Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Project Spotlight: Pecos Wilderness in the Santa Fe National Forest

Not a bad spot to give something back, WV 2011 Pecos Wilderness, Photo by Katy Giorgio
Now we turn our attention to the vast and beautiful Pecos Wilderness within Northern New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest. The Santa Fe National Forest was originally protected in 1915 and the Pecos Wilderness was among the earliest designated wilderness areas gaining protection in 1933 and again with added protection as a result of 1964’s Wilderness Act. The elevations vary greatly from the 5,000' valleys to the peaks of the Sangre de Christo Mountains that are the end of the great Rocky Mountain chain that stretches all the way from Alaska, with the peaks of Santa Fe Baldy and Truchas towering over 13,000'. The steep and narrow canyons of the west, provide drainage into the meandering Rio Grande, while to the east lies the serene broad meadows of the Upper Pecos River Valley, with wide mesas and peaceful grasslands that offer abundant wildflowers in the summer months.

Columbine wildflower in Pecos, Photo by Dave Pacheco

Unique among Wilderness Volunteers service projects in 2013, District Volunteer Coordinator, Jennifer Sublett has offered to lead participants on guided trips to learn of the striking wildflowers of the region which should be in great supply during our service project, as well as an astronomy program coupled with a night hike. This is a wonderful backcountry opportunity presented specially for our volunteers.

These beautiful, rugged mountains abound with forests of fir, pine and aspen and many gorgeous southwestern lakes and streams, home to the threatened native Cutthroat trout. Indeed, Pecos comes from a Native American term meaning, “a place where there is water.” Along with a wealth of wildlife (including black bear, big horn sheep, elk, mule deer and many more), the area supported an array of native tribes for hundreds of years. The Pueblo of Pecos served as a key stop on the trading route from tribes that hunted buffalo on the Great Plains to the east and the farming communities in the Rio Grande river valley to the west.

The beautiful Lake Katherine, which will be very close to our campsite in 2013, Photo by Jennifer Sublett

Given how close Pecos Wilderness is to the city of Santa Fe, this striking area sees much use and requires significant attention to maintain these trails that provide access to some of the most popular areas in the whole of the Santa Fe National Forest, such as Lake Katherine above and the popular peak of Santa Fe Baldy. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Project Spotlight: Mission Mountains Wilderness

Photo by Katy Giorgio from WV's 2011 Service Project
Today we spotlight our service project in the broken and beautiful Mission Mountains of Montana, often called “America’s Alps.” Towering mountains, glacial lakes, clear cold streams and majestic falls are a few features of this area. The Wilderness protections of the Mission Mountain Range is unique in the nation, as it is composed of two adjacent designated wildernesses, one federal and one tribal. For centuries upon centuries, the Flathead and Pend Oreille people hunted, fished, gathered berries, and even went on vision quests in these rugged mountains. In 1979 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes of the Flathead Nation designated the western slopes of these tribal lands as Wilderness, the only self-established Tribal Wilderness in the nation. In the words of the committee that protected the land (an effort led by three deeply dedicated grandmothers or "yayas"):

"These mountains belong to our children, and when our children grow old they will belong to their children. In this way and for this reason these mountain are sacred."

Photo by Tammy Rinaldi, WV 2010
The wilderness management of this rugged range is thus divided between the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Flathead National Forest. The WV service project will focus on the Mission Mountains Wilderness within the National Forest - 73,877 acres managed by the Swan Lake Ranger District.  This beautiful stretch of protected land runs 30 miles along the crest of the Mission Mountains on the eastern edge of the Flathead Indian Reservation.  The area abounds with beautiful wildflowers and a wide variety of trees including western red cedar, ponderosa pine, western whitebark pine, douglas fir and even the unique alpine larch. There is abundant wildlife throughout the land, including moose, coyote, wolverine, elk, deer, lynx, bobcat, marmot, rabbit, mink, more than 50 species of birds, and many, many more.  The king of these forests, however, is the grizzly bear.

Photo: Creative Commons / Mousse

The grizzlies have made this land their home long before Europeans reached this continent and they continue to seek refuge in these mountains.  Every year bears gather on the glacial fields of McDonald Peak to gorge on insects, as well as the delicious huckleberry that is enticing to bears and hikers alike. From mid-July to October, all 12,000 acres of tribal lands are closed to public use for the bears' protection.

Photo by Jeffrey Gutman, WV 2012
The specific work of the service project will be decided by the partnering Ranger District after the snow melts and the damages from the harsh northern winter can be assessed. We will backpack in and likely camp by a clear glacial water source to allow access to cooling dips as well as to offer a chance to enjoy the bountiful fishing of the area. We’ll have pack animal support for our tools and kitchen supplies, as we work to restore trails and campgrounds after a rough, cold Montana winter.  Learn more about WV’s service project in the Mission Mountain Wilderness.

Photo by Tammy Rinaldi, WV 2010

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Project Spotlight: Goshute Peak

The view from high in the Goshute Mountains
Today’s WV service project spotlight falls in Elko County in the Northeast corner of Nevada. Altering the path of Interstate 80 is the Toano Range and Goshute Mountains, offering the distinctly rugged and remarkable beauty of the Great Basin. Steep canyons boast rich biologically diverse forests of juniper, fir and many varietals of pine.  The region presents terrific recreation opportunities, including backpacking, hiking, and climbing. 

Photo by Jerzy Strzelecki
Our project is in the Goshute Peak Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in the southern half of the range, and along with neighboring Bluebell WSA to the north, present vital habitat and navigational pathways to migrating raptors. The Goshute Mountain Range is part of a critical international skyway for migrating birds traveling with the seasons. We’ve partnered on this project with Hawkwatch International, a nonprofit that runs the important Goshute Mountains Raptor Migration Project each fall, tracking up to 25,000 raptors from 18 species over the course of seven weeks. 

Photo courtesy of Hawkwatch

The Hawkwatch Field Station, which will serve as the WV basecamp, offers striking, broad views in the clear high desert sky. Our service project will provide needed trail maintenance on the Goshute Peak trail, the only path to the station, allowing safe access for our partner’s important scientific work. This service project will help keep researchers and volunteers safe on their hike to and from the field station. This is one of the largest concentrations of raptors on one of the most important migration corridors in the world and maintaining the trail is key to the efficiency and safety of those that study it. Learn more and sign up for the first Wilderness Volunteers Service trip to Goshute Peak WSA. 

Given the cold winter weather occupying much of the country currently and thinking of migrating birds, we’ll end this post with these fitting, eloquent words from Rachel Carson:

The moon at sunset in Goshute Peak WSA
Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. […] There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter." 
Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pemigewasset Wilderness

 by Preston Cottrell    Embarking on my first Wilderness Volunteers project was intimidating. I had some skills in working and living in the outdoors, but I really did not know what to expect going into the trip. I was surprised at how organized, supportive, and encouraging the leaders were about all aspects of our journey. My fellow participants had their own special qualities as well. Larry was a knowledgeable guide, quick to jump into any adventure. Jack’s empathetic nature reminded us of why we were there: to give back to our planet and to one another. Wes provided a perseverance and work ethic that powered us to the very end of the week. John M and the entire Forest Service crew were so much fun to be around. They were all understanding of the work that needed to get done but were wonderful people to sit down with and relax at the end of the work day.

Every day in the Pemigewasset Wilderness we experienced the majesty of the outdoors and being immersed in such an environment challenged us to rely on one another and appreciate our commonalities. Our wonderful cooks made tasty food which was enhanced by taste buds responding to the outdoor setting. Somehow oats and vegetables just tasted better in the outdoors. Each day I was reminded that even though we worked hard, nature had a way of rejuvenating our spirits in a way that city life could not.

Overall, I feel the work we did mattered. I know more about myself and nature, and I made new friends with whom I hope to cross paths again. For all these reasons, I would love to do another WV trip.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

WV Presentations in PA and NJ

REI is hosting two Wilderness Volunteers presentations, the first at the REI Conshohocken (Pennsylvania), on Jan 15 at 7PM, and REI Marlton, (New Jersey) on Feb 26 at 7 PM. You can get directions to either store by clicking on the links above.

Rick Volpe, a WV Board Member and veteran of 9 seasons of projects will be joined by other local Wilderness Volunteers participants to answer your questions about the organization and tell you what really happens on projects, and if the food is really that good (yes!). Find out more, and then take the plunge and sign up to Give Something Back to our wild lands in 2013.

From the REI Conshohocken website: Ever wonder who maintains and builds those trails you hike on? Who clears the fallen trees and brush, keeps invasive plant species at bay, or revegetates habitat and transforms those muddy, washed out sections of trail into navigable and inviting footpaths? People just like you - on service trips with Wilderness Volunteers. And we want you to come join us! A national nonprofit in its 15th year, Wilderness Volunteers partners with the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Fish and Wildlife Service to organize and promote volunteer service projects that would go undone without volunteer support - Wilderness Volunteers runs 50 week-long service trips each year throughout our national parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Stop by to learn what it's like to spend a week "Giving Something Back" in some of the country's most beautiful places and learn how you can join us on one of our 2013 projects, which run from March to October. For more information, visit

Trip Spotlight: Continental Divide Trail in the Gila National Forest

Photo from WV's CDT Service Project in the Gila NF 2012
Today we turn the spotlight onto WV’s service project along the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in the Gila National Forest. There are lots of interesting tidbits about the history of the land and the remarkable CDT in addition to the abundant hot springs and diverse wild beauty of the area. Established as a National Forest in 1905, the Gila National Forest offers a vast and remote cross section of natural southwestern splendor, from the dry, flat semi-desert terrain in the lowlands up to rugged, high mountains and canyons. The 6th largest National Forest in the continental US, Gila boasts a broad and robust biodiversity and a unique confluence of ecosystems with riparian systems adjacent to high desert and old growth forest.
Flowering cacti in the Gila National Forest
This land is also the birthplace of America's wilderness-conservation movement, as the Gila Wilderness within the National Forest was established as the very first designated wilderness in the country in 1924. The rewards of wilderness designation can be found throughout the unspoiled land. The Mogollon Mountains top out at 11,000 feet and support rich high spruce, juniper, aspen and fir forests, while down at 4,200 feet octoillo as well as chihuahuan and upper sonoran desert cacti dominate the landscape. Wildlife such as the black bear, mountain lion, elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, and wild turkey roam the area while the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and the red-tailed hawk are amongst the birds that soar overhead. Many imperiled species reside in the Gila National Forest including the mexican spotted owl, mexican grey wolf, gila chub, southwestern willow flycatcher, loach minnow, spikedance and more.
Mexican Grey Wolf, Photo by Jim Clark USFWS
Indigenous populations have a longstanding history with this land. An ancient Puebloan people, the Mogollon, are thought to be the first human settlers in the area. Before or after our service project, you can visit the ancient past with a trip to the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument, located within the National Forest, to see the remarkable structures within five sandstone caves. It is not known why the dwellings were abandoned 700 years ago, although Hopi oral tradition does say migrations occurred due to cycles of beliefs and in response to changing climate. 
Gila Cliff Dwelling photo by NPS Photo, Barry Nielsen
Our service project is one of two we have that focuses on the construction of a segment of the epic Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Stretching from Mexico into Canada, the trail travels 3,100 miles following the Continental Divide along the Rocky Mountains, traversing Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. Established in 1978, the CDT offers opportunity for adventure with one of the most significant features on the continent. The trail is about 70% complete and includes dedicated trail and small roads. We'll work on the trail while based in a spike camp in the nearby forest, hiking to work everyday where we'll construct tread, brush the trail corridor, and install erosion controls. This trip is suitable for seasoned volunteers as well as beginners in good shape who want to learn about camping, trail construction and Leave No Trace. Learn more and sign up for WV’s Continental Divide Trail Project in the Gila National Forest.
Photo taken during WV's Gila NF Service Project 2012

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Trip Spotlight: Alta Toquima Wilderness

Below is the first installment of what we expect will be a regular weekly feature of the WV blog – a spotlight on one of the many amazing wilderness areas where Wilderness Volunters will host a project in the next year. We plan to add a bit of insight into the unique features of the land where our projects occur and why we should all treasure what our wilderness areas provide. 

WV has many new service projects in 2013 and one we’re really thrilled about is in the Alta Toquima Wilderness in Central Nevada. The 35,860 acres of the Alta Toquima Wilderness officially became part of the now over 109 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System in 1989 and is managed by the National Forest Service as part of the Humboldt-Toyiabe National Forest’s 6.3 million acres, the largest national forest in the lower 48 states.
Even amongst the grandeur and beauty of the rest of the Humboldt-Toyiabe National Forest, the Alta-Toquima Wilderness stands out as a unique and significant area for our attention. The Toquima Mountain Range includes the massive and intriguing Mount Jefferson reaching just shy of 12,000 feet. The mountain offers terrific recreation opportunities with three summits, all connected over eight miles, with overwhelming biodiversity and plentiful fresh streams that support an incredible array of wildlife, including the nearly endangered sage grouse, native trout, bighorn sheep and many more.
The mountain offers more than hiking and has piqued scientific and human interest for a long, long time. The Wilderness area takes its name of Alta Toquima from the currently highest known native village in North America. In 1978, Dr. David Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History in New York surveyed the long abandoned site, ultimately disproving many archaeologists who believed that early American hunters avoided high altitude environments as too harsh and barren to sustain life. The survey and excavations at Alta Toquima proved that from 2500 BC to 0 AD, the mountains were used intermittently by small groups of hunters who seasonally exploited mountain sheep and permanent villages were constructed after that, around 1 AD. These new large, long-term settlements at Alta Toquima represented a major shift in how ancient Americans used mountain resources, and illustrate how archaeological research continues to teach us about the past.
Photo by Sage Ross
A century prior to that discovery, this mountain range was the catalyst for a different scientific revelation.  John Muir summited Mt. Jefferson on August 17th, 1877, noting its striking qualities and confirming the theory that the Great Basin was indeed carved of glaciers:
“…while making the ascent of Mount Jefferson, the dominating mountain of the Toquima Range,  I discovered an exceedingly interesting group of moraines, cañons with V-shaped cross sections, wide névé amphitheatres, moutonnéed rocks, glacier meadows, and one glacial lake, all as fresh and telling as if the glaciers to which they belonged had scarcely vanished.
….This is a very marked and imposing mountain, attracting the eye from a great distance. It presents a smooth and gently curved outline against the sky, as viewed from the plains, and is whitened by patches of enduring snow.”
-John Muir, Eureka, NV, 1878, The Writings of John Muir, vol. 8

The mountain still maintains significant scientific interest today, recently becoming designated as a Research Natural Area by the forest service given its extreme conditions and opportunity for the study of alpine plants and wildlife.
Indeed, the Alta Toquima Wilderness offers a great deal of exciting history, knowledge and beauty.  The Wilderness Volunteers service project there will allow you to visit, experience and enjoy this amazing land while giving something back.  We’ll camp at the lovely Pine Creek campground and work on the trails to provide access to the higher elevations, plus we’ll have an opportunity to explore and play in our free time.  Learn more and sign up for the WV service project in the Alta Toquima Wilderness.
If you’ve got a favorite wilderness volunteers project you’re partial to and have info or photos to share with us, please don’t hesitate to email