Monthly Archives: June 2014
There is a difference between Californians and Utahans: the Coastals are always looking for water. While water is not hard to find in canyoneering routes, as they are typically drainages, I have never seen a group of people act more amphibian-like than when my friends from California came out to Utah for some desert adventure. Personally, I would just as soon avoid cold water altogether, but I endure it to see beautiful landscapes I would not otherwise get to see; my friends?
They explore beautiful desert landscapes almost like sailors out at sea, but rather than looking for land, they are perpetually on the look-out for an oasis. As if these Californians had gills, every outing ended in a river, a swimming hole, a pool, or a reservoir, and luckily for me, also at human watering holes. It is not often that I forget how awesome it is to live here, but when my friends came to visit I not only saw just how incredible this place is and how lucky I am to live here by seeing it through their eyes, I got to experience it with a dash of California that made it fun, different, and yes, wet.
Over the years my husband and I befriended employees at the Patagonia Headquarters in Ventura California. We periodically head out there for events or to visit friends and family. When there, we of course buy bomber Patagonia wear or gear and chat with the locals. Those random conversations, laughs, and shared time have turned into real friendships, and though Ventura couldn’t be more opposite from St. George, the commonality of awesome outdoor adventures soon led our new friends to come visit us and check out the Utah scene. Not wanting to disappoint, we obliged them with a 10 day, packed to the hilt, non-stop, wear your ass out, southern Utah adventure.
It was a whirlwind canyoneering, hiking, climbing, swimming, camping, eating and drinking party. We had a blast. It was like vacationing in our own backyard. Though we would certainly go out and do these things on our own, it is not often that we would put our life on hold and do it for 10 days, but I am now convinced that everyone must do this at least once. Go on vacation where you live. Not a day hike or an over-nighter; not while keeping up with email, work, and chores – just a no holds barred, multiple day break from the obligations of life vacation, right where you live. You might be amazed at how incredible it is.
We practically lived in Zion, spending more than half of our time there. Because our friends staggered their arrival and came in two different groups, we did Pine Creek Canyon and the Triple Crown: Birch, Orderville, and the Narrows twice and virtually back-to-back-to-back. Pine Creek is a very popular, relatively short, subterranean canyon that is a good one to start with. When you go at the right time of day, golden sunlight fills the narrow slot and makes it glow. Of course there is the dreaded water and a large pool in the Cathedral that I endured (twice no doubt), that my friends, not surprisingly, loved, relished, swam around in, and shot loads of photos in. Even with a wetsuit it was cold and since we didn’t start at the golden hour, the canyon was dark and cold as well.
That is the beauty and danger of many of the canyons in Zion. Most of the time you can get in and out of the water quickly, but sometimes you can’t, and even in the summer, standing around wet in cold shade for very long can be a game changer; so I headed out with some others to warm up in the sunlight and waited for the water lovers to get their fill and rejoin us on the ledge of the last 90 foot, free hanging rappel. In contrast, the hike back out to our car was scorching hot, so the cold was quickly forgotten and by the time we scrambled out of the canyon we were ready for some more and jumped and yee-hawed into the swimming hole. It was cold, but refreshing.
The great secret of Zion is that all trails end in Springdale, at least if you go in the right direction. With its varied watering holes, it is my version of a cool reprieve in the desert and we of course took our friends to our favorite local spots. After Pine Creek we camped in Zion to be ready for a shuttle taking us to Birch Hollow early the next morning. So far, Birch and Orderville Canyons ending in the Narrows is my favorite hike in the park. You get to experience three completely different canyons all in one hike. Birch, thankfully, has no water.
Going down Birch is like being a skipped stone across water, just one rappel after another. The last rappel is the longest, most fun, and most photographed and both times I have gone it was photo worthy and awesome. The hike into Orderville starts like a dried out river bed, and rather blandly. It is open and feels more like a hike – until you start seeing water that is. A natural spring marks the beginning of those famous towering walls and legendary slots. Orderville is full of awkward down climbs and rappels into rushing water and pools. It has hanging gardens as well as hanging rocks. It is the most fairytale-like hike in the Canyon. Of course it dumps you into the Narrows, just the last two to three miles of it, which gives you just enough of a sense of the Narrows to appreciate it. If timed right the setting sun hits the walls as you exit and it is like walking through cold fire. It is spectacular. And though the amount of people balloons in the famous canyon, it’s so amazing, you really don’t care.
We had bumps and scratches from the canyons, but it wasn’t enough. A trip out to Gooseberry Mesa for some world class mountain biking was on the dockets as well. Since no trip really happens unless it has been documented, one of our friends strapped on a Go Pro and pedaled out. Not disappointing us, he crashed and burned and we all oohed and ahhed when we watched it. Gooseberry is like Moab minus all the jeeps and is a mountain biker’s heaven, or at least it is when you are not roasting in the sun. Another stop had to be made on the way home at Quail Creek Reservoir for a dip in the water. After the mountain biking trek our friends treated us to a home cooked meal of tacos, chips, guacamole, and no, not water, but beer. We made a fire in our front yard, played some tunes, and had a great, cool but not cold, evening under the stars.
We also got out and did some climbing, but not nearly enough in my estimation (next time). The rock climbing opportunities here are everywhere, and the beauty of climbing here is that most of the time, you get the crag to yourself. The more rock climbing inclined members of the group were astounded at the uncrowded walls and crags, stating that if they were in California they would be packed every day, and vowed to come back. There wasn’t time to do any climbing in Zion, but I am sure that will happen in the future at some point. Some front country hikes were done on the final day of the trip and then our frog friends were gone, back to the beaches of California to surf, paddle, swim, and scuba dive.
When they left we turned back to our quiet and well-used house, empty fridge, and piling obligations that we had put on hold while they were here, not quite ready to get back to normal. We felt a void in our friends’ absence and re-enacted our time with them in conversations, stories, and laughter after they left. Already they are hinting at another trip our way, and we are thinking of what we will get out and do this time: Southern Utah the sequel. I’m more exited this time around, not only for the prospect of more adventures, but to hang with my ultra-versatile, yet insanely cool, Cali friends.
I am certain, and now prepared, that I will get an unusual dose of water not easily found in the desert hanging with this crowd, but I am stoked at the prospect of vacationing in my backyard again because it’s that awesome; and because it’s as good as vacationing anywhere else, if not more so because home turns into an exotic and thrilling home-away-from-home. And perhaps we will return the favor and bring a little desert with us the next time we visit them. While I am certain they know they live in a stellar place, maybe they also will get the chance to see their home through our eyes and vacation in their own backyard with renewed excitement and perspective. Hell, I might even stick a foot in the ocean…with the other on solid land of course.
“It is easy for us to assume that as the result of modern science “we have conquered nature,” that nature is now confined to beaches for children and to national parks where the few remaining grizzly bears have been shot with tranquilizers and removed to above the timberline, supposedly for their safety and our own. But we should be prepared for the possibility, even if we are going to accompany modern firefighters into Mann Gulch, that the terror of the universe has not yet fossilized and the universe has not run out of blowups.” ~ Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire
Robert Sallee died a week ago at age 82 on Monday, May 26, 2014. Does this mean anything to you? It didn’t to me either until I bumped into his obituary two days ago. In 1949 15 men were dropped into the Gates of the Mountains in Montana to fight the Mann Gulch Fire; Salle was one of only three smokejumpers to survive and was the last surviving member to pass on. The Mann Gulch Fire was one of the worst tragedies in the history of the U.S. Forest Service. It was Sallee’s first and last jump.
As I ran up into BLM land just behind my house today, the scent of juniper thick in the hot desert air, I thought of recent fire blow-ups that cost lives; the most recent being the Yarnell Fire in Arizona in 2013 that took the lives of 19 firefighters. While we can analyze events in hindsight and question decisions and subsequent actions, the truth is, fire is a reality, it is normal and it can be managed, but it is also and always dangerous. Though firefighters love what they do, whether it is the adrenaline rush, out-smarting the fire, problem solving, or traveling around the country rather than sitting in an office, none of them goes into a fire to give their lives. They are all equipped with the training and tools to do their jobs and all expect to be successful and drink a cool beer at the end. As Norman Maclean wrote in Young Men and Fire,
“Jumping (wildland firefighting) is one of the few jobs in the world that leads to just one moment when you must be just highly selected pieces of yourself that fit exactly the pieces of your training, your pieces of equipment having been made with those pieces of yourself and your training in mind.”
But with the effects of global warming and radical or bleak weather, drought, bark beetles, invasive grasses, and low budgets set by Congress, it appears even more daunting a task to be a wildland firefighter these days, even with the right pieces and training. As we on the sidelines watch the evening news and catch glimpses of the battles being fought in our forests and across our lands, we must recognize that our one vote and voice does matter – it matters where it counts most: money allocation.
While Congress cannot control the weather or events that take place on the ground, they do control the purse strings which should provide adequate funding for personnel and resources. Unfortunately, land management agencies routinely get their budgets cut and these agencies have to do more with less – less firefighters, less gear, less equipment. We have a responsibility to turn to our representatives and demand that they fund these agencies accordingly, and if their records show a history of voting for cuts to budgets, to get rid of them.
We all have a stake in our land – whether it reaches the boundaries of our property or not. We also have a stake in providing funding to the men and women who choose this profession. If we can’t control the weather, the wind, or the fire, we can at least control the money flow while we enjoy the great outdoors that so many manage, work on for our enjoyment, and protect.
Luckily today the smell of juniper was not a thick blanket of smoke hoping to choke me out or burn up my lungs – it was just the warm, earthy scent that naturally rises off the plants and seemingly out of the ground. It was a beautiful, if not hot, day. But if this fire season turns out the way that many are predicting, it may feel like the world and sky is burning. It is good to learn the names and remember the people who choose to do this job and who face greater risks and more fires in the future. With scarce water and ever mounting CO2 being blown into the air by burning forests, we have a stake in their success. It could not be more appropriate as fire season ramps up that Robert Sallee died on Memorial Day 2014. May he rest in peace.
“For many former Smokejumpers, then, smoke jumping is not closely tied up with their way of life, but is more something that is necessary for them to pass through and not around and, once it is unmistakably done, does not have to be done again. The “it” is within, and is the need to settle some things with the universe and ourselves before taking on the “business of the world,” which isn’t all that special or hard but takes time. This “it” is the something special within that demands we do something specials, and “it” could be within a lot of us.” ~Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire
For a look at the South Canyon Fire where another 14 firefighters died in Colorado: