My first project was in Zion National park in Utah. We drove there on Wednesday which took about 4 hours (stopping at Walmart of course for food!) After driving through the park we set up camp at one of the N.P. camp grounds. Our first job was to help some of the rangers fix a fence. That sounds easy enough, but first of all we had to hike down the logs/fence posts to where the fence was. To say it was hard is an understatement! I thought that perhaps I'd be eased in gently, but noooo....this was straight into the hard stuff. And it was boiling hot too!
After two days we had to move camp - this was where the fun started! The main purpose of our project was to make a new fence in a different part of the park. A very remote part. In order to get there, we had to transfer all of our equipment from our one van into three better, off-road trucks. We also had to make sure we had enough water for all 12 of us for the whole time we would be there as there was none where we were going. Then we drove the three trucks about an hour into the desert. We had to get out and push several times when we got stuck. Getting out of the cool cabin into the heat was bad enough, then having to push the truck in the sand, by the exhaust was pretty challenging, but very fun!
Eventually we reached our 'campsite' and set everything up. Then we hiked down all of the tools that we were going to need for the fence. The hike was about half a mile, but on sand and in the sun. Going down each morning was quite nice; coming back up after a day's work was pretty tough!! For the next 5 days we constructed about half a mile of fence. Some of the ground was rock so we had to drill down to make a hole for the posts. We always have to wear a hard hat, gloves, protective glasses/sun glasses and carry our pliers.
At the end of Tuesday our work was done (there will be another crew there next week to do another half mile) - we had to hike back up with all the tools, our bags, and any water we had left (we had to take at least 6 litres each per day) - it was pretty hard going but such a relief to get back to camp for the last time.
On Wednesday we packed up and waited for our lifts - the rangers had driven the trucks back on Friday so we basically had nothing for the time we were there. If anyone was injured, they would have had to call an air ambulance. Mat (our supervisor and ex-BUNAC volunteer from Liverpool) made sure we all knew where the radio and satellite phone was in case anything happened to him or Emily the assistant - pretty hard core!
The project was great, and the rest of the crew were too. I was the only new person and the only Brit (apart from Mat) but everyone got on well. After driving back to Flagstaff yesterday we all went out for dinner (after a shower!). It was really rewarding to know that you've pushed yourself so hard and that you have helped to construct something which will actually be useful. As Esther (from Spain) said in the van on the way home 'I'll never look at a fence the same way again'!
Oh, and one more thing - we saw four rattle snakes! Normally they are lucky to see just one, but we saw four in two days. Myself and Laura (from Spain) spotted one crossing our path as we just walked along. Strangely I was ok about it after a second or two, and I got some photos. We also saw some scorpions and loads of other bugs. The worst hazard though were the cactus (cacti?) - everywhere you trod, sat, put your stuff down, they were there. And you don't want to get them in you!!
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