May and June in Southeast Utah- Nancy Patterson, Amtrak, and Grand Gulch

25 July 2016

We usually make a trip to southern Utah each year later in June, staying into July. This year we planned it so that trip was moved up to late May and into June. It made for more bearable and longer days at Nancy Patterson Village, and easier walking in the canyons later on. Of course there has been another trip since then where we enjoyed temperatures in the high 90’s and low 100’s.  We’ve had such a full summer so far there just hasn’t been time to get to a blog post until now.

Nancy Patterson Village
For the third season we spent a couple of weeks at Nancy Patterson Village doing archaeology. We finished the interior excavation of the room where we began in 2014. We have so much data at this point that it may take us into next summer just analysing and writing it all up. It was our assumption that our unit, being on the edge of the village, was late in date. We confirmed this, and we also confirmed our speculation that the room was built over an earlier midden. Our unit was in the eastern-most room of what I would call a patio group. The approximate size of the group is 13  by 13 meters. It is U-shaped, being open on the east side.

Collared lizards at Nancy Patterson Village. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Working at Nancy Patterson Village would not be complete without our daily visits from collared lizards. Here a pair watches us from our backdirt pile.

Data collected from throughout the patio group indicate the earliest occupation is centered on the western side, or bottom of the “U”. The latest occupation appears to be our unit, the end room on the northern leg of the “U”. It is likely that the end room opposite us, to the south, is coeval with ours. There are other rooms and room blocks beyond our patio group out in the periphery; isolated rooms, those laid out in a linear fashion, and possibly an L-shaped group. These rooms are all unexcavated and the dates are unknown, but we assume they are closer to the date of our unit which was likely abandoned toward the “very end”, somewhere around the early to mid-1200’s. More about Nancy Patterson will be posted as we continue analysis and writing.

The young archaeologist at work. Nancy Patterson Village, Mesa Verde corrugated sherd being removed. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The young archaeologist at work at Nancy Patterson Village with a large Mesa Verde corrugated sherd from a post-abandonment artifact concentration just removed.

 

Amtrak as Part of Our Adventures
After our time at Nancy Patterson Village we had a few relaxing days at a couple of our favorite camps before Nicolai headed home. For those unfamiliar with the area around Interstate 70 north of Moab, a rail line roughly parallels the highway from Glenwood Canyon in Colorado to just past Green River in Utah, where it turns north toward Salt Lake City. The line is used by freight trains and by Amtrak as well. Since we hadn’t been on the train in a number of years, we decided to use it to get Nicolai back to Colorado. We boarded in Green River at about 8 AM and arrived in Glenwood Springs about noon where we met the missing member of our party (mom gets to hold down the fort when we are off in the bush.) The train ride, if there are no long delays, is scenic and enjoyable. You get to see a lot of country along this four hour stretch, and it’s best seen from the observation car. Unfortunately the trip back to Green River was not as quick nor as enjoyable. Just outside Glenwood Springs the train hit a truck which delayed us for about 4 hours. Believe it or not, the driver of the truck crawled out and walked away. The conductors on the train called it miraculous, and likened the train hitting a truck to a semi truck running over an empty soda can. The lesson- be careful at all railroad crossings, especially those without arms that come down to block traffic.

Amtrak train at Green River station, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Ready to board, green River station platform.

Grand Gulch
With Nicolai safely back in Colorado I had the next week or so to myself. So it was off to Grand Gulch for some alone time. I hadn’t been in Pine Canyon in some time, so I used it as my entrance. I parked at the drill hole at the end of the road and was in the canyon in no time. It’s a fairly easy walk all around- across the mesa, the climb in, and the walk down to Grand Gulch. I found the canyon very different from the previous trip about 7 weeks before. During our April backpack the canyon bottom was filled with water; we were faced with skirting around pools and hopping across water running down Grand Gulch. This trip, water was barely visible in the bottom of Grand Gulch. There were a few green, debris covered pools here and there that were of course drinkable, but it was like night and day compared with two months before. The weather was warming at this point, and the heat and lack of water ensured that I was the only one in the canyon- I didn’t hear or see anyone on this trip.

Ruin in Pine Canyon, southern utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Round ruin in Pine Canyon with very interesting architectural change in structure- due to available materials or aesthetics? Note vertical slabs down low, with regular, coursed masonry above.

I could go on as always, but will save it for another post. Next up- more on our new inReach SE, rock art in a boulder field, and parallel stone alignments leading the way to Spirit Bird Cave. For more on our desert adventures, gear reviews, and our archaeological endeavors, visit the Desert Explorer website.

 


Another Spring Break in Canyon Country

21 April 2016

We have just returned from southern Utah once again. It was a late spring break for us, but well worth waiting for April to make the trip. The weather was perfect right up till the end, when we caught a bit of the storm that brought winter back to Colorado. We spent our two weeks in the usual places, revisited some of our favorite canyons, and explored some new ones. We made it a point to include plenty of time enjoying sunrises, sunsets, and the star filled night sky, and more than a few afternoons sitting on the slickrock with a cup of tea.

Blooming holly. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Holly in bloom. The desert was alive with color and fragrance.

Our itinerary brought us straight to southern San Juan county this time. We made an afternoon stop in Moab for final supplies as always, but the weather was so perfect that Moab was too busy for us. April is the perfect time of year for most people- warm days and not too cool nights, without the extreme heat that comes in another month or so. Besides ATV’s and other off-road vehicles, there were mountain bikes everywhere, and more RV’s and camp trailers to be found around every corner than I have ever seen. This was the case everywhere we went- down every road whether it be along Comb Ridge, on Cedar Mesa, or around Green River, where we finished up our trip.

Grand Gulch
We did get a few days of backpacking in this trip. We walked in through Dripping Canyon, had a day in Grand Gulch, and walked out Step Canyon. This is something I have done before, so knew the walk quite well. It was perfect for Nicolai and I- nothing an 11-year-old couldn’t handle. As always, we could have used a couple more days in this short stretch of the canyons- there was just so much to see that we had to choose where to spend our time. For anyone venturing in any time soon, water was not a problem. At least finding drinking water that is. From another perspective, that of walking, it was quite a problem in places. There was so much water in the canyons that we found ourselves skirting pools all along the walk, and especially in Grand Gulch.

Yellow ancestral puebloan pictograph in Grand Gulch, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

“Yellow Man” panel in Grand Gulch.

Cedar Mesa was a busy place. The Kane Gulch ranger station was packed on the few occasions we stopped in. But once we got in the canyons we only saw, and heard, one group of people. I should say heard more than saw them. Their presence was known to us by their extremely loud voices, yelling I would call it, and their crashing wildly through the brush. We made it a point to discuss this problem with the folks at the ranger station after our walk- noise pollution is  a problem everywhere and especially in such a place as this. I feel that these days so many people don’t know the difference between a place that is… sacred, and say, the grocery store. The analogy I like to use is that I would not come bounding and crashing and yelling into your church, so please don’t come into mine that way. But I suppose, to continue the analogy, I am preaching to the choir here.

Comb Ridge
We have a favorite camp in view of Comb Ridge making it easy to get into the canyons there. We spent five nights on the slickrock at that camp, really enjoying the night sky. I have to make a plug here for one of my more recent equipment purchases. I have been sleeping better than ever these days on an Exped SynMat 7 Sleeping Pad. This inflatable sleeping pad has an integral pump which inflates it in just a couple of minutes. No blowing it up by mouth involved! I have the synthetic fill version which is rated at an insulation value of 4.9, but there is a higher rated pad that has down filling.  I use it at the truck and on the river- it’s just too heavy for me to carry on a backpack. The pads are not cheap, but if you are struggling with getting a good night’s sleep on a thinner pad, you may want to give one a try.

We spent a couple of days exploring Comb Ridge, and as always found more ruins and rock art, middens and moki steps, sweat lodges and seasonal campsites. Comb Ridge is truly a place where one can learn about the varied archaeology of the Northern San Juan region all in one place. One ruin we visited stood out in the amount of mud that was plastered on the walls. The ruin lacked for stone, but still held together well with mud. Looking at it you could see the way it was applied, in great masses, each appearing to be left to sag and dry before the next mass was applied. The interior of the walls had niches built-in, and the end walls were curiously rounded, as if they were not continued across the front, but were left open.

Ancestral Puebloan structure in Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Comb Ridge ruin with walls lacking in stone but showing an abundance of mud.

Ancestral Puebloan dwelling in Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

End wall of plastered ruin showing rounded finish. Note the thick mortar beds between the thin pieces of sandstone.

There is always so much to see, and to write about afterwards, on our Utah trips. But for now it’s back to preparation for the next trip. In about a month we are back in southern Utah for more archaeology at Nancy Patterson Village. For more about us and our desert adventures visit the Desert Explorer website.


Trip Report- July, 2014- San Rafael River Backpack

7 August 2014

I had a chance to spend a few days on the San Rafael River at the end of July. I went in on Monday and returned Wednesday evening. I was alone, so it was an out and back hike to Fuller Bottom, starting and ending at the San Rafael River bridge, about 15 miles each way. I looked up a few side canyons although conditions and time didn’t allow for much exploration. I will definitely need to go back. The walking was easy, the “trails” fairly clear and not too brushy, and it wasn’t terribly hot even though the forecast was calling for temps over 100 degrees.

I traveled light as usual foregoing even a sleeping bag this trip, taking a Golite nest for bugs and an Integral Designs Ultralight Bivy Sack and silcloth poncho. All in all these were good choices. Of course I had the usual backup lightweight ploypro top and pants, Golite Trinity raingear, and a couple of other items for safety. The only piece of gear I didn’t have and could have used was a PFD  (Personal Flotation Device), but more on that later.

San Rafael river canyon. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A sunny morning on the San Rafael River. Looking down canyon at the amazing geology of the region.

Fun With Weather
When I started walking on Monday my first river crossing, about one kilometer up river from the bridge, barely got the soles of my boots wet. I just hopped across the calm, clear river on exposed rocks. A few hours later when I had to cross over again I could tell the water had risen and was definitely more silty- there had been some rainfall far off to the west. Still, it was an easy crossing, with the water barely over my boots. I should mention that as part of my plan I retrieved my pair of OTB combat boots from the bottom of my gear closet- see my Escalante River Trek blog posts or Gear Review pages for more on those. I knew I would have to make some river crossings, and wasn’t sure how wet I would be, so I played it safe with these lightweight, quick dry boots with good drainage.

Monday night brought a few drops of rain, but nothing substantial. Tuesday was a calm, clear morning, ominously cool and quiet. Mid-day Tuesday I was at the point where the trail to Fuller Bottom branches off from the river, with about 2 kilometers to go to Fuller Bottom. I left my pack here and made a dash for the put in, but I didn’t quite make it all the way. As I made my approach on the road to Fuller Bottom I could hear thunder off in a couple of directions, but still felt safe enough to continue. I’ll summarise the events that quickly occurred over the next 15 minutes: the sky grew dark, the thunder became louder, lightning started flashing all around me, icy rain began to fall, then chunks of ice, then balls of hail, the rain became sheets of wind-blown rain, and visibility dropped to about 100 meters. What fun! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Flash flood in San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A drainage, dry an hour before, with water already quickly dropping.

Flash flood along San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The same drainage one and a half hours later. All you have to do is wait the storms out- don’t panic and try to make crossings. This is what gets people killed.

By the time all this happened I had found myself a dry, north-facing ledge to hide under; the storms came mainly from the south-southwest. Even though I was dry and safe, and I knew my pack was double-waterproofed (I use Sea to Summit ultralight silcloth pack liners), I was still a bit worried about it back there alone, tucked up under a juniper. My concern was not so much my pack itself, but being able to get back to it. My walk to this point had been up, down and through quite a few drainages that I knew were at this point filling up with water. I waited till the biblical squall had subsided and began making my way back towards my pack, curious to see what the drainages looked like. Sure enough, some of them had become raging torrents as the mesa tops were drained of the rain that had just fallen. Even the road I had just walked in on, dry 45 minutes before, was near waist-deep in water. What a storm. If you ever have the chance to safely view the outcome of storms like this, and see what flash floods are and can do, it is something not to be passed up. But again, do it safely. These storms can sweep you away in an instant, just as they do boulders, trees, and tons of other debris.

River flow graph for late July, 2014. From 2 to 100 CFS.

River flow graph for late July, 2014. From 2 to 1000 CFS in the course of 24 hours.

I’ll skip over the details of the walk back, but I made a few crossings that may have been safer with that PFD. My pack was where I left it. I retrieved it and started my return trip down the river. I had a plan to make it to a certain side canyon that evening, camp there, and explore it the next day. But that didn’t happen. A couple of hours later, another storm came, bigger than the previous, that kept me in place for the night. This was the storm that brought the river up to 1000 CFS from the 2 CFS that I started out with. There were no more river crossings to be done that day. The amount of water that fell from the sky, and then came raging down the river was astounding. The massive cascades of red water that fell from the previously dry and quiet canyon rims were deafening. The intensity of a storm like that really puts the power of nature into perspective. If you try to fight it, you don’t stand a chance.

The safe way to face a storm and flash floods like this is to simply find a high, dry if possible, place to spend some time. I was prepared to sit out the night under some cottonwoods; they offered some protection. But the storm passed, the sun came back out right at sunset, and the sky was clear overnight. The next day I continued down canyon, taking in the sights along the way, and wading a river that was again knee to waist deep.

So much for the weather details. The hike was a good one, but needed more time for the side canyons. Five or six days wouldn’t be too many. The access to the trailhead is an easy one, down a very well maintained. There is plenty of water on this hike (no need to carry too much on your back.) The “trail” is descent, though not technically maintained in any way- just by hikers, cows, and people on horses. There are lots of side canyons to explore, you might see some rock art along the way, and you will definitely see wildlife- bighorn sheep, peregrine falcons, wild turkey, a very large gopher snake, and deer were on my viewing list.

Bighorn sheep on the San Rafael River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Curious bighorn sheep on the San Rafael River.

A few notes about walking rivers, something I have done a few times now. Plan to get wet. Waterproof everything. Use waterproof cases for your maps and camera. Make sure everything is secure before making crossings, especially if swimming. Remember to unbuckle waist and chest straps and remove one shoulder strap before water crossings- if you need to ditch your pack you don’t want to mess with buckles under water. Find good shoes or boots that will allow you to be wet, and somewhat comfortable.

A Visit to Green River
The San Rafael Swell is reached from the south through the town of Green River. Be sure to visit the town on your trip. Stop in for Mexican food either at the restaurant La Veracruzana, or the taco truck located next to the park in the old Shell station- good tacos and tamales can be found there. Green River Coffee is just down the street from either of these eateries, and if you are early enough they should be open. If you need water you can fill up at the back of the parking lot at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum right next to the river.  If their water is not on, the West Winds truck stop has spigots at the gas pumps. Starting in the late summer, you won’t want to miss the melons available all through town. I loaded up on them before returning to Colorado. If you are around in September you can enjoy the town’s Melon Festival.

For more on our desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website. Next up: back to the San Juan River in mid-August.

 

 

 


Trip Report, June 2013- Jones Canyon

17 June 2013

After many, many years I finally managed to get back into the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness along the border of Colorado and Utah. I spent four days in the area, walking the many drainages of Jones Canyon. Jones Canyon is accessible from the trailhead at the end of BS Road, although it is a long drive and the road can truly be impassable when it is wet. (See our Colorado Canyons page for more information on how to get there.) It was never clear to me whether Jones Canyon was accessible from above or not. The trailhead is there, the head of Jones Canyon is there, but I never found any data on getting into the canyon. So to make sure that I could get into the canyon I came in from below.

Jones Canyon Utah backpacking

Cattle trail leading into Jones Canyon. I counted 14 head up one canyon. They can only get so far up and then the Canyon is untouched.

I started out on a Monday morning by swimming across the Colorado River just above the Westwater ranger station, where I left my truck parked. I walked up river about 1 1/2 kilometers, to a point where the river was narrower, the bank on the south side was not completely overgrown, and to where I thought I was on public land. I am still not sure that I was on public land- there is clearly a working ranch on that side of the river- but how far down their land reaches is still unclear to me. Either way, I crossed, skirted around the irrigated fields, and made my way up and over the ridge to finally drop into Jones Canyon.

A point of note here- the river was flowing at 10,000 CFS. I wore a full wetsuit (my $20 Goodwill, 2 mil canyoneering wetsuit served me well) and my PFD- just to be safe. On the swim over I really pushed it and made the crossing in about 500 meters downstream distance. On the swim back across, which I did at about 7 in the morning, I was happy to have the wetsuit. It took about ten minutes to travel the kilometer downstream to the take out while casually swimming across from where I waded in. That was enough time to cause a chill even with the wetsuit in the early morning. So remember- safety first, especially when you are alone. For both crossings my backpack, boots, and clothing was in two drybags that I had lashed together and towed with a long piece of one inch webbing.

The Canyons
The many drainages of Jones Canyon run the gamut of canyon possibilities- from wet to absolutely dry; from narrow, near-slots to flat, wide canyon bottoms; from shallow with easy exits to deep with no way out except the way you came in. I did manage on day three to climb out one drainage and back in the one next to it. The route out was easy, taking no more than 15 minutes. Getting back in was another story- it took a full hour of downclimbing, route finding, and pack-lowering to get back in. In hindsight it wasn’t the best entrance, but it wasn’t the toughest I have ever encountered.

Jones Canyon backpacking

View north from the mesa top after an easy climb out at the head of one of the Jones Canyon drainages.

The vegetation in the canyon bottoms is just as varied, changing from sage brush, bunch grass, and tamarisk, to willows, river cane, cottonwoods, and poison ivy. I saw peregrines and other raptors, lots of little grey birds, and very old sign from elk and bear up every drainage.  There were also endless reptiles and amphibians- the usual array of lizards, Woodhouse toads, and a variety of water snakes. There was very little in the way of cultural remains, aside from a couple of hole-in-top cans and one petroglyph.

Jones Canyon snake

Small snake in the clear water of a running spring in one of the Jones Canyon drainages.

As I noted above, water was available in most of the drainages, nearly all of it in springs.  There were a few potholes with remnants of spring runoff still in them. The water was definitely drying up though, and based on that I would recommend earlier in spring or fall for a visit. Chances are that summer is very dry in nearly all the drainages.

The best part of Jones Canyon was its feeling of isolation. It is not a popular destination for backpackers. I found only two sets of boot tracks in different drainages, both possibly months old and signs of a fire with some bits of trash that was even older, nothing more. If quiet isolation is what you are looking for, then Jones Canyon is the place.

For more on our desert adventures, see the Desert Explorer website. Look for another post soon- we are off to Grand Gulch and points south in another week for more backpacking and exploration. You can follow our progress while we are out on our SPOT Messenger page.


Escalante Trek, May 2011- Geology, Rock Art, Tracking, and Poison Ivy

8 July 2011

This is the third part of my May 2011 Escalante Trek blog posts. There was so much to see along the way that it was impossible to cover everything in a single post. Part one covered the trek itself, part two was gear reviews. In this post I will touch upon rock art, geology, flora, and tracking practice while hiking. It is a lot to cover I know, and this post will just scratch the surface of these topics. I am still planning a post on Leave No Trace Principles, and probably a separate post on access issues on public lands. I have seen a lot in the news lately- in the Moab, Blanding, and Monticello areas- regarding problems accessing roads and campsites that folks have been visiting for 10 or 20 years. I have had emails regarding the same. It is a topic that demands careful attention, and I will start soon with visits to a couple of BLM offices in southeast Utah to ask some questions. But for now, it is back to the Escalante.

Geology
Whenever I find myself in a canyon I am always captivated by the countless millions of years of geologic history in front of me. And I always wish I knew a bit more about what I was seeing. The Escalante area is no excepotion- it is a geologic wonder. With so many different formations and so much geologic time represented there, volumes could be written on the geology of the area. Oddly, a thorough search of the internet yielded very little information about exactly which formations you are walking through as you make your way down the river, at least if you are a novice geologist. If you can read a geologic surface map, or follow a technical paper written specifically for geologists, then you will find some detailed data available. I had expected to find a geologic map of the canyon bottom for the hiker walking down the river, but found very little other than references to the formations themselves. And those were not specific. So the task remains for a geologically minded canyon bottom hiker to give us such a map. I’d really like to see one.

thin sheet of quartzite material on navajo sandstone slab, escalante river, utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Thin sheet of quartzite, about 1/8 inch thick at most, on a slab of Navajo sandstone along the river. This was a rather common occurrence on the lower section of the river.

From the Moody Canyon trailhead I began my walk in the Wingate and Chinle formations, which apparently dip down and disappear at the river. Most of what I walked through was Navajo sandstone, in the lower part of the river canyon, and up Coyote Gulch.

While I wish I knew more about the specifics of what I was viewing- the depositional environment, the minerals that caused the specific colors, and the events that caused the folding, bending, and dipping- enjoying the imposing beauty of the vertical Navajo sandstone walls, the fluted columns of the Wingate sandstone, or the colorful Chinle shales is usually enough. Not much needs to be said about the Navajo walls- for me they represent the desert canyons with their dark, patinated, vertical walls reaching hundreds of feet high, and the occasional arch such as Stevens arch near the mouth of Coyote Gulch.  

The Chinle formation is one that I have not had much experience with, but on this trip I got to see and feel it up close. On my last day of walking I had to cross through it on my way up and out of East Moody canyon. It was a wet day and the clayey material, revealing ancient swamps and waterways, stuck to my boots, more with every step, until each foot weighed 10 pounds more. But the moisture only added to the beauty- the purples were deeper, the greens brighter, and the extra weight on my feet just added to the adventure.

Another unique geologic feature that I have wondered about for years are “Moqui marbles”. These are round or near-round sandstone spheres varying in size from BB-size up to an inch or more in diameter. I have found them on the mesa top in the Escalante in a few different locations. Don’t confuse Moqui marbles with tumbled sandstone “marbles” found in stream beds. The formation processes for each are completely different. Moqui marbles are formed during the deposition of sand as iron froth-coated air bubbles in very wet sand. Eventually they weather out of the parent material and are found, in the Escalante at least, in large concentrations making their way down gentle slopes.

"Moqui marbles"- ironstone concretions found weathering out of sandstone. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

"Moqui marbles"- ironstone concretions found weathering out of sandstone.

Rock Art
I encountered only a few rock art panels along the river, and a few in Coyote Gulch. As it usually goes, I likely walked by at least as many as I saw. They will be there for the next trip. All of the panels that I saw were small in size and number of elements compared to most panels I have seen both in and out of the area. Perhaps it has something to do with the rough nature of the lower part of the river canyon. The early inhabitants likely chose more hospitable locations for hunting and living and making art, if in fact it was art. Excluding one panel in Coyote Gulch, all were petroglyphs. Coyote Gulch has a few impressive panels, one of which is a pictograph of at least 5 near life-size anthropomorphs. For me, there is nothing quite like finding rock art. And finding life-size human figures staring down at me from a canyon wall, knowing that they have been there for hundreds of years, is really a humbling experience.

A small rock art panel along the lower Escalante River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A small rock art panel along the lower Escalante River.

Tracking
Whenever I walk in the canyons I am always on the lookout for tracks. I search them out not only to identify them, but also to follow them. This is how you learn to track- by finding and following them, by reading them, and by building a profile of the quarry you are tracking. On a previous trip in the Escalante, on the upper part of the river, Robert and I made it a point to follow the turkey tracks that we found all along the river. Not only did we practice finding and following the freshest tracks, but after a while we found that the turkeys led us to the easiest paths and around obstacles.

On this trip I found the usual turkey, beaver, coyote, fox, and of course human tracks. Walking along the river margin, in many places there was only a narrow strip of dry land. I followed the tracks of a previous hiker through much of that. It was interesting to see where this person chose to cross the river, when to climb through or over or under obstacles. By following any set of tracks, after a time you begin to build a picture of who or what made the tracks, and you can begin to anticipate their next move. In this case it was a male traveling alone, on the river for days, and with plenty of experience in route finding and canyon bottom travel. Even when I stopped looking for the tracks, I found that I was still following them, that this person and I shared our choices for a route down river.

A Quick Note About Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy is found all along the Escalante River and in many of the side canyons. The river corridor, and the side canyons draining into it, tend to be very wet. They are perfect locations for Poison Ivy to thrive. Keep your eyes open for the stuff- you will find it everywhere there is a constant source of water. If you come down Scorpion Gulch, be especially watchful. The narrows down near the river require either careful wading through the potholes, or more careful squeezing and scrambling along the stream edge. Either way you will be negotiating a Poison Ivy jungle. I have taken to wearing long pants most of the time and also carry a small bottle of Tecnu, a soap made specifically to combat the oils deposited on the skin when you brush against the plant. 

Poison Ivy in a relatively dry location just up Fool's Canyon form the river. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Poison Ivy in a relatively dry location just up Fool's Canyon from the river. It gets much thicker further up canyon where spring-fed pools of water are common.

For more on the Escalante Region, Poison Ivy and other desert flora, tracking and geology, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Escalante Trek, May 2011- Gear Reviews

29 May 2011

This post is a continuation of my post from 27 May, which outlined a recent trek down the Escalante River. In this post I will discuss some of the new gear that I tried out on this recent backpack trip. I should state that I am not paid nor sponsored by any of the companies whose products I am writing about. With the exception of Rokit Fuel, I purchased all products reviewed here and was not contacted by any of the companies. Rokit Fuel is a semi- solicited review- I received the products from the company for free for my own trial use.

Golite Malpais Trinity Rain Jacket
My most important piece of new gear on this trip, based on the cool and sometimes wet conditions that I encountered, was the Golite Malpais Trinity Jacket. In packing I hoped for warm weather, but was prepared for anything- and that is where this jacket comes in. Normally I carry only a silcloth poncho which serves as my rain gear, pack cover, and shelter. I also carry a Golite Wisp wind shirt to add a little more protection if it’s windy. On this trip, based on the potential for cool and wet weather, the amount of time I would be out, and the distance involved, I switched the Wisp out for the Malpais. I pulled the jacket out on about day 3 and I barely took it off until I got back to the trailhead. I even slept in it on one particularly cool night.

Golite Malpais jacket

The Golite Malpais Liteshell jacket.

I make every attempt to travel as light as possible and in doing so I haven’t carried rain gear in many years. But this jacket has changed my way of thinking, and I’ll keep it in my pack. The Malpais jacket weighs only 7 ounces, about 3 ounces more than the Wisp shirt. The jacket is made of Golite’s ultralight 3-layer Trinity material, a waterproof, breathable fabric and is the lightest that Golite makes. Besides the Trinity fabric, to get to such a light weight they did away with pit zips, most of the cordlocks, hood stowage, and made the interior pockets out of a super thin mesh material. After days in the jacket, and hour upon hour of rain on one occasion, I was comfortable and dry underneath. Without question, if you are looking for a lightweight rain jacket that will really protect from the elements, this is it.

OTB DesertLite Boots
Next on my list of impressive new gear is the OTB (Over The Beach) DesertLite boot. I needed strong, comfortable footgear for this trek that would perform well on land and not fall apart being wet for 4 or 5 days straight. These boots were designed by U.S. Navy SEALS and are engineered and manufactured by New Balance. Those two facts made me take a closer look at the boots.

The OTB line has in it two 8 inch boots that I looked at- the DesertLite boot and the JungleLite boot. The boots are exactly the same in every respect, except in color and leather finish. The DesertLite boot is available in a tan upper with suede tan leather finish, the JungleLite boot comes in olive drab or black upper with polished black leather. I chose the DesertLite simply because the color fits in better in my area of operation.

OTB DesertLite boots. Photo by Gerrald Trainor.

OTB DesertLite boots.

The boots feature mesh ventilation holes on the instep and the outside of the boot, 3 on a side. These holes function as drain holes when working in a wet environment. The uppers are mesh and drain extremely well and quickly when stepping out of water. I was concerned that the drain holes might let sand in, either in the water or when walking on dry land. I did find that a small amount of fine silt did make its way into the boot, but the amount was negligible. I was also concerned about drying. But each morning when I put the boots back on they were comfortably dry, enough so that if I were on dry land for the day, my feet wouldn’t feel wet. I did set the boots out in the sun on a slab of sandstone one afternoon to see how long they took to dry completely. In about two hours they were dry to the touch, inside and out.

I wore these boots for 8 straight days, they were wet for 6 of those days, and I traveled just over 100 miles in them. The only visible wear in that time is on the “reinforced climbing rubber” on the inside of the toes. A small piece tore off on the upper corner of both boots- I did do a large amount of scrambling up and down and over sandstone boulders and rocks. Other than that, it is hard to tell that I just put a very tough 100 miles on the boots.

As far as I know there are no other boots or shoes out there that are anywhere near comparable to the OTB DesertLite boot. I have tried other “water shoes” (see the reviews from the first part of the Escalante Trek) and found them woefully inadequate- fine for frisbee in the park, but nothing beyond that. The OTB DesertLite boot gets the job done.

Rokit Fuel Endurance Foods
I am constantly refining, amending, and otherwise changing my packing lists, the gear that I carry, and the foods that I carry and eat while in the bush. I make most of my own meals by the way- see our Backpack Foods pages for more on that. I was recently emailed by a representative of Rokit Fuel, a local, Utah company, and asked if I would try their products. As I am always happy to try any new outdoor product on the market, I heartily agreed.

Crystal from Rokit Fuel supplied me with three of their products in various flavors- Stud Muffin and Cherry Almond Cereal Cups, two prototype Energy Bars (not yet on the market- but coming soon as Booster Bars according to the Rokit Fuel website), and four flavors of their Cereal Pouches. I can summarise my experience with all of them in one word- delicious!

Okay, so good taste is obviously important, but what about the energy part of the foods? I have to admit that it is really hard for me to tell sometimes how an energy bar, or endurance food in this case, actually affects me. I can say that I specifically tried the products at a time when I needed a boost, on longer parts of the walk, and in between meals. Based on this I can say without a doubt that I got the boost that I needed. The highlight of all the products is the fact that they are made with whole foods- grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits- and that these foods in minimally processed form are better for you and are digested and absorbed faster by your body then processed foods. The products range in calorie content from about 250 calories for the Cereal Pouches to about 350 calories for the Cereal Cups. There are plenty of carbs, protein, fiber, and other good things you need when out there pushing yourself. See the Rokit Fuel website for a complete nutritional breakdown of all their products.

On to the products- the Cereal Pouch comes in a small bag and requires water. This could be an obvious problem if you are in a race or on your bike for example, but for backpacking it becomes a non-issue. In fact it only took seconds for me to tear the pouch open, squeeze water into it from my Camelbak tube, mix it up and enjoy it. I was concerned about how it might mix up, how long it might take. But again, it wasn’t an issue. Once the water was in it took a few seconds of massaging the pouch until all the ingredients were saturated. And the outcome- imagine a quick few bites of tasty granola cereal in milk right on the trail. Or maybe a liquid granola bar. Either way, it tasted great and I was on my way in a couple of minutes. My favorites were the pumpkin chocolate and the stud muffin.

The Cereal Cups come in some of the same flavors as the Cereal Pouches. If you are using those oatmeal breakfast packets from the grocery store shelf, the ones that require 3 or 4 to fill you up, and end up being a gooey mess, you should look into the Cereal Cups. I dumped mine into pint Ziplock bags. In the morning I poured enough hot water into the bag to moisten the contents, closed it up for a few minutes, and my breakfast was ready. Each cup makes a decent sized, filling, and not-too-sweet trail breakfast. Give the cherry almond a try.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts.

Finally, the Booster Bars were a welcome change of pace to my usual peanut butter Clif Bars, not that I will shun them forever. But change is good. The Booster Bars will come in four configurations- two chocolate covered and two without. I try to stick with bars that are not chocolate covered; the desert heat and chocolate in foil always ends up as a mess. But excluding this fact, the chocolate covered bars will please your taste buds and give you the energy to keep moving.

Unfortunately at this time these products are only available at a few outlets and online. But once you give them a try you probably won’t have an issue ordering a big box of them online. And I’ll bet we will see them in stores in the near future.

Part Three
Check back in a few days for part three of  my Escalante Trek post. I’m still planning to touch on the geology and rock art that you might see while walking down the river, discuss a bit of the flora, and relate my methods of getting in some tracking practice while hiking. I’ll also go over LNT, or Leave No Trace principles while backpacking. For more on ultralight desert backpacking and associated gear, backpack foods and making your own meals, water, and desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Escalante Trek, May 2011- Moody Canyon to Coyote Gulch and Back

27 May 2011

Wind, clouds, rain showers, and cool weather- this summarises the eight days I took to “finish” my trek of the Escalante River. I know it is still spring, but I had hoped for more summer-like weather. I began on the 12th of May at the Moody Canyon trailhead, about 20 miles down the Wolverine Loop road from the Burr Trail. The road to the trailhead is well maintained, and if dry it is not really a problem for almost any vehicle, although a high clearance, 4WD is recommended in case bad weather does move in. From the trailhead I walked for 8 days to complete a loop back to my start point. Along the way I saw a few rock art panels, endless geologic marvels, was serenaded by flycatches and towhees, and had an overall terrific experience alone in the bush.

Swimming the Escalante
My first day took me down to the river. On day two I walked up river to 25 Mile Wash and back to “connect” this walk to my 2009 walk from the Highway 12 bridge down to and out 25 Mile Wash. After that the walk really got interesting. The weather grew cooler, wind blew, rain fell, and the river got rougher with every kilometer I walked down it. River crossings- there were at least 25 each day- were deeper, swifter, and colder as I got further down river. I had to swim on a number of occasions, floating my pack alongside me. A note on crossing rivers- as a safety measure when crossing swifter water always unclip your breast strap and waist belt and at least loosen your pack straps, or remove one arm entirely. If you should happen to lose your balance and fall in the current it is far better to swim out of it without a backpack strapped to you, which can become quite dangerous in some circumstances. By the last day of walking down the river the flow had peaked, and as I got closer to the mouth of Coyote Gulch, within a few kilometers, it began to calm and become shallow. This was mainly due to the height of the water in the reservoir below.

View of the Escalante River below Scorpion Gulch looking up river, photo by Gerald Trainor.

View of the Escalante River below Scorpion Gulch, looking up river. Note the boulders and tight margins along the water that must be negotiated. It gets tougher the further down river you get.

Floating the Escalante
Coyote Gulch is about where the Escalante starts backing up and the flat water below begins, although this year water was still flowing on past Coyote Gulch. I met a few groups of boaters along the way. All were in inflatables and two of the groups were taking the smart way out, floating all the way down and meeting a boat to shuttle them back to Bullfrog. I am told this will cost about 350 dollars or so per shuttle boat. Even if you go solo, you can try to link up with another group and split the cost of the shuttle boat out. The other option is to haul all your gear up and out Coyote Gulch, something not very fun with just a backpack, let alone a boat and river gear. Currently there is only one portage on the lower part of the river, a large boulder jam that has been there for years. Depending on the flows, there may be more than this one. The river was flowing around 100 CFS during my trip according to the USGS website, but apparently that number doubles once you reach Boulder Creek. Current river flows can be found at the USGS website.

The Loop
To finish out the trip I walked up Coyote Gulch to Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch, across the mesa to the head of Scorpion Gulch, back down to the river, up river to East Moody Canyon, and out from there. It all sounds fairly easy, but don’t be fooled. It was a long one, just over 100 miles, and although the bushwhacking wasn’t too bad as compared to conditions on the upper part of the river, the river crossings and negotiating the river banks more than made up for that. Navigation was not much of an issue- follow the water down to Coyote Gulch, walk up, cross the mesa, and so on. Of course there is more to the walk than this, but for the sake of rambling and spoiling the adventure for anyone else who might choose to do it, I will stop the narrative here.

A pool of fresh, clean water about mid-way down Scorpion Gulch. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A pool of fresh, clean water about mid-way down Scorpion Gulch.

Trip Summary
It goes without saying- but I am going to say it- that you should be prepared for this hike. Carry the gear that you will need, don’t overpack, and be in shape. There was really nothing too technical anywhere along the 100 miles of the loop other than a bit of bouldering and crawling though a few cracks here and there along the river. There was no climbing or rappelling, no need for technical gear unless you explore further up some of the side canyons such as Fools Canyon. You can walk up Fools a couple of kilometers before you reach a pouroff that requires rope and harness to get around it. From there it’s anyone’s guess.

In my experience, May is a good time to do this walk, with the chance for cool weather and lower river flows.  Average river flows are around 10 CFS for May- but they could be at 200, 300, 400 CFS or higher. Temperatures should be around 75 or 80 with a sunny sky- they could be 35 or 40 with clouds and rain. Bugs were not an issue, but they certainly could be, especially if you visit later in the summer. A point of note- do keep your eyes open for poison ivy. It is all along the river, and up and down many of the side canyons, especially the lower sections of Fools Canyon and Scorpion Gulch.

Water was not an issue anywhere and excluding the river entirely, there was plenty of water in every canyon, just around every corner at this time of year. I didn’t have to filter any of it, I just filled my bottles and treated the water with the MSR MIOX purifier pen. You can read more about the MIOX at the Desert Explorer website. This fact helped to keep my pack weight down. For the most part I didn’t carry any more than a few liters of water on my back at any given time. Again, the water situation could change dramatically from year to year, and as it gets later in the summer. For more on ultralight desert backpacking, backpack foods and meals, water, and desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.

Part Two
Check back in a few days for part two of this post, where I will review the new gear that I tried out on this trek including the Golite Trinity Malpais jacket, OTB DesertLite Boots, and Rokit Fuel endurance foods. You can also read our gear reviews from the first part of the trek– we tried out Sea To Summit pack liners, the Sealine HP  map case, and a Drypack case for the digital camera. I’ll also touch on the geology and rock art that you might see while walking down the river, as well as a little about the flora and fauna.