Summer Is Coming, and There Is So Little Time

12 March 2016

It has been many months since I have written a blog post. There is no possible way to catch up on all the desert adventures we have had in that time. To mention of few of them, we spent a week in the San Rafael Swell area, went for another San Juan River float with incredible rain fall and flash floods along the way, did more excavation at Nancy Patterson Village, spent weeks in and around Moab, had many long, solo runs down roads and trails, did lots of canyon hiking, backroad driving, and general exploration of southeast Utah. Last year was a great year overall, and this year proves to be much the same. We have already taken two trips to the desert, and our next is just a few weeks away- spring break is just around the corner!

One of the highlights of last year was the San Juan River. I did that trip solo, and so had no real schedule other than to float down the river. I did a few hikes up side canyons, all of which I’d had in my mind to do for some time. There was a huge storm a few days into the trip- I put in at about 400 CFS and took out just over 8000 CFS. It made for a really fun float to say the least. I have never seen so many pouroffs running at the same time. The sound that came with it was deafening at certain locations along the river.

River flows during my October, 2015 San Juan River float.

River flows during my October, 2015 San Juan River float.

As I noted above, I did some side hikes along the way . One canyon I visited had countless ruins in it. I could have spent days exploring, but was happy to have a long day to walk up and back. Many of the ruins I saw were completely inaccessible without technical gear to get in. Needless to say, I enjoyed them from the opposite rim or canyon bottom for the most part.

Ruin along the San Juan River, utah.

One of the smaller ruins I was able to climb up to. It was so perfectly square and plumb, it left me wondering how we have so many problems with our own residential building today. The very distinct foundation was an interesting feature as well, being offset by the plaster that was still in place.

After finishing up on the river I spent five days along Comb Ridge. I am slowly making my way through all the canyons, seeing at least a few of them on each trip to the area. As always there was so much to see, and the time I had to see it in really seemed inadequate. I found a few small structures along the way that appeared to be sweat lodges. I have found a few of these at the mouths of the canyons, out near Butler Wash, and a couple of them up in higher ends of canyons. Most are small, however one that I came across on this trip did seem more like a shelter than a sweat lodge.

Sweat lodge along Comb Ridge, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

What looks to be a sweat lodge at the mouth of one of the Comb Ridge canyons.

I won’t go into the Nancy Patterson archaeology here, but save it for another post. My report is nearly done, and I plan to upload it again in a blog, as I did with the 2014 report. No promises when that will come… but it will be by May when we head over for this year’s excavation.

In the meantime see the Desert Explorer website for more on our desert adventures, our gear preferences, and plenty of book recommendations. I have been spending a lot of time updating the site, adding current links where they were broken, and doing my best to update information that I haven’t revisited in many years.

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Trip Report- August Family Trip and San Juan Float

22 September 2014

We took about two and a half weeks in August for our yearly, family desert adventure which included 6 days for yet another leisurely float of the San Juan River. This seems to be our most common family adventure, occurring almost every year, and it never gets old. As usual it was challenging at times (wind, rain, not enough ice!), and of course completely relaxing. Any time in the bush, away from the craziness of the world is good.

Panoramic view to the south of "train camp", one of our frequently visited camps in Utah. It has a great view of Westwater, the La Sals, and the railroad tracks.

Panoramic view to the south from “train camp”, one of our frequently visited camps in Utah. It has a great view of Westwater, the La Sals, and the railroad tracks from the cliff edge.

We made our way casually down to Bluff and the put in, beginning with a day in Green River for lunch from the taco truck, melons, and a look at a part of the abandoned Pershing Missile Launch Complex that we had not visited. Mia had not seen it at all, so it was an exciting experience for her, seeing a part of our Cold War history in person. Not to mention her first rattlesnake. We were at the radar site, taking a look in the lunch room, admiring the pink porcelain stove that was still sitting there. Right next to the stove, coiled and resting on a piece of fallen drywall, sat a small snake taking advantage of the cool lunch room. It didn’t even move; we stayed far enough from it so as not to disturb its rest, and backed out the door. They can be anywhere, so be careful crawling around in desert canyons and abandoned lunch rooms.

Green River Pershing Missile Launch Complex. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Inside view of one of the abandoned radar station buildings at the launch complex.

Once we reached the river it was the usual packing frenzy to get on the river as early as possible. It must look funny to people who stumble upon river runners packing, with gear strewn in seemingly random piles, half-filled dry bags lying about, and boat parts, paddles, and PFD’s hanging off the truck. But there is a method, and it all fits in its place perfectly in the end. I am always amazed at how much gear can go into a dry bag, and how much we take along in our little boats.

Aire duckies ready to go on the San Juan river. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Our duckies, and Mia and Nico, ready for the 6 day trip. It’s amazing how much they hold and how stable they are.

I won’t say much about the float, other than it was perfect. The weather was mild for the most part, the river was low, and therefore quite clean, until the last day. On our last night there were storms off to the southeast and we woke to a river that had risen about 2500 CFS, making the last day was a quick float down to Mexican Hat. Along the way we visited some of the usual sites, trying to alternate as there are so many, and trying to add new stops to our itinerary as well. Butler Wash, River House, and Baseball Man were a few of the stops. There was much sitting around, enjoying cups of tea, the sound of the river, the play of light on the canyon walls as the sun moved across the sky. As usual we took along a trip book- a set of blank pages, mostly Mohawk, but some Arches and  Stonehenge (paper brands) for writing, drawing, painting, and gluing. On all of our trips we create a visual  and written journal, adding scraps of paper to it- receipts, food wrappers, permits, and eventually photos from the trip. Once we are home we bind them and they go on a special shelf full of books of our adventures.

Baseball Man panel, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor

Baseball Man panel, one of our favorite hikes from the river.

After the float we had a goal (unmet) of finding roast mutton and frybread. We drove south to Monument Valley, hoping to find a roadside vendor, but were out of luck. We traveled on to Kayenta and searched there, but again without success. Down in the Shiprock area it’s easy to find, but not so in the Monument Valley area. We settled for Mexican food at the Amigo Cafe, a good choice. We stayed in Kayenta for the night to clean up after the trip and prepare for the next week of travel. The Wetherill Inn is our favorite motel in Kayenta, always clean, quiet, and offering a good night’s rest.

Before leaving we took Mia to the Code Talker exhibit at the Burger King, and visited the Shade House Museum next door. Nicolai and I have visited there a few times, but Mia had never seen it. The Burger King has a few well-presented cases full of donated items brought back from the Pacific theater, and the Shade House has even more. The Shade House has the PBS documentary on the Code Talkers playing continuously- if you have the time sit and watch it. It is an amazing piece of history, very informative, and something that everyone should know about. The Shade House also displays and explains a bit about the history and life of the Navajo people, not just about their WWII service.

After Kayenta, we headed north again with time in Montezuma Canyon and the Nancy Patterson site, and a drive through Lisbon Valley. A few days in Moab, and two days in Grand Junction ended our trip. For more on our desert adventures visit the Desert Explorer website.

 


Trip Report: The San Juan River, August 2013

27 September 2013

Nicolai and I finally made it down to the San Juan River for a leisurely float from 04 August through 09 August, 2013. We postponed our trip for nearly a month due to a number of reasons, but this actually put us in a better position in terms of water flows. We put in at Sand Island and took six days to travel the 28 miles to Mexican Hat. Needless to say there was no rush during those very relaxing six days. We stopped frequently to look at everything from rock art panels that we had never seen, to collections of basketballs swirling around in the eddies below Chinle Creek.

Reclining Kokopelli figure along the San Juan River.Photo by gerald Trainor.

Reclining Kokopelli figure along the San Juan River.

Flows started out at about 500 CFS and reached just over 3000 CFS on our last day. Storms in the mountains gave us some relatively fast water on a couple of days, and there were no issues at all for us in our 2-person Aire Tomcat in getting down the river. We made stops at many of our usual places, at various rock art panels, some of the moki steps, and River House for example, and at some new locations that we had considered seeing for years. We had so much time that we planned our lunch breaks around our stops to see the archaeology; we had plenty of time to lay back and stare at rock art that we thought we new well, only to find new and exciting elements all along the way. We even had a layover night along the way- we set up our sunshade under a stand of cottonwoods for extra protection and watched the river, drank tea, and played Frisbee for a couple of days. If you plan to float this section of the river, yes, you can do it in a couple of days. You can also take weeks to do it and still not see everything there is to see.

San Juan basketmaker anthropomorph. Southern Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

San Juan basketmaker anthropomorph with headdress and elaborate breastplate.

As usual, the weather was cooperative, although at this time of year there can be big storms.  We didn’t have any this year while on the river but did see some rain before and after the trip. The weather overall was a bit cooler this year. We are always prepared for it and found ourselves wearing our raingear and polypro to stay warm on a couple of occasions.

Bighorn sheep along the San Juan. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Bighorn sheep along the San Juan. At this location we counted about 27 of them. They are definitely doing well.

After the San Juan float we spent a few days around Bluff, as we often do. We took a drive down onto the reservation and saw a ruin that we had been meaning to see for years and years. Next we headed north and spent a couple of nights near Cottonwood Wash during the Perseid meteor shower. That was a treat- there was not a single light visible around us anywhere; we camped on a big patch of slickrock and laid awake as long as we could each night, counting the white, red, and green meteors as they streaked across the clear night sky. Then it was on to Moab and points north to finish out our trip.

Big Ruin in an alcove on Casa del Eco Mesa. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Big Ruin in an alcove on Casa del Eco Mesa.

It is time to plan for the next trip now. We are considering something new- a trip over in late October. It will be very different for us being used to the hot, long days of summer, if we can make it happen. Look for a trip report some time in late November if it goes. In the meantime, for more on our adventures visit the Desert Explorer website.


Back to Utah- The San Juan River in July

25 June 2013

Yes, the San Juan River in July- something new for us. Usually our river trips happen in late August, but we have a free couple of weeks and were able to get a permit for July 2nd. We have allotted 6 days to cover the 30 miles from Sand Island to Mexican Hat, more than enough time to float it twice! This part of the river is usually floated in 3 days, depending on the flows. The river in the last week has fluctuated from a low of about 350 CFS to a high of about 650 CFS. “They say” that you need at least 500 CFS to float the river. But that takes into account the mud that you will encounter down river near the Clay Hills takeout. The mud can be a problem in low water, and can cause some dragging at the end. We are taking out in Mexican Hat and don’t expect any problems at all. We will be floating in our two-person inflatable kayak that does well in low water.

San Juan River, Mexican Hat

Ah, the San Juan- slow and silty, calm and relaxing.

There do not appear to be any fire bans in effect at the moment for the San Juan, but that could change at any time. There are two fires in the area- one in Dark Canyon and one in Arches National Park. Both were caused by lightning. We always check utahfireinfo.gov for current conditions throughout the state. They have a map of ban areas, current fires, as well as complete ban information for all the national and state parks and recreation areas. The site can be very useful in planning a trip.

For complete information on floating the San Juan river, visit the San Juan River page of the BLM’s Monticello Field Office. There you will find pages to answer all your questions, as well as launch calendars that are updated daily, information on restrictions, and a downloadable permit application. The permit process is quick- just fill it out, fax it back, and call them to pay for you slot.

For more on our San Juan River floats and all our desert adventures visit the Desert Explorer website. You can also follow our nightly camps and discoveries on our SPOT messenger page.


Trip Report- Green River Family Float- August 2012

13 September 2012

This year we made our way back to the Green River for our family float. We put in on the 19th and took out on the 26th of August. The weather was perfect- not too hot, cloud cover in the afternoons,  and only a couple of storms- one big, dramatic one that put our aging Sierra Designs tent to the test. It held up for the most part, but the zipper has finally given out after 20 plus years of use. A point of note for other Sierra Designs users- I called to see about a zipper replacement and was given an online code for 45% off any new tent. The zipper replacement could reach as much as $125, and while not quite reaching the cost of the new tent, it was close enough. So next year we’ll be trying out the Sierra Designs Zolo 3. Look for  a review of that at some point.

beach camp on the Green River. photo by Gerald trainor.

One of our perfect beach camps. We found them around every bend in the river this year.

Back to the river- as usual, there were no bugs, and because it was a little later in the season, we saw on average one other group each day. All in all it was a very calm and quiet float. Unfortunately we missed the fast water last year, when we floated the San Juan. So this time we rowed, and rowed some more. The water averaged about 1200 CFS and we planned accordingly. We gave ourselves 8 days to get from town down to Mineral Bottom, so that we wouldn’t be rushing and could enjoy the big sandy beaches all along the 64 miles of our float. In the end, as usual, we could have used 10 days, or maybe 14, or a whole month if it could be managed- the truth is that the surprises that nature provides are never-ending and a person could spend a lifetime out there enjoying them.

Nicolai Trainor at Crystal Geyser, Green River, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Nicolai enjoying the shade of our beach umbrella, on the beach at Crystal Geyser.

After dropping our permit at the J.W.Powell River History Museum, we put in at the bridge in Green River as usual. The permit for this section of river is free and you can download the PDF from the BLM website. Fill out a copy for the BLM and drop it at one of the locations noted, and take one on the river with you. If you plan to float on into Canyonlands National Park, there is a charge and the logistics get more complex.  See the Floating the Lower Green River page at the Desert Explorer website for more information. 

We parked the tuck “downtown” this year. In the past we parked at the museum, but they no longer allow parking there. Ask at the museum or around town for recommendations on where to park. Before heading down river, we loaded up with melons. If you float the Green River in the fall you are obligated to carry as many melons as you can to enjoy along the way. This trip was the first for our new boat, a Cutthroat 2 cataraft from Jack’s Plastic Welding so there was plenty of melon-cargo space. This section of the Green River down into Labyrinth Canyon, and on through Stillwater Canyon, especially at this time of year, is a flatwater float. Canoes are faster, sea kayaks are fastest-we saw a couple of them out there. But the “big” boat made it so we had plenty of gear and provisions and amenities.

Cutthroat 2 in front of the Inkwell on the Green River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The new boat, fully loaded, in front of the Inkwell.

After making it under all the bridges and through the riffles, we made our first stop at Crystal Geyser only to find that the ground was dry. It did not appear that the Geyser had erupted in some time, certainly not as we had seen it in past years. It has been a dry year, with low water, and the lack of eruptions could be reflecting the lack of ground water recharge this summer. From there on we made some of the usual stops,taking alook in Three Canyon, hiking up to the saddle at Bowknot Bend, up canyon to one of the Julien inscriptions, and taking a look at the other inscriptions- historic and prehistoric- along the way.

View from Bowknot Ridge, Green River. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

The view from the top of Bowknot Ridge- up river is to the right, downriver to the left. The view is well worth the short hike up.

All of our camps were on big, clean sandbars. They were found around practically every corner this year, one benefit of low water. This gave us plenty of room for the sunshade, a big camp, and frisbee. We didn’t have any fires this year- there was a fire ban in place. You can check current fire conditions at the Utah Fire website.

We took out at Mineral Bottom and were met by Moab Taxi for a shuttle back to Green River to retrieve the truck. Mineral Bottom road was fine for the most part, although there were a couple of questionable spots on the switchbacks due to a recent storm. High clearance at least was necessary; four wheel drive was just more insurance of safety. After taking out, we spent a couple of days in Moab and enjoyed the new pool, Wicked Brew coffee, and a delicious breakfast at Eklecticafe. The cafe is right on Main Street near Posion Spider Bicycles and is only open for breakfast and lunch.

For more on our floats and other desert adventures 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.