Dirty Devil, Four Corners Fugitives, and Quicksand

25 May 2012

This will be a brief post, as we are preparing and packing for 10 days on the Dirty Devil starting next Monday. We may need at least 10 days to get from the put in down to Hite at this time of year. The water has been dropping  steadily for the last couple of weeks. About two weeks back it was over 100 CFS, today it is at about 7 CFS. We’ll be dragging for sure. But we view it as just another adventure. Still trying to work out our logistics as well- it can be tough with just one vehicle.  We may check in at Blondies in Hanksville about a shuttle. I have learned that we can park at Hite near the boat ramp for an extended period. The entrance fee, $15,  covers 7 days. I talked to a ranger there and was told that 10 days would be okay with them. It feels a little safer leaving the truck there for 10 days, rather than at the take out for the Colorado over on the highway. Our other option, which I have done before, is to leave the truck at the BLM office in Hanksville. That requires hitchhiking back at the end of the trip.

Fugitives Revisited
I was recently contacted by someone who is writing a book on the Four Corners Fugitives and the 1998 manhunt. If you are unfamiliar with it, we have an (unfinished) outline of the events on the Desert Explorer website. The book will be published early next year by a major publisher. Having spent so much time in the Cross Canyon area looking for signs of the fugitives myself, I am excited to read more about it after all these years. I will post more once I get the okay from the author.

Quicksand
Many of you might already be aware of the recent (November, 2011) rescue of  a NOLS student from quicksand along the Dirty Devil River. I did not know about it until Frank pointed it out recently. I did some searching online about the incident, and from the reports I read it seems that the student was trapped for 13 hours until a rescue helicopter with a crew of three arrived and got him out.  The quicksand was only up to his knees, with water to about his waist.  Other students were with him and had attempted to extricate him, but without success. They fed him and gave him warm drinks to keep him warm. No injuries were reported and everyone was fine in the end. That is about the extent of information in the reports available online.

The incident occurred along the Dirty Devil, somewhere near the mouth of Robbers Roost. I know personally of some rather deep quicksand in that area, having experienced it while floating the river a few years back. I can’t say that I have ever been as stuck as the student seemed to be, but I have had my share of quicksand experiences. It is just a part of floating, backpacking, or hiking canyons in the southwest.

Now for the good news: according to the only article I found online about quicksand, which references studies done in the Netherlands and France, you will not sink to your death nor drown in the stuff. The human body is not dense enough to sink all the way. The article goes on to say that you “should” only sink to about your waist. It also states that self-extrication is possible not by trying to pull yourself out, but by wiggling your legs around in circles, pushing the mud away, allowing water to travel down into the hole. Water is much easier to pull yourself out of than very thick, dense sediment, that is, mud. A point to file away for the next time you find yourself sinking into mud out there in the desert.

We will post a trip report upon our return from Utah. In the meantime, we will check in using our SPOT messenger every night. You can follow us on our SPOT public page. Visit the Desert Explorer website for more on floating, the dangers of desert hiking , and our adventures.

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Trip Report: Hanksville Area and North Wash; Aztec, New Mexico and Jack’s Plastic Welding

6 May 2012

Our first trip of the season is already over, and plans are underway for our next drive over the mountains to Utah. Our recent trip was just over two weeks in southeast Utah and vicinity, most of it near Hanksville. The weather cooperated with us for the most part. It was warm for most of our trip, we barely saw rain, but the wind did blow, strong on some days, as it always seems to do in the spring. Nicolai and I began our trip with 10 days of exploring west of the Dirty Devil river. Based on recommendations by Doug, Frank, Mike and others, and previous experiences, we explored the area in and around Angel Point, Cedar Flat, Little Egypt, and of course down Poison Spring Canyon. Much of this area was new to us, and it was all very exciting for both of us, with something interesting around every turn in the road and every corner of the canyon bottom.

Of course we drove down to the Dirty Devil River. No trip to the area is complete for us without visiting the ford. It was running at about 200 CFS when we took a look at it at the end of March. It has been steadily dropping since then; today (May 6th) it is at about 65 CFS. At this rate we’ll be dragging when we put in toward the end of the month (our next trip is a 10 day float on the Dirty Devil). There were a lot of people taking advantage of the high flows when we were there. At the ford/take out there were 5 trucks the day we drove all the way down. We saw one kayaker a few days before that while on a hike down to the river in a side canyon. We also drove most of the way down to the take out near Hite, on Sheep Springs road. The road was in terrible shape, washed out along nearly every drainage. It took us about 45 minutes to drive about 2/3 of the way to the take out at which point the shovel work  and rock moving required to continue wasn’t too appealing. But for all I know  it could have been perfect around the next corner all the way to the take out. We did ask a ranger at Hite if it would ever be graded or maintained and she thought it very unlikely. She didn’t know the condition of the road further down.

Geology and North Wash Canyons
We spent lots of time on this trip looking over the geology of the area. The Little Egypt road gives you some great views of the Henries, as well as a good look at the Entrada formation and its interesting hoodoos- the same you see at Goblin Valley state park. We found lots of interesting rocks and minerals near the Entrada hoodoos, many of which we still need to identify. We found something that looks like gypsum, or maybe quartz, but is probably some evaporite mineral. It was in the form of plates about 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch thick, to me appearing foliated vertically (if I have my terminology correct). Our guess is that much of what we found weathered out of the Henries up above.

Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nico making his way up one of the Irish Canyons.

On the way out of the area we stopped for a day down North Wash for some canyoneering in the Irish Canyons. Nicolai dove right in- literally. No sooner had we snapped our helmets on than he was nearly out of sight up the slot. We came in from the bottom since it was just the two of us, and went as far up as he could safely climbing with me spotting and giving him a push up from behind. It turned out to be the most exciting part of the trip for him, and he is already planning on our next visit there after we finish on the river in early June. Since it is usually just the two of us, we are hoping we can tag along with a group at some point, have someone for belay, and come in from the top.

Chopper found in North Wash. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A chopper we found in the bottom of one of the Irish Canyons while canyoneering there. The scale is in centimeters. We photographed the chopper, and put it back in place.

A New Boat
After North Wash we made our way south through Shiprock and over to Bloomfield and Aztec. Our primary purpose for the drive south was to visit Jack’s Plastic Welding in Aztec and pick out our new boat. We had a very informative visit with them and I think at this point have decided on the Cutthroat 2, the 24 inch wide version with 19 inch by 14 foot tubes and a 9 1/2 foot frame. It seems like the perfect boat for our favorite floats- the San Juan and Green Rivers for example. It can also be fitted with a motor mount, something that will come in handy for a trip from Bullfrog up the Escalante (a trip that is in the planning stages). After Jack’s we stopped in at Aztec Ruins National Monument for a few hours and looked over the reconstructions there. It is a worthwhile visit, and is easy to get to as it sits right on the edge of town. If you are in the area and have even half an hour, the Great Kiva must  be seen- it is the largest reconstructed kiva in existence. 

Aztec ruin. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Aztec ruin. Note the lines of greenish sandstone visible. It is unknown exactly why the builders chose to include the line as the whole structure was plastered over and it would not have been seen.

News From the Region
On our trips we will often regroup, and cleanup, with a hotel night. Blanding is one location where this often occurs and the Sunset Inn is our usual choice, an easy one at 25 dollars a night! On this trip we found it under new management with lots of changes going on. We did not stay this time, but found out that there are upgrades in the rooms as well as on the outside. The price has increased to 43 dollars a night (still a bargain) and the name has changed to the Stone Lizard. On our way through Blanding we had a late breakfast at Yaks Diner. It is worth mentioning as it is the only diner in town and has cheap, fast, hearty American breakfasts. It is on the north side of town right on the highway.

Leave No Trace
Anyone who has read a few of my posts knows that I often mention Leave No Trace principles (some of you may be getting tired of it). But I feel I have good reason- I’ve been going into the wilderness all my life, and have found campsites, for example, that are absolutely disgusting- with firepits full of broken bottles and half-burned beer cans, trash all around, and toilet paper blowing in the breeze on the sagebrush. Whenever I encounter a site like this I do my best to clean it up. I often leave the bush with more trash that I have picked up than I have made myself.

Nciolai Trainor starting our nightly fire in the fire pan. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nico starting our nightly fire in the fire pan.

I have also encountered many absolutely perfect and pristine campsites, places where previous campers have been as diligent as I try to be about cleaning up and leaving the place untouched for the next person to come along. My personal rule is to always leave a site cleaner than I found it. I have been teaching these principles to my son since his very first trip, and they have become the norm for him. As a final comment on LNT, since we started floating rivers about 8 years ago now, we have carried our river fire pan along with us in the truck. During that time we have only made our fires in the fire pan, packing up the charcoal and ashes the next morning with our trash. I feel it is a great way to minimise our impact and leave our camps just a little bit cleaner.

For more information on Leave No Trace principles, visit  the LNT website. For more about who we are and our adventures in the Utah desert, visit the Desert Explorer website. Photos from the trip are posted on the Desert Explorer Picasa page.