Packing Up for Utah; A Tracking Surprise

11 September 2010

Once again we are loading the Land Cruiser with gear and getting ready to head over the mountains. In few days we will be happily back in the desert as we make our usual rounds- we have plans to visit some rock art panels in the San Rafael Swell, do some backpacking in Grand Gulch, and explore the lower end of John’s Canyon by bike, not to mention a day in Moab and whatever other adventure comes along.

As soon as our carburetor is delivered by UPS we will mount it up and make our final preparations. The carb was in desperate need of a rebuild after nearly 200,000 miles of never being touched. We are expecting a change in performance and gas mileage with the rebuild. These are important points to consider with a 6,000 pound vehicle run by a 6 cylinder engine that gets 14 or 15 miles to the gallon. We will post more about that after our trip.

The Johns Canyon bike proves to be an exciting one. Nicolai and I are taking along our bikes together for the first time- his is a single speed 16 inch Trek and so he is limited on how fast and far, not to mention the terrain he can ride. But he is up to 5 or 6 miles non-stop now, and I have no doubt the he can complete an easy, flat 10 mile day. I will be towing the BOB trailer behind my bike and carrying all of our gear in it. Our plan is to park down in Johns Canyon as far down the old mining road as we can get- there is a point where the road washes out at a steep corner- and ride from there. We will ride down to the confluence of Slickhorn Canyon and the San Juan River. We will camp for at least a night, maybe two if we decide to dayhike up Slickhorn.

A Tracking Surprise
I am currently reading David Scott-Donlan’s “Tactical Tracking Operations”, another book on my list of tracking “how-to” books. This book is published by Paladin Press here in Boulder, and is definitely directed towards a military and police audience. Please note- I put “how-to” in quotations as tracking is not something that can be learned from books; it is learned on the ground. But books such as this are great resources, and this one is filled with the author’s personal accounts, shedding light on what you might- and might  not expect on following a track.

Scott-Donlan points out in a number of places where he encountered the  unexpected, and I encountered this myself yesterday. Whenever I am out on a trail, or off a trail, I am looking for sign, for any tracks that might be visible, always examining them, following them, reading them. This is the way tracking is learned. Yesterday on my morning run is a case in point.

As I ran down a well-traveled trail I noticed two perfectly spaced marks in the dirt. The track was new and fresh and there was only one going out, in my direction of travel. There were no prints over the top of it at all. At first I thought it might be the end of a stick being drug along. Then I noticed that the track was far too consistent for that in its depth, width, and clarity. The track was very deep and obscured in areas of deeper dirt, very clear and less obscured in harder locations- to be expected. But on uphills it was barely visible, and disappeared completely on some uphill locations.

Upon close examination I found a thin, nearly treadless bike tire track underneath, and being crossed over, by the other two marks. My conclusion- someone was riding a bike with a thin, worn front tire and nothing but a narrow rim on the back. The person was walking the bike up hills, thus diminishing the two marks from the rear tireless rim. I hoped I might run into whatever was making this track, bike or otherwise, so my suspicions might be confirmed.

I laughed to myself thinking that I must be way off in my assumption. It just seemed too far-fetched. I ran along for another 15 minutes or so when I heard a grinding noise ahead of me, coming in my direction. As I rounded a corner and started heading down a slight hill I met the rider of the bike with one tire. He was starting up the hill where he was getting no traction from the thin metal rim in the loose dirt. Just as I saw him he jumped off his bike to push it the rest of the way up the hill, causing the two lines to be less deep on the trail.

My lesson here is first that I read the track correctly. Tracking requires instinct and it also requires that you trust your judgment. Once I met the biker and looked over his track again, there was really nothing else that it could have been. I knew this from reading the track before I confirmed my assumption, but still questioned my judgment. I also realised the Scott-Donlan’s “expect the unexpected” is something that must be taken seriously. You never know what you might find out there.

For more on tracking and recommended books, visit the Desert Explorer tracking pages.

A Week in Central Nevada, Part 2

10 September 2010

This is a follow-up post to our recent “Trip Report- Back From a Week in Central Nevada“. In this post I will cover some new dining options in the town of Fallon, a quick visit to the town of Yerington, and what to expect at the Lahontan State Recreation Area.

Breakfast In Fallon
There are a couple of new and notable dining options in Fallon. Both serve breakfast and lunch, both are open from about 6:30 to 2:30 pm, and both are closed on Sunday. You will find the best breakfasts and baked goods in Fallon at either one of these cafes. Both restaurants are clean and new inside and out and are comfortable dining environments.

The Courtyard Cafe and Bakery is located on the northeast corner of Maine Street and Williams Avenue, where Highway 50 and Highway 95 cross. They have fresh-baked muffins, scones, croissants, and other goods daily, serve hearty breakfasts, and offer a full lunch menu. They only serve drip coffee, but do have a selection of loose-leaf teas. We stopped in for coffee and a scone, and found the cafe to be quite a popular place.

The Maine Street Cafe, south on Maine Street about 5 blocks at 810 South Maine, has much the same fare. They do have espresso drinks, and do a good job at making them. We had breakfast there- just eggs, potatoes, and toast- and were surprised at the quality of the meal. After so many greasy casino breakfasts the Maine Street Cafe is a welcome change in the town. I have to say that I am partial to this cafe as they have a very nice outdoor seating area.

I was pleased to find both of these restaurants in Fallon and recommend them both. Fallon really needs quality places like them. Please visit them if you are in the area.

The local coffee shop, formerly Mojo, now The Daily Grind, has changed ownership. Nothing else has changed. The coffee drinks are still tasty and the prices good. The Daily Grind is now the only true coffee shop in Fallon. They open early, around 6 am, and have a drive through window.

Yerington is another small, rural community. The town of about 4000 people is located on Highway 95A south of Silver Springs, towards the Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest and Mono Lake in California. The town is located east of the highway and if you are just driving through you might miss it. Be sure to take one of the exits east towards the town. We made a random visit to Yerington one day after camping nearby. The small, neat town has many well-maintained parks that are great places for a lunch break. Stop at the visitor’s center for more information on what to do in the area. They might be able to tell you about local mines, and the mining history of the area. There are many dirt roads close by that will take you to ghost towns and old mining sites if you are interested in site seeing.

The town has a number of restaurants, but our chosen brunch location was Briana’s Taqueria located at the municipal airport. The food is tasty, served quickly, and is a great value. Be sure to ask about their daily specials. They are open 9-4 Monday through Friday and 9-3 on weekends. Outside the restaurant you can see a couple of decommissioned aircraft in front of the airport. We weren’t certain of the models, but both are twin engine, one definitely a civilian craft, and the other more interesting one looks like it may have been a military craft at one time.

There is a new drive through coffee shop in Yerington. If you are heading south and take the second exit into town, you will pass right by it on the corner of Bridge Street and Mountain View. Sundance Coffee serves your typical coffee drinks and does a good job with their espresso machine- my Americano was a strong one.

Lahontan State Recreation Area
Lahontan reservoir was created with the completion of Lahontan dam in 1905. The dam and reservoir became a state recreation area in 1971. The reservoir has two entrances, one on the Fallon side off Highway 50 and one on the Silver Springs side off Highway 95A. Either entrance will get you to potentially quiet, sandy beaches where you can sit next to cool water for the day. Be careful on holiday weekends as the beaches may be filled with campers and the water filled with boats and skiers. Depending on the time of year, the water’s edge may be a walk from where you park your car. Later in the summer the reservoir tends to get low as water is used up on local fields.

There are a number policy issues that the Division of State Parks still needs to get under control at the reservoir. One of these is dogs at the reservoir. Dogs are allowed, but only on leashes. I saw plenty of dogs, but not one leash. And in part because of this, the beaches were covered with dog waste- picking up after your dog is apparently not required at the reservoir.

Additionally, the beaches were covered with litter. This was not only the expected beer bottles and cans, but all kinds of trash left behind by campers. Finally, fires are allowed on the beaches, but there is not a requirement to use a fire pan, or even clean up your fire area. The beaches were covered with old fires, some right on the surface, some partially buried, and some with rock rings.  All were filled with trash, broken and melted bottles, half-burned aluminum cans, and other trash. The worst part were the older fires where broken bottles, screws, nails, and various pieces of hardware were strewn across the sand all along the beaches. In all my travels around the southwest I can honestly say that I have not found a dirtier recreation area.

These issues impact not only the beauty and usability of the recreation area, but public health and safety. The State of Nevada needs to address these issues sooner than later. New policies for the reservoir, including basic Leave No Trace policies, must be discussed and implemented. In the meantime, if you visit Lahontan be sure to keep your shoes on.

For more information on Lahontan State Recreation Area visit the State of Nevada website.

For more on visiting central Nevada, see the Desert Explorer Nevada pages.