Visit to Nevada, Tracking Movies, Lizards- July 2012

22 July 2012

We are back from another trip during our busy summer of travel. The latest trip took us to central Nevada where we enjoyed the relatively cool temperatures for the most part, cooler than the Front Range of Colorado at least. And without the smell of smoke. There were no great plans for this trip (meaning no long walks or survival exercises), just the usual visit home- some birding at Stillwater and a few other locations in the valley, a visit to the Churchill County museum and the Grimes Point petroglyphs, and a visit to the jet crash site that we wrote about 2 years back . We took a look at the crash site to see what kind of changes occurred over the last 2 years since it happened. If we didn’t know what had transpired at that location, we would never have guessed that a jet crashed and burned up where it did. For more about what to do in and around the town of Fallon, see the Desert Explorer Nevada Pages.

jet crash site, fallon nevada. photo by gerald trainor.

Jet crash site, two years later. Fill dirt is still visibly different. Burn scarring in field is no longer visible, at least from a distance. There were still a few small pieces of aluminum and plastic to be found here and there on the ground surface.

The tree apparently hit by the wing tip. the scar is still visible, but only after pulling aside branches covering it up.

Outside of Fallon we made a trip to the state capital, Carson City where we visited the Nevada State Museum. The museum is housed in the historic Carson City Mint building. The history of the mint in itself is fascinating, being privately financed while waiting years for government funds. Local businessmen and politicians felt it was necessary that a mint be built so that coinage could be made from the millions in gold and silver that were coming out of the Comstock mining district at Virginia City.

The historic courthouse in Virginia City, Nevada. Phot by Gerald Trainor.

The historic courthouse in Virginia City, Nevada.

Another highlight of our trip, especially for Nicolai, was our visit to the Silver State Peace Officers Museum in Virginia City. It is housed inside the still operating courthouse in the actual jails cells. The museum features not only Nevada law enforcement history, but stories, photos, and artifacts from across the United States. The museum is only a couple of years old, but takes you back through law enforcement history for the last hundred years or more. When the courthouse and jail were built, Virginia City was  the richest city in the entire world, hosting world-class entertainers and the visiting rich and famous from around the world . A visit to both Carson City and Virginia City will leave you with a clear understanding of the history of Nevada. We ended our visit with an afternoon at Lake Tahoe, a welcome reprieve from the heat of the valleys below.

Nico cautiously entering the cold waters of Lake Tahoe- very different from the waters we are used to in the silty San Juan and Green Rivers.

Tracking Movies
Although two years of change is probably outside what a tracker might need to understand, change over time is important for a tracker, and anyone serious about nature observation, to understand. We haven’t done any tracking since our recent Dirty Devil trip, but I did watch a couple of movies I found on Netflix on the subject (they weren’t suitable for Nicolai’s viewing). One movie was called “The Tracker”, the other just “Tracker”. They are set in Australia and New Zealand respectively, early in the last century. While neither were specifically about tracking per se, both were about trackers, and those being tracked, and the relationships that develop between them. Both movies are studies of human values, empathy, commentaries on colonialism and war (the Boer war specifically), and so on. The scenery alone makes them worth watching, and you can find a reference here or there to tracking specifically. The main character in one of the movies is played by the same actor that played the tracker in the movie “Rabbitproof Fence”, another period movie set in the same part of the world and well worth watching.

Lizards
I have added a few lizard photos and basic data, along with a correction to the identification of a photo, to the Lizard Pages  on the Desert Explorer website. I added information about the Longnose Leopard Lizard and the Tree Lizard, both of which I now have photos of. I mentioned in my last post an email I received from Utah state biologist who commented on the lizards and my Escalante Trek pages. Besides correcting one of my lizard identifications, he sent me information on the fish of the Escalante River drainage. The paper is quite long and detailed, and is essentially an inventory of the different species found in the Escalante and select tributaries, done in 2003 and 2004. I will ask if I can post the paper on my site for access by the general public, in case anyone is interested in it.

Next Up…
We have been experimenting with different configurations for rigging our new Cutthroat 2 from Jack’s Plastic Welding. I think the configuration is just about finalised. we are very excited to try out the boat, and especially to take advantage of all the room for gear. It will be quite a different float and camp experience than what we are used to, being so limited in cargo capacity in our 2 person inflatables. Now, as long as we have water in the Green River in a few weeks, we will be all set. Look for a trip report on that float in a month or so. If you have time, take a look at the report on the Jack’s website about the recent crossing of Lake Powell using solar power.

For more on our adventures in the Utah desert and across the west, visit the Desert Explorer website.

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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.