Thursday, April 08, 2010

WEEKEND WARRIOR: Kicking Around the Swell & Green River

This last weekend I met Karen in Green River and her old roommate from Oakland, Peter, and his girlfriend.  We got off toward camp later than planned and bumbled our way off I-70 along the Hatt Ranch cutoff road and camped along the San Rafael Reef.   Here's some pics from that morning, which was the best weather of the day.

Karen makes breakfast

After the others left, Karen and I made our way east to camp along Labyrinth Canyon.

Everett the dog wanders past Karen's meditating spot
Labyrinth Canyon with the Green River visible

Five Hole Arch

Monday, March 29, 2010

Abandoned Factory

I love pictures of old, rusting stuff!  This place is probably a Superfund site and I couldn't believe it was just sitting there in the middle of nowhere with its chain link gate hanging alluringly ajar.  The whole time I was there I kept waiting for someone to show up and kick me out, but nobody ever came.  The place has an air of quiet toxicity.

The Machinery of Magical Thinking?

Luckily it seems like the first commercial scale tar sands project in Utah is still quite a few hurdles from being a done deal.  Economic uncertainty and an unproven technology leave significant doubt that this project has legs.

Company seeks first U.S. oil sands project, in Utah - Salt Lake Tribune

I went to the demonstration site for this project a couple of years ago on a tour of the Bookcliffs.  The project was small, but pretty ugly, sitting high in the East Tavaputs just north of the Grand County line.

 Tailings pit

Magical tar sands machinery

This is where the 11 secret herbs and spices are added to the process.


This is the worst type of energy development - one that is energy-intensive to recover, wrecks landscapes and produces lots of greenhouse gases.  We have to do better than this!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

West Desert weekend

After a week of work I was ready for my first foray into my new back yard - Utah's portion of the Great Basin. I was struck by the vast silence of the place.  The occasional truck and a few herds of sheep were all that I saw.  This was a solo recon trip to get to know the lay of the land and identify places I want to come back to for a closer inspection.

Simpson Range

Keg Mountains

Keg Mountains

Drum Mountains

Drum Mountains

Drum Mountains

Swasey Mountain

Fish Springs Mountains

Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge with Fish Springs Mountains in background

Monday, March 15, 2010

Yampa River Reality Check

Like many river lovers I was relieved when Shell Oil announced that they were abandoning their plans to secure water rights to divert water from the Yampa River to use for oilshale development.  But it got me thinking about some of the existing diversions from the Yampa.  There are two large coal-fired power plants drawing water from the river to cool the steam that drives their turbines.  There are numerous crop irrigation diversions along the way.  As I was recently driving west along US Highway 40, I thought about how the last undammed river in the Colorado River system was far from being an untouched wilderness river.

It was fitting, as I drove west returning from the east to Utah, to measure my sentimentalized and sometimes romantic associations with the Colorado Plateau against the realities.  Weird how I can be simultaneously immersed in the daily fighting to secure protection for this region and also romantic about it.  I guess we have to invent our own mythology when we love a place - a kind of idealized form that we can run our mental fingers over even when half a continent away to remind ourselves of the true essence of the object of our affections.

Also, I think the coal plants sucking water from our best, last river is also symbolic between regional and global environmental problems.  The coal plants take a little water, sure, but they also are contributing mightily to our climate woes.  Traveling what I thought was a route that would gently bring back to mind a more innocent time in my own past turned out to be a pressing microcosm of the most serious problems that confront us today.  High in the watershed of the Yampa, Hwy. 40 passes through Steamboat Springs, dependent on snow and skiers to deliver livelihoods.  An hour later you pass through Craig, home of the largest coal plant in Colorado, which supports the whole local economy but also undermines their neighbors upstream.  Downstream again to Dinosaur National Monument, where declining, endangered native fish like the humpback chub are clinging to life only because of the free flowing snow melt runoff of the Yampa - imperiled be reduced snows linked to global warming.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

TRIP REPORT: High Water Yampa

So here are the photos from our recent Yampa River trip. An incredible trip that I am not yet ready to blog about at length. The river was pumping at 22,300 cfs at put in. More details to come!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

TRIP REPORT: San Juan River

I know that I am finding my balance in life when I find myself on the river two weekends in a row. The opportunity presented to paddle the upper San Juan River, between Bluff and Mexican Hat, with my housemate Franklin, his girlfriend K-rissy and our friend Matt Gross (a Moabite in diaspora living in North Carolina. I didn't have to think long before accepting this invitation.

We rigged on Friday morning got to the put in at Sand Island later in the afternoon. Our friend Todd, a ranger with the BLM, was working there and saw us off, wishing no doubt he could come with us. With the river running at a swift 3,700 cubic feet per second, we quickly made some miles downstream, pausing to take in the amazing Anasazi petroglyphs at Butler Wash. We made camp above Desecration Canyon on a fine beach. Driftwood was plentiful and we whiled away the evening with a great fire and an amazing dinner of breaded tilapia, broccoli and cous cous.

We welcomed the next day with a lazy morning in camp, complete with breakfast burritos and coffee with a nip of Irish cream. We got off on the river, stopping for hikes to the incredible river house ruin and the rock art up Chinle Wash. Between those two hikes I took an unexpected swim to retrieve an oar ripped out of the oarlock after the oar caught in the sandy bottom of the shallow river. A little excitement in an otherwise calm stretch of river. We entered Lime Ridge and soon spotted a group of mature male bighorn sheep at the river edge. We made camp on a lovely ledge after several other camps we hoped for were already occupied by other boaters. It was a busy weekend on the San Juan. Another great dinner ensued, consisting of pork chops and applesauce. We retired to another large driftwood fueled fire and lively conversation.

The third day broke with warm sunshine into the gorge of Honaker and Paradox formation limestones, reminders of the great age of the rocks surrounding us. These limestones were formed by ancient seas that covered this region during the Pennsylvanian epoch some 300 million years ago. We easily navigated Eight Foot Rapid and Ledge Rapid. Afterward, I put on my work hat to check for signs of use or maintenance on a disputed ATV route along the river near Ledge Rapid. I would be saddened to see motorized vehicles in this beautiful and wild canyon, home to one of the state's most successful bighorn sheep herds.

By late afternoon we made the take out and shuttled cars. After derig we ate at a singularly impressive establishment in Mexican Hat, the Swinging Steak. This cowboy themed outdoor restaurant featured steaks cooked over a hot fire on a swinging grill, ensuring even heat. The old guy cooking the steaks sported a cowboy hat and a western shirt unbuttoned to nearly his navel, bristling with white chest hair. The place was straight out of a Coen brothers movie and provided a great ending to our river trip before our ride home.

This trip reminded me again of what a great river trip for a long weekend the Upper San Juan is. The past two weekends on the river have served to remind me how important traveling by river is to my sense of sanity and happiness.