The ability to monitor status and trends in the biophysical components of wilderness is an essential part of land conservation stewardship. It is also one of the most difficult. The tasks: quantify unauthorized actions that manipulate the land, inventory the abundance and distribution of non-native species, quantify visitor use, record travel routes, and accomplish all this while hiking for 15 hours, climbing 8,500 vertical feet, and topping out two of the top three peaks in the range.
The rugged desert-like range known as the Inyo Mountains presents one of the boldest mountain fronts in North America. They have similar topographic relief to the neighboring Sierra Nevada, but in a fraction of the horizontal distance. Traveling in the Inyo required physical fitness, rock climbing skills and route finding abilities, oh and water is non-existent. The lower slopes of the mountains are covered by desert scrub typical to the Mojave, while higher elevations contain pinyon-juniper woodlands, groves of limber pine, and one of the largest stands of bristlecone pine in California. For the desert explorer, this is paradise.
Similar to running water quality tests in potable water; conducting a wilderness inventory of human impacts in a rarely visited region can feel rather uneventful. We traveled by faint use trail for less than half the day and the only visible human alterations were cairns guiding the way when a trail was non-existent. Uneventful, purely from a data collection standpoint, but outstanding from a hiking/working standpoint. In my previous blog I described a trip up Matterhorn peak on my own time, and peak bagging has been the focus of my weekends. I never would have thought I would get to spend a work day doing almost exactly (I would have gone in the Sierra because there is water) what I want to be doing. I am so fortunate and honored to have the job I have.