Friday, June 23, 2017

Project House Update: I'm Finally An Expert in Something

One thing is for sure: Dan and I are getting much better at building houses for Desert Tortoises. The first time we built Turtle a house (at our new house), it had only survived two years before needing to be renovated. However, once we rebuilt it, we got almost four years out of it. However, between a pack rat, a bunch of lizards, a tortoise, and the elements, his house was definitely looking more shabby than chic.

The pack rat really made a mess of things again. It dug tunnels under the back of the house under the cinder block and compromised the integrity of the structure. We tried to patch things with additional bricks and rocks, but it wasn't enough and it continued to collapse on itself. With monsoon season less than a month away, I didn't believe the house would survive the daily thunderstorms.

This time, we made a plan, a very detailed one. That's what happens when you have two mechanical engineers who really don't want to have to keep rebuilding a reptile house. The plan was multi-layered.

  1. Add more cinder blocks so it would be harder for the pack rat to dig tunnels out from under it.
  2. Stake the cinder blocks with rebar so they would be less inclined to shift if tunnels did form.
  3. Fill the centers of the cinder blocks with cement to help keep them in place.
  4. Once the roof was placed back on, add another protective layer on top of the wood with tar paper or sheet metal roofing material. 
  5. Cover the top and sides of the structure with chicken wire and stake it into place. This would help keep the dirt in place on top of it and also hinder the pack rat from digging through it.
  6. Add a layer of non-smooth river rocks.
  7. Fill in all the gaps with dirt.
  8. Eventually, add some desert plants around the structure to prevent erosion. 

The huge fly in the ointment was the weather. With monsoon season only a couple of weeks away, we needed to rebuild his house ASAP. However, did you know it gets hot in Arizona? Not only hot, but we had a record-breaking heat wave. The temperatures were supposed to hit 115F and stay there.

It. was. miserable.

We were prepared and woke up bright and early on Sunday morning to beat the heat. It was still 90F by 8AM, but it could have been worse. We drank plenty of water and had sunscreen and protective clothing, but it was still brutal. We tried to work as fast as possible to get out of the sun.

Let me be real here: Dan did almost all the work. He was all the muscle. My contribution was planning and keeping this cheeky, little bastard out of the way. Turtle was incredibly interested in hat we were doing and kept trying to crawl into the middle of it. My job was to, about every 30 seconds, pick him up a couple of inches from the ground, move him five feet, and watch as he turned around and crawled back over. He is a very determined little reptile.

Most of the build went according to plan. Dan thought he had tar paper hoarded in his shop, but he didn't, so we used an insulating automobile fabric instead. I couldn't get the chicken wire to stake down as cleanly as I wanted so it will probably poke out through the dirt eventually. And lastly, the layer of river rocks under the dirt was maybe a half-dozen rocks. It was just too damn hot to try to collect and carry rocks. Turtle was itching to get back in his house so we shoveled dirt back on top and let him in.

His little pack rat buddy will probably move back in soon and try to cause trouble but it should at least be harder for him this time. I'm hoping that planting some creosote bushes along the base of the dirt mount will help keep things neater, too.

We'll see. If this one last five years, it's an improvement over the last design.

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