Sunday, April 26, 2015

Adventures on the Green River

For six days in the middle of April, Madelyn and I joined two other couples for a canoe trip down the Green River in Southern Utah.  The route ran from Green River, Utah to Mineral Bottom just outside Canyonlands National Park.  What a great experience.  After the complexity of planning and logistic from long distance -- the others were in Salt Lake City and we were in Seward, Alaska-- we launched from Green River State Park.  During the six days and five nights we saw one other boat on the river and that was on our first day, so we not only had companionship and natural wonders but also desert solitude.  This is not to say that the were floating through a wilderness; the opposite is true for roads and trails connect to the Green in many places and the northern stretches of the trip are through ranch country, but he balance of the was a wonderful adventure in desert southwest.  

Madelyn and I though we would be roughing it, so we packed sparingly, but our friends had us set up with a luxury river kitchen including two burner stove and a dutch oven.  The long distance planning led to some good laughs.  We ended up with four different ways to make coffee and more more beer varieties than some Utah liquor stores.  On a given morning you could dark roast from a french press, expresso, traditional perked or drip coffee and in the in the evening an IPA, lager, Belgium white, or amber.  We worried about keeping things cold so we brought so much block ice and dry ice that beers and lunch meats were freezing.

The Green River from the State Park to Mineral Bottom, where we ended our trip is Class one water and the only real boating challenge was cold water, wind and making the, most of which were in mud that caked our feet, canoes and paddles.  The weather proved sunny and hot the first three days and then on the wind hit us with a vengeance, going from breezy to scary in minutes.  When we rounded one bend in the river we meet twenty mph plus winds coming up river and waves of one foot and building.   Our dash for the nearest shore put us on a steep talus slope where we perched like sealions waiting for the weather to improve.  
Our grotto bivouac-- happy campers

We spent the day napping, chatting, and exploring our options.  Luckily, we were all cheerful, and no one wanted to be foolish and challenge this nasty water.  We ended up spending the night in that spot, bivouacking in any flat spot we could find without room for tents.  As the evening closed, the river waves built to 3-4 feet and raging winds tore through the canyon and tried to swamp the canoes tied along the river, forcing us to drag them up on the shore.  We toughed out the night with cold beer, cheerful camaraderie and Nancy’s dutch oven meatloaf.  Madelyn said this was her favorite night on river, sleeping under the stars.   
The river runs left to right; the wind right to left.
A placid river and red rock

The next day we were ready at first light because we were behind schedule for our pickup at Mineral Bottoms.   Paddling in the cold dawn gave a richness to the experience and though we started the day with coffee, we were rich in imagery for this section of the river was the glorious Labyrinth Canyon.  By mid morning we had not warmed for yesterday’s wind had brought a cold front and sudden the up-canyon gale returned and we were blown of the river again.  This time we stood shivering on a sand bar looking up at a dense, inpenetrable hedge of tamarisk.  The only option was to scrabble up the bank, bushwhack a trail, and hunker down under a oak tree.  Quickly revived by coffee, trail mix, and more layers of clothes, we felt better prepared for the cold and ready to strike out once more when the wind subsided, which it did and we found a spot to camp that was flat and comfortable, so that we could celebrate the end of a fine trip in royal fashion.   

And as for the water, we started with at least fourteen gallons and ended with three left over.  That was just for Madelyn and I.  The river water is a tough go because of the silt.  It has to be settled overnight before the water can be filtered or used for cooking.  Is was therefore nice to have fresh clean water hand, for it was dirty trip with the mud below, the silt in the water and dust blowing into our eyes, ears, and mouth.  By the last day we could squander fresh water for washing--- ah!

A canoe trip on the Green is a great way to experience the southwest, especially when you travel with people like Nancy and Monty Fisher and Lois and Skip Gaynard.  Successful expeditions depend on the right equipment, good weather, tasty food, and fine companions, but most of all fine companions.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

Drying out on the Green RIver

Madelyn and I are visiting Western Colorado and Southern Utah.  Tomorrow we start off on a trip down the Green River, a chance to get into some near wilderness.   People think Alaska  has a corner on remote adventure but there are lots of places Outside where one can still leave the road and cellphone service behind and spent sometime relying on self and companions.   We are canoeing a flat water section of the Green through Labyrinth Canyon.  We will be remote and out of touch for for five days but it's hard to call it wilderness when daily I will see evidence of human occupation for hundreds of years.  This is a jagged, unfriendly land, dry, and coarse as a brick oven.  
For a man raised in southern Alaska where water is nearly always in surplus, the Four Corners is an adventure in the opposites for here water is more precious than gold and fickle as a magpie.   Driving around today we saw a sign in Grand Junctions "WATER in THE DITCH"  not something you'd see in Alaska.  We've always got water in the ditch.  I remember a gal came to our B&B once from New Mexico, and one of the first things she said was, "We were driving down the highway and there water running off the mountain right into the ocean and nobody was doing anything about it!"  Imagine that kind of connection with water.  
On this canoe trip down the green we are taking a gallon of water per day per person.  I never carried that much water before.  Even before loading the canoe with that eighty pounds of water, it occurs to me that we traveling on water, fresh water.  Ain't life strange -- I immediately quit worrying about having enough water.  I may get sunburned, snake-bite or drowned, but I don't think I'll die of thirst. 

 MORE LATER, with photos.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Budget Cuts Hurt, and it's Time to Share the Pain

With the talk of spring in Alaska comes the talk of the state budget, and this year with money as scarce as snow, the state legislature is cutting with a chainsaw.  When this happens we residents of the state have to face our demons and answer the tough questions like, What do I really care about?  What do we really need?  Which is more important?   One would hope that everything we spend money for in Alaska is important, but sadly somethings are not.  Is it necessary for us to have what is virtually a second capitol building in Anchorage?  Nope, not even if we had plenty of money.  Is public safety and education critical?  Yup, no matter how broke the state is.  Does the state need to be making half million dollar loans to build a Wasilla Petco?  Hard for me to swallow.  
End of day at Hooper Bay School

     Regardless of your political leaning or personal philosophy, years like this put us all on the hot seat for what we value in state spending.  Are we ready to pay some income tax in order to keep the troopers on duty, the ferries running,  and the lights on in the schools.  Are we ready to accept longer lines at DMV and longer waits for snow to be removed from highways?  Are we willing to give up on public funding for Public radio and state parks or will we cut the pay of public employees instead? The case is clear  we have to give up something, everyone does.  We'll know we've got it right if we are all smarting a little bit, if we all lost a piece of the pie and had to settle for a slice a bread.  
    With a career in education, it is easy for me to want to protect the school budgets, but I know they too will suffer, it's just a matter of how much.  Over the last ten to fifteen years, the teachers have taken a lot of hits in the pocket book and I'd hate to see them take another.  Teachers that retire today do so with very little retirement cushion to sit on, and Alaskan salaries no longer exceed the other states.  That means we can't keep and recruit the best teachers anymore.  If you haven't read Jake Todd's piece in the Alaska Dispatch, you need to.  He paints a gloomy picture, and this is a problem that won't fix itself.  We've been robbing Peter to pay Paul for long enough and it's time Paul faced the music.