Mineral Bottom Road Open, White Rim Trail Closed (again), Green River Reaching Record Flows

12 June 2011

I have had a few inquiries and comments lately about floating the Green River. An update on conditions is on order.

As of 29 march, 2011 Mineral Bottom Road down to the Mineral Bottom boat ramp is open. The switchbacks that were washed out last August have been repaired- and the road looks nice! You can read more and see a photo at the NPS website. But, I was told by someone in Moab a few weeks back that the road from the bottom of the switchbacks up to the boat ramp is now under water. Here is a quote directly from the NPS website: “The road to the Mineral Bottom ramp may be flooded at flows above 30,000 CFS. If this occurs, vehicles left at the Mineral Bottom parking lot will be stranded until the water recedes.” Flows today at Green River town according to the USGS water data website were at about 45,600 CFS- close to reaching record levels.

The White Rim Road was open briefly, but is now closed again. Rain and hail closed the Schafer Trail on the east side of the park on the 18 May. And now the extremely high flows on the Green River have flooded the low sections of the White Rim Road right along the river. According to the 19 May 2011 issue of the Moab Times-Independent, flooding along these sections occurs when the flows reach about 20,000 CFS. You can read more about closures at the NPS website.

Be sure to check in with the the appropriate agency before you leave home if you are planning a trip any time soon. You may have to change your plans. If you are floating any time soon- have fun and be careful.

You can read more about our Green River adventures, and enjoying the Utah desert at the Desert Explorer website.


Some Thoughts on the Moab Ranger Shooting

25 November 2010

Update: 15 January 2011
There hasn’t been much in the news about Ranger Young lately, but he is currently at home, recovering, and doing well it sounds like, after being shot 9 times. We are glad to hear that and wish him the best. Follow the RangerBrody link below to donate or to get to his Facebook  page to read more.

Update: 08 December 2010
A New York Times article addresses the bigger problems that some rangers face every day, now that so many of them have become law enforcement officers rather than a friendly face on the trail ready to discuss the flora and fauna. Meanwhile, Ranger Young’s condition has worsened (click the link below to read more about him.)

Update: 27 November 2010
The search area near Moab has been re-opened to the public and all law enforcement has pulled out. The manhunt has been scaled back to only ranger patrols through the area. There has been no new sign of the suspect for days, all this according to online news reports. Also, a website has been set up for Ranger Young where donations can be made towards his hospital bills- visit rangerbrody.org.

25 November 2010 post:
It has been a while since I have had the time to sit down and write.  I apologise to those looking for more from us. The coming holiday season is keeping us quite busy these days at our retail store. Today I had hoped to focus on something like rock art, or desert plants, or summer plans on this Thanksgiving day, but the recent shooting of the ranger near Moab has my attention. Events like this leave me wondering about the state of our world, especially when they happen in a place like Moab where I don’t expect such things, and to a park ranger whose mission is to make sure visitors are safe in their adventures on the slickrock, rivers, and in the canyons.

I do not have any more information than can be found on the Salt Lake Tribune website, or anywhere else online. It is the policy of law enforcement agencies to give out just enough information to keep the public safe and help in their search for suspects. How they come up with what is “enough information” sometimes baffles me. In this case I am of the opinion that more information released to the public would be better for all of us, especially now that the search for the suspect is being scaled back and the public allowed back into the area. There is undoubtedly more information available to those in Moab.

For those unfamiliar with the event, a Utah state park ranger making a routine check on a vehicle at the Poison Spider Trailhead parking lot was critically wounded on Friday night, 19 November at about 8:40 pm. He was able to return fire, apparently a lot of fire, and then call for help. Ranger Brody Young is in a Grand Junction hospital and is stabilising, again according to news reports.

Why Did it Happen and Where Did the Suspect Go?
The motive for the crime, if it can be called that, seems clear enough- the suspect is a disturbed, angry, antisocial person who was described as “a cannon ready to go off”. It seems that Friday night was just when it finally happened.

As for my theory on the suspect’s whereabouts- this is the part of such an event that captures my interest- having only news reports to go on, and nothing first hand, everything I write is pure speculation. I am familiar with the area, having biked, hiked, driven, and floated through on many occasions. I am also familiar with the fact that people can disappear in canyon country fairly easily. The history of the area is replete with such stories. Many of those who “disappeared” were later found dead; case in point being the quick disappearance in 1998 of the trio that killed Cortez, Colorado police officer Dale Claxton.

According to news reports the present manhunt is being scaled back, the searchers having had no luck in finding signs of the suspect for a couple of days it would seem. Reports now state that the initial track followed may not have been that of the suspect. The suspect’s vehicle was found “a few miles” away from the location of the shooting. On the map that would be right around Bootlegger Canyon, a route out of the area. The rail line from the potash plant downriver runs right through the canyon. There was mention in news reports of searching the railroad tunnel there for the suspect.

There are many other possible routes out of the area, some well-known and well-traveled, others only known to canyoneers and explorers. Those well-known routes could be easily covered by law enforcement, for example traveling down Potash Road you can easily make it up through Long Canyon onto the mesa top, or continue to White Rim Road and on through Canyonlands National Park. Not so with the countless unmarked routes up and out of the area.

I found the possibility of floating out of the area mentioned only once, in relation to canoes at a ranch in the search area. I am sure the river was well-searched by air, if not by boat (I found no reference to this in reports). Floating out late Friday night, under the near-full moon, covering 10 or 15 river miles would give access to many more possible exits.

Limited Information Released
A recent report states that the suspect is in “pretty good” physical condition. This is an important part of the equation. Reports make little mention of equipment, another important consideration. A backpack with “some clothing and canned goods”, along with a .22 rifle, was found a couple of miles from the vehicle abandonment location. Knowing if the suspect likely had a daypack that was not found in his car, or that his sleeping bag was not found for example, would reveal a lot about the suspect, and his probable condition.

Again, I can only speculate on the suspect’s whereabouts. It cannot be ruled out that he made it far out of the area before searchers made it in on Saturday morning. A healthy, fit, prepared person with maps and knowledge of the area could cover 10, 15, even 20 miles in a day, less of course at night and under adverse weather conditions. But it must be remembered that this person was desperate, and desperation can press a human to do seemingly unattainable things. Conversely, history would caution us and state that there is likely a body to be found very near where officers are searching.

No matter how the suspect is found, dead or alive, I will likely feel a little different the next time I visit Moab, not quite so safe as I have always felt. I know this was an isolated event, and that we probably will not see anything like it again for many years to come. At least I can hope that.

The White Rim by Bike- A Nice Stroll Through the Park

15 August 2008

I am writing this post from the public library in Moab, Utah. I am sure I am not the first to do so. The new library- a couple of years old now- is a great place to take a break. And the wireless connection is fast and free.

First, some recent Moab area happenings before I get to the ride. I am sure that most everyone has heard about geologic time ruthlessly moving forward, and the demise of Wall Arch in Arches National Park. But if you haven’t heard the news, tempus eda rerum- time devours all. (Forgive me if the Latin is mis-spelled or grammatically incorrect- I never took Latin.) An arch fell. Others will follow. Next, a coffee house has also fallen. Mojo is no more. It was in the Edie McStiffs plaza on Main Street, until about two weeks ago. News is that another coffee shop will open in its place shortly. I will strike it from my Moab web page soon, or perhaps replace it. Finally, about a week ago the area saw one of the biggest storms in recent memory, meaning old-timers couldn’t recall so much water in such a short amount of time. As luck would have it, most of the rain fell outside of inhabited areas, but quickly headed through washes towards roads and houses. There was no serious damage, no one injured. A few tourists had to be “rescued” from the far side of the Green River, and mud had to be bulldozed off a bunch of low spots on many roads. Most importantly, the Shafer trail from the Canyonlands National Park visitor’s center to the White Rim trail was washed away, closed down, and has been since the storm. On to the ride….

I was to begin my ride from the Canyonlands National Park visitor’s center, down the Shafer trail, to the White Rim trail. But nature would have me take a little detour. It really wasn’t all bad- Long’s Canyon and Pucker Pass were certainly interesting towing 90 pounds of B.O.B. trailer behind me. Or was the trailer pushing me? Even better were the next 11 miles up (UP) Potash Road to the Shafer campsite. I really do not mind signs that read “steep, narrow, winding road next 11 miles”. I mind them less when I read them on my way down.

All in all the detour only added about 20 miles to the normally 103 mile loop. It was a good thing I had added an extra day for rest- who needs rest anyway? All joking aside, the ride wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. Once I arrived at the Shafer campsite for my fist night of rest, drank a couple quarts of the precious water I had hauled behind me, and ate a huge dinner, I felt great. I enjoyed the quiet, calm, starry night and slept straight through. The next few days were rather easy rides. Of course there is the ascent of the Murphy Hogback- this happens whether you ride clockwise or counter-clockwise. I rode clockwise by the way. Later is the ascent of a wall near Hardscrabble Bottom, again, you do it no matter what. And finally there was the wonderful ascent of Horsethief Trail (a.k.a. Mineral Bottom Road), but only if you ride clockwise. If you ride counter-clockwise you will have to ride up the Shafer trail at the end.

After the first morning, I rose before the sun, ate a quick breakfast, packed up and was on the bike shortly after 6 a.m. This strategy really paid off and I highly recommend it for anyone riding the White Rim during the hotter months. I averaged about 4 hours of riding per day, about 25 miles per day. The rest of the day I enjoyed the geology, the clouds, and stories of Africa by Isak Dinesen. As for water, I started out with about 52 pounds of the stuff- about 6 1/2 gallons. I could have used roughly another gallon to get me to the river, but the storm left some tasty, clear water in potholes. I took advantage of this and pumped out a gallon at the end of day 2. By the end of my ride on day four, at about 1030 a.m., I still had about 2 quarts. This allowed me to settle water from the Green River for the afternoon before pumping another gallon or so for the night and the final day of riding up and out Horsethief Trail.

self protrait from white rim trail ride- on horsethief trail

Final morning, on Horsethief Trail, after the ascent.

I wouldn’t really change anything I did on the ride. Five days for 125 miles is perfectly adequate. Five days for 103 miles would have been even easier. Next time I may try riding counter-clockwise, just to try it in that direction. If you plan to do the ride, plan ahead, but remain flexible. Be sure to reserve your campsites well in advance, especially if you are riding in cooler months, along with the throngs of cool-weather riders. If you don’t mind 95- 100 degrees, as I don’t, ride it in August and you will have the park to yourself. Otherwise plan accordingly. Keep an eye on the weather. And most important of all, carry and drink plenty of water. For more information on water in the desert, see the Desert Explorer website. For more on the White Rim ride, the campsites, planning for it and a “bikepacking” packing list, visit the White Rim page of my website. (Note: I will have the page up after I return to Colorado, at the end of the month. Tomorrow I am off to the Escalante for week of backpacking.)

San Juan River, Primitive Fishing Skills, White Rim Trail Solo Ride

16 March 2008

San Juan River Launch Dates

The launch calendar for the San Juan River is online. The San Juan River referred to is the section found in southeastern Utah, with the put-in just outside the town of Bluff at Sand Island. We drew our launch for 22 July, with our take-out about 28 miles downriver at the town of Mexican Hat. Ours will be a family float this year, my wife, son and I taking about five days for this short stretch of river. The float can be expanded to nearly 84 miles to the “final” take-out at Clay Hills Crossing. Just below Clay Hills is a rather new and impassable waterfall blocking the way to the upper reaches of that “lake” below. A portage around the waterfall could add innumerable miles to ones itinerary; you could float all the way to Glen Canyon Dam.

Unfortunately for those who missed the lottery date, the Sand Island calendar is nearly full in May, June and July. March, September and October dates are nearly all open, April and August are about half-full. The mid-summer dates are full for launches from Mexican Hat as well, but outside of May, June and July there are more open dates if you are considering floating from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills only. Either way, if you are hoping to get on the river act quickly as every day more red rectangles appear in each month of the calendar, indicating full launch days. If you have a limited window for floating, do not despair. Check the launch calendar daily for cancellations. Updates are posted every weekday and you might get lucky and find the date you need open. For more information on floating the San Juan River visit the Desert Explorer San Juan River page.

Primitive Fishing Skills

Last week my son and I worked on primitive fishing implements. Using a deer leg bone, an old metapodial (the elongated toe bone in the hind leg) we created a couple of skewers, or gorge hooks. Gorge hooks are straight pieces of bone in this case, sharpened on both ends. they can be made from hardwood splinters as well. A leader is tied at the center of the piece. To bait them, the gorge is turned sideways, parallel to the leader, and the bait is slid over both. Once the gorge is swallowed by the fish, tugging releases it from the bait and allows it to turn sideways and lodge inside the fish.

The process began by crushing the bone with a hammerstone, with a concerted attempt to create long, thin splinters of bone. Once this was accomplished the chosen splinters were snapped to about 1 1/2 inches in length, close to the desired final length. Next the abrading process began. I used a slab of flat but rough sandstone to abrade and form the gorge. I held the bone between my thumb and forefinger, moving it back and forth, mostly on the long axis of the piece of bone. This helps to avoid flaking off larger pieces of bone and helps create a more symmetrical finished product. Each gorge pictured below took about 1/2 hour to create. For more on primitive fishing skills and survival fishing kits, visit the Desert Explorer Primitive Skills pages.

gorge hooks created from deer leg bone

White Rim Trail Solo Ride

I have begun working on my packing list for my unsupported White Rim ride. It will not be till August, but since I had some free time I started to compile my gear list for the trek. I will take five days to do the ride, averaging about 25 miles per day, with one day to sit by the river. I will be pulling a BOB trailer with all my gear behind me. The majority of my carried weight will be in water. I will not be able to resupply water until the end of day 3 when I camp at either Hardscrabble or Labyrinth campsite. Both are on the Green River and they are just a few miles apart. I will decide which I will use this week. I will be able to resupply on day 4 as well as that will be my free day at one of these river campsites. The final day will be the ride out.

I have not yet decided on which BOB trailer I will use. They have two single-wheel models, one with a shock and one without. They weigh 17 and 14.5 pounds respectively and both have a maximum load capacity of 70 pounds. I will make an attempt at keeping all my gear at 20 pounds or less; ultimately I would prefer it weighs in at 15 pounds. But with bike tools, shoes (other than my riding shoes), and 5 days of food, 20 pounds is more realistic. Add to that 1.5 gallons of water for days 1, 2 and 3, and 1.5 gallons as a buffer- 6 gallons total, and I have added 48 more pounds. This brings my total towed weight to about 85 pounds if I choose to tow the BOB Ibex model, with a load of about 68 pounds, just under the load limit.

I will continue to refine my list and eventually post the packing list on the Desert Explorer website as the ride draws nearer.

Backpacking Foods, White Rim Ride, Metal Matches

18 January 2008

This week I added a “Backpack Foods” page to my website, just a few paragraphs so far, but enough to solidify my ideas for myself and give others an idea of how I do it. To summarise the page, as an ultralight, or minimalist backpacker, I try to carry the least amount of everything- including packaging. And I make sure to have plenty of food with me on my long treks in the bush. I make my own backpacking meals from dehydrated foods; I purchase some of the ingredients at natural food stores, some I grow and dehydrate myself. This allows me to cater my meals to my taste, and make them as large or small as I desire, for light lunches and big dinners. Visit www.DesertExplorer.us and read some more about the process. I will be posting more on the topic, and some photos in the near future.

I made a call this week to Canyonlands National Park and talked with a ranger about the White Rim ride. I had hopes of doing the ride in May, but the entire month is filled, even for a single rider. The size of the group, in my case being solo, really has nothing to do with it. There are a limited number of campsites available each night. As the campsites fill, plans need to be amended to fit the available sites. In my case at the end of May, I would have had a 17 mile ride the first day, then a 40 mile ride the next. Since there are sites along the route that will allow for 20 miles or so of riding each day, which is what I will do, I am opting to reserve the exact campsites I want later in the summer- meaning in August. It will be nice and warm then and I should have a pretty quiet and isolated trip across the White Rim.

I recently found a site online that sells survival items, some at very reasonable prices- www.countycomm.com . They are a supplier for government contracts- for the military and the like. The thing that caught my eye was the cost of the FS104 Metal Match, also known as the Light My Fire Scout Model. This company has them on sale for 6 dollars each- a great deal. Act quickly though as there is no indication of when the sale will end. Of course there is a shipping and handling charge, 10 dollars I think, so buy 3 or 4 of them to make it cost effective. They have some very interesting items for sale, and some great prices- the LED flashlights for one dollar each for example. For more information on desert survival and survival items visit the Desert Explorer survival pages.