Monday, September 1, 2008

A Summer at Hi Mountain with the Interns

Hi everybody, my name is Patrick White, for those of you who do not know me I am one of the interns working at Hi Mountain this summer. Another intern is Shannon Murphy, who worked here at the beginning of summer before she left to go to Costa Rica, and the other is Karlien Lang who took Shannon’s place about half way through the summer. We have been up here since Fourth of July weekend collecting telemetry data for the Condor Recovery Program. We have been coming up every weekend for three days a week, usually there were two of us, but once all three were here, and I have been up here two weekends alone too.

Shannon and I started our training by having Marcelle, one of the main Volunteers at Hi Mountain Lookout, drive us up to Hi Mountain for our first time to show us the ropes of setting up the lookout. The first thing you notice when you get up here is the view. You can see in every direction for what seems like a hundred miles. There are mountains in every direction, to the south you can see the Oceano dunes and to the North up to King City. The view is really nothing less than spectacular. After taking in the view Marcelle showed us all the basics like opening the doors and locks, turning on the power, water, and gas, and just showing us everything we need to live up here for three days a week for the whole summer. After we were comfortable with the lookout we went back to San Luis Obispo and got ready for our training at Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge from August 29th through the 31st.

On Friday morning we met our trainers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife station in Ventura. From there our trainer Wildlife Technician John Thompson drove us way out to Hopper Mountain which consisted of
driving on freeways to a long trip on a dirt road. Hopper Mountain is right next to an oil field which the condors nest near also, so the oil company lets the Fish and Wildlife Service use their roads. It is a pretty amazing place; the roads just go up and down the sides of mountains which are very high compared to the valley below. Eventually we make it to the field camp which consisted of a Ranch House, a couple trailers, and a barn. We unloaded all of our stuff, get back in the car, and take off to do our first telemetry ever.

On the way up to the site called “Silver Tanks” we see our first Condor ever, so we stop the car and just watch the bird circle above us. It was the first time Shannon and I were able to see just how impressive these giant birds are in person. After a few minutes we get back in the car and head back up the mountain because we wouldsee plenty more Condors that weekend. When we got to “Silver Tanks” John showed use the basics of using the telemetry equipment, we tracked our first few Condors there and even had one fly over us while we were tracking it. For the rest of that first day we continued to practice telemetry and John showed us some of the Nest Monitoring sites, which were a pretty tough hike to get to. I can only assume
anyone would be in awesome shape after working there for a month walking those trails. The next two days we were given a vehicle and sent out on our own to take telemetry readings all over the Wildlife
Refuge. We saw plenty more Condors and were just as awed at every one we saw. We knew that when we left we probably wouldn’t see another one for the rest of the summer.

During the next week Shannon and I prepared to go up to Hi Mountain for our very first weekend, which just so happened to be on Fourth of July. During that week we went down to the Forest Service
Office in Santa Maria to get our off-road vehicle, as neither Shannon nor I had a car that could make it up to the Lookout. It actually took the better part of the day because we were required to have a
Forest Service License. We met Kevin Cooper down there who took us through the process of getting the license. We had to watch a couple boring videos and read a pamphlet, take a test, and then take it out
for a short drive. After that we had to drive our bright green SUV out to the Pozo service station where we would switch out our vehicles for it every week before we would head up the dirt road.

It was finally time for us to start our first week, so we drove up to the Lookout on the Fourth of July. Shannon’s parents came up a few hours after we got there. We took telemetry data throughout the day and had a few visitors come up to check out the view and our interpretive center, although no one stayed to watch the fireworks. We had a barbeque that night and watched about five different fireworks shows, although they were all pretty far away. The fireworks in Pismo were the best. The next day we had a few more visitors, although no one was really that interested in the Condors. Then Sunday we finished our telemetry readings and packed up the lookout and left after our first weekend.

The next week I got the newly improved phone and computer for the lookout, so we could now send our data from at the lookout instead of having to bring it home to send it to everyone. And over the next
few weeks we had quite an eclectic mix of visitors. There were dirt bike riders, mountain bikers, horse riders, hikers, Forest Service employees, and people who came up just to see the lookout. I liked the people who came up to see the lookout the best, because they were actually interested in what we were doing and the condor recovery program. Perhaps the most interesting group of people who came up
were “The Condor Kids”.

Shannon and I arrived one Friday to see a group of about ten people cheering as we drove up to the lookout in our Forest Service Vehicle. They were all wearing the same shirt that said “Condor Kids
Return 2008″. It turns out that they were all former Cal Poly students who had worked with the Condor program about 20 years earlier and were on a reunion trip. They were all really excited about the
lookout and loved our visitor center, and were some of the best visitors we had the whole summer. They even offered us a beer for lunch! The rest of that weekend was pretty boring because there were
no other visitors the whole time, all our excitement happened at the very beginning of that weekend.

About halfway through the summer Karlien came up with Shannon and I for Shannon’s last weekend. Shannon and I showed Karlien everything she needed to know to work up here so that she could take
over for Shannon after that week. Shannon left to go to a summer work program in Costa Rica. For the rest of the summer it has been Karlien and I manning the Lookout, except for one weekend. We also started to
come up on Saturday through Monday then instead of Friday through Sunday.

One weekend Karlien could not make it up, so I went up by myself. I had already been up one weekend by myself earlier in the summer, so I knew it was going to be pretty boring. But this weekend happened to be the first weekend of deer season. Saturday I left the gate open so visitors could come up. A lot actually came up that day, but the only thing anyone wanted to know was if I had seen any deer. So the rest of that weekend I just left the gate closed, and no one even came up except to use the bathroom. It is much more fun when visitors actually want to learn something about what we are doing.

The next weekend everything was back to normal and we were getting the normal types of visitors again mixed with a few hunters every now and then. Not much out of the normal has really happen since then. We have been here for two months now, and I only have one more weekend up here, while Karlien will be here for two more. So if anyone wants to come up here for a visit these next two weekends are the best times to do so from late Saturday morning to mid afternoon on Monday.

Patrick White
Hi Mountain Lookout Intern