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the central portion of both states featured National Forests and higher elevations. However, we met far more people in the central part of Utah, including a curious exchange between three “Floridiots.” These were three ATVers we met at a park near Circleville. They called themselves that because they were transplants from Florida, the state of the hanging chad in the 2000 election. From this you can guess that their politics departed from the Utah natives. When I shared my message about the virtues of community, they were very supportive but claimed it would not go over well in Utah. I asked why that should be and they pointed out the conservative opposition to ACORN. Well, the transplanted ATVers were wrong; I got in a heated discussion with precisely one conservative, one liberal and one libertarian during the entire journey. In each case the essence of the conflict was my greater belief in humanity. Other than that, everyone from all ideologies were pretty much on board regarding the virtues of community. In reality the now defunct ACORN contrasts with my message for two opposite reasons. ACORN was an effort to get out the vote of a lower income segment that tends to underrepresented in the polls. While that is a worthy goal, it was driven more by interest group politics rather than community politics. Meanwhile conservatives, or at least the conservative Fox News media, presented outright false information about ACORN to rally opposition. In other words, ACORN ended up being one more battlefront of party politics, rather than a true community initiative. We already experienced the Utah kindness before meeting the ATVers. Going into Beaver on a hot day three people in a white pick-up stopped to offer us water. Heading out of Beaver a woman taking her 98-year old mother for a drive on a Forest Service road stopped to check in on us. The elderly mom wanted to know if we were in trouble or just nuts. Other kind encounters included two ATVers scoping antelope in Dixie National Forest who stopped to offer us help (though we did not need it). A campground host invited us in to his trailer during
a rainstorm and gave us a parting gift of soap made by his wife. There may have been a hint embedded in that gesture. We were destined to make that campground the night before, but some navigational errors added eight miles (not really my fault and I did not beat myself up this time). Since we were meeting Ky for the first time in four days we wanted to let her know about our situation, but we had the usual lack of cell phone coverage. After getting to Utah 12 we chose to get a message to Ky by courier. I held up my hand to my face as if talking on the telephone and a family of four in a subcompact stopped. The accents of Mom and Dad suggested the family was from Australia touring the spectacular scenery that lies along Utah 12 (Ky would claim this to be her favorite scenic road of the journey). They were both very friendly and accommodating for delivering our message. The husband went a step further; he offered to give us a ride to the campground where Ky would be. We could see the look of dismay that overcame the wife's face, even if the husband could not. Here we were, two smelly hikers with four days of sweat and grime that the husband wanted to squeeze into a subcompact with four other well-scrubbed passengers. The husband had a heart a gold but he wasn't doing much to counter the reputation of males sometimes being clueless. We did the wife and two kids a favor and declined the offer. It was at a different campground by Otter Creek Lake, before we headed into the Dixie National Forest, where we ran into some extreme kindness. Ky made friends with our three neighbors at the campground. Ernie and Paul were brothers and retired welders. Their younger friend Matt had been laid off as a construction worker in concrete and they were taking his mind off things. They were at the campground to fish but they also had been hunting. They cooked us up a feast of salmon, elk, venison and home-grown lamb. We served Hiker's Mac & Cheese, fixed with tuna fish, gravy and spices and they seemed to appreciate that almost as much as we appreciated the meat. They also had a lot of beer. We imbibed more than we should but far less than our hosts, whose altered states led to some difficult communication between us.
We also met Randy and Kathy Gould at the campground. They were ranchers from Antimony that were picking up a little extra income as state campground hosts. As a native rancher Randy knew the backcountry we would be encountering in Dixie National Forest. He spent a long time going over the maps with us and sharing some great navigational tips. Later on, after our first day heading up into the National Forest, Randy came to our campsite on his ATV, bringing with him some cold sodas. If the timing had worked out right Randy would have invited us to stay at his ranch. Instead, we were about to be overwhelmed by a couple other “Ranch Angels.”
As we left Beaver for Fish Lake National Forest near the beginning of this stretch, we stopped at a ranger station to ask about trail conditions. After the conditions we encountered in Nevada I was not taking anything for granted about hiking trails. We were informed that the trails going up the South Fork of South Creek were maintained. Good news, but while there we also eavesdropped on a phone conversation talking about closures in the National Forest due to avalanches. Like everywhere else out west we encountered, Utah received huge snow pack the winter before our journey, 600% of normal in their case. This was enough snow pack to replenish aquifers that people thought were permanently diminished. The huge snow pack also meant huge avalanches, which in turn meant blow downs of fallen trees. The blow downs were removed on the trails of our ascent out of Beaver, as was accurately reported to us. We had the pleasure of backpacking on a trail the way we remembered them to be. However, once we started down the other side of the crest towards Circleville trail conditions changed dramatically. In Nevada, the poor trail conditions led to wet feet and scratched skins. Here I faced the problem of sore knees. Some of the soreness was the inevitable toll from ascents and descents, into and out of the National Forest. More was due to the constant climbing and squatting dictated by blow downs. For one four mile stretch we climbed and squatted our way through a constant maze of blow downs, with the
same lack of progress as that eight mile day back in the Arc Dome Wilderness. By the time we reached an ATV road for the remainder of our descent my knees ached and quivered. I resented what was happening to me on this journey. Before we started I most looked forward to hiking trails in the wilderness along the ADT, just like the good ol' days of hiking the National Scenic Trails. I picked the ADT precisely for a mission that involved people and communities, but I thought we could still have little vacations from a few wilderness jaunts, reviving the favored pastime of our youth. Now I was beginning to apprehend having to actually hike on wilderness trails, at least through the states of Nevada and Utah. This apprehension came to the forefront when we next entered Dixie National Forest. We were supposed to take the Poison Creek Trail into the National Forest, and Randy Gould provided us good information on essentially how to negotiate around his ranch property to get there. Yet we came to a creek fork near a dirt road where I was indecisive as to which way would lead us up the right drainage. A truck happened by with people who recognized us, the son and grandson of a person we met in Antimony. I must have miscommunicated my intent and pointed us up the wrong drainage. I began to suspect we were heading the wrong way but some ATVers came by and asked us if we were heading up the Poison Creek drainage, which was their intention as well. Hey! We can't both be wrong, can we? Eventually we saw them coming back by us again because the trail had grown too narrow for ATVs. That would not stop backpackers, of course, and we continued on. Then the trail became too “narrow” for backpackers, as in nonexistent. Close inspection with my map and compass indicated we were heading up a parallel canyon by this time. The landscape was fairly open sagebrush country with sparse cedar and juniper. Rather than retrace our steps I navigated a somewhat straight line towards where we needed to be, rounding the shoulder of the arm that separated the canyons. We stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere with an open view towards Antimony and Otter Creek Lake. I had in my possession the leftovers from the feast of meat we had at Otter Creek Lake campground. Now was a good time to finish it up and remove all
traces of it before we headed into bear country. Throughout my many years as a long distance backpacker I am often asked about bears. Back east the typical question is “Do you know what to do about bears?” Out west the question always is “Do your carry a gun?” The answers are “Yes, we know what to do about bears” and because of that “No, we don't carry a gun.” Here's a little primer on the matter. First, there is a difference between problem bears and normal bears. Problem bears associate the mere sight of humans with a meal ticket (not humans themselves, but the food we are likely to have with us). For this reason problem bears are found where they are a problem, namely in populated backcountry camp sites, forecountry campgrounds and towns. When you are in a town use common sense; when you are in a campground use common sense plus secure your food in whatever way the campground signs or hosts instruct. Normal bears rely on olfactory cues to determine their “meal tickets.” Considering this, there are two basic principles to avoid bear trouble. One is to minimize the smell of food. No one should be carrying a salami in bear country; nor should they be carrying the leftovers of a venison, salmon, elk and lamb feast. The other principle is to maximize your own gross and disgusting body odor. I'm actually a champion stinker myself once I'm out a few days in the backcountry. Unless they think we have food bears find our strong body odor repulsive. Go figure. Usually a normal bear will hightail it once they sense your presence in the backcountry. There are exceptions, which actually hints at a third bear principle to keep in mind, though this one applies to black bears only. Don't go looking for grizzlies and blame me when what I'm about to share doesn't work. Of course, you would not be able to blame me afterwards if it didn't work. I once encountered a black bear on a trail by accident. As I took my camera out for pictures the bear got off the trail and headed towards me on a parallel path. Once it got within 20 feet of me off the trail I could see the two cubs in a tree behind the bear. At the point where the bear was directly in between me and the cubs, she then started directly towards me.
At that point I did what you have to do in such a situation. I lunged and yelled at the bear. She paused and we both concluded we were better off heading our separate ways. Like most animals bears will sense and react to fear. You show you are afraid to a bear, or most large mammals, and it's like inviting them to an easy lunch. You show you are ready for a fight and, again like most mammals, they will reassess the situation to determine if you are worth expending energy. Saving energy is the name of the game in natural selection. If you go picking fights you don't have to in order to survive or gain energy you are selectively unfit. Too bad many civilized humans ignore this basic common sense, indeed can't even understand it, as observed by most mammals. Now if I had a gun during that bear encounter I might have used the gun instead of my wits at the point when the bear started coming directly at me. I would have killed the bear without having needed to. That is why I don't carry a gun while wilderness hiking. After lunch and getting back to the right canyon some good things happened. The hike up the real Poison Creek Trail was very steep and rocky, but at least there were no blow downs, and the steep ascent brought us all the way up to aspen country with astounding vistas back to where we came from the west. The camp site by a creek that evening was another top five, augmented by the visit from Randy bringing us good company and soda pops. Randy suggested a cross-country route we could take from there the next morning. This was the best kind of backpacking: using a map, compass and your wits to navigate a relatively easy route over open country. In truth, we were able to pick out deer and/or cattle trails here and there, but that just adds to the sense of accomplishment. If you stumble upon something like a deer trail while going crosscountry that means you figured out the same solution derived by animals, a gratifying feeling. I had planned for us to camp by Cyclone Lake because, well, it was a lake. Or at least that was what the map claimed. We came to discover that Utah applies a different standard for what qualifies as a lake. The “lake” was more like a substantial marsh, attractive to the numerous cattle that graze on the public lands there. We went further and picked out a camp site with much better drainage, fortunately for
us. That night fierce storms came through; as we later learned they caused flash floods with seven foot walls of water rushing through narrow gorges. We stayed dry as a bone in our cozy tent pitched in the right spot, experiencing just another day of rain along the ADT. The skies cleared the next morning but another obstacle awaited us. The main ADT route picked up the Great Western Trail in the Dixie National Forest. This was another one of those national recreational trails so prominently featured in red on the map. We almost went by the intersection of the Forest Service road we were on with the trail, because the only marking was a very small symbol on a tree. Uh-oh, not a good sign. We followed the GWT for a hundred yards or so through a spruce forest and encountered a blow down. Then we encountered another one, and another one. By now I was conditioned to expect the worst from hiking trails, particularly the ones labeled in prominent red on the map. Perhaps the blow downs would continue for just another few hundred feet, or perhaps they would continue for miles. I assumed the latter and we backtracked to the Forest Service road, where we followed the ADT alternate route suggested for bicycles. The alternate route added miles, but brought us first to Posey Lake, which actually could be considered a lake back east, or at least a small pond. Then we came to Hells Backbone, absolutely spectacular canyon country that had to be more scenic than anything the Great Western Trail could offer. The whole time along the Hells Backbone route we were chasing, or being chased by, storm clouds, adding shifting lights to shifting colors in the steep-walled canyon rocks around us. At one point we stopped to wait out a thunderstorm, attaching the tent fly to our upright pack for a small but watertight shelter. We made our way back to the Great Western Trail on the other side of Hells Backbone, where we actually came across a trailhead with prominent signs and an outhouse. Hmm. Maybe the trail was actually maintained through here. We proceeded on the GWT. There were no blow downs but the trail petered out in places, leading us to be on the wrong path eventually and doing eight extra miles, in addition to the extra miles from choosing the alternative route for bicycles. That's what led us to flag
down the Aussie motorists. After the mountains of the National Forests we came down to the canyons of Capitol Reef National Park, on the east side of Utah 12. We had yet another top five camp spot (yes, I know I've used up three already) in a canyon called Sheets Draw, just before Capitol Reef. We were given advanced notice of an oasis through here which we immediately spotted once there. Amidst the mostly stark red rock of the canyons stretched a short section along a creek of verdant green grass. We set up our tent on the short grass underneath a seemingly misplaced, lonely cottonwood tree, surrounded by sandstone cliffs. One could hardly have picked a more picturesque spot … or a more dicey one in the event of heavy rains. Steep, eroded banks came down to our camp spot and the gorge was narrow enough to be prone to flash flooding. Yet sometimes you just have to take your chances. There were sprinkles that evening, adding a rainbow to the already stunning beauty, but no storms. Our last day on this stretch brought us through Capitol Reef National Park where we went off route again intentionally. Canyonlands National Park obstructed a direct route from where we were to Moab, Utah. The ADT route dipped to the south and back up, but we learned from the Powers in California and from other folks later that there would be difficulty getting a support vehicle to meet us with water through that long, waterless stretch. Some ADT hikers wheel strollers stocked with water for such situations; some ADT hikers use ATV vehicles to store caches ahead of time. With neither option available to us we would choose to circumvent Canyonlands by heading north to Green River, Utah and then back down to Moab. Our route took us through the narrow and breathtaking Capitol Gorge, where we had to wait out some lengthy thunderstorms with some concern for flash flooding. The floods never materialized, and we were able to wait the storms out under a National Park pavilion, but that forced us to be hiking later into the day. After the steep-walled gorge, complete with both inscriptions from earlier pioneers passing through and much earlier hieroglyphics, we exited the National Park where I once again had to devise a
cross country route. This one did not go as smoothly as some of my other cross country routes. Aggravating the matter was the need to cross a creek where the red clay soil was almost like quicksand. Being in the lead I encountered the precise spot to avoid and found myself sinking further and further up towards my crotch. I was able to grab some vegetation and pull myself out, while Cindy prudently chose a different route. Shortly after that escapade we reached our road destination as dusk approached. We were supposed to meet Ky, but someone else came upon us first.
The first Ranch Angel we experienced on this stretch came in Antimony, while we still had the leftover meat feast from Otter Creek Lake campground in our packs. Antimony is a small town of about one-hundred that might be one of the most secluded in Utah, and that's saying something. Consisting mainly of ranchers in a secluded valley between National Forests, they were the last town in the state to get electricity. Their seclusion induced Michelle, who works at the Antimony Community Center, to get the center wired for telecommuting. What forward thinking this is, as the first rule of a vibrant community is people actually being physically present in the community. Setting up Antimony for telecommuting meant both expanding the job opportunities in the small town, plus maximizing the time residents could spend there. We learned all this as we stopped at the community center, and were to soon learn that getting out of Antimony would not be easy. After the center some folks sitting on a front porch who had passed us while bicycling stopped us to find out our story. They told us to fill our water at the Antimony Merc, a combination RV Park, gas station, cafe, store and local hangout. We hiked about thirty yards further to the Antimony Merc and spent a good amount of time speaking to Gerry, the focal point of the local hangout. Gerry was not the elderly folksy native one might expect to be working at the general store for a small, secluded ranching village. Rather, she was a relatively young, energetic and gregarious woman transplanted from Las Vegas, bringing her huge smile
with her. I suspect she unintentionally nurtured a few crushes among the natives. Gerry gave us news of Barrett and Buster who came through just the morning before. He planned to depart from the ADT to head further south, through Escalante. Because of our intentions to depart from the ADT going north we did not anticipate seeing again until Moab, if ever. While hiking both into and out of Antimony with our full packs we were passed repeatedly by the same elderly person driving a minivan. On the fourth pass he stopped, rolled down his window and asked what we were doing. When we shared what we were doing with Burns Black, and he explained why he was traveling back and forth so much. He lived towards the southern end of town but owned the Rockin' R Ranch towards the northern end. As he was now getting along in years, needing to be accompanied by an oxygen tank for pulmonary fibrosis, he left the management of his dude ranch to others but as owner he still checked in frequently. He invited us to stay at the ranch. Amazingly enough, we said “no” at first. I did not want to end up rushing ourselves through the Dixie National Forest, which promised to be a potential “vacation” for us. After hiking on another mile another amazing thing happened. We changed our mind and started the necessary two mile backtrack, a cardinal sin to be avoided by long distance hikers. While we were doing so Burns passed us yet another time and called in ahead for the ranch to be prepared for our arrival. At the dude ranch we ended up adopting, or being adopted by, the DeKarvers family. This was a large, extended family that had a tradition of coming to the Rockin' R Ranch for reunions. Martin and Josiane were the heads of the family and the ones we spent the most time with. We enjoyed being spectators while watching the young folk of the family compete in a rodeo at the dude ranch, including such events as riding a sheep, lassoing a wooden cow and a horse apple (dried manure) toss. In the evening Burns came by and requested I play a few of my songs on guitar for he, his wife Mona and some of the DeKarvers. I was floored when, after I performed first, Burns commented before he performed that he could not so as well as me. Burns had once been a professional musician that, among other venues, performed at the Statute of Liberty and Waldor-Astoria in New York City. One
thing I've been discovering on this journey is I perform better, with less nervousness, in front of strangers than for people that know me. Strange. I once attempted to play piano in front of my loving church community and fell completely apart. It was a humiliating experience that led me to never perform on piano again in public. Our stay at the Rockin' R was capped by a line dance that evening, with a live band providing the music and calling. The next morning Martin DeKarver gave us a ride back to where we left off hiking on our way into Dixie National Forest.
Taralyn Roderick had her share of troubles in the past. She was a single mom when her house burned down near Torrey, Utah. Yet she was showered with support and kindness by the community, helping her get back on her feet again. A couple of good friends even brought her up to Provo for a spa treatment, which no one had to pay for because it was on the house once the owner heard Taralyn's story. This is why Taralyn is always on the lookout for people she might be able to help. She is dedicated to “pay it forward.” One evening she and her adopted daughter Emma were driving to the Notom Bed and Breakfast Ranch owned by her parents. Taralyn was watching her parent's business while they were on a little vacation. As they drove along the Notom Road near dusk, only about a mile away from the bed and breakfast, they saw a pathetic looking couple sitting by the side of the road, next to their rather large packs. Their legs were caked with red clay and their heads were drooped as if they just experienced a long, hard day. She pulled over, rolled down her window and asked the two backpackers if they needed help. The man shared with her their story, a rather surprising one. They were actually walking 5,000 miles across the country. “My parents own a bed and breakfast ranch up the road,” Taralyn informed the weary travelers, “would you like to stay there?” Then, as if she feared the promise of sleeping in a bed with showers and even a hot tub might not be enough to entice these weary travelers, she added: “I'll cook you breakfast in
the morning.” Taralyn could tell the couple were quite pleased with the offer, but the man mentioned something about having a support person they were going to meet there, and would it be alright for her to come as well. Taralyn assured them it would be fine. While they waited for their support person to come she headed on up to the ranch and promised to be back in a moment.
As we waited for Ky along the side of Notom Road we could not have been more at peace. The sun was dipping towards the horizon, setting the wide open red sandstone landscape aglow. We had put in a hard day of long mileage, bushwhacking and quicksand dodging, but now that hard work seemed to be for the just rewards of spending a night at a bed and breakfast. When Ky arrived at this peaceful setting she was not as enthusiastic about it as we thought she would be. That was because she had her own surprise. That she had found Jenny, her daughter Amanda's friend, was not that much of a surprise; the two had been communicating and angling to meet up for awhile. Jenny was in the area working at different jobs to support herself while looking for dinosaur fossils. She had heard locals speak of such things and finding in tact dinosaur remains would be the ultimate plum for her academic career. What caught us more by surprise was learning that Barrett and Buster was had rejoined us and were back at Ky's and Jenny's campsite. I could understand why Ky was disappointed she could not spring this surprise on us as planned but long distance hikers are not inclined to pass up a bed and breakfast invitation. Fortunately, the more the merrier as Taralyn was concerned and all five of us (and Buster) spent two night and a rest day at the Notom Bed and Breakfast Ranch. Cindy and I stayed in the room they called Robbers Roost, decked out with pictures and information about the notorious Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch gang, local to that area. We would soon discover why they chose the stretch ahead of us as country where they could allude the grasp of the law.
Podcast: Utah Camp Spot Podcast: Trail Angel Taralyn
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