Sunday, May 30, 2010

Going Green (River, that is)

Down the Green River. Larval fish traps, seines, dry bags, food, drink, gear stacked in colorful piles in the two boats. We launched from Green River State Park on Monday afternoon for a four day fish trip. Our sample jars covet the illusive (endangered) Razorback Sucker larva, a transparent slip of a fish to-be. We put them in the jars of alcohol to return to civilization where someone with a microscope will announce our sampling success, or failure.
To hunt our miniscule prey we set light traps in the backwaters as the sun goes down. The next morning we pull the traps before the sun returns to draw the quarry from our artificial light. That’s about it for our work day. In between dawn and dusk we motor downriver to our next sites and stop to seine in fishy looking areas. This leaves ample time to play Mexican train dominoes (one of the few games I actually like), wander around in the desert, and lounge aimlessly in camp.
It’s a beautiful stretch of desert: down the Green River through Labyrinth and Still Water Canyons, turning the boats back up stream at the confluence with the Colorado River to return to civilization via Meander Canyon. It’s a different sort of boating now that we have left the inflatable oar rigs at the warehouse in favor of the faster metal, motored boats. Boat driving (specifically the steering part) is a new skill for me, and one that certainly doesn’t come naturally. My apologies to that willow tree.
Finally I felt that I was getting the hang of it all. And here comes the wind to chop the river’s surface into a thousand pummeling waves. And here I am, by myself, trailing behind in the slower (25 hp motor, that’s why) boat. OK, no problem, I got this. Just hit the waves at an angle. But watch out for the sticks and branches floating downstream, you can’t hit those, it’s tough on the prop. Vroooom, thud, vrooooom, thud, vrrrooom, thud, etc as I go plunging into the waves and the flat bottom of the metal boat smacks down into each jarring trough. I got this guys, don’t worry, but how about keeping me in eyesight (the second boat is a 50 hp and leaves me in the dust)? Suddenly, in a particularly windy wavy section my motor falls silent. Alright, out of gas? Nope, just filled that anyways. Ok, give the fuel line a few pumps, back to neutral, hit start, put in gear. I get a grumble and then silence again. Try again, and then again, and one more time because I might have done it wrong the first three times. Nothing. Alright guys, you can come back and find me now… guys? Please come back?
They came back to rescue me, the fuel line had cracked but when replaced we were back on our soggy way.
I think I am just not meant to deal with anything with a motor. I can handle a car, but only because I have been driving since age 16. Make it a (huge) truck and it’s still ok. Put a boat trailer on the end of that truck and it’s alright, as long as I only have to go forward. Backing up that trailer is a whole other embarrassing event. Sometimes it goes so smoothly. I pat myself on the back and say I am getting the hang of this. Then toss in a busy ramp and a few onlookers and suddenly that trailer seems magnetically repelled from anywhere I want it to go. Three tries later it’s where it’s supposed to be and I am wishing I could hide under a rock until my incompetence is forgotten.
Mechanical discombobulation aside, it’s a beautiful stretch of river. Work is less a chore and more of a privilege. I could be imprisoned in a cubicle, confined to a desk, to shuffle papers from one stack to another. I am not. In the day we float through canyons, following the river down through a million years of geologic history. The white, red, orange, purple, and green layers of rock each tell a story of what was there before. Dinosaur tracks marching across uplifted blocks of stone speak of a time before people. Cliff dwellings, perched on the cliff walls like hanging swallows’ nests, are reminders that we are not the first to explore this landscape. And, as I sit on the tethered boat at night, watching the bats dive and weave in the growing darkness, silhouettes lost against the trees and then reappearing above in the yellow glow of the rising moon, I know this is special.

Friday, May 7, 2010

It's getting lizardy, but maybe that's just spring

If I wasn't feeling like my usual inordinately lazy self I would split this into two posts, and include some complete sentences on the shenanigans associated with these photos. I might have even spellchecked. I didn't. So here are some photos comprising the last two weeks: hiking adventures in the needles district of Canyonlands and then a San Juan river trip from Shiprock to Montezuma Creek.

The work photos go first.

First day on the river. Technically we didn't even make it on the river. After leaving Moab at 5 am and driving through snow, sleet, and hail to reach Shiprock, New Mexico and the rest of the river crew the bosses decided the weather was too bad to work in. It wasn't the snow/rain that did it. It was the wind. We still work in the snow.

Freezing river fashion

Oh, you have got to be kidding! That looks like another storm! I repent for burning all those peeps on Easter, just bring back the sun.

That's a razorback sucker, one of the endangered species we get to play with. Yeah, the pictures a little out of focus, but I couldn't feel my fingers.

Kokepelli (I think) hanging out with a gallery of other petroglyphs in the canyon above our first campsite.

Now, jumping back in time, to my canyonlands hiking trip. There was more sun, but it was also so windy that my tent blew out of the campsite. We returned at the end of our 11 mile hike to find it held down by rocks (thank you to whoever caught and tethered it)

It's a lizard! The weather has turned quite lizardy out here. This is embarrassing, but I an not really sure what this one is. I want to call it an ornate tree lizard (Urosaurus), but it could just be a side blotch and I missed the blotch. It ran away after I shoved the camera in its face.

I'm trying to learn all my desert flowers (since I seem to be failing on lizards, at least the flowers don't run away from me), but haven't got a clue as to what this is. A beer to anyone who can id it.

Common Paintbrush

Newspaper rock, on the road to the Needles district.

Claretcup. Cool trivia: the genus name Echinocereus comes from the Greek word echinos, hedgehog.