Sunday, May 31, 2009

According to Flathead Indian legend, the bitterroot flower, from which the valley, mountains, wilderness, national forest and river take their names, was created when one morning at dawn, the rising sun found an old woman weeping by the river for her starving people. The sun took pity on her and sent a beautiful guardian bird to comfort her. “Your tears will cause a new plant to rise,” said the bird. “The flower will have the white color of your hair and the rose of my wing feathers. Though you’ll find the root bitter from your sorrow, it will nourish you.”

Friday, May 29, 2009

I returned to Montana on April 22nd or so. I furiously tilled and planted a garden at my mom's house, brewed a beer and started squash in the kitchen under heat lamps. Then I started my summer job on a trail crew with the Bitterroot National Forest.

I am on a three person level 1 crew that logs out and maintains the western front of the Bitterroot Mountains. You may see us crosscutting on one of your favorite trails such as Blodgette Canyon, Kootenai Creek, Chaffin Lakes or Big Creek. Currently, I am living in Stevensville and working Monday through Thursday. We took two weeks to build a bridge on the South Fork of Lolo Creek. It was a really cool project and I got to use some carpentry tools that I had never used before. My initial feelings about this crew and this forest have all been positive. My supervisor is supportive, organized and motivated and my coworkers are hard working, fun-loving, like-minded folk.

I spent two days teaching wilderness trail skills to grade schoolers from the valley. We used an interpretive trail and lots of props and games to teach them Wilderness history, ethics and law and Leave No Trace skills. I had a really good time and felt like I was able to pass on some very valuable knowledge and stewardship values to the students. I also got to teach along side some of Wilderness Rangers and make a good impression. I haven't been doing a lot of recreating because I was sick and then I hurt my foot. But I found some Morel mushrooms out on the trail the other day and I am hoping to float the Lochsa before the water goes down.

Squash starts in my kitchen one week after planting

Squash starts 3 weeks after planting

Belgian Wit beer krausening

Ranger Rachel in her pickle suit teaching Wilderness Trail Skills

The 139 year old Doug Fir that we cut down to use to make the bridge

A diagram of the bridge we are about to build

Supervisor Steve and co-workers Craig and Portia move a log with block and tackle
Canting (making the surface flat) a sill for the bridge
Canted stringer

The location of our bridge with bank stabilizers

The first sill is set

The two stringers are on the two sills and need to be set

The decking is almost complete and the approach is being filled with crushed rock

The approach is complete and running boards and bull rails have been added

Rachel, Portia and Craig on the finished bridge

Monday, May 25, 2009

Part VII Southern Utah
April 4 to April 19

I woke up minutes before the bus arrived in St. George. There is no real bus station so I made my way to a nearby Denny’s. It was crowded on that Sunday morning and I was keeping a sharp eye out for FLDS members. St. George is only an hour or so away from Colorado City, the home of the polygamists that I read about in Escape. Larry arrived none-to-soon and we had a joyous reunion. Larry and I were co leaders two summers before for Northwest Youth Corps. Katie and I had stayed with him briefly in St. George a couple of months earlier while on a different road trip. I had really enjoyed the stay and had asked Larry if he would be interested in a backpacking trip in Escalante. He works for a Wilderness Therapy company and his schedule is a week on and then a week off. He decided to take a week off of work and therefore have three weeks to explore and backpack with me. He had a really cool trip planned in Escalante.

We spent the majority of the day reviewing his maps and organizing our gear. We made some pizza and a bunch of his friends and co-workers came over. It turned into quite a party. I really enjoyed myself and fit in easily with his outdoorsy, quirky and huggable friends. Some of the characters include Clay, the grey dread head, 60 years old and dating 25 year old Jess, their poofy-haired dog, Nick, from Pittsburg, Tennessee and her cocktail cup with the Eiffel tower and word Paris written under it that looked suspiciously like the word penis instead, Luck, who could talk your ear off and doesn’t understand body language but who can swing dance, Eric who doesn’t drink alcohol but instead sucks down energy drinks, Dave and Deirdra and her sister and mother. Then of course there was Larry’s roommate Benson and some others that I don’t remember.

Despite the fact that we partied late, we were up early, packed and ready to go by 10:00 am. The drive to Escalante was very scenic. We got permits at the information center and filled up with water. I had no expectations or ideas about desert hiking save some very false stereotypes including arid endless flat scapes of rolling sand dunes and cacti and very little else. However, as Edward Abbey describes, the desert is indeed alive and thriving in its own delicate and unique way… “There is still too much to see and marvel at, the world very much alive in the bright light and wind, exultant with the fever of spring, the delight of morning. Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life is not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

“This would be good country,” a tourist says to me, “if only you had some water.” He’s from Cleveland, Ohio.
“If we had some water here,” I reply, “this country would not be what it is. It would be like Ohio, wet and humid and hydrological, all covered with cabbage farms and golf courses. Instead of this lovely barren desert we would have only another blooming garden state, like New Jersey. You see what I mean?”
“If you had more water more people could live here.”
“Yes sir. And where then would people go when they wanted to see something besides people?”
“I see what you mean. Still, I wouldn’t want to live here. So dry and desolate. Nice for pictures but my God I’m glad I don’t have to live here.”
“I’m glad too, sir. We’re in perfect agreement. You wouldn’t want to live here, I wouldn’t want to live in Cleveland. We’re both satisfied with the arrangement as it is. Why change it?”
-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Several times, during the couple of weeks that Larry and I spent backpacking, I felt like the tourist from Ohio; my god, this is a nice place to visit but not to live. The dry grit of the sand got into everything, my clothes, my eyes, my food and even my ears. The place was prickly too. Almost all of the fauna of the desert has developed some form of defense against predators and I was constantly getting scratched or removing small thorns with duct tape. The lack of reliable and known water sources also caused huge logistical problems. We were reticent to hike too far away from the big river lest we not find a water source to get us through the next day.

However, the more we hiked and camped, the more I realized that there is a rhythm and a flow to the desert. The heat, the lack of water, the prickles, all of it simply takes a readjustment of thought. My background, of course, is the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska but with a little guidance from competent teachers such as Larry, the desert made itself more than welcoming.

We spent several days hiking up and down washes around the Escalante River. I carried a map and compass and tried to follow our progress through the canyons. The topo maps contours were like nothing I had ever seen before, chocolate smudges of lines indicating sheer cliffs and crazy islands of polka-dots representing mesas with pillar like features on top. In some cases, the topo map attempted to indicate undercuts. My eyes swam with its unfamiliarity and I often thought that if I were in a life or death situation, I would surely die due to my complete incompetence with a map. In the canyons, triangulation is futile because you can only see the canyon walls and the bend in the river ahead and behind you. Those are your only indications of location. Larry had a GPS unit that we would use to confirm our location.

The moon was waxing to full and the nights were so bright we could read aloud without a head lamp. We slept on a tarp and let the evening wind blow over us. Some nights we found giant alcoves to sleep in. Other nights, the sky threatened to storm and rain and we set up the tarp over us in a sheltered spot and packed tumble weeds around the openings as wind breaks. The weather was very temperamental and we changed our route several times in order to avoid hiking up slot canyons that could be very dangerous if a torrential downpour occurred. I started to carve a spoon from a juniper branch and Larry collected pieces for bow drill sets. We started a fire in this manner a couple times and would stay up late into the evening burning sage and chatting.

We carried in a lot of food. We ate oatmeal, apples, trail mix, tortillas with cheese, hummus and avocados, Thai peanut curry, beans and rice, tea and chocolate pudding. We carried enough water for the day. We thought we might do a couple nights of dry camping on a mesa but decided we weren’t too excited about carrying and extra 20 pounds of water with us.

The day we hiked out a haggard Jesus-looking man exploded out of the bushes and flagged us over. He was wide-eyed and strung out. He spoke quickly and urgently and gestured wildly. He explained that he and his sister were camping for a week and they couldn’t get their brand new water filter to work so they had been boiling all their water. Now they didn’t have any fuel left and they were really thirsty. He asked us if we had any iodine to spare. We didn’t have iodine but we offered to purify some water for them with our chemical purifying system. He brought us all his water holding containers: a liter-sized pot and an Odwalla juice bottle. While I purified the water, Larry attempted to fix the filter. When Larry couldn’t make it work, I took a look at it. It was covered in sand and when I took it apart, all of its pieces and o-rings were covered in sand. The filter itself wasn’t clogged. As I rinsed and lubricated everything, the man explained that he had several health problems including anemia and that he had just changed medications. He told us that he and his sister had been in survival mode for days. The more I listened to his crazy talk, the more determined I became to fix their filter. I didn’t want to have to rescue these folks. The weirdest part of the whole ordeal was that we encountered them about 4 miles from the trailhead and their vehicle. I wondered why they didn’t just hike out when they realized that their filter didn’t work. I got the filter working and the man offered us oxy-cotton and several other pain-fighting drugs in return. We declined and hastily hiked away, eager to create some space between us and them.

We spent a couple nights car camping and doing day hikes in Escalante. The weather was increasingly chilly, windy and rainy. We woke up one morning to a 3 inch blanket of snow. One of the slot canyons that we hiked in got so narrow you had to turn side-ways to fit through it. We hiked to Calf Creek Falls and watched the brown trout in the creek and dodged huge families of tourists.

We tried to escape the weather by going to Bryce Canyon National Park. We thought we would do some backpacking there but the ranger told us the backpacking wasn’t that scenic and that the trails were covered with snow anyway. We decided to car camp and I did some day hikes while Larry showered and reflected. It turned out to be colder then ever and we spent the evenings huddled around the campfire. We made an extravagant Easter meal of hard boiled eggs, roasted potatoes, onions and peppers.

We went back to Escalante and backpacked along the river to a natural bridge and then further to a natural arch with ancient ruins and petroglyphs beneath it. I finished carving my spoon and began sanding it with the sandstone near our camp. I also harvested sage to take home with me. We explored the area and found some cool poor offs and slot canyons. The crypto-biotic soil in some places was 2 or 3 inches high. We didn’t see many animals but we became intensely interested in what plants we could use or eat. I tried to skin a prickly pear but wasn’t patent enough. Larry found Mormon tea to chew on. It gives you a rush more intense than coffee.

We made one final attempt to escape the crazy weather by going to Goblin Valley but the wind was blowing so hard that we ended up getting a hotel in Green River and spending the evening the bar drinking Polygamy Porter. We found a southwestern cook book that described how to harvest yucca root and how to make tamales. We decided to go back to St. George and regroup. The weather was not cooperating and I was tired of being cold.

In St. George, we had several parties and cooked good food including tortillas and salsa. I learned how to play corn-hole, beer pong and flip cup. Larry and I planted part of his garden with peppers and squash and watched a couple of movies including Wrist Cutters.
We went on a final hike in Zion National Park to a place called the Double Arches.

All of the landscape was so beautiful and unique. I find it very hard to describe to you what I saw. I think that Ellen Meloy describes some aspects well. “The ridge runs from a crumpled mountain range in southern Utah to the Arizona desert, jumping a river along its way. It is an elongated, asymmetrical reef of Mesozoic sandstone with a face and a flank, two sides so different you thing that you are somewhere else when you are in the same place. The face rises brick-red from a broad wash, nearly vertical but for a skirt of boulders along its talus. The flank is the crazy side; an abruptly sloped flexure of ancient rock beds tilted upward into a jagged crest. Most of the massive slab is Navajo Sandstone, the Colorado Plateau’s famously voluptuous field of windblown sand dunes now consolidated into nearly pure quartz crystals. Against the steel-blue sky of a summer monsoon, the ridge bleaches to while. Moonlight blues it, and bright sun turns it pale cream or, if you are making love atop it, blush pink.”

“From afar the stone reef appears continuous, exfoliating here and there into flakes the size of small European countries. Look more closely and you will see that box canyons cut across its length ending in deep alcoves. Smaller fissures run unexpected directions, and narrow valleys hang high toward the crest, where faults have filled with sandy soil held stable by the living organism of a black crypto biotic crust. Yucca, a single leaf ash, Mormon tea, black-brush, and other shrubs find purchase in the pockets and cracks. However, most of the ridge is bare-boned slickrock. When you hike it in midsummer, you are lightning bait. It is the far edge of winter, no longer bone-cold, not yet spring’s exhalation of green. The surface of the slickrock is neither icy nor warm, just touchable.” –Ellen Meloy, The Anthropology of Turquoise
Part VII Backpacking Southern Utah
April 4 - April 19
St. George Utah, the view from Larry's back stoop
We begin our hike down Harris Wash with the remains of a dead cow; As a pioneer once said, "this country is a hell of a place to loose a cow."

Hiking down Harris Wash with a full moon in the sky

Dried cracked mud
Yoga near the Escalante River

Hiking down Harris Wash

An arch that is about 5 inches tall

The confluence of Harris Wash and the Escalante River
White Navajo sandstone

Moonrise in Escalante
Hiking up Silver Falls Wash
Trees beginning to bud in the desert
In which the cows and Larry engage in a stand off
Indian Paintbrush in bloom
Peekaboo Canyon
Unexpected winter weather hits our camp
Panoramic view of Escalante and Calf Creek

Calf Creek Falls
Panoramic views of hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park
The Cathedral Rock in BCNP
Larry prepares for our Easter egg hunt in BCNP

Panoramic view of the Escalante Canyon

Natural Bridge

Natural Arch

Archeological site beneath the natural arch

Petroglyphs beneath the natural arch

Scaling a slot canyon

Planting tomatoes and peppers in Larry's garden

Zion National Park

Double Arches in ZNP