In Part Two of our series on Bears Ears Partnership's collaborative conservation work, Loren Quam - leader of Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps (ALCC) Crew #641 - shares his experience on a recent hitch in Grand Gulch. Read the full second chapter of his blog post, "A Day-in-the Life with Loren Quam & ALCC Crew 641" here!
Chapter 2: Join Crew #641 in Grand Gulch
As we descended down the canyon, the whole crew was looking forward to what was ahead of this rough terrain trail. We had been carrying 55+ pound packs on our backs and we were also eager to take them off once we reached our destination. Although we were fatigued and getting blisters on our feet, we still had the energy to share some jokes as well as sing some catchy songs that were in our minds at the time, which remains a core memory for the crew.
Once we reached our destination we found out that we hiked a total of 5+ miles, which felt like an eternity to reach, but we all felt accomplished that we were able to hike that distance with heavy packs carrying our camping essentials–our tents, food, kitchen supplies, clothes, blankets, flashlights and water filters. Once we got to our campsite, the first thing we did was collect 10 gallons of water at a small water pond which was left from the last rain storm. We filtered the water and used it to start dinner. We shared stories while eating which filled the canyon with laughter and life even though our first night ended up being the coldest night.
Our first day of work, we started the day by making breakfast and sharing our experiences of the night where everyone agreed it was the coldest and windiest night they've endured and wished they brought an extra sleeping bag or blanket. Even though the morning was cold and windy, we ate our breakfast, filled our water bottles, stretched, then hiked up to a popular, impacted site. We started off by having a tour of the site, then we were briefed on what to look out for and what to write down on the paperwork.
This project was a site assessment where we documented all the artifacts that are around the structures, as well as how well the structures are holding up and if that specific structure needs to be worked on in the future, also taking measurements of the structures. The crew was split up in different groups where some were looking for artifacts and others were taking measurements of the structures. Everyone had to do paperwork. Once our day ended, we hiked back down to our campsite and started our dinner, while debriefing about how our day went. We all agreed it was a good learning experience. We ate our dinner and got ready for another night.
Those days we were in the canyon, we did the same thing everyday–hike up to the same site, and start off where we left off on our documents from the previous day. On some days we forgot to fill our water bottles and we had to hike down on our lunch break and fill them up. Other than that we were always at the site filling out our paperwork. I was assigned to a specific structure, where I evaluated what needs to be worked on while taking the measurements on the inside. I was surprised to learn that the site was 97% original which meant that not a lot of preservation work was done on it and it's still standing after all this time. This was mind blowing to me. The other crew members were looking for pottery shards, bone, flints, rope and other ancient artifacts to document on their paperwork.
On one of the days we were in the canyon, the project partners suggested that we hike down the canyon and explore more sites and structures that were along the trail, and they were all amazing to see in person. We looked at some rock art and petroglyphs where I shared some stories. Then there was a point where we couldn't continue, so we turned around and went back to the campsite.
Back on our last night in Grand Gulch, all the members were glad that we we're going to leave that canyon. While trying to finish the rest of our food, we decided to have a little get together dinner with our project partners. My crew and I all pitched in some food and had a potluck dinner with various backcountry dishes. The dinner was good, but the conversation that we had was great. We shared stories of previous hitches, shared some jokes, and told our Zuni history. This whole hitch was one for the books and I will never forget the challenges that we all went through to get to this spot. As the night grew, the project partners left for their campsite and the ALCC members left. We got our portable camp stoves and wasted the camp fuel to stay warm and reduce the weight in our packs. We debriefed on how excited we were to finally be able to leave the canyon and how much of a challenge it was due to our heavy packs. We were excited but nervous at the same time; yet we were going to get through this as a crew. We all shared our thoughts then headed to our tents to get some rest for the next big day.
The next day, before the sun rose, the crew eagerly woke up and started packing their backpacks and ended up comparing whose pack was heavier. Once we got our bags packed, we nervously waited for our project partners because we were all going out as a team. When they showed up, we knew that it was going to be a challenge. We took a group photo, then we headed out.
The trip was long, physically and emotionally exhausting, but yet on the way up, we still managed to joke around and sing some classic songs that were still stuck in our heads. We encourage each other to keep pushing and that we're almost to the top. We kept reminding ourselves that we passed this place here before and that we are getting closer and closer to the end of the trail. We took our last break and I could tell everyone was running on an empty tank, but yet we all pushed ourselves and kept encouraging each other. Slowly we stopped telling jokes and singing our songs, and we found ourselves staring at the ground as we ascended up the canyon. At last we hit the last .5 miles and we started pushing ourselves to the max. We ended up getting cramps all over our thighs and calves, but yet we were still going to finish strong. We climbed the final ledge and we were finally at the end of the trail, where we were happy to see our vehicles waiting for us.
We finally got to our vehicles and we were all celebrating, praising each other, and congratulating each other telling ourselves that we made it. During this hitch, we hiked a total of 15+ miles, 5+ descending, 5+ ascending, and 5+ exploring the canyon. We were all proud of ourselves and celebrated by sharing and eating snacks that we left in our vehicles. We shared some pickles, Ryan shared some M&Ms, Shanna and Grace shared some Oreos and we had a celebratory snack break. Ryan also gave us some Bears Ears Partnership shirts, Lyle gave us some stickers and we all traded our information so that we can communicate in the future as well as use it for our resumes. We all circled up for one last debrief and shared our thoughts and said our goodbyes.
Every final debrief we have, I always like to remind others that in our Zuni language we don't have a word for goodbye. We always say "dela:apba'" which means see you next time and in the future. I believe that we will meet each other eventually. After all our hugs and goodbyes, we finally left for our campsite in Sand Petroglyphs, then the next morning we left for our hometown in Zuni.
Check back tomorrow for the next chapter of Loren’s blog post, “CHAPTER 3: CONNECTING AND RECONNECTING COMMUNITIES.”