Report From the Field: YCC Fall 2020

Fall 2020 Youth Conservation Corps

Pajarito Mountain, NM

10/8/20 – I was called to the field to replace staffer Donna for a few days with the YCC crew.  I headed up to Española, hopped on the bus, and drove right up the mountain.  The crew onboard assured me they were into rocks and music – Camp, here we come. 

I lit out from Burque, I was trailed by twenty hounds…

 Wash basins at Camp May

Back at Camp May, I walked right into a regular community.  Everything clicked like a Swiss watch.  The crew was creative and often hilarious.  After a raucous rendition of the sailor shanty ‘Barrett’s Privateers’, we set off to bed. 

I didn’t get to sleep that night till the mornin’ came around…

 Campfire pit at Camp May

10/9/20 – Cutting trail for the Nordic skiers near Guaje Canyon and Pajarito Mountain revealed rocks of the million-year-old Jemez supervolcano.  These rocks formed from massive eruptions from the nearby Valles Caldera in the Jemez Mountains.  Large wildfires in 2000 and 2013 helped to reveal as much as 35% extra bedrock in this area for geological investigation. 

I set out runnin’ but I’ll take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine…

 YCC crew on Pajarito Nordic Ski Trail #284

10/10/20 – Our main targets were aspen and weeds along the path, and snow fence repair.  The aspens were in fall color and in good contrast with the pines – green and gold.  We noticed at least two generations of aspen, about 6 feet and 30 feet tall, and wondered if they grew in after wildfires. 

If I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep, tonight…

 YCC tents at Camp May

10/11/20 – Today, a black-throated wind howled through the pines, wiping out a few dead old aspens for us.  We found obsidian and quartz in gravels in drainages that formed from the early summer snowmelt.  We pounded open a rock and saw quartz and feldspar crystals, with some already eroding into clay, embedded in a mixture of hardened lava and ash. 

 The “lean on me” tree, a reflection of our crew

My overall observations of the crew are as follows:

  • Max is musically talented and can really hold it down on guitar. 
  • The Cla(i)re’s from Seattle are creative, and say they enjoy wearing jeans and a sweater. 
  • Leif and Ash –Not always sure what these brothers are talking about, but it is so interesting. 
  • Ryan is the oldest of a van full of siblings, handy in the field and around camp.
  • Austin is our go-to guy, he knows the tools of the trade.
  • Clay is the president of the Nordic skiers and our guide.  He may be a real mountain legend, having regularly encountered “mountain lion and bear.”

 Cañada Bonita, Los Alamos County, NM

Scientific oddities:

  • We noticed different landscapes along slopes that faced either north or south, including vegetation density, tree height, and abundance/types of tree. 
  • Wildfires baked a brown crust on volcanic boulders that looks a lot like a loaf of bread. 
  • Bell-shaped mushrooms on dead pines look like the Base Camp dinner bell; looking at them made me hungry. 
  • Wildfires in the West have been filling the valley with smoke all week.  Local temperatures are abnormally high – according to Clay, usually around this time of year the north-facing slopes would have a permanent dusting of snow.  Pine trees no longer successfully regenerate after wildfires over the past 20-30 years, and forest crews have planted about 5,000 pines.  Thinning of the forest even spurred the construction of shade fencing along the cross-country ski paths to prevent patches from melting.  Together, these observations indicate an environmental shift in response to a warmer, drier climate in New Mexico. 

 The Gulch’s new bus, Bonnie, and commissary Javelina at Camp May

When we got back to camp, Donna had returned.  Everyone lived happily ever after, with Pad Thai on the way, if Austin can keep the wind from ruining dinner.  The End. 

P.S. – Music. 

My first evening, I was requested – out of the blue – to play my favorite Gulch songbook tune, Friend of the Devil.  We were off to a good start. 

Morning wake-up call setlists:

  • Friday: Morning Dew > Here Comes the Sun (for the British in our crew)
  • Saturday: Tangled Up in Blue (after a Dylan-centric campfire the night before)
  • Sunday: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad > Cold Rain and Snow > Here Comes Sunshine (after a particularly chilly evening)

The crew later informed me that they had, in fact, established a band which they called something-or-another “and the Sapphires,” and that they were working on a sailor shanty of their own.  When I hear more on this, I’ll be sure to update this blog. 

 My tent and guitar

P.P.S. – Day hike. 

On my last day, I took the cross-country loop to the Valles Caldera Rim – Spectacular.  I saw rolling hills – lava domes, which formed by lava that bubbled up within the caldera rim after the supervolcano exploded.  The Gulch-favorite climbing area the Cattle Call Wall could be seen near one of them, and some of our crew had climbed there earlier in the week.  Climbed high up a hill overlooking the myriad canyons below dotted with orange and yellow aspens.  I grabbed a few Neat looking rocks to show the crew on my way out. 


Brad Jeffrey

Development Coordinator, Field Instructor, Geologist

Brad is a “rock doctor” with a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of New Mexico.  He grew up exploring the rivers, lakes, and forests of his native state of Wisconsin, before embarking on the deserts, mountains, and canyons of the Land of Enchantment and the Southwest.  Early in the morning and late in the evening, you will hear his guitar and extensive musing over a rock or panoramic view while contemplating a new puzzle piece of Earth’s story.