Tag Archives: Grand Canyon Trust

34th Week in Review: Seeing All of Northernmost Arizona

Sharon at bucks farm point

Sharon at Bucks Farm point overlooking Marble Canyon

We have had a busy and beautiful week.  We were set to connect with our 2nd Grand Canyon Trust volunteer trip on Thursday at the Kane Ranch, so we headed down through Utah via the Scutumpah Road (a scenic dirt road that takes you by Bryce Canyon, Pink Cliffs, White Cliffs, and Grey Cliffs).  We had heard from our friend Kirstin, that we had to try mountain biking on the Rainbow Rim trail that overlooks the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  It was awesome and we will be adding a post about that any day now.  After our ride, and a celebratory milkshake from Jacob Lake Inn, we managed to find a wonderful free campsite halfway down the Kaibab plateau, that overlooked the Vermillion Cliffs.  It was a great introduction to the area where we would be volunteering for the weekend.

swimmers in Lake Powell

Hanging out in Lake Powell (ie, the flooded Glen Canyon)

So from Thursday through Sunday we were volunteering on the Kane Ranch (post to come in the next few days).  We made new friends, ate great food, and watched the sunset every night from the porch of a ranch house built in the mid-1800’s.  What an awesome opportunity.  From there we had a few days until we were scheduled to volunteer in Chinle, so we continued to explore, camping on the edge of Marble Canyon (which leads into the Grand Canyon), swimming in Lake Powell, and then camping on the edge of Thousand Pockets near the historic Dominguez and Escalante route.  We rounded out our tour of northernmost Arizona by driving from Page to Chinle, where we are now volunteering through the Muskoka Foundation.  Jay and I consider ourselves very fortunate to have now thoroughly covered the top of the state.  It is a fascinating and varied landscape.

canyon de chelly spider rock view

View of Spider Rock (spire) at Canyon de Chelly near Chinle, AZ


Hours volunteered: 48 hours (combined) working on the Kane Ranch Native Plant demonstration garden with Grand Canyon Trust and restoring Mule deer habitat in the Kaibab National Forest for National Public Lands Day

States: 2 – Arizona, Kaibab National Forest, Kane Ranch, Page, Chinle;  and Utah (though only in Utah for a couple of hours to go swimming in Lake Powell)

Budget: under

People Visited: none

Nights under the stars: 4, Kaibab National Forest, BLM land near Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Canyon De Chelly

Best meal: All of the meals at the Kane Ranch were awesome, but eating Bacon Cheeseburgers with Kane beef on National Public Lands day was particularly special

Best beer:  Ska Brewery Ten Pin Porter — picked up a great sampler pack in Page

Volunteering with Grand Canyon Trust – Busy Urban Planning Beaver

Beavers build neighborhoods.  They are like the urban planners of the natural world.  Just like human urban planners, they look for certain characteristics in choosing a good place to design a neighborhood.  First of all, they need water.  Beavers actually live in two feet of water.  Being slow, pudgy and awkward animals (don’t tell them I said so), they make easy pickings for predators and without a quick escape underwater they would be dead in no time.  Second, they need plant material to eat and to build with.  Turns out that willows, aspens, and cottonwoods (all plants that grow near water) are their favorite.  With those crazy strong teeth of theirs, they can actually fell large Aspen trees and then push them down a hillside to build elaborate dams and lodges at the stream.  This takes quite a bit of plant material of varied sizes, so the plants in the area have to be growing at a healthy rate.

old beaver dam Fishlake National Forest

an old, no longer functional beaver dame in Fishlake National Forest

Turns out there is another mammal scoping out the land in this area.  We can think of him like a get-rich-quick real estate speculator, planning to make a profit off the land in the short term with no plan for the future health or long term investment of the area.  This mammal is the cow.  Cows are permitted to graze most parts of the National Forest land in southern Utah and they are attracted to the same waterways as the beaver.  Unfortunately cows think willow and aspen are mighty tasty and they chomp them down before the plants can grow enough to create an eligible lot for the beaver.

stream trampled by cow

A stream in Fishlake National Forest trampled and chomped up by cow

Who cares you may be wondering?  Why does it matter to me that the urban planner wins out over the land speculator?  Well, in the human world we have seen parts of Arizona, Nevada and Florida with neighborhoods full of foreclosures or half built condos or urban decay from areas that were bought to flip for profit rather than to live in.  In the natural world, we are left with a loss of water and loss of habitat for a variety of animals.  Beavers are not just building a home for themselves, they act like urban planners, building an entire neighborhood, an entire ecosystem.  When they fell the trees it opens up the forest so that plants that need more light can grow by the streams and ponds.  When they build the dams, it slows the streams and filters the water.  This means there is more water held along the way for animals to drink and for plants to thrive.  It also means cleaner water downstream for all of us.  You might think the Aspen trees wouldn’t be too keen on beaver since they are gnawed on by them, but actually Aspens are adapted to it and are quick to put up new sprouts.

Aspen stand in Fishlake National Forest

a stand of Aspen trees in Fishlake National Forest

Before this week with the Grand Canyon Trust, hiking to beaver dams and measuring the abundance and health of the Willows and Aspens, I had no idea that beaver were so cool and so important.  In fact, beaver are considered by most people to be a “keystone species”, crucial to healthy wetland environments.  I wish that had been common knowledge back in the 1800’s when beaver were brought to the brink of extinction by fur trappers responding to the demand for beaver pelt hats.  Darn fashion fads wiping out thousands of years of sustainable wetlands!

Volunteering for Grand Canyon Trust: Learning New Things

Jay and I joke that I have a goldfish memory.  It is particularly bad when it comes to numbers.  I used to deliver flowers during holidays and in the time it took me to read the house number and then look up to try to spot the house, I had already forgotten it.  So when when we got a new assignment on our Grand Canyon Trust trip to identify and count native grasses and forbs, I said, “What’s a forb?” and then started to freak out.  I kept saying, this is not my strong suit, I am never going to remember 30 new plant names, much less be able to match them to tiny bits of life buried between logs and rocks and sagebrush.

My partner, Donna recording plants we've identified

My partner, Donna recording plants we've identified

A couple of days later we were listening to the Dirtbag Diaries (thanks Kirstin for the recommendation).  There was an episode about a guy who took up rock climbing when he was my age.  He was given a rope as a gift and didn’t think he was ever going to become a climber.  It just wasn’t his strong suit.  But he did.  And it made him question why we define ourselves so early on in our lives and speak about what we can’t do as if that couldn’t change.  I mean, already over the course of this year I have taken on many new roles that I never imagined I would …  burn nurse, sawyer, four-wheel driver, fire department tornado relief representative, …. and now I can add native plant identifier to that list.

sharon counting native plants

Sharon counting native plants

Ok, so I still wasn’t magically fabulous at remembering the names of the native plants, but I remembered several, and I was working with Donna who was really good at remembering the grasses and forbs.  Of course I didn’t really need to memorize the accurate scientific names since we had a professional botanist with us.  All I had to do was get close enough that she would know what I was talking about.  Which is how I ended up shouting things like “5 polygamy” and “2 pussyfoot” (polygonum and antennaria mycrophylla or pussytoes).  All in all it turned out to be a good afternoon in the field, digging in the dirt, learning new things, and laughing with new friends.

Bastard Toadflax

Bastard Toadflax - another easy one to remember and fun one to shout

Planning for the Grand Canyon – Where It All Began

Toroweap overlook

Overlook at Toroweap (Picture I took in 2003)

Jay and I first started dating at the Grand Canyon.  We were both students in a University program called Grand Canyon Semester in 2003.  We had been taking classes at NAU in Flagstaff for two months but hadn’t had much interest in one another.  It wasn’t until we got out of the classroom and into the great outdoors that we took a liking to one another and discovered we make a great team.  October 2003, we spent living in the Grand Canyon, first on the South Rim, then rafting on the Colorado River, and finally backpacking on the North Rim.  By the time I got back to campus I had found a second home in the Canyon walls and had found my partner in life.

Faith and Jay at Toroweap

Our friend Faith (left) and Jay looking over the edge at the Toroweap overlook (picture I took in 2003)

The first organization on both of our lists to work with during Service Driven is Grand Canyon Trust (GCT).  Both because of our connection to the Canyon and our first hand knowledge of the great work that GCT does, we are thrilled to get a chance to participate in their volunteer trips.  Their trips are very similar to the American Hiking Society‘s Volunteer Vacations, (which we also hope to volunteer with), but they are free of charge to participants.  GCT is one of the only organizations I know of that runs free “voluntourism” trips in the United States.

Nicole at the Toroweap overlook (picture I took in 2003)

The first trip that we hope to take with GCT is the March trip, Vegetation Program Days at the Toroweap Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.  The Toroweap region is in a remote part of the Arizona strip, only accessible through Kanab, Utah by 4-wheel drive vehicle.  We were lucky enough to go there with Grand Canyon Semester as part of a geology field trip.  The experience that you get from exploring the remote edges of the Grand Canyon is worlds away from what most tourists experience standing behind the guardrail at the South Rim.  Camping at Toroweap challenged my understanding of natural beauty as I was both awestruck by the dramatic landscape while also craving a drop of green plant life in the endless panorama of rock.  We can not wait to get back out there and help protect this incredible habitat.

sunset at Toroweap campground

Sunset at Toroweap campground (photo taken by Chuck Barnes on the GCS trip in 2003)