Trip Report- Spring Break 2013 in Southeast Utah

15 April 2013

We have just returned from another exciting Spring break trip to southeast Utah. We made the usual rounds, from Cisco down to Bluff and Mexican Hat, across Cedar Mesa, back up through Hanksville to Price, and on to Green River and Moab for a day. The weather was varied as it always is this time of year- from freezing cold and strong winds, to sunny, warm, summer-like days. You just never know what you’ll get in Spring in southeast Utah and it is important to be prepared for everything from sitting out snowstorms in the tent for a few days, to having plenty of sunblock and your shorts and river sandals on hand.

Comb Ridge
One of the highlights of our trip included five days of camping near the San Juan River outside Bluff, and hiking there and in Comb Ridge. We also hiked along the river, including a look at the panels around Sand Island, and up some small side canyons right from camp. But most of our time was spent in the middle part of Comb Ridge.  We managed to see five of the canyons there with ruins and rock art around every corner. We did our best to hike up one canyon then down another, but as anyone who has been along Comb Ridge knows, there are plenty of pour offs to send you back the way you came or at least send you looking for another route.  The good thing about Comb Ridge is that the canyons are all short, and backtracking is never a big deal. Comb Ridge was a busy place, with lots of hikers and people camping at nearly every site along Butler Wash. Keep this in mind if you plan a visit over Spring break.

A kiva in one of the Comb Ridge canyons. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A kiva in one of the Comb Ridge canyons.

Tracking Practice
We did take advantage of having to backtrack from a couple of the canyons, using it as a chance to work on our tracking skills and to see a different part of the lives of the ancient inhabitants along the canyon mouths- including ancient campsites, lithic scatters, and storage cysts. Some of the approaches were long for us (we didn’t drive to a different “trailhead” for each canyon, but worked our way along the ridge from one). The walks back along these routes allowed us to find our tracks coming in, examine them for changes based on the weather and other hikers, and follow them back to our start point.  Again, being Spring break, there were plenty of other hikers out- because of this we were forced to use the lost track drill a number of times, casting about for our tracks among others, and doing the same out on the flat where we made it a point to use anti-tracking measures on our way in. By anti-tracking, or counter-tracking, I mean simply trying to walk as carefully as possible so as to hide our tracks- walking close to brush in shadows, through heavy, well-traveled brush, and across slickrock patches wherever we could.  In doing so we benefited going out and coming back.

A grooved stone we found on our approach to one of the canyons. Scale is in centimeters.

A grooved stone we found on our approach to one of the canyons. Grooves are on both sides, running parallel. Pictured side is the more pronounced. Scale is in centimeters.

The Dirty Devil River
After our stay in the Comb Ridge area we headed west and spent a night near Hite on the rim of the Dirty Devil River canyon.  The river was flowing at about 150 CFS then, but the mud chutes at the end of the river and directly flowing into the Colorado at this point were not promising for a float. It looked like a muddy mess ready to capture anyone who stepped into it.  The lake was so low that the Dirty Devil actually flowed into the Colorado River, and together they flowed off into the distance, a thin stream of a river in the middle of a vast horizon of mud.

Dirty Devil River as it flows toward the Colorado at Hite Crossing.  Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Dirty Devil River as it flows toward the Colorado at Hite Crossing. A murky thread of water through dried mud.

We stopped for a day in the Irish Canyons in North Wash, and then spent a night at Angel Point and had a walk down to the Dirty Devil River the next day. The river looked much more floatable from this point, really looking like it was flowing at 150 CFS and without a sandbar snag in sight. We recently had some comments and questions on putting in there. Aside from the walk down to the river- across slickrock, rocky with exposure in a few places, and bushy in others, the river looked good. The party mentioned was using 5 pound pack rafts- we are still waiting to hear the outcome.

Nine Mile Canyon
Next was a visit to Price and the College of Eastern Utah Museum. The museum houses a collection of artifacts from the surrounding region highlighting, among other things, the Fremont culture.  There is also an impressive paleontology collection. If you visit Price, or even find yourself driving through, the museum can be found right in the center of town and is worth the stop. From Price it is just a 15 minute drive south to Wellington and the turn off into Nine Mile Canyon.

A well known pictograph in Nine Mile Canyon. You may have seen this one in National Geographic- the damaged happened long ago before the state intervened on behalf of history.

A well known pictograph in Nine Mile Canyon. You may have seen this one featured in National Geographic.  The damage happened long ago before the state intervened on behalf of the preservation of pre-history here.

The name of the canyon is deceiving, being some 70 miles long in total.  The road through the canyon has been recently paved, and is in perfect shape. The is a short section mid-way that remains unpaved, but any vehicle can make it all the way up to the Big Buffalo and Great Hunt petroglyph panels, some of the highlights of the canyon. We turned around there and backtracked, but you can continue north from about mile 37 to Myton. In my opinion, the canyon has more than can be seen in a long day, especially if you plan to do any of the hikes-there are countless rock art site, ruins, and many points of historic interest.  Note that camping is not allowed anywhere in the canyon, other than at the Nine Mile Ranch private campground. So plan accordingly and start your trip into the canyon early, allowing at least a full day.

Great Hunt panel in Nine Mile Canyon. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

One of the more well-known panels in Nine Mile Canyon- called the Great Hunt panel.

Gear Reviews
I always try to highlight a piece of gear in each blog, and for this post I have chosen Rite in the Rain notebooks and Fisher Pens.  It is hard to imagine one without the other. Rite in the Rain notebooks come in many different sizes and page formats, but I tend to use one of the originals- the 3 by 5 inch, spiral top notebook.  It fits easily into any pocket and with its plastic cover, it is virtually indestructible. But the key feature that makes Rite in the Rain products so important to someone who spends a lot of time outdoors is that the pages are waterproof.  I have swam with my notebooks, used them in monsoon rains where I have been soaked through, taken notes during archaeological fieldwork sessions in dripping Central American jungles, and used them for years while in the military. I cannot say enough about the quality and functionality of their products. You can see the spiral bound notebooks and Fisher pens at TwoHandsPaperie.com.

Rite in the Rain notebooks- photo by Gerald Trainor.

Rite in the Rain spiral notebooks- a collection from over the years, including one of Nicolai’s. Archaeological fieldwork, river trips, bikepacking trips, and backpacks are all recorded here.

Fisher pens are the perfect companion writing instrument for the waterproof notebooks. Fisher pen refills are pressurized, and will write upside down, in any temperature you might normally encounter, and on wet Rite in the Rain notebook pages. The Stowaway Pen with a clip is the perfect pen for the 3 by 5 spiral top notebook- the pen slides right into the spiral and clips into place. This pen is also about the most lightweight pen imaginable. The only thing lighter might be just a pen refill by itself! The refills last an incredibly long time as well, and perform perfectly in the desert, mountains, or jungle.

Rite in the Rain spiral notebook with Fisher pen, Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Rite in the Rain 3 by 5 inch spiral notebook with Fisher Stowaway pen securely fastened in spiral binding.

For more on our desert adventures, tracking, and rock art, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Trip Report- The Dirty Devil in May- What a Drag

17 June 2012

I would be lying if I did not admit up front that I never really expected to be “floating” the Dirty Devil, in the river running sense. I knew that the water was low when we started and would be low throughout our trip. I also knew that most likely, and as it turned out, we would be walking and guiding our boat down the river. The truth is that we were out for an adventure. And we got one. There were nine days of movement, most of it down the Dirty Devil River canyon, enjoying the geology, animals, birds, stars, and solitude. In the end we ran out of water- there was not the slightest chance of getting the boat any further. There was barely enough water left at the ford to drag the empty boat up to the truck. The ford is where we changed our plans and went for a walk up Poison Spring canyon.

We started out with about 5 CFS, hit a high of about 11 CFS, both of which measurements were adequate to walk and guide. But when we hit the low- about .75 CFS- that was it. Lucky for us we were right at the ford when it dropped to near nothing. Because of the situation we were… almost in, I made Nico promise to run away screaming if I ever mention “floating” the Dirty Devil at anything less than 100 CFS again (although I feel it would be safe at 25 CFS or so, and I have floated it at a steady 10 CFS without much problem). Nevertheless, we had a great time. We saw red spotted and Woodhouse toads, carp, catfish, and other, smaller fish that I couldn’t identify. We saw Peregrines, a Virginia rail, and the usual vultures, flycatches, quail (a mother with 10 young), mockingbirds, and kildeer. We saw plenty of beaver sign, and found some fresh porcupine tracks early one morning. We also saw, surprisingly, three longnose leopard lizards along the way.

Porcupine tracks along the Dirty Devil. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Porcupine tracks along the Dirty Devil. The conditions were perfect for viewing and photographing the tracks. The texture of the foot pads, the claws, quills on the legs and feet, and the occasional tails marks were all clearly visible. At this sandbar camp we found endless fresh tracks when we woke up including deer, rabbit, coyote, and beaver.

Geology
The geology of the canyon was an adventure in itself. By the time we left the area, Nico was an expert at identifying the stratigraphy and well on his was to understanding the depositional environments and ages of each strata. On our way down the canyon, we went from seeing the Entrada formation off in the distance to walking out of the white Rim sandstone at the ford. On our way up Poison Spring canyon we went back through the strata in the opposite direction, spending the first part of the walk in the ancient swamps of the Moenkopi formation and much of our time seeing the big, fluted walls of the Wingate formation. We ended at the highway looking across at the Entrada goblins once again with the imposing Henry Mountains in the background.

Nicolai Trainor in Happy Canyon. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nicolai walking up Happy Canyon, one of the geologic wonders along the way.

The Way Out and Survival Skills
Another high point of our “float” was the abundance of carp. I had told Nico about them before the trip and he was looking for them all along the way. When we finally came across the first fish a few days into the trip, he was elated to discover a new method for catching them. He would run them up and down the water for a while, tiring them out, and finally running them into the shallows where he could just scoop them up with his hands. The method worked great for carp, but we did not get to try it on catfish as we saw only a few of them. They were much more elusive than the carp, and kept well in the shadows, not being as easily spooked as the carp.

Nicolai Trainor and carp. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nico caught this carp by hand, and had a great time doing it. He has since been discussing becoming the next host of “River Monsters”.

When it was finally time to admit there was no longer enough water, we left the boat and gear a few hundred meters up river from the ford in some willows and set out on foot. We started at about 6 a.m. with the intention of walking about half way up the canyon to one of our favorite campsites in some cottonwoods. We knew there was wood there for a fire, and there is (nearly) always running water nearby. Our original plan entailed making a coal bed to keep us warm. We only had a small day pack with food, water, rain gear, and a few survival items. For sleeping we had only a light bag liner and a poncho. The coal bed would keep us comfortable through the night. A coal bed, by the way, is nothing more than the coals a fire spread out and covered with sand or soil. The heat is trapped in the soil and radiates up throughout the night keeping you toasty warm.

We made it to our intended camp by mid-day and so took a break under some junipers up a side canyon. We ate lunch and had a nap while hiding out from the ever-increasing winds. By the time it started cooling in the afternoon my 7-year-old son suggested we just walk the other 8 miles to the highway. Never one to back down from a challenge to walk further, I accepted. We were within sight of the highway, about 16 miles from our start point, at about 8 p.m. The wind also helped my decision to keep going- there was no safe way to build the fire for the coal bed, so other plans would have to be made any way. As it ended up, we slept in a small, sandy depression surrounded by blackbrush for the night. First thing the next morning we were out on the highway, thumbs out, hitching our way back to Hite for our truck.

Longnose leopard lizard, Poison Spring canyon. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A female longnose leopard lizard we spotted in Poison Spring Canyon. It sat still and allowed me to take about 15 photos.

We are currently getting ready for a trip to Nevada in a few weeks, and preparing for the arrival of our new cataraft from Jack’s Plastic Welding. Our hope is to use the cat on the Green later in the season. I say it is our hope- the way things are going we are not at all sure the water levels will cooperate with us. For current river flows visit the USGS water data website. Another important planning site is the Utah Fire Data website. It will have all the current fire ban information, as well as data on current fires.

More photos from the trip have been uploaded to the Desert Explorer Picasa page. For more information on hiking, floating, and survival, and our adventures in the Utah desert, visit the Desert Explorer website.


Dirty Devil, Four Corners Fugitives, and Quicksand

25 May 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

6 May 2012

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

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

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

Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nico making his way up one of the Irish Canyons.

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

Chopper found in North Wash. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

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

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

Aztec ruin. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

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

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

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

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

Nico starting our nightly fire in the fire pan.

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

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


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.


Utah and Arizona- March 2011

21 April 2011

Nicolai and I left Colorado on 15 March and headed for our usual special camp just across the border in Utah. We expected- or at least hoped for- warm weather through the trip. We ended up with cool weather, some rain, some snow, and wind nearly every day. Knowing that this can happen in the early spring of the desert, we were prepared with plenty of winter clothing, our Sorrel boots, and goggles for the sand storms. And plenty of fire wood.

Poison Spring Canyon
We began our trip by spending 4 days down Poison Spring Canyon south of Hanksville. We tried our hand at gold panning, did some exploring up side canyons, drove down to the ford at the Dirty Devil, looked at some rock art, and made a tamarisk bow and willow arrows for Nicolai. Both of these materials worked well for his purposes. We rounded the arrow shafts the best we could and straightened them on the fire. Our next step will be to make a shaft straightener and get them really straight.

Nicolai trying out his tamarisk bow and willow arrow.

There was a lot of activity in the area while we were there. It seemed that quite a few groups were floating the river, or at least trying to, around that same time. As we understand it, some people opted out in the end, others pushed on, even while on the verge of hypothermia, and another group had to cache their equipment, hike out, and return to finish the float a couple of weeks later. We are looking forward to hearing more about everyone’s trips.

Shield figures fighting, Poison Spring canyon, petroglyph

Shield figures fighting, Poison Spring canyon.

A Drive Down to Arizona- Canyon de Chelly
After our time in the Hanksville area we headed south towards Arizona. We made our usual stops around Moki Dugway for a night, and in Mexican Hat at the San Juan Inn for breakfast. Next we visited Chinle and Canyon de Chelly. This is an amazing canyon, full of history and prehistory, being occupied for over 5000 years. The canyon was the final stronghold of the Diné people against forced relocation by Kit Carson and his troops in 1864. This was known as “the Long Walk” to the Diné, as they were marched to Fort Sumner in New Mexico over 300 miles away.

Monument Valley off in the distance, on the drive south to Chinle.

The canyon is worth a visit even for a quick look if you are traveling through the area. There are driving tours on both the north and south sides of the canyon with viewing overlooks into the canyon along the way. There is only one location where you an enter the canyon without a guide, and that is to see the White House ruin. You can visit other places in the canyon by hiking or driving, even backpack there, but a guide must accompany you on the trip. Guides can be found in Chinle, and complete information can be found at the Canyon de Chelly visitor’s center.

The Hubbell Trading Post
Our drive took us on towards Ganado and the Hubbell Trading Post, where we spent and afternoon, an inadequate amount of time for a place so rich in history. While nothing can make up for the Long Walk and forced relocation, John Lorenzo Hubbell did more to help the Diné than anyone in his day. He is largely responsible for making the Navajo weaver known to the world. He helped create the craft at least in a commercial sense through the design and marketing of the “Ganado Red” rug, the quintessential style of Navajo textile.

Hubbell was a friend to the Navajo and to the artist as well. His house is full of drawings, paintings, weavings, baskets, and collections of art bought by him and given to him by many a famous artist. You can tour the house, and will find it in exactly the state lived in by the Hubbell family- it was sold to the Park Service by the Hubbell family in the 1960’s as is. Some clothes were packed up, the door was locked- this is how you will find it. The trading post itself is still in operation. You can buy supplies there, as well as contemporary weavings, baskets and other works of art. I have to mention that Teddy Roosevelt visited the place, and we saw the room and very bed where he slept- Nicolai was fascinated by this, as he is a big fan of Roosevelt.

Window Rock and the Navajo Nation Museum
We stayed the night in the Navajo Nation capital, Window Rock. There we visited the arch which gives the town its name, saw the veteran’s memorial and Code Talker memorial under Window Rock, stopped by KTNN, the nation’s radio station, for stickers, and toured the Navajo Nation museum. The museum is not to be glossed over. It is in new, modern structure whose form is after the hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling, and of course it is entered from the east, as the hogan is.  The museum houses displays of contemporary Navajo art, historic and prehistoric artifacts, and a number of weavings of the “chief’s blanket” style that shouldn’t be missed. The museum is another “must see” if you are in the area.

Navajo Code Talker memorial, Window Rock, Arizona.

Navajo Code Talker memorial, Window Rock, Arizona.

Exped SynMat 7 Sleeping Pad
After Window Rock we headed back north for some camping and exploring in Cross Canyon, near Hovenweep National Monument, and further north around Blanding and Monticello and then to Moab. As we didn’t plan much in the way of backpacking for this trip, knowing it would be more of a road trip with plenty of tent nights, I finally took the plunge and invested in a new sleeping pad.

Eped SynMat 7

The Eped SynMat 7

The SynMat 7 by Exped is one of my favorite new pieces of gear in years. It has an integral pump that is operated by placing your hands over valves in the pump. I opted for the size medium-72 inch long, 20 inch wide, synthetic version. It comes in a down-filled version- the SynMat 9 Deluxe, giving a higher R value, and both are avail able in various widths and lengths. The SynMat 7 can be inflated in a couple of minutes without much effort. I had some of the best sleep I’ve had on the ground with this pad, and while it is not something I would carry in my backpack due to the weight (just under 2 pounds) and size, I will not sleep on anything else if I am at my truck or on a river trip. If you are in the market for a new pad make sure you take a look at this one.

For more gear recommendations and reviews, visit the Desert Explorer Gear Shop pages.

I am off to the Escalante in just under 3 weeks. I will be in the bush for 12 days or so, on a solo from Moody Canyon down to Coyote Gulch and back out. Check back for a trip report towards the end of May.

In the meantime, for more on our adventures, the Dirty Devil, primitive skills, and recommended gear, visit the Desert Explorer website.



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


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.


Trying Out YouTube

7 April 2010

On our recent trip to Utah we took along a Flip Mino video camera and shot a few short videos. The first is a quick scan of the Great Gallery panel.  The second is a view of the Dirty Devil River on 24 March 2010. We are just trying this out; if it seems to work well we’ll take the camera along on our summer trips and post more videos to future blogs.

You can also visit the Desert Explorer YouTube page directly by clicking the link.



Longer Days, Warming Weather- Spring Trip to Utah

12 March 2010

Nicolai and I are nearly ready to go to the desert. Our Land Cruiser is being packed and prepared, our itinerary written, and we are excited for some time in the bush. We have been planning this trip… at least since we got back from the last one. The days are growing longer and the weather seems to be warming. As usual our plans include searching out rock art, looking at geology, an overnight backpack or two, and plenty of time enjoying the Utah landscape. There is a blog post covering our general plans already written.

One point of note for those traveling westward on I-70: we may be taking the long way ’round to Utah, depending on how well the road clearing in Glenwood Canyon is going.  On Monday I-7o was closed through Glenwood Canyon due to a rock slide. We are keeping our fingers crossed that at least a lane or two will re-open by next Tuesday when we head over the mountains.

Even though the days are longer and warmer, we know the nights will still be cold. We have packed the 20 degree sleeping bags and plenty of fire wood.  We have fires many of the nights we are out, and often in the morning too.  To minimise our impact we carry a fire pan with us on every trip. It is our river fire pan, tucked away in its own bag on top of the truck. Its been years since we built a fire on the ground, and while some would argue that it is natural to scratch a hole in the ground, collect some rocks for a fire ring and light a fire, it’s nice to know that when the next person comes along they won’t know we were there. For more on minimising impact in the wilderness, see the Leave No Trace website.

The Dirty Devil River

In addition to our itinerary, and considering we will be in the Hanksville area, we are going to take a look at the put-in, and maybe the take-out at Sheep Springs, for the Dirty Devil. I have answered at least 15 emails in the last couple of months from people interested and/or planning to float it this year. Everyone asks about the river flow- for me it was around 10 CFS, quite low to be honest.  I floated the last two weeks of May in 2008.  I was dragging my boat for much of the first few days.  Those planning to run it in April, and possibly into early May, will likely see flows closer to 100 CFS. A recent comment from Frank, who has run it a couple of times, says that the snow pack is close to 130% this year. So when it starts melting the flows should be pretty good- it should be an actual float for the most part, and there should be much less in-and-out of the boat. You can read all of the comments on the Dirty Devil on past blog posts, starting with my post-run blog.

Logistically the float is pretty straight-forward.  The put-in is just outside Hanksville and the take-out is just up from Hite, down Sheep Springs Road. In between is all the fun. Kevin asked about taking out at Poison Springs Canyon. The road down the canyon to the river is well-maintained, and should not be a problem for most vehicles (I have seen mini-vans down there), although that could change at any time with enough moisture. Poison Springs Road takes you all the way down to the gauging station at the river, and continues across the river via ford to points north.

For more information on the float, visit the Desert Explorer Dirty Devil page. There are also links there to the various blog posts I have written about it.

For those of you floating it, have a great time.  I  have to say I am a bit jealous- it is my favorite float.  I hope to do it again this year, although I am not sure when. Right now I am working on getting Robert up from Las Vegas to join me and Nicolai on the float, probably some time in May, after the flows drop off.  That is how it fits into our schedule though, and any day on the river is a good one in my book.