eradicate the highly invasive species buffelgrass.
OPCNP was established in the 1930s and borders Mexico and is located about 35 miles from the nearest grocery store in Ajo, Arizona. (Yes 35 miles.You don't run to the store for a quart of milk here.) The organ pipe cactus is only found in this area. The monument is over 500 square miles and about 95% of the park is considered wilderness. Only 30 percent of the park is open to the public, mostly do to border issues and a lot of very poor roads.
Organ Pipe Cactus:
Organ pipe next to an old "nurse tree" which is dying off.
Joel's "big house" is located in the VIP (volunteers in parks) campground with full hookups. The campground is located within the gated park compound where all of the resource buildings are located. We have a community building which houses free laundry facilities, extra freezers and refrigerators, and nice showers. Cell service is not the greatest in the compound but there is free wifi. My little Born Free is in storage in the public campground for the time being.
The compound below:
Joel's RV is at the lower right.
So, a little about our project: Buffelgrass was brought over from Africa by the USDA to research as a possible drought tolerant grazing plant for cattle in the Tucson area. Buffelgrass is a huge, huge problem in central and southern Arizona as it can easily crowd out native plants. Seeds eventually found their way to OP. Buffelgrass also is prevalent to the south in Mexico so the buffelgrass seeds make their way to OP from the south. Buffelgrass is highly flammable and if there is a fire it will regenerate itself, but the cacti and other desert plants won't. About ten years ago the park service developed a program to work to aggressively eradicate the buffelgrass. The only way to get rid of it is to dig it up. Apparently there are some herbicides that will work, but the park service has elected no to use it at this point.
Below is a sample of a mature buffelgrass. We brought this sample back to the Visitor Center to show some of the volunteers who had never heard of buffelgrass nor had seen it.
Our job is to go out into the desert and look for buffelgrass and pull it up. We are given way points and a GPS to guide us to previous sites and determine if any new buffelgrass has sprouted. It's like geo caching, but for buffelgrass. While we are walking to the specific way point we survey the area to determine if there are any new areas that have been effected. We are given two hand held GPS; one has the way points downloaded so we can find our site (it's only accurate to about 30 feet) and the other GPS is to enter data consisting of how many adult or seedling plants are pulled and the size of the area and apparently it records a more accurate area/coordinates. We are also given radios and have to call in to a "monitor" with our location every hour for safety reasons.
We spent all last week working with volunteers Mary and Kenn Hoover to learn the ropes. This is Mary and Kenn's third season and they have decided they didn't not want to volunteer for a lengthy period of time. Normally, the position is from November-March. Kate, in the middle, is in charge of loading the way points into the garmin GPS and tracking all the data we gather as well as other duties.
This is one of the sites we hiked to...can't beat the scenery!
Joel attacking some buffelgrass.
We work four consecutive days a week and usually will have Friday-Sunday off so there will be plenty of time to explore. So far the days have been really easy and the longest distance to a site off the road has been a mile, but we are just getting started so some of the sites most likely will be farther. We went out to the desert by ourselves on day, and didn't have any problems so the Hoovers will be leaving and we will be on our own next week.
A great view from our camp.
Stay tune for more.