An impressive sunset on the slope of Mt. Wrightson above Madera Canyon. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

Written by Lauren Renteria, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

It was only a matter of time before the crew found life forms crawling around the work site – and at camp.

All four of us were engulfed in a 30-foot culvert, two on each end working toward the middle, making muffled grunts as we inched forward pulling out dirt by the pound, until Kyle and I came to a sudden stop. As we chipped away at decades worth of debris through the impacted tube at the head of the Super Trail just outside of the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness in Madera Canyon, we were greeted by a pair of glistening eyes.

In a tunnel about 3 feet wide with only one way out on each side, there isn’t much room to flee from an unknown beast. So, Kyle and I crawled out as fast as we could. 

We had come within a few feet of a sleepy skunk taking refuge in the culvert. However, the skunk spared us from its spray and went back to bed after our exit.

Sleepy skunk in the culvert. Photo by Kyle Arsenault.

Luckily, it was the end of the day already because that was definitely the end to our digging. However, despite our close encounter with our bushy-tailed friend, all four of us would gladly excavate in a culvert again. 

Who knew digging through a 30-foot tunnel would be so fun? 

Of course, run-ins with forest critters come with the job when you’re working outside. Mexican jays flew around our work site letting out their distinctive squawk as they bounced around in the trees. We watched one bury its food for safekeeping during our snack break.

At camp, we woke up to a small herd of deer grazing outside our tents and one night three mischievous raccoons looking for a snack to steal. We even saw a mother bear and her cub scamper toward a hill on our way out of Rucker Canyon during the first half of the hitch. 

It’s safe to say we were all impressed by the amount of wildlife we saw throughout a week that was packed with a lot of work. We started off with a big task at hand: We had to clear about 900 feet of corridor packed with prickly Desert Ceanothus and cut new tread for a reroute to restore access from the trailhead to the rest of the Monte Vista Trail in the Chiricahua Wilderness.

Before/after of a newly constructed reroute on the Monte Vista Trail in the Chiricahua Wilderness. Photo by Jonathan Patt.

We thought it would take the entire hitch, but we managed to cut out all of the ceanothus and crosscut the logs across the reroute in just over a day and the new trail was finished in three. After our time in Rucker Canyon, we made our way to Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains where we moved literal tons of rocks to stabilize a drainage as part of erosion control efforts on a slope at the Super Trail trailhead.

Before/after of slope restoration in Madera Canyon. Photos by Jonathan Patt.

We were able to knock this out as well as adding a series of check dams to slow down erosion further and hopefully make the work here last for years to come.  

As always, this week was packed with a ton of work and too much of a good time with a great crew.