San Juan River, Primitive Fishing Skills, White Rim Trail Solo Ride

16 March 2008

San Juan River Launch Dates

The launch calendar for the San Juan River is online. The San Juan River referred to is the section found in southeastern Utah, with the put-in just outside the town of Bluff at Sand Island. We drew our launch for 22 July, with our take-out about 28 miles downriver at the town of Mexican Hat. Ours will be a family float this year, my wife, son and I taking about five days for this short stretch of river. The float can be expanded to nearly 84 miles to the “final” take-out at Clay Hills Crossing. Just below Clay Hills is a rather new and impassable waterfall blocking the way to the upper reaches of that “lake” below. A portage around the waterfall could add innumerable miles to ones itinerary; you could float all the way to Glen Canyon Dam.

Unfortunately for those who missed the lottery date, the Sand Island calendar is nearly full in May, June and July. March, September and October dates are nearly all open, April and August are about half-full. The mid-summer dates are full for launches from Mexican Hat as well, but outside of May, June and July there are more open dates if you are considering floating from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills only. Either way, if you are hoping to get on the river act quickly as every day more red rectangles appear in each month of the calendar, indicating full launch days. If you have a limited window for floating, do not despair. Check the launch calendar daily for cancellations. Updates are posted every weekday and you might get lucky and find the date you need open. For more information on floating the San Juan River visit the Desert Explorer San Juan River page.

Primitive Fishing Skills

Last week my son and I worked on primitive fishing implements. Using a deer leg bone, an old metapodial (the elongated toe bone in the hind leg) we created a couple of skewers, or gorge hooks. Gorge hooks are straight pieces of bone in this case, sharpened on both ends. they can be made from hardwood splinters as well. A leader is tied at the center of the piece. To bait them, the gorge is turned sideways, parallel to the leader, and the bait is slid over both. Once the gorge is swallowed by the fish, tugging releases it from the bait and allows it to turn sideways and lodge inside the fish.

The process began by crushing the bone with a hammerstone, with a concerted attempt to create long, thin splinters of bone. Once this was accomplished the chosen splinters were snapped to about 1 1/2 inches in length, close to the desired final length. Next the abrading process began. I used a slab of flat but rough sandstone to abrade and form the gorge. I held the bone between my thumb and forefinger, moving it back and forth, mostly on the long axis of the piece of bone. This helps to avoid flaking off larger pieces of bone and helps create a more symmetrical finished product. Each gorge pictured below took about 1/2 hour to create. For more on primitive fishing skills and survival fishing kits, visit the Desert Explorer Primitive Skills pages.

gorge hooks created from deer leg bone

White Rim Trail Solo Ride

I have begun working on my packing list for my unsupported White Rim ride. It will not be till August, but since I had some free time I started to compile my gear list for the trek. I will take five days to do the ride, averaging about 25 miles per day, with one day to sit by the river. I will be pulling a BOB trailer with all my gear behind me. The majority of my carried weight will be in water. I will not be able to resupply water until the end of day 3 when I camp at either Hardscrabble or Labyrinth campsite. Both are on the Green River and they are just a few miles apart. I will decide which I will use this week. I will be able to resupply on day 4 as well as that will be my free day at one of these river campsites. The final day will be the ride out.

I have not yet decided on which BOB trailer I will use. They have two single-wheel models, one with a shock and one without. They weigh 17 and 14.5 pounds respectively and both have a maximum load capacity of 70 pounds. I will make an attempt at keeping all my gear at 20 pounds or less; ultimately I would prefer it weighs in at 15 pounds. But with bike tools, shoes (other than my riding shoes), and 5 days of food, 20 pounds is more realistic. Add to that 1.5 gallons of water for days 1, 2 and 3, and 1.5 gallons as a buffer- 6 gallons total, and I have added 48 more pounds. This brings my total towed weight to about 85 pounds if I choose to tow the BOB Ibex model, with a load of about 68 pounds, just under the load limit.

I will continue to refine my list and eventually post the packing list on the Desert Explorer website as the ride draws nearer.

More on Making Fire, Last Days to Comment on Sodium Cyanide, Desert Explorer Gear

2 March 2008

Even a Child Can Do It

Yesterday was a beautiful 70 degree day in Lafayette, Colorado. My son and I took advantage of the entire day, and towards the day’s end we built a fire in our usual manner- with the bow and drill. And as usual my three year old sat closely and watched as I set up my tools for creating fire. Once I got the spark on the flake of wood I keep in my kit, we transferred it into the awaiting Juniper bark birdsnest. Nico then helped me blow the Juniper bark into flame. After our fire was going, Nico decided that he wanted to give his fireset a try. He asked to borrow my “special rock”, a piece of sandstone rounded in a streambed with the perfect hole in the center for the drill. He explained the ends of the drill, and where they go, he got his gear together and got set up. I helped him wrap the bowstring around the drill and to my surprise he was able to situate himself perfectly, his foot firmly against the fireboard , his body directly over the drill, with his bow moving back and forth consistently. Although he is a little lacking in weight and stamina, I can see that it is just a matter of time before he creates his first fire. I look forward to the day. For more on primitive fire skills, visit the Desert Explorer website. For more on introducing children to the wilderness and teaching them primitive skills, visit the Wilderness Kids page.

Last Days for Comments on Sodium Cyanide and M-44’s

The comment period will end on 05 March regarding the proposed ban on sodium cyanide, Compound 1080 and the M-44 predator control device. If you have not yet commented, please do. To learn more about the proposed ban and what it means, visit the Sinapu blog. Visit the EPA website to make comments- click here for the comment page. (If the page does not load, go to, and type “hq-opp-2007-0944” in the search field.)

These devices pose a serious threat to all animals and humans alike. In recent years there have been a number of instances of humans being poisoned by these devices, both civilians and federal agents responsible for device placement. These devices are placed primarily on public lands and private lands when requested. They have also been placed on private land without owner consent. There are problems with their oversight and the responsible agency, Wilderness Services, a branch of the Department of Agriculture, has failed numerous audits. Regardless of which side of the predator control issues one falls, the fact is that these poisons are lethal, dangerous, and pose a serious threat to the public. For more information and links see our 06 February, 2008 blog post.

Desert Explorer Updates

This week on Desert Explorer I added a Gear Shop page and a page on Homemade Gear. The Gear Shop page lists some of the equipment that I have come to rely on in recent years. I will continue to add to it as I find pieces of equipment that deserve to be there. The Homemade Gear page is barely underway. I have only posted the homemade alcohol stove, and a link to the instructions. Unfortunately the link seems to be broken at present. I will leave it up and check on it in the next few days. The alcohol stove made from two Red Bull cans is one of the most useful and efficient stoves I have ever had. I will add plans soon for a homemade silcloth daypack , a mosquito net, and a simmer plate for stoves without the simmer option. I have made all of these and have had great results in their use. Check back for those updates.

I also began a wildlife page on the Coyote this week. The 06 February blog post mentioned above is also available there.

Summer will be here soon and we will be in the canyons and on the river before we know it- start getting prepared!