Alone in the Desert and Thoughts on Trip Planning

10 May 2017

I’ll begin with one of my favorite statements lately- there just isn’t enough time in the day to do it all. As luck would have it, I did find time to get out over spring break, and of course I have planned to write something about it. So here we go, to summarise: I managed 12 days of hiking and saw some amazing sights, as always. Weather was great, excepting the usual spring winds that always come up. There were birds- lots of raptors this trip, including many bald eagles. Reptiles were out- lizards of many types and one very cold rattlesnake that didn’t move throughout an entire day.  And the rock art- there were so many amazing panels and elements and discoveries within panels that it constitutes a blog in itself. But beyond all that, this trip was unique as it was my first spring break alone in about 10 years. My usual sidekick, my son, had too many prior engagements to come along. I made the most of my time alone, enjoying the Utah sunrises, sunsets, evening fires, and every minute in between.

Square spiral petroglyphs in southern Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A unique set of four square spiral petroglyphs. Do they represent the seasons? I would be curious to revisit this site during the seasonal changes to see if there are any types of solar alignments.

One thing that struck me this trip beyond all else was the amount of time we spend planning, and where that planning can sometimes get us. Don’t get me wrong- planning can be everything, it can mean the difference between a fun, memorable trip and a disaster. But there are times that planning can get in the way of our adventures. Planning can hold us back, it can hold back the explorer in us and stifle the sense of accomplishment, the sense of discovery that we seek out there in the bush.

We live in an overstimulated world with just too much information flowing around us, in our heads and readily at hand. One of the reasons I go into the desert is to escape all that. And I don’t want to bring along a bunch of data- on anything. I want to walk and see and hear things, feel the sand under my boots or under my bare feet, wonder about what is around the next corner.  I don’t want to look for the next thing I am supposed to find at a certain distance from a certain point. Where is the fun in that? For me, that is too much like everything else in life these days- click a link and it’s all there. That is decidedly not what wilderness is about for me.

white hand pictographs in San Juan county, Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

White hands- one of my favorite pictographs, and one of the first I “discovered” in southeast Utah about 20 years ago. I visited them again on this trip.

I have never been one to plan an entire trip, hour by hour, water point to water point, camp site to camp site. I know that people do this. There are guide books that do it for you. This is one of the very reasons I don’t use guide books, other than for very general information. My favorite writer of guides, as I have expressed over the years, is Michael Kelsey. He gives clear, concise, to-the-point information, and not much more. That is all I want- mileage to the trailhead for example, if I don’t choose my own, or maybe data on the best way to climb out of a canyon that everyone says cannot be climbed out of. Kelsey’s books are the place for something like that. After that, it is all up to me.

Moving on from my philosophy of wilderness travel back to civilisation, I always end my trips in Moab. I like to mention my favorite local businesses, in support of the community there. Moab Gear Trader has recently moved into the space above their original store. They have so much used and new gear now that it’s easy to find something you can use. I have an account there, and usually drop gear to sell on every trip. You don’t have to live locally to do this- give them a call to see if they may want your used gear. And if you can’t find what you need there, just down the street is Gearheads, where you will find whatever it is you forgot to bring along. There was a time when I would worry about that piece of gear that I inadvertently left behind, but not any more. Between Moab Gear Trader and Gearheads, I know I will find what I need.

Axe head found in wash in southeast Utah. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Found in a wash bottom- one large axe head. They artifact had signs that it had been in the wash for some time, and also plenty of use wear. It was made from a perfectly shaped, very flat river cobble.

Gear is good, but we can’t leave out food and coffee to make us happy. Moonflower Coop, on 100 North right off of Main Street, recently completed a major renovation and it is not to be missed. They even  have a seating area now at their deli, where they offer fresh salads, sandwiches, soups, and much more. They are right across the street from Moab Coffee Roasters, one of our favorites. Need a backup bike tube with your coffee? Be sure to visit Moab Classic Bikes on Center Street for both- yes, there is a coffee shop in the bike store. Very convenient!

Our next trip is planned for the end of May- a couple of weeks in the Hanksville area. We are planning, if weather and water levels permit, to walk the Dirty Devil River. No dragging the boat this year! In the meantime, there is plenty more information on desert travels in southern Utah at DesertExplorer.us.


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.