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Thursday, August 8, 2002

Team South: The First Days
The American Frontiers Journey, a trek from the Mexican border to the
Canadian border on public lands, was envisioned by the Public Lands
Interpretive Association in Albuquerque several years ago. After years of planning and organizing, the trek is now underway.

Dave Mensing and Dennis Lund, BLM and Forest Service American Frontiers liaisons respectively, had visited Las Cruces in the Spring of 2000, to map a route for trekkers to travel from The Mexican to Canadian border on public land, using all modes of ground and water transportation. Dave had sent me a map, whereby I called him up and said "Dave, that route sucks, not even the illegals go through 80 miles of mesquite in a day", so they had come down to find a better route. We spent a couple of days in the field, and mapped a route, relying mostly on four wheel drive vehicles to traverse the Chihuahuan Desert terrain of the Las Cruces Field Office.

In July of 2002, I was requested as a guide for the southern team of
American Frontiers Journey trekkers. I was told that the southern team leader, Bob Hammond, would be getting in touch with me before the July 31 start date. Bob called me from Albuquerque on the morning of July 30, and said the team would be in Las Cruces that evening, and wanted me to meet them for dinner. I left work an hour early so I could hit the gym before the dinner meeting, and had just walked in the door when the phone rang. It was Bob, saying they'd meet me at the hotel lobby at six, about 15 minutes away. I jumped in the shower, and drove to the motel. After meeting the trekkers and support team, we dined. Bob's first question was "What time do we need to leave to be standing on the border at 7:00?". I
said he must be kidding, but he wasn't. After dinner, some of us filled a large water tank for the team while others double-checked the rest of the equipment, which included four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, mountain bikes, generators, and camping gear. The vehicles and generators were donated by American Honda, the largest corporate sponsor, with other gear donated by Cruise America (a command center Recreational Vehicle), Coleman (tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves), and other sponsors.

The trek team consists of Julie Overbaugh, an EMT from Alaska (and wife ofAKSO Recreation Resource Advisor Bill Overbaugh), Catherine Kiffe (a teacher from Louisiana), Richard Tyrell (a climber from Pennsylvania), and Jan Nesset (an outdoors enthusiast from Durango CO, who quit his job to participate). The support crew is Bob Hammond (team leader), Kay Gandy (teacher alternate), Jessica Terrel (Naturalist and alternate), Jacob MacLeod (another naturalist and alternate), Ron Monnig (dirt biker and alternate), Lorie McGraw (camp cook), and Vipul Lakhani (doctor). Kevin Burtnette, a National Geographic Society videographer was along as well. Kevin and another videographer will be swiching back and forth between the two teams.

I set my alarm for 4:45 A.M. At 5:00, the radio station went on the air and I awoke, stressed to be late already. Fortunately, I had set up my cappucino machine the night before, so as I dressed, it made espresso. I took a quadruple cappucino in a travel mug, and met the crew about 5:20. By 5:30, we were on the road. We drove south to El Paso and then West to the southern end of the West Potrillo Mountains. It had rained about an inch over the area the previous night, and the playa lakes and road ditches were full of water. It was warm, humid, and overcast, perfect weather for the desert in July. At 6:50, as we approached the Mexican border on foot, Bob contacted the Washington Office via satellite phone. The northern
team, starting in Glacier National Park, would also be calling in, and at 7:00 Mountain Standard time, Washington would tell both teams "Go".

The satellite phone connection died, and we stood on the border for 20
minutes or so while Bob tried to get it back. We took numerous photos of the trek team, both with and without the support team, but couldn't reconnect to Washington, so finally started the trek. We walked back up to the vehicles. The desert was alive after the rain, with grass sprouting up bright green, and cattle munching it happily. We picked up a glossy snake that was stertched out between the wet sand dunes. We saw desert millipedes, shiny detritivores with dozens of body segments and leg pairs. We saw tarantula hawk wasps, and discussed their life history. At least five species of lizards were scurrying around us. Like a bonehead, I had left my headlights on, and had to jump my truck off one of the Hondas, but
we were underway.

We four-wheel drived up a two track through the West Potrillo Mountains Wilderness Study Area, the largest BLM Wilderness Study Area in New Mexico. The trail was extremely rough and rocky, and we averaged about two miles an hour. At noon, we stopped for lunch about 17 miles travel distance, but only eight miles as a crow flies from our starting point.

In the afternoon, we stopped at a dirt livestock tank, and saw thousands of tadpoles from both toads and spadefoots swimming in the muck with fairy shrimp. Fairy shrimp are arthropods that resemble little horseshoe crabs, about an inch long. They lay tiny eggs, which are carried across the desert in the Spring windstorms, and are washed down into puddles and seasonal ponds in the torrential monsoon rains of the Summer, where they hatch and thrive. At about 3:00, we had to stop while Richard played machanic, and removed a large part that had been knocked loose from the bottom of the CRV, a small-sized sport utility vehicle. He plugged the hoses with duct tape, and the car still ran, so we went onward. We later found out that the part is a fuel vapor return system, and Honda recommended we just drive without it.

By 4:00, we left the Wilderness Study Area. The road had long mudholes in the clay-soiled draw bottoms, great places to get stuck. Fortunately, we were able to cruise through without any vehicles bogging down. We traversed another 50 miles of dirt roads at a faster pace, averaging maybe 20 miles an hour.

At Interstate 10, the trek crew had to disembark and walk across the
Interstate, since the interchange is on private land. The local news
reporter, who had been riding with me all day, insisted that we stop at the gas station so she could call her editor and use the bathroom. Trying to save her some embarrassment, I explained to the crew that we would be stopped a few minutes so she could use the phone. She screeched at me "and use the bathroom, don't forget the bathroom, that's the most important part. I've been holding all day, I don't want to gross you out". I wanted to tell her she just had, but opted instead to point out that "everybody on the team has used the bathroom in the field at least once today, and that people have been going to the bathroom in the field for days now".

Another half hour of driving, and we reached the first night's camp, which had been set up by the support team by about noon. We found a western hognose snake nearby, ate chicken fajitas, and wound down. All night long, I heard the tech crew rustling around. They had a trailer with a satellite dish and computers, and were mapping the route we had taken. They were supposed to have the route already input, and the capability to print maps, but had encountered software problems. I grouped us all in either the trekkies, the techies, or the groupies. The techies were up most of the night working on their system.

The second morning, we started at 7:00. We drove the trekkers for a few miles, then dropped them off with a map and directions to hike over a ridge of low hills. We knocked the fuel vapor return system off the second CRV within half an hour. We drove around and met them on the other side, where they jumped on mountain bikes for about nine miles of flat, straight, bladed roads. A little more driving, and they had to jump out to hike around a small private land parcel. While they were doing that, they realized that I had screwed up and dropped them off too far up the road, on the private land, so they got to go repeat the hike in the right place.

We went up into the Uvas Mountains, which rise about 3,000 feet above the surrounding desert. The paved road gave way to a two track, wich had been turned into a boulder-strewn gully by many inches of rain. What was expected to be an hour drive took about four hours at a snail's pace, and we had to stop and move boulders or rebuild arroyo crossings in places. Julie rode with me, and we had some fine conversations. She said that her husband had likened the trip to "Survivor". I told her that I had had the same thought, except that on the trek, nobody could vote anybody out. I told her that I thought it would be fascinating to follow the evolution of the group dynamics through the trek. We climbed over White Gap Pass, where
we could look across the Uvas and Nutt Valleys to the Black Range of the Gila National Forest. When we reached camp at about 7:00, I think we were all pretty weary of bumps and rocks.

I went into town to get some maps for the next day, and stayed at home that night. I arose at 5:00 again, and by 5:30 was xeroxing 7.5 minute topographic maps at the office. Lucky thing, because the techies had still not fixed the map printing problems. In fact, when I got to camp about 7:15, Bob said that he had stayed up until midnight, at which time one of the techies came out of the tech trailer with the printer, said "God damn this thing", and smashed it on the ground.

The third day was an easier day, which we all needed. We drove the team for about 20 miles on good dirt roads, then dropped them off on the east side of the Nutt hills, which they hiked over. They saw a prairie rattlesnake and a "red and black" snake, which was probably either a ground snake or a long-nosed snake, both nonvenomous. The techies had fixed some of the navigational problems, and the team now had Global Positioning System units that showed the route as a line, and their location as a cursor, so they could follow along and go right or left or whichever direction, to keep them on the route. We picked them up on the west side of the hills by about 3:00, and drove them to Lake Valley, stopping so Kevin could film a pronghorn buck along the way.

That evening, Oswaldo Gomez from the Las Cruces Field office and Dwayne Sykes from the New Mexico State Office cooked us green chile cheeseburgers, which we consumed while Homer Milford of the New Mexico Abandoned Mine Land Bureau gave us an excellent oral history presentation on Lake Valley. Tom Bryant, President of the New Mexico Backcountry horsemen, recited cowboy stories (which start "This is no bull----") and cowboy poetry, and Pat Buls played her guitar and sang for us.

The next day, the group would traverse the Sibley Hills to the Gila
National Forest. With maps and their GPS units working, I was confident they could navigate their way (although the hiking would be a real callenge).--Mark Hakkila



List of All Dispatches
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Thursday, October 2, 2003
A Visit to Valles Caldera National Preserve
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Saturday, September 20, 2003
American Frontiers Reunion 2003
A year ago this September two groups of volunteers met in Wasatch-Cache National Forest outside of Salt Lake City, Utah in...
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Thursday, September 18, 2003
Team Joining Anniversary
It's hard to believe that it's been a year since Team North and Team South completed blazing the American Frontiers Trail....
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Monday, August 4, 2003
Team South Trekker Cathy Kiffe Takes New Job
This week a very prestigious private school contacted me about taking their Learning Center Director's position. I hestitated...
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Saturday, May 24, 2003
All Who Wander Don’t Get Lost--Jan Nesset
For 3,000 miles the Garmin Vista GPS unit guided the American Frontiers’ teams on their journeys across America’s...
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Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Kodak Comes Through—Again!
Eastman Kodak Co. was one of the sponsors of last summer’s American Frontiers Trek. Max HQ One-Time-Use cameras, donated...
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Thursday, April 24, 2003
Kay Gandy Keeps On Trekkin'
South Team member Dr. Kay Gandy has been accepted in the Fulbright-Hayes Seminars Abroad Program. She will be attending...
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Thursday, April 24, 2003
National Geographic Video of the Public Lands Journey Is Finished
Kevin Burnett at National Geographic Society’s audio-visual division has created a fifty-five minute-long video of...
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Friday, April 4, 2003
Goodbye, Good Luck, and Thank You!
Rodger Schmitt Retires from BLM
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Sunday, March 9, 2003
Kay Gandy Presents at Conference
If you haven’t been to New Orleans, then you really should try to go. The “Crescent City” has great food,...
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Saturday, March 1, 2003
Kay Gandy Treks East to West
Tomorrow is March 1st, and already there are signs of spring in Louisiana. I saw dogwoods and forsythia blooming, and hundreds...
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Monday, February 24, 2003
PLIA RECEIVES 2003 PARTNERS IN EXCELLENCE AWARD
Public Lands Interpretive Association (PLIA) was the honored recipient of the first joint national BLM—Forest Service...
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Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Sam Altman from Team South Writes
The weather in Kentucky is snow and more expected...we just heard from Bob Hammond...he was on his way to CO but was redirected...
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Monday, January 20, 2003
North Team Trekker Charlotte Talley Writes . . .
Here is a quick update on me since I have gotten back.
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Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Mike Murphy (Team North) Reports
Dear America:
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Wednesday, January 8, 2003
Public Lands in Mississippi
The National Geographic Public Lands map arrived in the mail. I opened it, admiring the greens, golden yellows, and tans...
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Tuesday, January 7, 2003
New Job for Jessica Terrell (Team South)
Perseverance really does pay off! Three years ago, I moved to Missouri with no job and a brand-new biology degree. Far from...
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Tuesday, December 31, 2002
A Public Land Experience
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Friday, December 27, 2002
Gen Green (Team North) Writes
I thought I'd mention that I will start a new job in mid January. I will be setting up the GIS program for the Nature Conservancy...
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Friday, December 20, 2002
Bob Ashley (Team North) Reports
The American Frontiers trekkers may have finished their 3,000-mile journey, but the public is still discovering the events...
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Thursday, December 5, 2002
Student's Letter to Cathy Kiffe

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Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Trekker Cathy Kiffe Writes . . .
Gray and Beautiful
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Monday, December 2, 2002
Letter from Geography Student Shawn Kessler

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Monday, December 2, 2002
Jake MacLeod of Team South Writes . . .
While I was away on the American Frontiers Odyssey, my sister had a
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Sunday, December 1, 2002
Bob Van Deven's (Team North) Favorite Public Land
The following is a brief article about my favorite chunk of public lands, the Galiuro Mountains. The Galiuros are located...
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Sunday, December 1, 2002
Jan Nesset's Latest Trek
Canyonlands in December
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Tuesday, November 26, 2002
Jan Nesset in Snow Country
Snow Raspberry Bounty
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Monday, November 25, 2002
South Team Member Jessica Terrell Reports
National Trails Symposium
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Sunday, November 24, 2002
South Team Trekker Julie Overbough
The last time I saw Julie Overbough was on National Public Lands Day in Salt Lake City and at that time she looked like a...
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Sunday, November 17, 2002
Trekker Nesset Keeps on Trekking
The Bisti Badlands
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Friday, November 15, 2002
Jan Nesset writes . . .
Public Land Flows Through ItAt the outskirts of Durango where I figure Iím a half hour or so from my planned takeout in town,...
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Tuesday, November 12, 2002
Letter from Brent E. Garvin
Jan,
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Sunday, November 10, 2002
Richard Tyrrell: A Visit to Wharton State Park
It is a sunny Sunday afternoon and my wife Marcia and I are riding our horses in Wharton State Park in south central New...
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Thursday, November 7, 2002
A Day At Earth Analytic's Home
Earth Analytic, the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based company that specializes in geographic information systems, was of huge importance...
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Thursday, November 7, 2002
Dave Mensing Selected for Award
The American Trails organization, the principal non-profit organization representing federal, state, local, and commercial...
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Sunday, November 3, 2002
Using the Pictures
Yesterday I spent the day in a Math workshop. Ughhhh. I would rather, of course, be learning about forests, wolves, condors,...
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Tuesday, October 29, 2002
News from Kay Gandy
Kay Gandy reports that the recent National Council for Geographic Education conference in Philadelphia was a great success....
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Monday, October 28, 2002
Some Things Never Change
Revisiting an area comes with new discoveries. In September, on our first attempt at hiking a 10-mile loop in the Grand Staircase-Escalante...
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Sunday, October 27, 2002
Back To The Wave
I envy whoever first discovered “The Wave” in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The spectacular...
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Wednesday, October 23, 2002
Settling Back . . . Sort of
The trip has been over for a few days now. I have returned home, done some unpacking, mowed the lawn, and ridden my horses....
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Friday, October 18, 2002
Rush, rush, rush
I sit here at a red light on the main thorough fare of Lafayette. Cars, zoom, rumble, and spew fumes, dart from one lane...
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Saturday, October 12, 2002
Kay's Songs
Here are the words to the two songs Kay Gandy sang at the farewell dinner at Snowbird: "American Frontiers Blues" and the...
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Wednesday, October 9, 2002
Home Again
We are back at school after the cancellation of school for the past week thanks to Lili.
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Monday, October 7, 2002
The Thing About Summits
I live in a place surrounded by both mountains and desert. To the north of Durango, Colorado, the San Juan Mountains rise...
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Saturday, September 28, 2002
Happy Trails To You
Dick Bass is a mountaineer, an author, a developer of ski areas, and an overall good fellow who, although in his seventies,...
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Saturday, September 28, 2002
National Public Lands Day Celebrates End of Journey
Salt Lake City
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Friday, September 27, 2002
The Teams Meet
Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2002
National Landscape Conservation System
The 264 million acres of BLM-managed public lands represent a priceless legacy and a long-term investment for the American...
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Monday, September 23, 2002
The Big Bone Yard
Just about anywhere you go in Utah, sooner or later you’ll encounter the fossilized remains of ancient life on earth....
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Sunday, September 22, 2002
Sand Dunes in Wyoming? You Betcha!
The Greater Sand Dunes are part of the larger Killpecker dune field, the largest active dune field in North America. This...
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Saturday, September 21, 2002
7000 Years in Southwestern Wyoming
Although southwestern Wyoming has never supported large populations of people, archeological evidence shows that people have...
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Friday, September 20, 2002
"Fear Finds Within Them No Resting Place"
In 1822, an advertisement appeared in a St. Louis newspaper: Team North is traveling through Bridger country-- the Green...
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Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Three Cheers for Trona
Although the lands around the Green River in Wyoming have been used as travel routes by various groups of people over the...
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Wednesday, September 18, 2002
River of the Prairie Chicken
Each fall, about this time, most birds start getting restless, collecting in great flocks, and looking into the skies to...
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Tuesday, September 17, 2002
A Gift From the Past
The casual traveler traveling through southwestern Wyoming might think that nothing ever happens here, but they would be...
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Monday, September 16, 2002
Westward Ho!
Cast your mind back some 170 years, when the United States was a young country, looking west at their newly acquired domain,...
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Sunday, September 15, 2002
A Tribute
"What do you do all day?" my friend asks the rancher who invited us in for a glass of clear, well water."I'm just here."...
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Saturday, September 14, 2002
Wild Horse & Burro Adoption
Teton County Fairgrounds in Jackson, WY was the site of todayŪs Adopt-A-Horse-or-Burro Program, sponsored by the Bureau of...
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Friday, September 13, 2002
Wanted Dead (Not Alive): Noxious Weeds
One of the most pervasive and dangerous problems facing public lands managers right now is how to control the deadly spread...
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Friday, September 13, 2002
Searching for Team South!
I had planned to meet Team South on Lake Powell and while I had quite an adventure, things didn't quite work out as I had...
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Thursday, September 12, 2002
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon on September 9, 1996, President William Jefferson Clinton announced that by the authority...
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Wednesday, September 11, 2002
A Special Day and a Special Encounter
September 11th was a solemn day for all Americans and the North Team couldn't help but feel preoccupied as they loaded their...
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Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Wet Saddles and Muddy Trails
The Northern Team rolled into Grand Teton National Park on a rainy Thursday afternoon and pitched their tents in the Gros...
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Monday, September 9, 2002
Classrooms for the Nation
Whether you are fascinated by the mysteries of history, the story of fossils so minute you must use a microscope to view...
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Friday, September 6, 2002
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
North of the Grand Canyon, stretching from the Colorado River on the east to St. George on the west lies what is commonly...
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Wednesday, August 28, 2002
Down the Colorado
When Sara Hatch of Hatch River Expeditions generously offered to meet the hikers from Team South in the bottom of the Grand...
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Monday, August 26, 2002
Great Job, Coconino!
I wanted to make all of you aware of the outstanding job that the Coconino National Forest did to prepare for and host the...
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Friday, August 23, 2002
Trekkers Inaugurate New Section of Continental Divide Trail
When the Trekkers arrived at Pipestone Pass, on MT Hwy 2, they participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on a newly-constructed...
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Friday, August 23, 2002
Trekkers on the Coconino National Forest
The trekkers on the Coconino:
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Thursday, August 22, 2002
Trekkers Ride Motorcycles
Trekkers ride Motorcycles as part of Journey
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Tuesday, August 20, 2002
Trip Leader's Notes
All expeditions, treks or other adventures are only as successful as the supporting structure that allows them to move ahead....
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Monday, August 19, 2002
The Battle of Big Dry Wash
During the spring of 1882 a small group of White Mountain Apache warriors, sixty at the most, came out of their wilderness...
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Saturday, August 17, 2002
A Scorched Land
APACHE SITGREAVES NATIONAL FOREST, Arizona--The view from the top of Juniper Lookout Tower is 360 degrees but it is 360 degrees...
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Friday, August 16, 2002
Adventure in Helena National Forest
The support team arrived in town on the 13th and were a very pleasant group to work with. We provided what office space we...
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Monday, August 12, 2002
Report from Gila National Forest
For the Wilderness Roundtable on August 7th, about 32 attendees participated. Attendees represented the diversity of southwest...
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Saturday, August 10, 2002
Team North Spreads the Good Word
Team North has been delighted with the first two educational programs they staged to let people know about their journey...
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Thursday, August 8, 2002
Team South: The First Days
The American Frontiers Journey, a trek from the Mexican border to the
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Monday, August 5, 2002
Entering Flathead National Forest
District Ranger Jimmy Deherrera and myself met the trekkers at
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
Lake Valley Reception
Lake Valley, NM--The monsoons have arrived. All afternoon, while PLIA Executive Director Lisa D. Madsen and I drove down...
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Saturday, August 3, 2002
Northern Team backpacks through Glacier National Park
Team North is making their way through Glacier National Park, enjoying both spectacular mountain scenery and friendly people....
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Friday, August 2, 2002
Historical Talk at Lake Valley Ghost Town
The Southern Team traveled today to a boom town gone bust-- Lake Valley New Mexico. There they visited the museum, maintained...
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Friday, August 2, 2002
Interactive Map Now Available
This interactive map is updated regularly with GIS data, pictures, video, and other memorable moments from this great adventure....
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Thursday, August 1, 2002
Warfare and Settlement on the Rio Grande
While the American Frontiers trekkers blaze a new route through the Chihuahuan desert of southern New Mexico, they arenít...
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Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Trek Teams Begin Their Journey; DC Kickoff Event Attended By Interior & Agriculture Secretaries
This morning, at 7 am MST, as the sun began to warm the Chihuahuan desert soil and melt the snows of Glacier National Park,...
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Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Welcome to the Chihuahuan Desert
The extreme southern portion of the American Frontiers Trek route starts at the US-Mexico border near Las Cruces, New Mexico....
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Saturday, January 1, 2000
Free Public Lands Map & Book Available From PLIA
As part of the continuing effort to raise awareness of and to provide education about our public lands, PLIA is offering...
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