Sunday, June 21, 2015

Get Into The Swing Of It

Close Call on The Swinging Bridge 
An interesting aspect of travel is that once you’ve stayed in either a building or an area long enough it starts to feel like home.You get used to the environment.People traveling in recreational vehicles get accustomed to getting up from the front passenger seat and heading back to the refrigerator to get a cold drink or use the bathroom. A small problem exists though when you get up from the driver’s seat to do the same while the vehicle is in motion. You have to remember that salient difference. Believe it or not, I've caught myself while driving getting the notion to jump up and go get a soda. Lets see, IF I'm really fast... Nah.

Other local residents of Moffat County (extreme NW Colorado) are accustomed to doing daring deeds too. Every day local ranchers make use of the local “swinging bridge.” They are accustomed to its risks and rewards. Let’s also admit that this bridge in Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge has seen its better days, but continues to be needed for moving livestock to greener pastures or taking the gravel road shortcut to the biggest town around here, Vernal, Utah.

This suspension bridge is almost exactly the width of a tractor or a medium size car. Just a few inches to spare. No passing allowed. The bridge supports the weight of one typical older car: 3 tons. Flanked on both sides by loosely bound 2"x4” wood frames held together by irregular sections of chain-link fencing, this barrier keeps sheep, cattle, and little children from falling into the river. Not much else.

The roadbed consists of thin, aged wooden planks laid on a few thick wooden beams that then rest on steel crossbars. The gap between the planks is large enough to stick your hand through.

Swinging Bridge Approach from the North
Admittedly, wooden bridges without roofs do a) tend to deteriorate faster and b) not support quite the same heavy loads that modern steel and concrete structures can. That doesn't stop the brave locals from getting used to driving all sorts of vehicles across the swinging bridge.

Case in point: earlier this year a ranch hand decided to drive a large, heavy, four wheel drive tractor with a BIG, wide front loader bucket across the bridge. Sure the tractor weighed more than the bridge design allowed, but the day’s work must get done before sundown.

Create your own mental picture of the scene. The driver is slowly squeezing across the bridge when at about the halfway point the heavily loaded front wheels suddenly crash through the floor and the driver sitting above the rear axle starts to follow. Of course, this is when you realize that if it weren't for that big, heavy bucket this probably wouldn't have happened, but it’s too late.

One Lane Swinging Bridge 
But, suddenly everything stops moving. You see, if it weren't for that same wide bucket the entire tractor would be resting in the icy waters of the Green River. The bucket caught the tractor front end after it fell several feet thus likely scared the bejeezus out of one lucky tractor jockey.

That very same bucket also proved useful in rescuing the tractor by using its hydraulics to raise the front end up high enough to slide temporary steel beams under the tires across the shattered void. The tractor was thus able to be driven gingerly across the bridge to safe harbor.

The swinging bridge remains out of commission today while the government and the rancher’s insurance company work out a settlement. In the meantime, you too can try your luck crossing this swinging bridge on a temporary, pedestrian gang plank that spans the void. I used it. It’s not hard to do once you get the swing of it.

Temporary Pedestrian Passage on The Swinging Bridge

Bison, Beaver and Butch Cassidy in Brown's Hole

Looking West into Brown's Park National Wildlife Refuge
April 27, 2015
I’m alone this week at the campground as Ranger Mike attends more law enforcement training, but the workload is light with only two rafting parties launching before the weekend. It’s time to catch up on RV projects, reading, and doing some local travel like I did last week when I explored more of Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Colorado.

I went to meet the refuge staff and take the driving tour of the refuge. The refuge abuts Dinosaur National Monument on its northern borders. It is one nearly 600 national wildlife refuges and “Wetland Management Districts” in the USA that all totaled cover over 150,000,000 acres (roughly the same size as Alaska).

Like all refuges it provides sanctuary for migratory birds, harbors endangered and threatened species, and offers hunting, fishing, photography and other recreational opportunities.

Originally known locally as “Brown’s Hole” it was a favorite location for fur trappers and settlers in the 1830’s. Fort Davy Crockett [Fort Misery (Fort de Misere)] was constructed in 1837 as a trading post and as defense against attacks by the Blackfoot Nation. The fort was abandoned in the 1840's after the decline in beaver pelt prices, a falling out between proprietors of the fort due to horse thievery and excessive consumption of their main product, alcohol.

After the gold rush era the valley became a favorite wintering ground for cattle. In the literal Wild West Brown’s Hole acquired a deserved reputation as a hideout for cattle rustlers, horse thieves, and outlaws. Butch Cassidy is said to have earned his name and reputation while working for a local rancher. He returned to the region throughout his famous outlaw career.

The refuge was created in 1963 as a political trade related to the damming of the Green River in 1962 near a little town called Dutch John. The 502 foot tall Flaming Gorge Dam created a 91 mile long reservoir that can hold two years of normal water flow from the Green River. The dam is a major source of hydroelectricity for the Green River system and is the main flood-control facility. It severely impacts the flow of water into Dinosaur National Monument. Attempts have been made in the past to expand the six dam system by damming the Yampa River that flows westward through the monument and joins the Green River. Thankfully, proponents failed in that quest thus preserving one of the few free flowing white water rivers in the West.

Green River Flows East and South into Dinosaur National Monument 
Grassland plants cover nearly 1,700 acres of the 2 square mile refuge. Once the forage of herds of bison valley, the predominate plant species include the alkali sacaton, inland salt grass, western wheatgrass, and Great Basin wild rye. Northern harriers, and numerous songbirds use these grasses for nesting cover. They are also home to small mammals, like the montane vole and magnitudes larger, elk and mule deer.

Over many years grasslands becomes heavily matted. This retards seasonal regrowth and plant diversity. Prescribed burns are used to remove the matted vegetation. There are prescribed burns taking place this week in the refuge.

Another 7,612 acres consist of semi-desert shrubland. Sage grouse, Brewer’s sparrow, loggerhead shrike, Ord’s kangaroo rat, and sagebrush vole all depend upon these plants as do moose, mule deer, elk, and pronghorn that winter in the river valley.

As in the Gates of LoDore campground area Pinyon Pine and Utah Juniper dominate 1,083 acres of the refuge. Many species depend on this arid environment up and away from the river, including gray flycatchers, pinyon jays, several species of bats, and lizards.

This is also, obviously, riverine habitat that attracts a variety of waterfowl, ungulates and other animals. I have two nesting pairs of Canada Geese just across the river from the boat ramp along with numerous rabbits, black-billed magpies and other crows, jays and ravens that all seem to be thriving. Up the river a short piece I can see efforts of beavers to build their own dams. Bear and geese tracks can be seen in the river sand and silt. Mountain lions have been spotted surveying the campground from the ridge above by some campers. Mule deer commute daily along the western shore of the river. Wapiti (elk) travel up and down the game trails of the refuge. This area is still quite isolated and we itinerant humans are provided an increasingly rare opportunity to witness the varied cycles of nature.


Dinosaur National Monument, Wade & Davis Cabin - April 17, 2015

The National Park Service just used one of my recent photos of Dinosaur National Monument for their Facebook post today. 

Hey, now I are a nationally published photographer per se...Next step: an international curated exhibit in the campground pit toilet. Huzah!

Wade and Curtis Cabin

Canyonlands National Park - Needles District - April 9, 2015

"Wherever we look there is but a wilderness of rocks; deep gorges where the rivers are lost below the cliffs and towers and pinnacles; and ten thousand strangely carved forms in every direction; and beyond them, mountains blending with the clouds."       ~ John Wesley Powell in "Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries."

It's an hour drive from Moab to the Needles district where the great visuals appear in the park starting with the deep canyon shown below. In the second picture 'find Waldo' scaling the vertical crack up the edifice.

Further down the road begin the (in)spiring monuments and eroding stone needles punctuating the skyline.

At the end of the road are elaborate canyons and a trail leading to a view of the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers some 1,000 feet below.

I tip my hat to another gorgeous day in Utah's canyonlands.

Canyonlands National Park - April 7, 2015

"Wherever we look, there is a wilderness of rocks, deep gorges where the rivers are lost below cliffs and towers and pinnacles, and 10,000 strangely carved forms in every direction, and beyond them, mountains blending with the clouds."
~ John Wesley Powell

I spent the day in Canyonlands National Park's three districts that cover more than 527 square miles. Today's hikes and drive was in the Island In The Sky district. Tomorrow I will see the Needles District before I must report for duty at Dinosaur National Monument. The Maze district adjoins Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and has its own entrance several hours drive away from Moab where I am camped over unimproved dirt roads.

I took hike UP Aztec Butte and saw the granaries built by Native Americans.

Another short hike was to the rim of Upheaval Dome. Surprisingly I could access Facebook from there on my phone. The dome is interesting because two different theories exist to explain its existence. It was either formed from a huge salt dome that collapsed or an asteroid hit the spot and did its little annihilation thingy leaving a 500 foot deep crater.

The other two best panorama views in this district are 1) the Grandview Overlook that shows the Colorado River 1500 feet below and three miles to the east, and 2) Shafer Canyon jeep "roadway" hugging the sheer canyon walls. Originally built for sheepherders it was 'quietly' improved enough during WWII to allow uranium mine prospecting trucks to enter the canyon to support the war effort. Today this 42 mile road called the White Rim Road is used as a bike and ATV trail.

Arches National Park

April 6, 2015

I'm sitting here drinking my second bottle of Evolution Amber Ale. The company marketing correctly states that "The fossil record shows that beer alone is responsible for the evolutionary leap from ape to man". I passed on the brewer's other Utah product: Polygamy Porter.

I'm celebrating a great day that included signing my house sale closing papers.

Today was spent at Arches National Park where I hiked to six of the park's documented 2000+ arches.

The road through the park is spectacular!  Here's more pics of some of the best of Arches:

  • Sand Dune Arch: perhaps it might also be called fat wiener dog arch.
  • Balanced Rock
  • Delicate Arch: Access requires a 480 ft climb over 1.5 miles. Everybody had to get their group pic under the arch. I made my own route back to the trailhead affording some different perspective.

The most impressive hike was to view Landscape Arch: 306 ' long. A major section of the right side of the arch fell in 1991 and was actually photographed as it fell. Looking at the arch today, one would think it will fall at any moment. Look at the long horizontal crack running its full length.

Easter - 2015

OY! What a day! I left this morning intent on getting to Moab by mid-afternoon. No such luck.
There's a section of Interstate-70 that goes over two passes and has no services for 100+ miles. Being loaded with gear and towing the Honda CRV, I usually don't want to fill either the 60 gal water tank (480 lbs) or 75 gallon gas tank (400+ lbs). Getting over passes is hard enough without the added weight.

Well, by the time I mounted the first steep pass I had consumed half of my half filled gas tank. The next pass looked higher on the map. I pulled over at a side road that took a shorter path (37 mile vs. 80+) to a town with gas and it would let me travel through Capital Reef National Park.

Silly me. The map did not show that it went over an 8500' pass with multiple 8% grades. My engine kept overheating and at each of the three events I'd lose 2 gallons of coolant. But I do sometimes come prepared. I had 5 gallons in storage. I was nearly out of coolant for the final leg over the pass (8% grade for 3 miles with multiple switchbacks.)

Did I mention the 40 mph headwind?

I didn't want to risk losing it all with no place to pull off the 2 lane road. So, I unhitched the car, scouted the final leg and drove to the first gas station to fill-up on water.

You still with me?

Got gas and water. Returned to the RV being guarded by the mad dogs. Filled the radiator and made a fearless mad dash for the summit. Piece O' Cake! Made it without incident. Walked back two miles to get the car. Drove to the summit, co-joined the vehicles and cruised down the mountain backside to the gas station.
Whew. Exciting!

Finally drove through Capital Reef National Park. WOW, was that drive impressive! It was hard to drive while gawking at theroadside scenery. I must return and explore more later.

While exiting the park I picked up a hitchhiker and drove him to the hostel in Moab.

So, a not so blessed 15 hr day, but definitely challenging and visually exhilarating.

Desert Flowers ???

April 4, 2015

Looming from the desert near were these 18 "flowers".

I studied the construction and am hard pressed to determine their exact function. My guess is that they were a part of a cattle ranch that sprayed water mist below to cool the animals.
There are plastic petals on the top that rotated the two spray heads.

Very elaborate and expensive, no doubt.

Executive Order 9066: Incarcerate American Citizens

The Topaz Internment Baseball Field Remains

April 4, 2015

The Goal: Incarcerate 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry (2/3 of which were AMERICAN CITIZENS.)

Topaz Internment Baseball Diamond Home Base Backstop
In Topaz, Utah they built approximately 500 tar papered shacks that saw over 11,000 men, women, and children make a makeshift home between 1942 and 1945.

Topaz Internment Former Housing Barracks Site

Cleared of all vegetation, this isolated isolated outpost of inhumanity to man closed to allow people to rebuild their lives in a more hospitable political and temperate climate.
Each barracks was un-insulated and heated with a pot-bellied stove. Temps ranged from -30 to 106+.

A shameful episode of American history disappearing in the desert.

Major Tourism Attraction?


I left Salt Lake City this morning after 11 days and will spend two nights in Fillmore, UT seeing the first Utah territorial statehouse.
Drove by major Utah tourism site.

Can you identify the two animals? <snark>

In Fillmore, Utah (yes, named after Millard) I began the day at Utah's first territorial capital. Mormon plans went awry when the influx of non-Mormons couldn't see locating the capital so far away from the population center in Salt Lake City.

When I arrived the city Easter egg hunt and Easter bonnet contest were well underway. When I entered the territorial museum building the broadcast Mormon church service was blasting away. It seemed somehow appropriate in this state owned building given the history of Brigham Young hiding the Deseret News Press in the building for two months during the Utah War. It had similar contents to the Pioneer's Museum in Salt Lake that I toured earlier this month, but with more local artifacts.

I left to drive an hour N.E. to the Topaz Japanese Internment Camp.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Habitat For Humanity Care-A-Vanners at the Tabernacle

March 26, 2015

My three new Care-A-Vanner friends (Judi, Maria, and Linda) cut roof rafters and installed roof sheathing today at the Salt Lake Habitat For Humanity build.
After, we ate at the Red Iguana and listened to the 90 minute rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and orchestra.