Effacing Vehicle Tracks in Death Valley National Park
The varied desert environments of Death Valley are among the harshest on earth. Every climatological feature or event happens in extreme fashion.
As such, every landscape, formed over millennia by these weathering forces, is delicate. when something disrupts it, it is unlikely that balance will naturally be restored for many moons. So when a vehicle drives off a designated road or route (a big no-no in the National Park), it leaves a scar that is going to be there a while and serves as an implicit invitation to others to join in on the destructive driving.
Which is all why Friends of the Inyo joined Death Valley National Park and Great Basin Institute staff to figure out the best ways to “efface” such tracks and avoid any misguided encouragement or permission folks might get from seeing another set of tracks out there. We’re descended from monkeys after all, and as the saying goes, “Monkey see, monkey do”.
This fall, we got the green light from our National Park Service (NPS) partners to do eight weeks of stewardship in the park, doing effacement to restore the playas folks have driven across to a natural state.
It is interesting work, as we are creating and refining the processes as we go. The soils, rocks, and landscapes of Death Valley are truly one of a kind, and as such the work we are doing is unique in its methods, tools, and processes. Though it is quite fun, as we communicate, problem solve, and learn as we go. We’ve settled on a system of aerating and tearing up the track, tamping it back down, and then watering it. We are very optimistic this will efface the visual scars the best over the long run.
This requires some great team work, so thank goodness we’ve got our all-star crew out there. Lindsay Butcher is FOI’s fearless leader on the ground, and Maggie McClain, Tess Irving-Ruffin, and Jamie Jirele have rounded out the crew. Matt Ferlicchi is our NPS liaison and the orchestrator of the symphony that is our work.
As I write this on November 4, the crew is amid their fourth week of work in the park, and we are hoping to get four more off before the end of the year. It is hard work and we’ve seen Death Valley’s mercurial weather at its finest. 108 degree day in mid-October and furious night-long winds make physical labor in the field feel that much rougher. Kudos to our hearty group for doing the good work out there!