I don’t know what I thought removing tamarisk (an invasive non-native tree) would be like, but it wasn’t what I expected. When you hear tamarisk, think riparian plant, a plant that loves to grow next to water. Which means in order to remove it you need to be next to water and sometimes in the water. Did I mention that the water is 40 degrees? Oh, and this is a desert riparian zone, which means that most of the native plants surrounding the tamarisk are covered in thorns. And the water is the Bright Angel Creek, which cuts through a deep narrow gorge in the middle of Grand Canyon. Which is strikingly beautiful. It is also difficult to navigate with the stream bed frequently disappearing into steep cliff faces, which lead to some delicate rock scrambles, climbing up while also trying to avoid prickly plants. Basically, if my mom had known what is required in removing tamarisk she would have been worried all week.
Luckily we hiked in and out and worked for three days without any injuries beyond minor scrapes and sore muscles.
Did I mention that this trip was in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Yea, that part was awesome. It was a challenging but rewarding hike down into the canyon. Six straight hours of walking down and down and down through different layers of rock until you reach the darkest steepest walls of granite schist in the inner gorge. Unlike any other hike of that magnitude and remoteness, you are surprised to end up in a small village. There are flush toilets, showers, telephones, cold beer, and restaurant reservations. We were lucky enough to stay in the Trail Crew bunkhouse for the first three nights, which meant that we had a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and bathrooms. The first night we almost jumped when the phone rang. It was our crew leader’s husband calling with the scores from the football game. Visiting the Grand Canyon as a volunteer is a special experience since you get to see behind the scenes and spend a week in the canyon for free.
After dinner we would go outside the bunkhouse and the cacti would be lit by the light from thousands of stars. With narrow canyon walls we could only see a sliver of the night sky. The canyon walls rose up like sky scrapers around us and I found myself feeling oddly claustrophobic in the middle of the great outdoors. We fell asleep to the gurgling sounds of the creek and woke to the steady clomp of the mule train bringing in the day’s supplies to the canteen.
Our group of two National Park Service (NPS) employees, four volunteers, and two Student Conservation Association interns hiked down the South Kaibab Trail on Monday. We spent Monday evening stretching our sore calf muscles and reviewing what we would be doing for the rest of the week, removing tamarisk along Bright Angel Creek. Starting our day at 7:30 am, we worked in small teams, with the volunteers spotting the tamarisk and either pulling them out if they were just seedlings, or cutting them off at the base. The NPS employees then painted the base of the tree with herbicide so that it would not re-sprout. Tamarisk is an obstinate weed and several times we were cutting off new growth from previously treated trees. After three full days of work our team removed over 400 tamarisk trees from the creek corridor. It was far more than the NPS vegetation program staff were expecting to find and it felt satisfying to do such a thorough job.
Friday we hiked out the way we came in, up and up for almost eight hours. Each step bringing us closer to civilization and all of the business that life on the rim entails. I look forward to the next time we can go back below the rim, into that canyon, the immensity of which helps you recognize that you are just one small part of this great puzzle.
For more information on the Grand Canyon Vegetation Program click HERE.
To find volunteer opportunities at the Grand Canyon click HERE.