2014- A New Year of Adventures Lies Ahead

28 January 2014

The new year is upon is and it is time to start planning our desert adventures for the year.  Our first trip is less than two months away- Nicolai and I will make our usual spring break trip in mid-March. Writing about it makes is seem closer, like it’s just around the corner. And my philosophy is that it’s never too early to begin planning and preparing.  It also makes me feel closer to the desert, and not just closer to the next trip- pulling out my packs and checking them over, finding something left in the bottom of one; a pair of gloves, a fuel bottle, a bunch of sand, and some dried willow leaves- this puts me back in the canyons. It places me where I belong, living my purpose in life. All else is just incidental, tasks and goals that lead to my purpose.

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

Bighorn sheep along the San Juan River.

Now, with the deep philosophical thoughts out of the way, on to the plans. This year we are planning more backpacking. Nicolai is now tall enough and strong enough to carry a larger, heavier pack (heavier, but not heavy). He can carry more of his own equipment, clothing, and food. This will make it easier on me and allows us to stay out longer. Of course he has his own set of the lightest gear we can find- a Golite quilt, an extra-small Therm-a-Rest Prolite pad, titanium cup, and so on. This all helps.

We have also added to our backpacking food supplies with dehydrated and freeze dried foods from Costco and a couple of other places, making our food a little lighter as well. Costco.com has a pretty extensive selection of long-term storage foods, some of which are backpacking ready. Be sure to note before you buy them if the meals are individually packaged, or bulk packaged. You may have to measure and repack them into smaller portions. A couple of other online vendors are Augason Farms and My Patriot Supply. Much of what you will find is dehydrated, and again, often in bulk. There are plenty of options out there besides these few. Just do a little searching.

beartrack

An old bear track in Jones Canyon. It is found in dry mud, but still must have been a big one for the area.

Most of the meals we currently use are things we mix up ourselves using ingredients we dehydrate and those we purchase at our local natural foods store. The majority of our recipes are largely based on those in The Back-Country Kitchen by Teresa Marrone. But we have amended many of the meals in her book, and created more of our own. You can read more about our meals and see some recipes on our Backpack Foods pages at the Desert Explorer website. They are definitely cheaper, but not necessarily lighter than packaged, freeze-dried backpacking meals. The Costco additions bring the weight down some. The only possible drawback might be the Costco-sized packages, buckets in many case, that you have to buy. Be sure to consider the shelf-life of the foods, and if you will be able to use it all within a reasonable amount of time. If you take one trip a year, the meals might last you a long time, or even go bad before you use them, depending on how you repackage them. But for us, backpacking, hiking, and floating throughout the year, they will be used up.

Another focus for the new year is tracking. Really it is just a continuation of what we are already doing. Lots of reading, studying, research, and whenever we are in the bush, finding tracks and following them. That is the extent of our “training” so far. I have never taken any sort of tracking class, but this year I am planning to do so. Joel Hardin offers classes around the west, and one is offered near us later in the year. I think it’s time to learn from a professional. In the meantime, we will continue with our practices which have taught us well so far.

Next on the blog list- gear reviews. We have yet another outdoor gear retailer with their headquarters now in Boulder. Fjallraven, the Swedish gear maker, has also opened a retail store very near us. We have recently purchased a Primus 2-burner propane stove and I have tried out a pair of their trekking pants. Reviews to follow. Until then for more on our adventures, tracking, and kids in the wilderness look over some of our older blogs, or visit the Desert Explorer website.

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

19 February 2012

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

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

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

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

    Coyote tracks in mud along the Escalante River

 

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

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

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

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


Photos Posted, Planning, and Dirty Devil Updates

6 May 2010

We have posted a selection of photos from our recent trip to Utah. These are posted on Picasa.  We have tried Flickr and Picasa recently, and Picasa seems to be the better of the two. Most of the photos are just snapshots, but capture the feel of the desert. We usually carry only a small digital point and shoot, an older Sony Cybershot. The camera is small, fits in my pocket, and weighs little. For what it is, it takes great photos and has held up very well through river floats, sand and rain storms, countless miles in canyon bottoms, being beaten on canyon walls while climbing, and more drenchings than it should have survived. The latest version must be up to around 10 or 12 megapixels. I am sure it can be found at Amazon.com or at B and H Photo.

We are currently in the process of doing truck maintenance and planning and packing for our next trip.  We will leave the first of June for some exploration of the area north of Arches National Park- we have heard there are dinosaur bones and tracks visible in that area. From there we are planning 4 or 5 days of backpacking in Grand Gulch, then we’ll head south to Kayenta for mutton stew and Navajo National Monument to see ruins there.

For those floating the Dirty Devil, many people have been posting on our original Dirty Devil trip report blog post.  There is information there from recent floats for those planning on floating soon. Every time I get a comment I start thinking about floating it again. You may see a planning post for it here soon, with some luck. The river is flowing at about 30 CFS this morning for those interested.

For more on visiting southeast Utah, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Leaving For the Desert Tomorrow

16 March 2010

Nicolai and I are ready to go.  Today was a very warm day here in Colorado and we are hoping for many more on the other side of the mountains in the next couple of weeks. We are heading towards Hanksville in the morning.

We finally bought a SPOT GPS Messenger today and are planning to give it a try on this trip.  They are on the market again after many months and you can now register them online. As I have written a few times, the SPOT is not a replacement for a PLB, but it could be fun for what it is.  We’ll try it out and report on it once we return. I think you can follow our travels by clicking here.

Nicolai decided that before we left, and it had to be the night before we left, that we had to perform a “safe travel” ritual.  He had been putting together all the tools he needed to perform it, and my part was to get him some corn meal from the freezer and build a fire.  We used sagebrush, a redtail hawk feather, and his hafted obsidian knife as well.  I think our travels will be safe.

Nicolai ready to make our travels safe.

Nicolai's hafted obsidian knife.


Planning For the Next Utah Trip- Hiking, Hafting, and Hunting

23 January 2010

Normally this time of year finds me working away  at reviewing the past season, posting blogs, photos, info, and adding new web pages to the Desert Explorer website. The cold of the winter usually keeps me indoors, and thus affords the time for writing and planning for the coming summer. But this winter proves to be quite busy- with the holidays, new business ventures, and a notebook full of things to do, my time has been taken up elsewhere. My apologies to those looking for new info from Desert Explorer.

The Next Trip
Nicolai and I had planned to take a trip to Utah before Christmas, focusing on Horseshoe Canyon and a few other points of interest around Hanksville. But the cold put us off. My five-year old is quite tough, but the constant low temperatures and snow forecast for the area made both of us think twice about 8 or 10 days out in the bush at this time of year. At this point we have re-scheduled our trip for mid-March, once the temperatures start to rise and the days are longer.  We are both really looking forward to the trip as we always are; Nicolai now brings up ‘going to Utah’ as much as I do.

As for our itinerary, we  are planning a couple of hikes in Horseshoe Canyon, with an overnight up a side canyon (camping is not allowed in the Horseshoe Canyon unit of Canyonlands). We are also planning a recon of trailheads and entrances into a couple of canyons in the San Rafael Swell and a look at the river for a future float, some hiking in Robbers Roost Canyon,  a day or two of canyoneering in North Wash, and some time looking at the geology of the region.

The area around Hanksville has some very interesting geologic features. First there is the Factory Butte area with its mesas of Mancos shale capped with sandstone.  Near Factory Butte, on the road to Hanksville, you can see fossilised oysters in the exposed Mancos shale and Dakota sandstone. There is Goblin Valley to the north- Entrada sandstone eroded into animal, human, and various other sculpted forms.  There are the igneous lacoliths that make up the Henry Mountains. And there is the Dirty Devil River canyon and its tributaries, starting in the Entrada formation and emerging at Hite in the Moenkopi formation. If you are interested in the geology of the region, one of our favorite books  is Halka Chronic’s Roadside Geology of Utah.

Rabbit Hunting and Primitive Weapons
Nicolai is very excited about the prospect of hunting rabbits on this trip. He has been practicing his tracking and stalking techniques on the countless squirrels, and the few cottontails, that inhabit our neighborhood. He has been talking about shooting a rabbit and eating it for months now. He plans to eat all the meat, the marrow (which he already does with chicken bones), keep some of the bones for tools, and keep the hide to make a bag for his tools. I am not averse to killing and eating a rabbit, although I can honestly say I haven’t done it in many years. I am not sure if we will use our primitive weapons for the task (I am not even sure it is allowed in Utah). Most likely we’ll take a long a rifle. Either way I think it is an important task for him, something I remember doing when I was his age. It will help further his understanding of the power of a rifle and its uses, the concept that we use all we can of an animal if we kill it, and even death itself and our responsibility  for the life of an animal. I think these are all concepts that are overlooked by most people, and are too far from the lives of most children these days where meat comes from the supermarket.

We have finally finished hafting an obsidian blade on a handle and a point on an arrow shaft.  I collected chunks of hardened pine pitch recently on a couple of mountain runs, and we melted it down in a can in our fire pit. We then painted the sinew holding the point and blade with the liquid pitch and dusted it with clean, dry, white ash from the fire. The white ash causes a  reaction when it contacts the warm pitch and creates an epoxy-like bond. Whether or not we use the tools on our trip, Nicolai now has them in his tool kit.

For more information on primitive weapons and skills, Utah trip guides, and desert hiking and backpacking, visit the Desert Explorer website.