Sunday, September 15, 2002
Out of the Woods
Team North emerges from the high country today and they'll say goodbye to the evergreens they've come to know so well. They'll drive down from the hills into the rolling sage uplands which characterize so much of Wyoming, and indeed much of the West. Out here in the "Big Open" they'll discover a land which at first glance may seem desolate, but on closer inspection contains a wide variety of birds and animals, including many raptors, antelope, sage grouse, and even wild horses. The big sagebrush which dot these endless spaces have a sweet and sharp scent which fills the clear air after a rain-- the true smell of freedom!
Although the human population is in decline in these parts, at one time, these hills were filled with people. The earliest were the Eastern Shoshone, then came mountain men trapping beaver, and a few years later came thousands of emigrants seeking better lives in California, Oregon, and Utah. The team will camp tonight near the site of many mountain man rendevous, where they meet twice a year to sell their furs, buy whisky (and food as an afterthought), and party like the world was going to end. Just north of the trek route is Names Hill, where countless generations of travelers have etched their names into the soft sandstone bluff, most notably Jim Bridger, one of the greatest mountain men, and the one for whom the nearby forest is named.
Sunday, September 15, 2002
Exploring BLM's Grand Srtaircase-Escalante National Monument
Having spent four days lounging on a houseboat on Lake Powell, the trekkers of Team South were raring to do some serious hiking, so serious, in fact, that they finished their cross-country hike early and today they are back at Calf Creek campground with more options about great hikes and drives as they explore one of the crown jewels of BLM's National Landscape Conservation System.
Among their many choices is the Smoky Mountain Road which bisects the Kaiparowits Plateau and after descending from it, reaches Highway 89 at Big Water. It is far too much of a drive for one day but even a short excursion along this great dirt road will give the team a sense of the isolation, solitude, and great distances that the Plateau offers.
Striking out east from the campground, Highway 12 climbs up a series of switchbacks to a bare-naked sandstone ridge, just wide enough for a two lane highway, with 1,000 foot-deep chasms on either side. The views are fantastic but the driver cannot afford to enjoy them. Turning onto the Burr Trail at Boulder, one can take the Wolverine Loop Road a few miles farther down, to a fantasy land of petrified forest. From here, rewarding cross-country hikes lead to Studhorse Peaks or to Deer Point, highest eminence of the Waterpocket Fold.