Spiders and Beetles, Dalton Wells, Great Horned Owls, and Escalante Photos

8 August 2011

The summer is a busy time for us- busy and fun- and this summer has been one of the busiest in recent years. We have been travelling since March, barely home at all. We’ve seen and done so much that it is hard to keep up with it. This will be a quick post- a follow-up on a couple of earlier posts, and few words about our most recent trip. And as soon as I finish this one, we are off again- we have a permit for the San Juan River next week. Look for a post from that trip in a few weeks time.

Spiders and Tamarisk Beetles
As luck would have it, Nicolai and I found ourselves with some free time a couple of weeks back, and we weren’t too far from Green River Town. We stopped in town for a cup of coffee and some ice for the cooler. Then we made a visit to Crystal Geyser where we had a swim in the still-swift Green River and spent a couple of hours waiting for the geyser to blow. The geyser wasn’t too active, but we did get to talk to a researcher from Grand County who was checking the condition of tamarisk trees and the resident beetle populations. He happened to be checking a group of trees that were covered with those big spiders that we have encountered on our floats down the Green, so we asked for more information about them. He couldn’t tell us specifically about the spiders, but he did say that they seem to be following the beetle populations. It seems that they are feeding on the beetle larvae. He said that in that area in particular he had noted a couple of groves that were covered with the spiders. It seems that the beetles do have a natural, local enemy, a question I am sure that researchers asked when they were deciding whether to allow the beetles to be released.

Unidentified species of spider at our camp at Crystal Geyser. This photo was taken on our float of the Green River in 2009.

Moab and Dalton Wells
On that same trip we made a visit to Moab, as we usually do. This time we did some driving around on roads and trails in the Sovereign area  north of town. One of the entrances to the Sovereign trail is through Dalton Wells, a historic site located just off the highway. It is on the National Register and there is an interpretive plaque explaining the history of the site. Dalton Wells began as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and was in use for that purpose from 1935 to 1942. It was one of four camps located in the Moab area. The CCC members were responsible for countless projects in the Moab Valley and surrounding area during the years the camp was in operation. These projects were initiated by the Soil Conservation Service, the National Park Service, and what would become the Bureau of Land Management and included building stock trails, water development projects, range improvements, and fencing and pasture work.

From January through April of 1943 the Dalton Wells CCC camp became the “Moab Isolation Center”, one of many relocation camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. The camp was used for this purpose only briefly, and housed “troublemakers” from such camps as Manzanar in California and Gila River, Arizona. At most it housed about 4 dozen men, who were eventually transferred to the indian school at Leupp, Arizona on 27 April, 1943.

There are a couple of websites with more information on the camp- one is the Utah State History website, the other is the National Park Service page on Citizen Relocation Centers. The latter page has a couple of photos of the camp.

Great Horned Owls
In April we made a visit to Phoenix and Tucson where we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum among other locations. There is  a blog post about that trip for those interested in reading more. In Tucson we stayed in a hotel in the foothills that was also home to a Great Horned Owl and her two young ones. The owlets lived in a large planter box surrounding the deck of a second floor room of the hotel. It appeared that the hotel was respecting the owls by keeping the associated corner room vacant. Our room was right next door to the vacant room and so we had a great view of the owls, day and night. During the day the mother would sleep in a nearby pine tree, up high near the very top. The owlets would huddle together in the corner of the box, as far from onlookers as they could get. At one point the mother brought in a cottontail for the owlets to eat. They moved the rabbit around a bit, and we got to watch one of the owlets have its morning meal. At nights the mother and young ones would perch on the edge of the planter box, keeping a close eye on everything through the night. The mother would fly off and return all through the night, and would leave early in the morning for her daytime rest in the pine tree.

Mother and owlet Great Horned owls at their hotel room in Tucson. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Mother and owlet Great Horned owls at their hotel room in Tucson. The owlet to the right that is bent over was only concerned with its rabbit breakfast. Most of the rabbit is in the foreground near the cactus.

Owlets in the planter box, Tucson. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Owlets in the planter box.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Owlets huddling together for their daily rest in the early morning. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Owlets getting ready for their daily rest in the early morning.

Final Words on Escalante Trip

I have covered nearly everything I wanted to regarding my Escalante Trek in recent blog posts. The only loose end was posting photos of the trip. I have finally done that. A series of photos from the trek is up on the Desert Explorer Picasa page. For more on our desert adventures, desert backpacking, floating and general information, visit the Desert Explorer website.

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.


A Quick Post From Moab

23 May 2011

I am in Moab today, heading in the direction of home. I’ve spent nearly the last two weeks in the Escalante, down Moody Canyon to the Escalante River and points south and west of there. The backpack, although windy, cold, and rainy at times, was a complete success. I ended up walking a comfortable 100 miles in 8 days time. I will outline the details in a series of posts once I get back home in a few days. There is a lot to cover and it will take two or three posts to do it. Besides discussing the walk itself, I plan to review a few new pieces of equipment including the Golite Trinity Malpais jacket, OTB Desert Boots, and Rokit Fuel endurance foods that I tried out, and discuss some issues I had in the area once again (involving Leave No Trace policies).

A few quick points of note from Moab this afternoon:

  • On the way through Hanksville yesterday the Dirty Devil River from the bridge looked about as high as I have seen it. Lots of water flowing in Southern Utah right now. I am thinking about getting home as fast as I can and arranging a float trip right away.
  • While driving through Green River this morning I saw that the Green is very high as well, extremely high in fact. There are sand bags piled at the river’s edge at the hotel across from the J.W. Powell River History Museum. I drove down to Crystal Geyser and the water there is up to the geyser’s lower ledges of mineral deposits. Time to float the Green if you can get away to do it!
  • Here in Moab the new recreation center is open. I stopped in this morning and had a look. If it weren’t overcast, rainy, and breezy I would consider going for a swim. The place is truly a gem. Stop in and take a look next time you are in town.
  • Finally, Horsethief Road down to Mineral Bottom is open. Apparently it has been open since late March. Talk is that the drive down is much nicer than it used to be. Now the bad news- the river is currently so high that you might not be able to drive over to Mineral Bottom. I am told the water is up to and covering the road in places. Be sure to check in with the Park Service before finalising any upcoming trips.

That is it from Moab this afternoon. I am off to look at some rock art now. Check back in the next week or so for the first of my post-Escalante Trek posts.

Until then visit the Desert Explorer website for more information on the region.


Summer Plans- The Escalante and the Dirty Devil

20 February 2011

It has been quite some time since I have posted, and again I apologise for this. It has been a busy winter, which is a good thing- a busy winter means a good, long summer in the desert.

My last post, and updates, dealt with the shooting of the ranger in Moab. He has been at home for some time now and is recovering from his ordeal. The suspect in the shooting has still not been located. He is undoubtedly in a crack or under a rock somewhere along the Colorado River south of Moab. His bones will be found some day, and the mystery of his disappearance will be solved.

The Dirty Devil River
I have recently been in communication with various river runners who are preparing to float the Dirty Devil River. Jason and crew look like they will be the first to float of the bunch of us, and they may be setting a new standard for the river by floating in a cataraft, although the final decision is still up in the air. As Frank puts it, “Whats the worst that could happen? Abandoning the boat and barely making it out alive?”  It’s going to be an adventure no matter what. They will be putting in at the very end of February, taking advantage of high water, so they should be fine. Next will be Seymour and crew, putting in at the end of March. Next would be Frank and the Kokopelli crew who may run it again, and Nicolai and I plan to float it in June.

View down river just below put in- low water, sand bars, and mud.

The river can be a tough one, with the channel tight and deep at one corner, then playing out into a wide mudflat a few inches deep 100 meters later. The mudflat scenario requires getting out and dragging your craft through. This sums up my experience during my first few days on the river when I did it in 2008- jump in and float a bit, get out and drag a bit. Repeat for six hours or so. But the rewards far outweigh the… great workout you’ll get along the way. The river is quiet, isolated, full of wildlife and incredible scenery.

Nicolai and I will float it later in the summer, during the dragging season. Robert may join us on, but his plans are not finalised. We are choosing to do it then simply because we prefer the hot, long days over the shorter, potentially much colder late winter days. I know I’ll be dragging, and Nicolai will be walking, but it will be an adventure he will never forget- the most important part. For more on the Dirty Devil visit our website pages and see the main blog post about it for all the comments by those who’ve floated it.

The Escalante Trek- Part Two
Two summers back Robert and I did a long walk down the Escalante River-literally down the river- from the bridge on Highway 12 to 25 Mile Wash and out. It amounted to about 50 miles of walking. This summer I will revisit the area to “finish up” the river walk. I plan to use the Moody Canyon trailhead as an entrance, walk to the river, up river to connect with the previous end point at 25 Mile Wash, then down river to Coyote Gulch. From there I’ll head up Coyote, back across the mesa and into Scorpion Gulch, ultimately heading back out East Moody. That is the plan. I still have a bit of research to do regarding access at the head of Scorpion Gulch, and using East Moody as an exit. I will be traveling as light as possible and won’t be carrying any canyoneering equipment, so finding a way in off the mesa is a necessity. I will have about two full weeks to accomplish the trek, which should be no problem. It looks as though it will be a solo this time. I’ll post more on the planning as it comes together, and of course a trip report afterward.

Tracking
I haven’t written much about tracking lately, but it is always on my mind. Every fresh snowfall affords easy tracking lessons, and every time we get fresh snow we make it a point to seek out some track or other- across the front yard, down the alley, or out in a field- and try to sort it out. Reading fresh tracks in fresh snow and really figuring them out helps create a solid base of knowledge for the future when tracks are not so clear and not so easy to read.

House cat tracks in fresh snow.

Speaking of reading, I am revisiting a tracking book that I have had on my shelf for a while now. Tactical Tracking Operations by David Scott-Donelan presents the author’s experience as a military tracker with most of the examples coming from the Rhodesian bush wars. This is a book about tracking human quarry, but is a worthwhile and interesting read for anyone  who tracks. While the book is probably not something you would read word for word to a six year old, there are plenty of tracking stories in it that my six year old enjoys hearing. It is a good compliment to the best tracking book out there, Bob Carrs’ The SAS Guide to Tracking, and Tom Brown’s field guides, the books I started with. All these books are available at Amazon.com


More Details From the Escalante Trek- Trash, Fish, Food, and Lizards

27 August 2009

It is often hard to cover the many details of a trip in the short amount of time I have to write blog posts.  Usually, as soon as I publish a post, I remember three other items I wanted to cover.  And then I do follow-up research after the fact and want to post that information. With that said, this post is a follow-up to last week’s post on our recent Escalante Trek.

Update- Trash on the Escalante
Since the last post I have spoken with a ranger responsible for the Glen Canyon section of the Escalante River.  I informed him of the trash and fire pits we had found along the river.  I gave him the details on all the trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon and included my interpretation of the scene from the perspective of an anthropologist and a tracker: Upon arriving at the campsite, finding the trash and other debris, Robert and I did a thorough search of the area while cleaning up what we could (there was too much trash for us to carry out).  Based on the amount of debris- mainly trash and toilet paper- and other factors such as fire pits and a lean-to, we concluded that we were seeing a sort of squatters camp, occupied for perhaps as long as two weeks.  One of the first things that Robert and I discussed was the possibility that it might be related to an illegal marijuana growing operation. Two such operations have been found in recent months in southern Utah, along with many others around the western states.  When I spoke with the ranger this was his first comment as well.

The Escalante River on our second day out, still shallow and clean.

The Escalante River on our second day out, still shallow and clean.

Whatever the reason for such a mess in such a pristine location, the ranger is on it.  He plans to take another ranger, a full size backpack, and some trash bags and do a cleanup of the area.  Regarding the fires, it sounded like they are nothing out of the ordinary.  My impression is that he spends lots of time cleaning them up.  This is all very foreign to me- but I guess some people may not see the value in respecting Leave No Trace principles. In other places in southern Utah, Grand Gulch for example, in 10  summers of hiking there I have never seen a fire pit and never found more than a stray Clif Shot wrapper or a zipper pull that broke off.  The difference in the two locations is astounding. I am not sure why such a disparity exists, but it does.

Fish and Their Identification
I did not mention in the last post the number of fish that Robert and I encountered as we waded through the Escalante River.  It started out with a few here and there, and those were small, perhaps 6 inches in length. As we made our way down river, the number and size quickly increased.  We were seeing schools of fish, 20 or more at a time, some of which were reaching 12 and maybe 14 inches in length. We did our best to identify them using  field guides- we know they are suckers, but we haven’t been able to positively identify the species.  Our best guesses include the bluehead or flannelmouth sucker, both native fish, and the mountain sucker which is apparently not native to the drainage.  According to the Glen Canyon fish checklist the first two are found in the area, the third is not.  I am not sure of the exact geographical coverage of the checklist. It is from the Glen Canyon website, and should therefore include at least the lower Escalante drainage. The ranger mentioned above said he would try to pass my number on to the fish expert in his office, and I hope for a call back from him to confirm the identification of the fish. We also saw many, many small minnow-like fish, both in the main drainage and up side canyons.  I will ask him about those as well.

Robert crossing a beaver dam up 25 Mile Wash.  Note how thick the brush is- it's like this through most of the 7 miles till you climb out on the slickrock.

Robert crossing a beaver dam up 25 Mile Wash. Note how thick the brush is- it's like this through most of the 7 miles from the river till you climb out on the slickrock just below the Early Weed Bench trailhead.

Backpack Meals and Food Ideas
In the last post I mentioned that Robert and I carried our usual Desert Explorer homemade backpack meals.  Many of them are based on my own creations, some are from Teresa Marrone’s book The Back-Country Kitchen. The meals are filling, taste great, and offer enough variety that you look forward to eating them.  One lesson we did learn is that the meals are definitely too large for lunches.  Typically we do not stop and eat hot lunches, we just snack along the way and keep moving.  On this trip we decided to do it differently.  We planned enough time to allow long lunch stops where we ate well and had a mid-day cup of tea. Robert began by splitting his large dinner meals in half and adding a small side dish if he was really hungry, concluding that they were just too big for lunch. It was easy enough to separate the big meals into two bags; it is not necessary to cut the recipes in half when you are making the meals up.

As for side dishes, we usually include things like instant mashed potatoes, one of the Fantastic Foods soups, or maybe a bag of couscous.  Robert added to these sides by bringing a box of Stove Top Stuffing to the trailhead and pouring it into small Ziplock bags.  Disregarding its questionable nutritional value, it was a welcome addition, adding more variety to the menu.  I will be including it on my trips from now on. This is just one example of the possibilities right off the grocery store shelf. Take a walk down the isles- there are plenty of instant products, requiring only water, that will keep you fed on the trail.

Another deviation from our normal routine was to cook a Ziplock bag lunch meal at breakfast.  After re-hydrating in the bag, wee placed the meal inside of our titanium cups where it was safely stored away until lunch.  This helped us avoid breaking out stoves and unpacking too much gear on our lunch breaks. This is another procedure we will likely continue to use, especially on days when we are planning a long movement. For more on our techniques, and some of our recipes, visit our Backpacking Foods pages.

Lizards

Another desert spiny liard posing for the camera. They were everywhere along the way, and many were very curious about us.

Another desert spiny lizard posing for the camera. They were everywhere along the way, and many were very curious about us.

I have finally had time to add a few more photos and some more text to our page describing lizards of the region.  I added the northern plateau lizard, Sceloporus undulatus elongatus, also known as the eastern fence lizard.  There are a couple of photos of it, as well as a new one of a side-blotched.  Some species, including the northern plateau lizard, can be tough to identify when they are on the move. I have done my best on the web page with their identification from my photos.  If any herpetologists visiting the blog or website have any comments or pointers on identification, they would be appreciated. Visit our Desert Reptiles page and see what you think.

Other Updates

I have added more information to the Desert Links page– updates from Moab, and information on the towns of Escalante and Caineville, Utah, as well as Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado. Now that the summer is (nearly) over, I will be adding more to the web page regularly. Be sure to check back for new updates.


Trekking Down the Escalante River- a Bushwhacking Paradise

22 August 2009

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument provides some of the roughest, most remote wilderness opportunities in southern Utah.  It is a place where you can definitely lose yourself- and get lost if you are not careful- in the rugged terrain of the Escalante River corridor with its Navajo and Wingate sandstone walls, slot canyons, Fremont rock art, and windows into the unique history of the region.

Trailheads and Water
Robert and I spent a fairly leisurely 8 days walking along, and in, the Escalante River and some of its side canyons starting at the trailhead at the Highway 12 bridge and ending at the Early Weed Bench trailhead.  The trek from trailhead to trailhead is just about 50 miles, not including any side trips, which are unlimited in number. We began by dropping the Land Cruiser at the Early Weed Bench trailhead. The road to the trailhead demands a solid high clearance vehicle, as do many of the trailhead roads.  From there it is about a two hour drive to the Escalante River Highway 12 bridge trailhead, not including a stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse.

View downriver from the mouth of Choprock Canyon before storm. River flow is about .2 CFS.

View downriver from the mouth of Choprock Canyon before storm. River flow is about .2 CFS.

Same view as above the next morning, at about 130 CFS.  River had risen nearly 2 feet.

Same view as above the next morning, at about 130 CFS. River had risen nearly 2 feet.

The river at the bridge was calm and the water was clear and clean when we began.  For the most part, until a storm clouded the water with silt on day 5, we just scooped water out of the river and treated it with the MIOX.  After day 5, when the river rose from .2 CFS to 130 CFS and became a silty and potentially dangerous mess, we had to take other steps to get water. Fresh water is available in many of the side canyons, and is more abundant on river right, in the canyons to the southwest.

Bushwhacking
To say that there is bushwhacking along the river corridor is an understatement. There is some relatively easy walking on cattle trails higher up river. Many trails were fresh, and we were grateful for our bushwhacking, route-finding bovine friends. Game trails can be followed along most of the river. But be prepared to squeeze,  break, chop, push, and crawl through tangled masses of willow, tamarisk, Russian olive, sagebrush, and cottonwoods.  Also, be on the lookout for poison ivy- it is here and there along the way. There will be many river crossings, some in deep water- your pack should be waterproofed.  Be prepared for deep, sucking mud and quicksand further down river.  In the end you will be scratched, scraped, muddy, and your gear, clothes, body, and mind will have been tested.  All in all, it’s a great walk!

Prehistory and History
There were at least 10 rock art panels along our walk.  Much of the rock art was Fremont era, but some of the elements appeared to be older.  I am in the process of looking over photos and identifying some of the elements and will write another blog post specifically on the rock art soon.

Five figures from a very large panel. Center figure is about 20 cm overall.

Five figures from a very large panel. Center figure is about 20 cm overall.

Some of the rock art panels are identified on the maps that you can review at the Escalante Interagency Visitor’s Center in the town of Escalante, where you can get the latest road and weather conditions and a permit.  In many of the canyons you will also see historical inscriptions dating from the late 1800’s through the 1950’s and 1960’s.  There are a number of cowboy camps with a foundation or two, corrals, fences, and historic trash piles. If you look carefully you might find evidence of occupation, or even a ruin or two, under an alcove.

Camps, Trash, and Animals
Dry, sandbar campsites are abundant along the route, making for comfortable sleeping and helping with Leave No Trace policies.  Regarding Leave No Trace policies, the middle section of this trek, around Fence Canyon to Neon Canyon, was some of the filthiest wilderness I have ever seen.

Pile of trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon. I always pick up bits of trash here and there to carry out, but this was too much.

Pile of trash at the mouth of Fence Canyon. I always pick up bits of trash here and there to carry out, but this was too much.

We encountered literal piles of trash there- shoes, shorts, pants, socks, endless ramen bowls and bags, wrappers of all types, toilet paper and even human waste on the ground surface! Additionally we counted  at least 20 fire pits along the way, most of them along this same section. Many of these fires had partially burned trash in them, especially those around Fence Canyon.  Most were made right on the ground surface with just a bit of sand or a few rocks thrown over them.  Many were probably made by the same person, someone using fire as a means to heat water, as they were not large, warming fires.  Fires are not permitted in the canyons by the way. I have since contacted the Glen Canyon subagency, which administers the lower part of the Escalante, and reported the mess.  The ranger’s first remark was about a possible illegal growing operation in the area.

A curious desert spiny lizard checking out my gear.

A curious desert spiny lizard checking out my gear and my camera.

We slept in bug shelters most nights, and right on the ground a few nights. A few mosquitoes did come out for an hour or so around dusk, but for the most part mosquitoes and other bugs really weren’t a problem. Animal tracks were everywhere along the trek- turkey, coyote, deer, raccoon, and beaver were most common.  Turkey were everywhere- we saw them 5 of the 8 days and in the end found that they had a pretty good idea of the paths, and so followed them along the easiest routes.  We also found ringtail, fox, and elk track and scat. River otter have been reintroduced in the river, but we did not see them nor any sign that they were around.  Apparently they are nomadic, and could have been anywhere along the river. We had visits every day from whiptail, desert spiny, side blotched, and eastern fence lizards.  We also saw a number of toads- Woodhouse’s most definitely and red-spotted as far as I could tell. We saw one Utah black-headed snake and no rattlesnakes at all.

Fresh, perfect turkey track along the river.

Fresh, perfect turkey track in the fresh, silty-sand along the river.

Gear and Food
We carried the usual ultralight backpacking gear- see the Desert Explorer Ultralight pages for more information on what we pack. We tested some new gear on this trek including the new, improved Sealline HP map case, a small Drypak cell phone case, Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Packliners and Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks, and Merrell Waterpro Maipo water shoes.  The Sealline, Drypak, and Sea to Summit waterproofing equipment all performed flawlessly- they were all tested with submersion numerous times and maps, cameras, and all gear were perfectly dry.  The Merrells on the other hand fell apart after just a few days of walking.  If you buy them, they should not travel much further than your local park unless you bring backups.  Full reviews of this gear will be in an upcoming post.

Delicious dinner in a bag.

Delicious dinner in a bag.

For food we both carried our homemade, dehydrated backpack meals, many of which can be rehydrated in Ziplock bags.  Although they get a little heavy when you get 10 days or more of them in your pack, they are hearty, tasty meals and will definitely keep you moving.  For more on making you own meals see our Backpacking Foods pages at the Desert Explorer website.

Detail from the trailhead sign.

Detail from the trailhead sign.

This trek is definitely not for everyone.  From the looks of things not many people do it.  We encountered tracks close to the highway bridge, from Fence Canyon to Neon Canyon and Ringtail Canyon- popular technical canyoneering locations, and no where else.  If you go, you may find yourself alone for miles and miles, and you will have an experience you won’t soon forget. But be prepared- you could die out there.

For more information about desert backpacking see the Desert Explorer website.  For more information on the town of Escalante, see our Desert Links page. See our Escalante Pages for information on more treks in the area.


Planning and Preparation, Homemade Gear Designs, Guidebooks

7 February 2009

Planning and preparation- this summarises my winter quite well.  I spend a lot of my free time planning my summer trips, planning the locations, dates, distances, and meals for my explorations.  This winter is certainly no different.  I am currently trying to decide on a date for the Escalante trip, as well as conducting a thorough map reconnaissance of the trek.  I have a limited number of two-week windows to choose from.  And I need to choose a time when the water levels have gone down.  At this point I will likely go in July, after the spring runoff is well past and before the late summer rains come. This will make for a nice hot walk in the desert, not the preferred time for many people, but just the way I like it. The current river flow information for the Escalante River can be found at the USGS website.

Homemade Gear

I have been working on my homemade gear designs- I have been designing and re-designing my mosquito shelter, trying to perfect it to be ready for the summer.  The model I created for last summer served its purpose, especially in terms of weight, at about 4 ounces, but the design needed further attention.  The setup was flawed and the net drooped and was not secure in the wind.  My ultimate goal is to create a shelter that is lightweight- 10 to 12 ounces, small in size- about the size of my silcoth poncho, that provides good protection from mosquitoes, is easy to set up, and provides a “footprint” or groundcloth all in one.  My latest design incorporates a silcloth floor measuring about 6 1/2 feet long and tapering from the top at 3 1/2 feet wide to 3 feet wide at the bottom.  This allows me to leave my piece of Tyvek that I use as a groundcloth behind. The mosquito netting does not run the full length of the silcloth floor; the shelter is not a full tent.  The lower end of the netting extends to just below my knees and includes a small diameter shock cord with a cord lock that wraps around my sleeping bag.  The primary drawback to this design is in ventilation.  If the bugs are bad I am forced to keep my feet and lower legs inside my bag for protection, not optimal if the temperature drops to only 80 degrees at night. I will see how this one does as soon as I have the chance. If the design proves itself, I will scan a sketch of it with dimensions and post it on the Desert Explorer website.

Desert Explorer sunshade in use on the San Juan River.

Desert Explorer sunshade in use on the San Juan River.

I added a description to the Desert Explorer website of the sunshade for our Aire inflatable kayaks I created last summer.  This design worked very well. The only problem we encountered was when the wind came up.  The shade is not strong enough for use in the wind.  But it was the perfect shade for a flat, calm river such as the San Juan or the Green.  The shade was also useful on land for shade, and very simple to set up. Read more about it at the Desert Explorer Homemade Gear page.

Guidebooks and How I Use Them

I have been reviewing information about the Escalante River and its side canyons online, from my files, and in the guidebooks I have for the area.  As always, Kelsey’s Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau is indispensable.  All of Kelsey’s guides are written in his unique style- the font size is small allowing each page to be packed with information, each hike description is limited to one page and laid out in the same format, and he includes a hand-drawn map and geologic column opposite the description page.  His manner is straight to the point, clear, concise, and thorough.  There is no searching, no wading through pages of text to find the name of a mapsheet or to see if water might be available in a certain canyon.  I always start my research for any trek by consulting one of his guides.  He has guides covering The Paria River, Lake Powell, the San Rafael Swell, and a river guide to Canyonlands National Park just to name a few.

For this trek I am also consulting Steve Allen’s Canyoneering 2.  Allen’s style is very different from Kelsey.  His guides give an hour by hour breakdown of hikes.  Most of them are arranged in a longer, loop format of five to seven days or longer.  They are easily amended however and you could add days to each hike, or use his guides simply for in-and-out dayhikes or overnights, or combine parts of his hikes to create loops of your own.  His instructions for entrances and exits into canyons are very clear.  His guides include instructions for technical climbs on all hikes, along with recommended equipment such as slings, rope lengths and belay points.

Besides these two guidebooks I am also consulting the Rivermaps Escalante River, Utah guide (scroll to the bottom of the page for the Escalante guide if you follow the link).  Rivermaps guides are waterproof, spiral bound guides that have all the maps facing the proper direction- you start at the bottom of page one and float to the top.  Turn the page, and float from the bottom to the top of page two, and so on.  Opposite each map page are mile by mile notes on history, prehistory, geology, hikes, overlooks, and so on for the entire float.  It is a great design for a river guide.

In the end, before I head into the bush, I will photocopy a page or two of Kelsey (decreasing the size, and making two-sided copies), and write down any necessary information from Allen.  If I make copies, they are of hikes that I will do in their entirety, in this case overnights up side canyons.  Otherwise I usually make a few notes here and there on some of the mapsheets regarding locations of springs, entrances and exits, and known ruins and rock art panels and that is all.  In this way, there is no need to ever carry an entire guide book on the trail.

More information on ultralight backpacking in the desert is on the Desert Explorer Ultralight pages.  You can find more of my recommended guide books as well as other titles on the Desert Explorer Book Store page.


Escalante and Kokopelli Planning- Maps, Food and Noise and Sight Pollution

11 January 2009

Meals
As my planning for the coming summer gets underway, I have been busy with making  the meals I will need for my longer trips- the Escalante trek and the Kokopelli ride, as well as for the Green River float.  I am sticking with many of my standard single-bag meals that require some cooking such as chili mac, rice and beans, campagnola, and ramen in various forms- see the Desert Explorer website for more on homemade single-bag meals.  But considering the length of time  I will be out, especially on the Escalante, and the fact that I will be physically carrying much of the food, I am trying hard to control the weight.  At the same time I am trying to make the menu more diverse while keeping the nutritional value high.  One addition I am considering to my food bag is Justin’s Nut Butters. They are sold in boxes of 10 packets, either peanut butter or almond butter.  The packets are just over one ounce each.  While they won’t take the place of a quart of peanut butter and a spoon, they will add variety to the menu, as well as a little but of protein.

Maps
Normally I purchase my maps locally.  But the cost adds up quickly, especially when I am buying 10 or 12 maps at a time.  I recently set up an account on the USGS website where 1:24,000 topo maps are six dollars each.  Of course there is a shipping charge, just five dollars, but in the long run it saves time and money ordering them online.  I have the last of the maps that I will need to cover the Escalante trek sitting in my shopping basket.  Once I receive these 9 maps, I will have all I need for the trip, 16 maps in all!

UPDATE: As of 01 March 2009 1:24,000 maps are now 8 dollars each, 1:100,000 maps are 9 dollars each.  All other maps have gone up in price about 2 dollars each as well.

Escalante river

A view of the Escalante river near The Gulch with a wall on one side and thick brush on the other. This makes walking down the river channel the preferred route.

Sixteen maps adds a bit of weight and bulk to the pack.  As a way of cutting at least a couple ounces of that weight, I trim all the mapsheets down.  I cut the north and east sides off all my maps right along the map’s edge.  The west side is trimmed  about 1/8 inch off the map’s edge, so that I can read the coordinates along the side.  I trim the south side off according to the year of the map- different maps have different, often unnecessary marginal information, along the bottom edge.  While this may seem a bit overboard, trimming 16 maps leaves a considerable amount of scrap paper, paper that I am not carrying on my back for two weeks.

Noise and Sight Pollution
I was browsing through information on the Escalante a few days back and happened across a PDF titled Canyons of the Escalante.  It covers all the more common topics- permits, fires, popular hikes and so on.  But on page six, under Minimum-Impact Camping, I was surprised to read the following:

“CAMPING GEAR: Brightly-colored packs and tents shrink the wilderness by being so noticeable. Use drab-colored gear and camp where your tent will not be easily seen.

NOISE: Loud noises, yelling and radio music disturb others who may be enjoying the quiet solitude of the canyons. Please observe quiet hours after dark.”

I will do my best not to rant, but Finally! This topic has been at the top of my list as long as I can remember, probably 30 years at this point. It become further emphasized for me during my time in the military, where noise and light discipline are stressed, not to mention the importance of subdued colors.  At this point nothing bothers me more than bright yellow jackets, red packs, and deafening voices when I am quietly, stealthily sneaking my way down a canyon. But now my complaints about so many of the folks I run into in the wilderness have been listened to. All those comments I have left in so many ammo cans and at so many trailhead registers have finally paid off! The National Park Service has listened.  Although, quiet hours should be observed 24 hours a day when you are in the canyons, but we will work towards that.

On the topic of bright colors, I  recently looked into a jacket made by Merrell called  The Gatherer.  It is essentially a two-layer shell with zippers throughout the whole jacket allowing it to be stuffed with leaves, juniper bark, newspapers or the like- just imagine a down jacket without the down.  Unfortunately, the jacket comes in white only, with bright orange zippers.  I emailed Merrell to ask about the possibility of other colors, and received a terse reply that this is the only color.  I also asked about the weight of the jacket, as I could overlook the color if the weight was low enough- I was assuming it would be around a pound.  The weight was curiously missing from their website and the few reviews that I read about the jacket.  The reason is because it weighs nearly three pounds, thus not qualifying for a place in my ultralight pack.

Dewey Bridge Page Updated
I recently tracked down a photograph of Dewey Bridge from the 1980’s, when it was still the means for crossing the Colorado River along Highway 128.  I have added this and a more recent photo of the bridge to the Dewey Bridge page on the Desert Explorer website.