Tracking Reading List, Highway Cameras, Spring Break Planning, Zion Fugitive

19 February 2012

More About Our Tracking Practices- 
When Nicolai and I are out in the bush, we make it a point to observe any tracks we come across, even our own. We make careful examinations of our own tracks whether they be footprints in a canyon bottom, the sign left behind after a lunch break under some juniper trees, or all the tracks and sign left by us as we leave a campsite in the morning. We practice Leave No Trace principles on all our adventures, but as trackers, there is always plenty to see at a campsite no matter how careful and clean we are. It is especially interesting to examine the campsites and break areas, not to mention the tracks and sign, of others. Building a tracking picture of a group of hikers might include the number of people, their gender, if they used tents or slept on the ground, what kind of food they ate, and how conscientious they were of cleaning up and leaving absolutely nothing other than tracks. If you haven’t tried this before, and are interested in tracking, give it a try the next time you are out. It can be a fun exercise.

I have been meaning for some time now to add a bibliography of tracking books to the website. Following is a list of books we have read, or are in the process of reading, and a few that are on the list to buy. Many of the titles that are specifically about tracking cover a lot of the same material- the technical aspects of tracking and how to go about learning the process. But each one has something to add. I follow each title with a brief description of the book (or books). We will post this list in the Tracking Pages at the Desert Explorer website, and update it periodically.

  • The SAS Guide to Tracking– Bob Carss- our favorite, great all-around guide on learning to track
  • Training in Tracking– Gilcraft- A book written for the Scouts (the Boy Scouts) early in the 2oth century
  • Tactical Tracking Operations- David Scott-Donelan- great guide, great stories, military or police applications
  • Tracking- Signs of Man, Signs of Hope– David Diaz- another introduction to tracking
  • Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking- the book I started with
  • The Tracker– Tom Brown- great stories about hsi tracking adventures
  • Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee detective novels- real tracking information embedded in most of the stories
  • Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories- Holmes teaches us about observation and tracking
  • The Dobe Kung (The Dobe Ju/’hoansi)- Richard Lee- the Kalahari bushmen are considered some of the best trackers in the world
  • The Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers– Richard Lee and Irvin Devore
  • The Old Way– Elizabeth Marshall-Thomas- about the Kung/San/Ju Huanse
  • Kim– Rudyard Kipling- where “Kim’s game” comes from, a memory game used to build observation skills
  • The Rhodesian War– from the Stackpole Military History Series- about a brutal conflict; trackers were vital
  • Footwear Impression Evidence– William Bodziak- a very technical manual written by an FBI footwear scientist for investigators
  • Shadows In The Sand– Sisingi Kamongo- accounts of trackers and soldiers during the late 80’s Angolan/ South West African bush war

    coyote tracks in mud along the Escalante River, photo by G. Trainor

    Coyote tracks in mud along the Escalante River


Highway Cameras for Trip Planning
For those interested in nearly up to the minute data on climate conditions in southeast Utah, the Utah Department of Transportation maintains a number of cameras along the roadways around the state, including a few in canyon country. One of my favorites is the camera on Highway 95 right at Salvation Knoll, on the north side of Cedar Mesa. Click here to visit the website, drag and resize the map so that you can click on the cameras in the southeast corner of the state. There is also one down near Monument Valley, a few on Highway 191 between Blanding and Moab, and a number of them in the Capital Reef area. The cameras are a great way to add to pre-trip data collection.

First Trip of the Season
This is about the time of year that Nicolai and I start preparing for our first trip of the season. We will head to Utah at that end of March, as we do each year. This year we will spend another week in Poison Spring Canyon, near Hanksville. We have plans to explore some of the side canyons, work on our primitive bows and arrows and associated skills, search out rock art, and just enjoy the quiet of the canyon in the spring. We’ll make a stop at North Wash for a little canyoneering on our way to Cedar Mesa where we also plan to spend a few days. We will post a trip report once we return, and try to make a post or two from the road.

In The News
Southern Utah is in the news once again with yet another “fugitive”. Robert sent me the following link this morning. It concerns a “mountain man” who has been using and abusing vacation homes in the Zion National Park area for as long as the past five years- the story says “he’s roamed across 1000 square miles” (not a radius of 1000 miles, as I first wrote). There is no mention of any kind of reward in the present story; no one has been harmed yet. But it does mention him being armed (see photo), and dangerous. Lets hope we don’t have a repeat of the recent Moab ranger shooting, or the mess we had in 1998. I will research the story further and post more info in my next blog. Click here to see the full article at MSNBC. Larger photos can be seen at the Iron County Sheriff’s Office website.

For more on our adventures, tracking, and trip planning, visit the Desert Explorer website.

Tracking This Week- New Experiences

12 February 2012

I hiked again this week with my son and four of his classmates from the Running River school, along with their teacher. It was a cold day, about 30 degrees. We were all bundled up under many layers, with gloves or mittens, warm hats, snow pants, and snow boots all around. And there was plenty of snow on the ground, eight or ten inches in most places, as much as a foot or more in drifts. The latest snow had just stopped falling an hour before we went out; about four inches of fresh snow had fallen over what was left of last week’s 16 inches or so. Clouds covered the sky, but it was still bright because of the snow on the ground. The brightness of mid-day made reading the track a bit difficult, but the trackers did well. All the old tracks were well-covered, but still visible under the blanket of new snow. The day presented the perfect opportunity to find fresh sign and follow it, and to examine old tracks under the snow.

As soon as we started down the trail I saw a fresh set of snowshoe tracks going out, and not returning, along with the tracks of two dogs. I stopped the group and lined everyone up on one side of the track and asked if anyone could tell me about it. Nicolai and Max answered simultaneously, “snowshoes!” And?  Everyone replied, “dogs!” So we knew exactly what we were following.

We began building our tracking picture: we had a larger man on snowshoes (the shoes were large and long, the stride long, the straddle wide), two dogs off leash moving along with him, and we had an accurate time bracket- not out more than an hour (remember the snow had recently stopped falling). The trackers were on the fresh track following their key sign- the snowshoe and dog tracks. We made it another few meters and stopped again, when I heard from a few voices, “he went into the bathroom.” There is a bathroom right at the trailhead, and sure enough, his tracks headed straight in. And then, (many voices) “he came out and kept going.” Down the trail we went. A short time later we ran into the man and his dogs, and the tracking picture we had created was confirmed as accurate.

Trackers following sign, and staying carefully off the track they are following.

It was a good walk and everyone remembered the important points, one in particular (Giovanni, again and again, and Harper and Shane, to all of us) “don’t step on the tracks!” They kept well to the side of the track, making sure not to spoil it. Without any prompting they followed and followed. They found places where the dogs had run off to investigate trees and brush, where they stuck their noses in the snow. We spotted Canada geese in one pond, a few of them up on the bank walking around, leaving us perfect tracks in the snow to examine. And we saw a number of red tail hawks, as usual.

We had the chance to talk about the aging of sign, how tracks change in the snow, and how snow can distort the size and shape of tracks. We talked about direction of movement and how it can be deciphered. We examined old tracks under the snow. We saw old boot prints placed before today’s snow and found ski tracks covered by the fresh snow as well, along with old snowshoe tracks.

The trackers are doing a great job and learning the details of following sign. They understand how to follow a track. And most important they are examining the ground and their surroundings and collecting data, advancing theories, and reaching appropriate conclusions on their own and as a group.

You can ready more about our adventures and find direct links to recent tracking blogs at the Desert Explorer website.

For those in Boulder county, not completely unrelated to our topic are recent problems in the area with aggressive coyotes. Read more about those incidents at the Daily Camera website.

Stalking and Tracking- More on Wilderness Mind

2 February 2012

In my last post I just scratched the surface of the concept of being in the wilderness, of “wilderness mind” as we call it. I discussed the importance of wilderness and wilderness mind for my son and I, and how being in the bush enhances our lives. One of the best methods we have found for approaching and practicing wilderness mind is through the arts of stalking and tracking.

Stalking and tracking are in fact two different parts of the same practice, the very ancient practice of acquiring food. Without the skills of stalking and tracking, ancient hunters and their families went without meat. For us, without the stalk we may catch a glimpse of our quarry far off in the distance if we are lucky. Without the track there is no application for stalking and it is likely we won’t see or hear our quarry at all. With the proper application of both practices we  find ourselves fully aware of everything happening around us-  every movement, noise, and smell. We become aware of subtle changes in temperature and wind direction, changes in terrain, vegetation, and moisture in the soil, and we might eventually find ourselves within easy viewing, if not touching distance, of our quarry. We have achieved wilderness mind.

Stalking is defined in Gilcraft’s Training in Tracking as “the art of approaching an object under cover or by stealth, but is more generally described as the ability to move rapidly…from place to place without being seen or heard…while seeing and observing everything that is going on.” Quite a definition! Later in his narrative Gilcraft adds the word “stealthily” to the definition, and concludes that the word finishes out the definition of stalking. Gilcraft by the way is a pseudonym for an early 20th century author who wrote books on outdoor pursuits. The present title was written with the Scouts (the Boy Scouts) in mind, with an introduction by Robert Baden-Powell, the “Chief Scout” and founder of the movement, and British hero of the Boer War.

The first step for us then, in stalking and following a track, is always the same: “tuning in”. Bob Carss in his SAS Guide to Tracking defines tuning in as “the initial reading of the sign that enables the tracker to think and act as the quarry.” To get tuned in to the environment, we stop, stand for a while, kneel at our start point, and listen to our surroundings. We look over the ground closely, the ground at our feet, a meter or so away, and off into the distance all around us. We really “get a feel” for what is going on at that place at that time. We take in the environment, observe and mentally note anything of interest, and especially anything that could relate to our quarry. Then we visually start our track by following the sign with our eyes. We make more observations, and from all of this we start to create our “tracking picture”, that is, the overall picture of our quarry- how it acts, thinks, what the next move might be.

Based on what we observe initially, we might ask ourselves such questions as: how many were there, were they frightened, moving quickly, hungry, out at dawn, before dawn, carrying a pack, and so on. Countless questions can be asked, and many can be answered just as you are starting out by observing, and by using deduction. As you move along countless other questions arise, are answered, and the tracking picture is refined or amended as the track progresses and more information becomes available. Tracking, and stalking, therefore become not only an exercise in patience, observation, and stealth, but also an investgation- trackers are detectives, following a trail, looking for answers.

Our goals then in stalking and tracking become many: we use and build our powers of observation and deduction, learn to record, mentally and on paper, to use our ingenuity and intuition, and to bring our exercise to a conclusion, whether that be confirming a suspicion about a person who made a footprint, or sitting at a fire eating meat we have successfully hunted. We do this by moving stealthily, by moving quietly, slowly, with caution. Every move is deliberate and intentional. We are in tune with nature and our environment and we are calling up the knowledge and memory of our ancestors, the knowledge of the skills that kept them alive thousands of years ago, knowledge that is still to be found within us if we only take the time to look for it.

For more information on stalking, tracking, our desert adventures, and our learning philosophy, visit the Desert Explorer website.