Back From the Bush, Planning the Next Trip

31 March 2010

It is the time of year when I wish I could just stay over in Utah.  The winter is nearing its end and we are ready to get out. And two weeks is just never enough time, no matter the time of year. Nicolai and I had a great trip though, as always.  The weather cooperated for the most part.  There were a few cold nights, a few cold mornings, and of course the usual strong winds.  Precipitation was very limited- we had a couple of snow flurries that lasted all of an hour at the most, and a couple of light rains that passed in a few hours.

We started our trip as we usually do at our “secret” camp site overlooking the train tracks near Westwater.  From there we made a counter-clockwise loop to Moab, Green River, through the Green River Desert (along the edge of the Green River) to Horseshoe Canyon, Hanksville, down towards Hite, Cedar Mesa, and Mexican Hat, then up through Blanding and Moab back to I-70.

Horseshoe Canyon
We visited some new locations, including Horseshoe Canyon to look at rock art. The panels down there are just amazing, truly some of the best you will ever see.  And the preservation, for the most part, is great.  Nicolai was a bit confused about why there was a chain keeping us back from the rock art at the Great Gallery.  He understands that some people deface the rock art with their graffiti; he is quick to pick it out on nearly any panel.  When I explained that the idea is to protect the panels so that he can come back to see them in 50 years, he kind of felt okay about it.  We sat at the Great Gallery for a couple of hours, taking in the paintings, the clear sky, the trickle of water flowing down Barrier Creek.  We will undoubtedly return there.

The "Holy Ghost" panel, Great Gallery

"Shepherds dancing", great Gallery. Note the animated figures with staffs in the lower left.

Mexican Hat
On many of our journeys to southeast Utah we stop in at the San Juan Inn in Mexican Hat for breakfast. We have  a campsite at the southern end of Cedar Mesa that we frequently stay at, and that puts us only about 1/2 hour away from breakfast at the Olde Bridge Grille.  One of the people working in the dining room is Navajo artist Joey Allen.  We saw some of his prints last year and had hoped to buy one from him this time. Unfortunately he didn’t have any along, but they can be purchased from his website.

Hunting and Primitive Skills
Anyone who has read our blog or visited the Desert Explorer website knows that we focus a lot of our time on primitive skills.  On this trip we experimented with using rice grass for making the birdsnest for starting fires. We used it on many nights with the metal match, and gave it a try a couple of times with the spark from our bow and drill.  It required a bit more striking with the metal match to warm the material up than does Juniper bark for example.  I am sure this is because the material is more coarse.  The grass burst into flames with a couple of blows after dropping the spark from the bow and drill into the birdsnest.

Our fire kit with ricegrass birdsnest flaming.

In our last post we included a photo of a not-so-perfect obsidian knife we had made.  The inspiration for that knife is at the Edge of Cedars Museum in Blanding.  There are four beautiful knives on display there from a cache in nearby Westwater Canyon. They are normally displayed in the “visible storage” area upstairs.  But now they are downstairs in a plexiglass cube as part of a new exhibit, allowing me to get a decent photo of them.

Three of the four hafted knives on display at the Edge of Cedars Museum in Blanding.

Nicolai loves the knives and  we had to go back for a second visit to look at them, and take a few more photos for him, before we could leave Blanding.

We had originally planned to shoot a rabbit or two on this trip.  Nicolai had plans for the meat, as well as the pelts and other parts. But we did not have the best luck hunting during the time we had our license.  We did find tracks and scat, nothing fresh, but no rabbits made themselves visible to us. We did have some fun firing our Ruger 10/22 though.  It was Nicolai’s first time firing it and he loved it.  It seems it will be a permanent part of the packing list for Utah from now on. And we’ll try our luck at finding some rabbits next trip.

He's a pretty good shot, with a little help.

SPOT GPS Messenger
Finally, we did try out our new SPOT.  We sent at least one “okay” message from our camp each night. We sent out our custom message whenever we found rock art or ruins.  I made note of where and when each message was sent. Every message made it through, without fail.  You can click on the links that are sent out and view “road” maps, toppgraphic maps, or satellite maps. From our end on the ground, it took only seconds for the “message sent” light to start blinking.  I was a little skeptical about that, so took notes on each “send”.  I am more of a believer now.  It is a great way to keep in touch and let friends and family know you are on track and okay.  And should you need it, it might save your life. You can read more about the SPOT and how it compares to PLB’s in some of our past blog posts or at the Desert Explorer website.

Our SPOT GPS Messenger connecting with GPS satellites for location information before sending our custom "found rock art" message.

This  post has provided a quick summary of some of our trip. We will post more in-depth soon about the rock art we saw and other locations we visited that might be of interest  to everyone.

Leaving For the Desert Tomorrow

16 March 2010

Nicolai and I are ready to go.  Today was a very warm day here in Colorado and we are hoping for many more on the other side of the mountains in the next couple of weeks. We are heading towards Hanksville in the morning.

We finally bought a SPOT GPS Messenger today and are planning to give it a try on this trip.  They are on the market again after many months and you can now register them online. As I have written a few times, the SPOT is not a replacement for a PLB, but it could be fun for what it is.  We’ll try it out and report on it once we return. I think you can follow our travels by clicking here.

Nicolai decided that before we left, and it had to be the night before we left, that we had to perform a “safe travel” ritual.  He had been putting together all the tools he needed to perform it, and my part was to get him some corn meal from the freezer and build a fire.  We used sagebrush, a redtail hawk feather, and his hafted obsidian knife as well.  I think our travels will be safe.

Nicolai ready to make our travels safe.

Nicolai's hafted obsidian knife.

Longer Days, Warming Weather- Spring Trip to Utah

12 March 2010

Nicolai and I are nearly ready to go to the desert. Our Land Cruiser is being packed and prepared, our itinerary written, and we are excited for some time in the bush. We have been planning this trip… at least since we got back from the last one. The days are growing longer and the weather seems to be warming. As usual our plans include searching out rock art, looking at geology, an overnight backpack or two, and plenty of time enjoying the Utah landscape. There is a blog post covering our general plans already written.

One point of note for those traveling westward on I-70: we may be taking the long way ’round to Utah, depending on how well the road clearing in Glenwood Canyon is going.  On Monday I-7o was closed through Glenwood Canyon due to a rock slide. We are keeping our fingers crossed that at least a lane or two will re-open by next Tuesday when we head over the mountains.

Even though the days are longer and warmer, we know the nights will still be cold. We have packed the 20 degree sleeping bags and plenty of fire wood.  We have fires many of the nights we are out, and often in the morning too.  To minimise our impact we carry a fire pan with us on every trip. It is our river fire pan, tucked away in its own bag on top of the truck. Its been years since we built a fire on the ground, and while some would argue that it is natural to scratch a hole in the ground, collect some rocks for a fire ring and light a fire, it’s nice to know that when the next person comes along they won’t know we were there. For more on minimising impact in the wilderness, see the Leave No Trace website.

The Dirty Devil River

In addition to our itinerary, and considering we will be in the Hanksville area, we are going to take a look at the put-in, and maybe the take-out at Sheep Springs, for the Dirty Devil. I have answered at least 15 emails in the last couple of months from people interested and/or planning to float it this year. Everyone asks about the river flow- for me it was around 10 CFS, quite low to be honest.  I floated the last two weeks of May in 2008.  I was dragging my boat for much of the first few days.  Those planning to run it in April, and possibly into early May, will likely see flows closer to 100 CFS. A recent comment from Frank, who has run it a couple of times, says that the snow pack is close to 130% this year. So when it starts melting the flows should be pretty good- it should be an actual float for the most part, and there should be much less in-and-out of the boat. You can read all of the comments on the Dirty Devil on past blog posts, starting with my post-run blog.

Logistically the float is pretty straight-forward.  The put-in is just outside Hanksville and the take-out is just up from Hite, down Sheep Springs Road. In between is all the fun. Kevin asked about taking out at Poison Springs Canyon. The road down the canyon to the river is well-maintained, and should not be a problem for most vehicles (I have seen mini-vans down there), although that could change at any time with enough moisture. Poison Springs Road takes you all the way down to the gauging station at the river, and continues across the river via ford to points north.

For more information on the float, visit the Desert Explorer Dirty Devil page. There are also links there to the various blog posts I have written about it.

For those of you floating it, have a great time.  I  have to say I am a bit jealous- it is my favorite float.  I hope to do it again this year, although I am not sure when. Right now I am working on getting Robert up from Las Vegas to join me and Nicolai on the float, probably some time in May, after the flows drop off.  That is how it fits into our schedule though, and any day on the river is a good one in my book.