This is her fifth installment, from an email dated September 24th, shortly after her return.
Greening of the Grand Canyon. This was the name of the Sierra Club service outing I signed up for. To work with the revegetation crew restoring native plants in disturbed areas.
A little context here…there are a couple thousand year round residents of Grand Canyon, most living near the South Rim in hidden residential areas. Many more in the summer months. There is a K-12 school, a well stocked grocery store. A clinic and ambulance service. There are the law enforcement rangers and the interpretive rangers. Also the backwood rangers who work with the wildlife. Someone has to haze the nuisance bears and, if necessary, tranquilize and export them. There are the employees of the concessionaires and the various service providers…like the camper service shop with showers and laundry.
And a few scientists. I think there is a geologist, and anthropologist, an astronomer, and I know from experience that there is a horticulturist and a couple other botanists. The revegetation project is part of the science and restoration management bit of Grand Canyon stuff. They try to preserve the area in as nearly a natural state as is consistent with visitor use. This is a balancing act, of course, 9 million visitors a year are going to leave a lot of footprints. Even though the average length of visit is 2 hours. That’s right, two hours in the park, a few minutes looking over the rim, a few minutes in the gift shop buying a t-shirt, and an hour in the lodge having a meal. Some walk around stepping on plants and planting used Pepsi cans. Others walk delicately and carry their garbage out in their pockets.
But I digress. Back to the reveg crew. They run a large multigreenhouse nursery. They gather seed and propagate them in the nursery for eventual transplant to disturbed areas. They salvage plants from areas which are about to be disturbed (new roads, quarries, expanded buildings, etc.). Those plants are held in the nursery till they know which will survive, then planted back where they are needed. (New traffic islands, places where there were roads which have now been removed.) They remove invasive non-natives like our old friend the tumbleweed. None of the botanists likes the tumbleweed, it is just too aggressive to the detriment of more fragile natives. They even move trees around…a new parking lot is under construction at the main visitor center, they have taken out a few dozen junipers and bristlecone pines and have them in huge wood boxes ready for transplant.
Lots going on. And we the Sierra Club volunteers donned yellow vests, grabbed picks, trowels, spades, and went to work. I watered, I salvaged cactus, I transplanted both into the ground and in the nursery, and, glory be, I gathered seeds. That was my favorite job. I gathered with Matt one half day, and with Christi for a half day. I learned 18 or 20 plants, by common name and code (first three letters of genus and specie). I came to love the cliffrose and the apache plume. I delighted in finding a paintbrush with seed ready…most were still in full bloom. I giggled at the rattly little penstemons and the Boucor…a nice grass with seeds hanging off the stem so they could be gathered with one quick sweep of one hand. I think its a sort of oat grass. I was the absolute queen of Hetvil, the yellow aster. I gathered bags and bags of those seeds.
The labeled seed bags go straight into a freezer for a few days at least. Then they will be sorted, planted, and eventually, those which take will be put back with a mile or so of where they were gathered.
It’s a wonderful project, and one which forces a personal interaction with each little plant. Just lovely to think I helped some of the flowers stay right where they belong.
The most unexpected thing I did was salvage cactus. As a thirty year resident of Texas, I never expected to be tenderly and lovingly digging up and replanting prickly pear. Its a funny old life, isn’t it?