I spent a month of the summer after graduating high school in the panhandle of Texas volunteering for the Student Conservation Corps. We worked trail maintenance in an area of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park where flash floods breathed brief life into wildflowers and routinely obliterated the trail yielding frequent search and rescue missions. Scott Bates led our project, personally selecting us, six diverse teens from around the country. Daisy from Colorado, Spike from North Carolina, and I was Fern from Washington. Then there were the three boys whose trail names I forget: Vermont, inner city Chicago and New Jersey. Scott confessed he chose me for my Wilderness First Aid Mountaineers training; he wanted a medic on board in case something happened to him. Luckily there were no accidents, and I was glad for the opportunity to be on the crew. I parlayed that experience into future jobs with the National Forest Service and the National Park Service for many subsequent seasons.
Our crew stayed in the backcountry for 21 days straight, working a section of trail from near our camp to further up in the hills. Our job was to delineate the trail, proofing it against heavy rainfall erosion. We built up rocky tread and cairns, as well as countless water-bars and footbridges over dry creek beds. We worked out in the desert in full work clothes, leather work boots, leather gloves and helmets, with not a speck of shade around. To get an early start on the day, Scott would wake us early with flute playing and after breakfast we would march out the trail to where we had left off the afternoon prior. In the evening we would lie out on the rocks under a half-dome of stars so bright and so dense the Milky Way was nearly opaque. We would relax and watch for shooting stars that fell as thick as snowflakes. It felt like if we stuck our tongues out we might just catch one.
The National Park Service packer, who’s name I recall being Jack, visited us weekly to resupply our camp with water; he was on horseback accompanied by pack-mules. We used the water sparingly. I was the only one who bathed daily (via sponge bath), although none of us washed our hair ever. Midmorning every day we would interrupt our trailwork to gather around the radio at a designated time. To keep the lines of communication open Scott would radio dispatch. During this short exchange between Scott and dispatch we would receive the weather report. Every day it was the same: sunny, with highs in the low 100s. We found this hilarious standing there in our workgear drinking hot water from our canteens in the relentless heat: highs in the low 100s. The joke was on us! I cherish those memories, but I don’t mind trading desert for lake.
Today was another perfect day at Newman Lake with highs in the low 100’s. I’m so grateful to my parents for maintaining this lake cabin oasis—a slice of family history and my happy place. We hovered near the water all day as the thermometer rose, playing in the water and taking Lady Kitty in for frequent swims and dunks. We made banana ice cream (frozen bananas blended with a bit of soy milk). Nana, Lake and I went for a sunset moonlight canoe paddle after Lady Kitty went to bed. Then Lake and I finished the evening with a courageous (due to the proximity of coyotes per Lake) night swim.
Dear Reader, I hope you’re finding ways to beat the heat as well. Please let me know. I love hearing from you!