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34 ABOUT THE COVER Corey Wright leads a 5.11 rock climbing route in Paradox Valley in the West End of Colorado. To read about the history and agricultural side of the West End, head to page 26. photo by Terrance Siemon

14 D E PA R T M E N T S



Life in the West End of Colorado


Cooking with Dutch Ovens


Spring Mountaineering


Personal Raft Essentials

44 KILLER WEEKEND Monticello, Utah


Dr. Duane Vandenbushe



10 WILD PLACES IN WILD TIMES Lessons from travel during Covid by iain kuo


Visiting a historical and cultural site by brenda bergeen


Staying grounded on a raft trip by morgan sjorgren

22 SURF'S UP IN COLORADO The rise of river surfing by morgan tilton


The reintroduction of wolves to Colorado by ryan wichelns

34 ROAMIN' OLD ROADS A historical road trip with Hoffman Birney by morgan sjorgren

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Tiona Eversole editor Terrance Siemon photographer & videographer Laurie Kain photographer & videographer Hunter Harrell copy editor CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Brenda Bergreen Bret Edge Iain Kuo Suzanna Lourie Mike Remke

Dani Reyes-Acosta Morgan Sjogren Morgan Tilton Ryan Wichelns


Brenda Bergreen Nate Decremer Bret Edge Ian Kuo Suzanna Lourie

Eric Phillips Mike Remke Morgan Sjogren Morgan Tilton


Jamie Opalenik director of multimedia sales Amy Baird Colleen Donley Tana Bowen Joe Nelson Kelly Bulkley Shell Simonson Cole Davis Matt Yeoman Garett Dickinson PRODUCTION

Ryan Brown production manager DESIGN

Tad Smith manager of creative services Gary Markstein designer Bridget Williams lead designer INTE R AC TIVE

Jace Reynolds web designer Matt Graff web development MANAG E R


© 2021 All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher. Published in the United States by Ballantine Communications, Inc. 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Ballantine Communications uses reasonable effort to include accurate and up-to-date information for its special publications. Details are subject to change, so please check ahead. The publisher accepts no responsibility for any consequences arising from the use of this guide. We welcome suggestions from readers. Please write to the editor at the address above.

As time progressed, Spanish explorers and missionaries traveled from the south in search of riches and conquest as far back as 1540, and immigrants appeared from the east seeking out their own treasures — anything from precious metals to a better way of life. Through many wars and many hardships, it is important to not romanticize the history of the Southwest, but to learn from its past, to look at where we stand today and how far we’ve come. Today, we live in a cultural melting pot full of enduring traditions, heartwarming TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE PRESENT, foods and unique artforms. WE MUST LOOK TO THE PAST. In this issue, we explore Growing up in the Southwest is something I many different facets of the Southwest. We play cherish. Born and raised between New Mexico and tourist with Brenda Bergreen at Chaco Canyon on Colorado, I credit the desert and the mountains page 14 and wander around the impressive for shaping who I am today. But it is not only the structures of an ancient metropolis. We take a landscapes that define the Southwest. A rich past historic road trip with Hoffman Birney, circa 1928, filled with 10,000-plus years of human events have and Morgan Sjogren on page 34 through the Four led to our ties to this place we call “home.” Corners area and beyond. We learn about the The history of the Southwest is rich and history of the West End in Colorado on page 26 expansive, thanks to a cultural blend of its original with Dani Reyes-Acosta. Morgan Tilton shares the inhabitants and settlers from faraway places. The story of a prominent professor-turned-historian at first people to live in the area developed aweWestern Colorado University on page 46. We also inspiring civilizations, the remnants of once-grand bring things up to speed with trips to Southeast cities on display in protected parks and Utah, wolf reintroduction in Colorado and monuments such as Mesa Verde National Park and traveling in the time of COVID. I’m thrilled to share Chaco Canyon Historical Park. Other ancient such a dynamic and exploratory issue with you, structures dot the canyon landscape throughout and encourage all to embrace the rich culture and the Southwest, an ode to resilience within a harsh desert environment. history of our little corner of the world.


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Time-lapse photography allows us to push the limits of traditional video, and the results are amazing. The final product of a time-lapse shoot produces a video that would otherwise be impossible to capture, like the Milky Way moving across the sky. Essentially anything that moves slowly to our naked eye — including plants, weather, stars, the aurora borealis, fog and even wildfire smoke — can make very interesting subjects for time-lapse projects. Here, we see the Desert View Watchtower on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon displayed among a starry night sky. Grand Canyon National Park is one of several Dark Sky Parks across the West, making it the perfect destination to capture stunning time-lapse photos at night. For more on time-lapse photography and to see time-lapse videos in motion, head to www.adventurepro.us/time-lapse-photography.

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As the snow melts and green starts to return to our forests, we are reminded of the cycles of the seasons. Near Wolf Creek Pass, the status of beetle kill forests also remind us of a deeper cycle that the forest knows intimately.

Seasons of Change How spring represents a new time in our high elevation forests WORDS AND PHOTOS BY MIKE REMKE

REBIRTH As the days begin to lengthen, spring is a time where the mountains shed their snow covers and life is reborn. We recognize spring with the arrival of the first flowers of the season and the swelling of rivers. Spring is a symbol of birth as buds burst into leaves and flowers begin to decorate the landscape. Simultaneously, the songs of birds fill the forest as temperatures warm. Naturally, each season fits into a recognizable phase of annual cycles. These seasons are deeply familiar to all of us, their reliability so celebrated, often with some sort of ritual. The reality is: forests also experience and celebrate their own cycles.

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CYCLES Just as we recognize and celebrate the annual cycles of seasons, the plants of the forests are also deeply in tune with the dynamic realities of seasons and time their life cycles around them. And this is just one of many cycles that brings life to the forest. The trees of the forests are much older than humans, thus forests operate on cycles grander than most Western cultures can fully comprehend. At its core, the grandest cycle that humans can understand is that of life and death. Seasons are a microcosm of the cycle of life and death — where autumn brings senescence with fungi decaying what is left behind, and spring is the rebirth. For humans, a life cycle operates on a time scale of less than a

century — for forests, especially high elevation forests, the cycle of life and death is often three centuries or more. Trees have a tendency to grow indefinitely until some external factor stresses them to death. It seems a tree could live for some infinite amount of time, though their life is still attached to some sort of cycle. For a high elevation forest in Southwest Colorado, deep snowpack carries a tree’s life onward for some unforeseeable amount of time. We tend to marvel at the deep snowpack year after year, even in bad years, and continually admire the growth of the forest. Though, a hidden cycle of drought and other climate factors grip the fate of forests to a greater extent than our own awareness, one that oscillates at scales of centuries or longer. 

CHANGE Since the early 2000s, the greater San Juan Mountain region has spiraled into a prolonged series of droughts, partly associated with a climate phenomenon known as a Warm Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which often corresponds to warmer and drier conditions. For the forest, this often means higher stress, as well as increased mortality and change. For those who have rambled around the San Juan Mountains for a while, change seems memorable — a once green forest on Wolf Creek Pass transitioned to brown and grey ghostly skeletons of trees. Bark beetles took advantage of warm winters and drought-stressed trees to grow their populations and advance on instigating dramatic alterations to the forest. These native beetles have always been part of our forested ecosystems, and while the scale of change witnessed today is entirely novel to our Anglo perspective, stories of tribes and ecology reveal a deeper understory. UNDERSTORIES We often speak of seeing the forest for the trees, though, it’s imperative that we also see the forest for the community. While these major changes occur and our eyes catch the dramatic change in the overstory, it’s easy to forget to look down. As the sun penetrates through the openings of the forested areas altered by these deep cycles of time, the world comes to life in scenic and dramatic blooms. Wildflower, shrub and tree regeneration thrive in the forest understory where light now arrives in greater quantities than before. In some ways, it seems obvious that the forest mortality does not instantly bring back a new forest, yet it’s exciting to imagine that observing the transformation is like watching the birth of a forest.  Further, it is likely that observed forest mortality like what we are seeing is not fully unprecedented. There is mounting scientific evidence to share the deeper perspective that periodic drought facilitates wide scale forest disturbances and alterations, and that the ecology self stabilizes. Three-toed woodpeckers, as an example, thrive in beetle killed forests with their primary diet consisting of bark beetles. As their populations expand, they migrate to intact forests where bark beetles exist in smaller numbers. Perhaps the increased pressure of three-toed woodpeckers helps regulate beetle populations and preserve the forest. In so many ways, the ecology takes care of itself.

A three-toed woodpecker feeds on bark beetles in a single downed, beetle kill tree. These native birds thrive in areas with beetle-based mortality and help set the stage to regulate populations.

An iconic Douglas-fir towers above spruce killed forests, a stark reminder that forests are dynamic and complex. This stately Douglas-fir is better adapted to drought than the surrounding spruce that are spiraling into mortality from drought and beetle attacks.

FUTURE GROWTH While it seems easy to assume we know what we need to know, there is great uncertainty carrying forward. The extensive green of the forest’s past serves as a memory. The vibrant understory blooms and a rich bird habitat of the present tells us some of the future, but not all. Global change compounded by human activity brings with it a strong deal of uncertainty to keep the curious mind fed and the knowledgeable humble. At the end of the day, are you paying attention to the world and noticing changes in the cycles?

MIKE REMKE is a professor of biology at Fort Lewis College and a research associate with Mountain Studies Institute where his studies focus on the intersection between forest ecology and human dimensions of ecosystems. When he is not busy being a nerd, he is often out and about with his camera, bike or splitboard enjoying the rich scenery of the San Juans. A sea of Arrowleaf Ragwort (Senecio triangularis) blooms in the light rich understory of a beetle kill forest. The understory comes to life with wildflowers as light reaches the forest floor.

Wild Places in Wild Times An adventurer’s reflections on risk in the time of the pandemic WORDS AND PHOTOS BY IAIN KUO

It’s the heart of wintertime in western Wyoming, and the latest storm from the Pacific has brought with it cold, dry powder under light winds. The ski conditions in the nearby Tetons are the sort that drive me to continuously refresh my social media feeds, all the while gazing wistfully out through the window of my motel room in Jackson Hole. My skis, my roommates and the house where I normally live are just a couple minutes’ drive across town.


From left to right: Gaspar Navarrete, Chapico Caceres and Erik Ahroon ascend the glacier high above 17,000 feet on Cayambe at dawn, just as the sun’s first rays begin to touch the valley far below. Antisana and Cotopaxi are prominent in the background, with Chimborazo hazy in the far distance.

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’ve been in quarantine before; confined to a small room for a couple of weeks is nothing new these days. In the past, I’ve even felt that the isolation offered a welcome reprieve from the unyielding stress of the pandemic. That’s still true. By staying in this room and eliminating all contact with others, I’m allowed a break from worrying over whether I might catch or spread the ubiquitous disease. The difference this time, however, is that I’m locked in this room not due to known exposure or an abundance of caution, but because I’ve actually contracted COVID-19. Incongruously, six weeks prior, I was thousands of miles from home, climbing and skiing giant, glaciated volcanoes along the Pacific Ring of Fire. After boarding a plane in the blowing snow and near zero-degree temperatures of December in Jackson Hole, some 15 hours later I was greeted by wet and warm, 65-degree weather upon disembarking in the high Andean foothills of Quito. Local Ecuadorian and IFMGAcertified mountain guide Gaspar Navarrete picked me up from the airport in his well-traveled Land Cruiser, and with masks on, we set out to a nearby hotel. I would stay in a private room until we could make our way into the mountains for a more desirable sort of social distancing. Admittedly, the towering peaks of Ecuador were not my first choice of objectives for 2020. In truth, Ecuador was not even the second or third place I considered after the first pandemic-induced trip cancellation. After all, countries that lie directly on the equator are rarely chosen as ski destinations. But after expeditions to Alaska in spring and Nepal in autumn were scrapped due to COVID, I began to widen my search. Ecuador had both of the necessary components for a feasible, yet challenging, ski mountaineering adventure in modern times: high altitude glaciers and no quarantine on arrival, as long as I could supply a recent negative test result. And oh, what an adventure it was. A stinging December sunburn on the first day’s short acclimatization hike from the front door of the hotel served as a quick reminder of how far from home I had come. At over 9,000 feet above sea level in Quito, the combination of altitude and the direct sunlight of the tropics left my forearms peeling until it was almost time to return home two weeks later. As if that wasn’t cue enough, the sprawling city blanketing the lush green forests and rolling hills was unlike anything I had seen before, a manmade organism growing endlessly out over the highlands. And looming above it all, punctuating the intermittent blue sky and gathering afternoon rain clouds, rose the occasional proud, snowcapped volcano. These distant behemoths dominated the surrounding landscape.



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Navarrete climbs out of the shadows at 18,000 feet on the heavily glaciated west face of Antisana, at last enjoying the warming rays of the sun.

Navarrete cruises along paved roads through the rolling hills above the sprawling mass of Quito, after our first acclimatization hike on Guagua Pichincha. Wearing masks in the car daily and driving with the windows down to circulate air made me reconsider and cherish the carefree fun that I had always taken for granted.

I quickly began to learn that Ecuador should have been higher on my never-ending list of travel destinations — the stunning scenery alone would have warranted a visit in safer times. But for all the beauty of the foothills, I had come in pursuit of thinner air and less forgiving terrain. After acclimatization hikes that took us up above 15,000 feet on lesser volcanoes Guagua Pichincha and Fuya Fuya, the latter 10 |

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affording stunning views of the Mojanda volcanic complex near Otavalo, we traded the highways of civilization for rocky roads that challenged even the reliable four-wheel drive of the Land Cruiser. On my sixth day in Ecuador, we set off beneath a starry sky through the bitter pre-dawn cold for the summit of Cayambe, which at 18,996 feet holds the only glaciers on Earth lying directly on the equator.

Laden with our rope and the wands we used to mark our path across the glacier on ascent, Navarrete skis beneath a massive serac hazard on Antisana. Moving quickly and efficiently both up and down the glacier is essential.

Locals walk past a striking, modern take on Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam on a street mural in Ecuador. In contrast with the four years it took Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it took the virus merely a few months to permeate every aspect of our lives.

That morning was the beginning of a series of stellar summit day conditions that would persist for the duration of the trip. Alpenglow painted the landscape far below, as our small team took step after step up the glacier on Cayambe, the hulking mass of Antisana and conical symmetry of Cotopaxi illuminated in stark relief by the rising sun. Gazing back at the snow, ice and rock for thousands of feet beneath us, I reveled in the long, arduous process to reach such an

Wild Places incredible place — made all the more unattainable by the perils of the pandemic. I had spent months on end planning and training for expeditions that had ceased to exist just as quickly as the virus had swept the globe. As the sun grew ever higher in a clear blue sky devoid of wind, we skied directly off the summit, making careful turns above gaping crevasses. At long last, persistence had paid off. The adventure continued, in much the same way that it had begun. Navarrete and I moved on to Antisana, and with no other tents in sight at the base of the mountain, we assailed the heavily crevassed West Face with only each other’s company and a rope between us. Never before had I skied snow bridges over such gaping chasms of ice and darkness, nor been greeted on a summit by such thunderheads, like roiling skyscrapers on the horizon, closing in from the direction of the Amazon jungle to the east. After racing to stay just out of reach of the wind, snow and rain on our ski descent, another day’s drive saw us to the foothills of Chimborazo, the country’s highest and perhaps most formidable peak. The adventure continued, and underlying it all was a tight feeling in my gut that I simply could never shake off. Reaching the summit of Chimborazo with my skis was a dream come true; for an entire year I had pursued skiing from above 20,000 feet more passionately than any other goal I had set for myself. After racing across the short saddle to tag the true summit, we skied from the western summit at over 20,400 feet before the sun had any chance to destabilize the snowpack. Making turns in variable conditions on a 40-plus degree slope above no-fall exposure at extreme altitude, I was grinning from ear to ear. I had finally done what I’d set out to do so many months ago. And yet, that feeling of internal tension remained, as it had since long before I set foot on the plane in Jackson Hole. Every time I put on my mask, got in a vehicle, entered an enclosed room or building with others or would so much as sneeze, I could feel the knots forming in my neck and shoulders from the stress that I could have prevented, but could no longer alleviate. Those of us who spend time in nature all experience moments in which we are graced with the serenity that so easily evades us amidst the pressing concerns of a modern life. This time, however, by traveling to a faraway place I had created the very demons I sought to escape in the remote wilderness of the mountains. In truth, I felt that the risk of catching COVID once I had actually arrived in Ecuador was relatively low. I was impressed by the health screening at the international airport. We waited in a separate room on arrival while medical staff in full scrubs, masks and face shields took our temperatures. They asked us questions and checked dates on the negative test results we had brought. I continually marveled at the 100% rate of mask wearing in the streets, something I had never seen in the U.S., until Navarrete explained to me that the penalty for being caught mask-less was a $100 fine and that such measures were actually being enforced. On top of all that, I had come to spend my time out in the mountains, deliberately staying as far away from large groups of people as possible. As my mother had pointed out when I called her to voice my selfinflicted anxiety, it wasn’t as though I was headed down there to go bar-hopping — something that actually goes on regularly in the tourism-fueled ski town where I live. And yet, none of my precautions or good intentions could completely eliminate the risk that I had S P R I N G

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Navarrete makes a ski turn as we retrace our steps through the maze of crevasse hazard on Antisana, the glacier and rolling hills of Ecuador in shadow as clouds chase close behind.

Wild Places "I returned to an internal dilemma that most adventurers become all too familiar with over the years: whether I could be successful at taking extreme care while doing an inherently high-risk activity." brought COVID with me, undetected on my two pre-flight tests due to the incubation period. Neither my obsessive hand-washing nor myriad of other germaphobic tendencies could completely eliminate the risk that I would pick it up somewhere along the way, whether on the plane or on a rope team. Rationally, I knew before leaving that there was a chance I would spend the entire trip locked alone in a room in a foreign country, worrying over whether I had put anyone else’s life or livelihood at risk. But it seemed plausible, even probable, that I could see this adventure through safely. And so I chose to follow through on the countless hours and the hard-earned dollars that I had invested in my personal goals, despite deep-seated reservations. I returned to an internal dilemma that most adventurers become all too familiar with over the years: whether I could be successful at taking extreme care while doing an inherently high-risk activity. Only somehow, in this new reality, my focus on safely climbing and skiing huge avalanche slopes on high altitude, glaciated peaks had been overshadowed by the decision of whether or not to even go out the door. A friend of mine pointed out recently that most of us can admit we’ve taken on additional risk from time to time during the pandemic in the name 12 |

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of our truest passions, our foremost priorities, our most committing pursuits. However, the case numbers clearly show that in the aggregate, those personal choices are extending the problem as a whole. As I languish in my motel room so close to home, I reflect on the fact that catching the virus was always a very real possibility, regardless of the care I took during my travels. I live and breathe for adventure skiing, and I’ll cherish my memories from Ecuador for a lifetime — but I cannot deny that each decision on the way to those summits was tainted by guilt and permeated by doubt. I tested negative twice in the 10 days before departing for Ecuador, and three times in the week after I returned. I never had or spread COVID while I was there. Everyone I smiled at through my mask was exceedingly kind and friendly, and most seemed more enthusiastic about business in the tough times of the pandemic than they were concerned about my decision to travel. But the ends cannot so easily justify the means. As with an avalanche lurking in the backcountry, I can hold tightly to the story that I mitigated the problem with micromanagement. In reality, I was fortunate to skirt the dire consequences of all-time but ill-advised skiing.

IAIN KUO is a ski mountaineer and professional photographer based in Jackson Hole. He has climbed, skied and photographed expeditions in places such as Patagonia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan and the Wind River Range of Wyoming. When not traveling or working behind the lens, Iain can be found exploring the wild landscape of the Teton Range and planning for the next adventure.

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Exploring Chaco Canyon A visit to this National Historic Park offers a glimpse into the rich history and culture of northern New Mexico BY BRENDA BERGREEN


ooking out over Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, there’s a sense of magic and discovery. Even though I visited the national park as an adult, I picture a younger version of myself exploring the place as I duck through doorways and gaze through windows. Historical places like Chaco Canyon pique our curiosity and inspire us to ask questions about the people that built the impressive structures that Chaco Canyon is known for. We wonder how they lived, what they believed and why they left. Such places cause us to say deep and inspired things like, ‘woah’ and ‘cool.’ Located in a remote area of New Mexico, Chaco Canyon has dark skies that are perfect for

Looking into a site along the South Mesa Trail. photo by Marc Bergreen

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stargazing; in fact, an observatory was built in 1998. The night sky at Chaco Canyon is bound to take your breath away. Chaco Canyon is fascinating from an architectural perspective. One can see the changes in construction, material and design based on the year a section was built and the advances in technology over time. Beyond construction, the design itself shows complexity and seems to be inspired by the cosmos. In addition to the buildings, an area known as the Sun Dagger rests high on one of the buttes. A set of petroglyphs are struck with light shafts on the summer and winter solstice, and again on the spring and fall equinoxes.

Petroglyphs near Kin Kletso, an Ancestral Puebloan Great House. photo by Marc Bergreen

›› Looking into the past through doorways in the Pueblo Bonito restored archaeological site. photo by Brenda Bergreen

Sunset over the Fajada Butte, site of the Sun Dagger. photo by Brenda Bergreen

The effect of the Sun Dagger can no longer be seen due to the rock slabs shifting, possibly due to erosion from too many visitors. It makes me question the delicate balance between my desire to see such spectacular sites and the impact that I have on them. Disappointment in not seeing the Sun Dagger is overcome by just knowing that it exists and is a part of this complex and mystifying place. The road to Chaco Canyon is a long and dusty one filled with bumps, and yet the park still draws 80,000 visitors per year. There is endless discovery for archaeologists, and also a deep spiritual connection of Indigenous peoples to this place. Therefore, disagreements and compromises around excavation and whether it’s disrespectful or educational have occurred. In the ‘80s, large-

The wide open road to Chaco Canyon. photo by Marc Bergreen

scale excavations ceased in place of remote sensing as a way to gather information without disturbing the buildings and disrespecting the beliefs of Native American tribes. There also seem to be varying accounts of what Chaco Canyon was. Were the Great Houses like small towns? Were they houses for the elite? Or was it more of a religious site? It seems that it’s protected because of archaeological significance, but a side benefit is the protection of the biodiversity of the area that might account for its long track record of inhabitation. However, if there’s one thing that I imagine supporters of Chaco Canyon would agree on, it would be the importance of preserving what’s left of this historical, archaeological and spiritual site.



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The author hiking to Pueblo Alto. photo by Marc Bergreen

Exploring Chaco Canyon Despite the obvious intention and foresight put into the design of both the buildings and the culture, the site was eventually depopulated around 1200 AD. It’s suspected that people left for a variety of reasons: possibly social, environmental or both. Tree-ring dating points to a series of droughts. While we were there, we encountered a few school buses taking kids on tours through the buildings. It became a game to pick which site to visit based on where the larger groups were. If we saw a school bus parked in a lot, we would continue on and come back later knowing that we might get the next spot all to ourselves. There was something special about the solitude and silence of standing alone amongst so much history. Leaving the Great Houses behind, you can hike over rocks and through canyons alongside what was an ancient road to further sites. It’s like walking back in time as you get a sense for the scale and grandeur of the prior civilization. I respect the

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need to honor the beliefs of the Indigenous peoples, and I am also grateful to have the opportunity to visit such places and walk in someone’s footsteps. It’s a different feeling than seeing something from behind a roped barrier. New Mexico and the Southwest have a lot to explore, especially if you’re interested in Native American architecture and the history and culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people. And for everything we are able to see and visit, it’s clear there is more hidden below the surface pulsing with mystery and wonder. Go back in time, learn about history and look up at the dark sky in awe and reverence.

BRENDA BERGREEN is a storyteller and photographer living in Evergreen, Colorado, with her family. When she’s not writing or taking photos, you might find her exploring amazing places like Chaco Canyon.


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Afloat & Afoot in the

Grand Canyon Finding my stride on a 21-day river trip WORDS & PHOTOS BY MORGAN SJOGRE

"As it turned out, I was not a very good passenger, and though I was moving through one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, my own personal inertia made me feel stir crazy." On river trips, taking advantage of opportunities to run and hike can make your float time more enjoyable.


s an avid trail runner and hiker, taking my first river trip down the Grand Canyon

intimidated me in many ways. With minimal whitewater experience, I felt trepidation about riding through the notoriously large rapids of the Colorado River in 45-degree water. The truth is that my biggest fear heading into the trip was quite pedestrian — I hate sitting still. I typically gravitate toward adventures powered by my own two feet, but my role on this voyage would be that of a passenger. However, the Grand Canyon boasts spectacular hiking that can only be accessed from the river, which ultimately convinced me to go. Within the first day of this three-week odyssey, I realized that time spent sitting on the boat could fluctuate from beautiful and soothing to torturous rapids, depending on weather conditions and even my mood that day. As it turned out, I was not a very good passenger, and though I was moving through one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, my own personal inertia made me feel stir crazy. After freezing my way through the inner gorge, I honestly contemplated hiking out the South Kaibab Trail because I was craving the warm-up that would come with sun exposed vertical relief. Of course, bailing was not an option, so I employed another tactic. I pulled out the river guide and started looking for each and every hiking option available that correlated with our group’s campsites. As I adjusted to the ratio of sitting on the boat to walking on the land, I came to anticipate and appreciate the opportunities to explore new canyons afoot that would not have ever been accessible to me had I not set myself afloat. Somewhere between the abrupt jolt of Horn Rapid and our next warm campsite with hiking options, it dawned on me that many people who feel conflicted about this kind of adventure simply might not go on such a long river trip. Yes, I’m looking at you, my fellow endurance athletes, lower body extremists, dry land lovers and adrenaline anti-junkies! Below are my takeaways after three weeks living on a boat in the middle of one of the world’s Seven Wonders, the Grand Canyon. I’m here to pass along the beta from my own trip, from one timidly brave soul to another, that may give you the courage to untether yourself and try something new!

River trips offer unique opportunities to access remote hikes.

EXPECTATIONS This is fairly straightforward, but I knew going into a 21-day float trip that this would be more of a recovery period than one of getting super fit. Unlike the capable rowers who would be exerting themselves around the clock during daylight hours, I’d be spending a significant portion of my day sitting down and simply hanging on. Embracing this as a fun way to take some down time is the best possible way to approach it, and something I wish I had contemplated prior to the trip. I’ve been benched from injuries for longer, all while staying home and being bored and frustrated. Personally, if I ever need a time out again to chill or let my body rejuvenate, I’d prefer a front row seat on a raft to a sofa and Netflix. GROUP MENTALITY River trips are a group effort. Period. While this is pretty obvious as far as the day-to-day set-up, rigging and meal times, the same goes for off-the-boat activities. If time on land and hiking are super important to you, make sure to discuss it with trip leaders ahead of time to make sure it can be built into the schedule. You likely won’t be the only person in the group excited to go hiking, and chatting about the next opportunities around the fire is a great way to bring the crew together. KNOW YOUR CAMPSITES Campsite selection is perhaps one of the most paramount things to have dialed to maximize hiking. Aside from planned stops to hike, opt to camp at beaches that have hiking route access to get some movement in before bedtime or in the morning before you launch. Again, talk about this with group leaders. Most folks are more than happy to pull out at a spot that allows for a variety of activities and can keep the bocce ball, campfire baking and hiking crowds pleased.



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"Somewhere between the abrupt jolt of Horn Rapid and our next warm campsite with hiking options, it dawned on me that many people who feel conflicted about this kind of adventure simply might not go on such a long river trip." The author basks in the sunshine during a stop to hike at one of the Grand's many side canyons.

HIDDEN PHYSICAL CHALLENGES Despite all of the down time, much of it was deceptive. I noticed my hands, forearms and core muscles were all being engaged while I held on tight going through the larger rapids. Hauling heavy gear on and off the boat two to three times a day through sand was like a weightlifting regime. River trips are a great reminder that fitness was once gained through the tasks of daily living. You really don’t need to go to the gym to get a workout when you are living outside and doing things the old fashioned way! THE FOOD Unlike backpacking, river trips allow for the ultimate floating buffet of real food. I found myself giddy with excitement to pack my hiking pack with leftover tamales and even chocolate cake from the dinner before rather than a standard PB&J or energy bar. Best of all, when I returned from a long day on the trail I got to enjoy a beautiful remote camp spot and a fancy dinner like steak with a glass of red wine. The ratio of backcountry adventure to gourmet meals is at its prime on a trip like this, so indulge yourself as you remember all the smashed cold food you’ve eaten on big trail runs.

Sweeping views from the Tabernacle — hiking offers a perspective of the landscape that can't be seen while afloat.

HIKES Much of the Grand Canyon’s most spectacular hiking is best accessed from the river. Two of my favorites include Thunder River and The Tabernacle. Thunder River starts at Tapeats Creek. This 14-mile (round trip) hike takes you to a half-mile long underground river that unleashes itself from a towering canyon wall as a spectacular waterfall. It also happens to have a good amount of vertical climbing if you are craving that. The Tabernacle is known for the stunning panoramic views. Let your legs and lungs appreciate the type of climb you can squeeze in before Happy Hour while still feeling like you got in a great workout. A well-traveled 3.7-mile (out and back) trail will get you to the top of this 4,757-foot butte overlooking the river on the verge of the inner-gorge. Grand Canyon lottery permits can be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so even if you don’t consider yourself a river rat (yet), this rarity itself is the best reason to hitch a ride on a raft and experience a slice of the earth that can be traveled no other way.

MORGAN SJOGREN runs wild with words around the Colorado Plateau. With a background in competitive running, Sjogren relishes the challenge of trying new adventures. Still, she never goes anywhere without her running shoes. Knowing your estimated campsites ahead of time can help you plan hiking opportunities. S P R I N G

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A swell of new river surfers, whitewater parks, rental programs and manufacturers have accelerated this ocean sport in Colorado’s mountains


I planted my left bootie on the level rock beneath the loud, foamy water, preparing to launch myself into the curling wave. My river surfboard sat against my right hip, held between my hands and pointed up river. I took a deep breath before bending my knees and catapulting myself sideways into the wave, landing with my belly on the river surfboard — but I had too much momentum, slid past the sweet spot and was quickly washed away. The tame whitewater smacked my face as I made one easy swim stroke to catch the eddy, just below the queue of river surfers waiting for their next turn.


his was my first trip to river surf the Montrose Water Sports Park, and my sixth day surfing rivers. My ability to stand up on a board wasn’t sure-fire, and it took me four hours to catch the first wave. But I was amazed by the fact that I could endure that amount of river time here without feeling totally gassed or overcharged with adrenaline, thanks to the relatively calm water, moderate flow speed and easy exit following each wave. I only planted my feet above the wave once that day, and I’d absolutely be back for more sessions at this approachable whitewater park. MONTROSE: THE HEART OF RIVER SURFING The surge of river surfing on Colorado’s Western Slope has undoubtedly been driven by the Montrose whitewater community. Montrose Kayak and Surf (MKS) opened doors in conjunction with the Montrose Water Sports Park, a 1,000-foot long slice of the Uncompahgre River in the center of Riverbottom Park, surrounded by towering cottonwoods and emerald green grass, bridges, stone amphitheater seating and a paved path. The whitewater park debuted in 2015 with six wave features and ADAaccessible put-in and take-out ramps. “River surfing is undeniably growing in interest — you only need to go to so many river surf spots to see,” said Mike Harvey, the

co-founder of Badfish SUP, a global pioneer of whitewater stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) designed to surf river waves based in Salida, Colorado. “Montrose is a great example: the percentage of users in whitewater kayaks versus river surfing is overwhelmingly river surfing. The sport has grown and we expect it to grow. Twelve years ago we were the only ones doing it.” The Montrose Water Sports Park waves are fed by sustained irrigation from April to October, an extensive season compared to other locations statewide. Every Wednesday night throughout the season, MKS hosts free demonstrations at the park, which is how shop manager Hollis Brake first started river surfing five years ago. COLORADO: QUEEN OF WHITEWATER PARKS When Montrose Kayak and Surf (MKS) opened, they didn’t know river surfing existed, Brake said. Then they met Harvey, who has influenced every aspect of river surfing’s evolution from board design and manufacturing to education, safety, retail and waves. He’s among a handful of U.S.based whitewater park and river-surf wave builders, a title he’s held since 1999, and still does part-time. “River surfing was a heavily niche pursuit for a long time,” Harvey said. “In the last ten years, it’s become mainstream and Colorado is the epicenter, because we have more than


The author river surfing the first wave at Gunnison River Whitewater Park.photo by Eric Phillips S P R I N G

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Eric Phillips river surfing at Montrose Water Sports Park. photo by Morgan Tilton

30 public whitewater parks — the highest volume in the world, there’s not even a close second place.” Building a whitewater park is harder than one might imagine, mostly due to environmental regulations. After securing community support and funding, the structures need to comply with the Clean Water Act, which includes a two-prong approval process with state and federal agencies that can require up to two years. The most attractive whitewater parks, like the Montrose Water Sports Park, are designed for recreationists of all abilities and skills. “The most successful whitewater parks — with smooth, accessible waves — are achieved through the teamwork of engineers, public input and the tourism economy,” said David Riordon, president of the Colorado River Surfing Association. “Non-locals will travel to surf better whitewater parks.” Colorado’s biggest engineering advancement is human-controlled waves, which have yet to be installed on the Western Slope, but Denver’s River Run Park has two. An underwater installation, dubbed the WaveShaper, features several adjustable plates that alter the wave shape. The result is a consistent surf experience despite variable streamflow conditions. The machine was invented by Denverite Rick McLaughlin, senior project manager at the Merrick & Company McLaughlin Whitewater Design Group.

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KEY TO COMMUNITY GROWTH: RIVER SURF EDUCATION Brandon Slate, adventure specialist at Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC) in Buena Vista, Colorado, has worked at RMOC for 11 years and leads the outfitter’s Learn to Surf program. “My passion for surfing and wanting to share it with others sparked the Learn to Surf program, plus the fact that we have a variety of waves in the Arkansas River Valley,” Slate said. Salida and Buena Vista each boast three popular waves at their whitewater parks, which are 25 miles apart. The season is stable from May to September, which can support a business plan with river surf lessons. At the time of publication, only two other organizations in the Centennial State offer river surf lessons: the Colorado River School and Chill Foundation. Slate recalls that the first ever Learn to Surf clinics were taught at Buena Vista’s annual CKS Paddlefest in partnership with instructor Mike Tavares, six years ago. The professional whitewater stand-up paddleboarder rides for Badfish SUP. RMOC aptly added the curriculum to their offerings in 2016. At first, river surfing entailed that a paddler stood upright with their feet planted on the stand-up paddleboard and a paddle in their hands: It was SUPing on a wave. Over the past few years, river surfing evolved to be done prone (on a person’s belly), emulating ocean surfers. “It’s easier to teach prone river surfing, because crossing the eddy line and getting to the wave standing up is harder than it is when you’re paddling prone. Then you stand up when you get to the wave,” Slate said. River surfboards have also evolved to support a prone technique. “The boards are shorter, less thick and not as buoyant as they used to be,” Slate said. “They can hold a person up with speed, when there’s a wave, but a person can’t stand on them on flat water.” The RMOC course has grown in popularity, especially among traveling ocean surfers. “We’ll teach ocean surfers who have heard about river surfing, want to be safe and don’t understand river hydrology at all,” Slate said. “They’re seriously blown away that they’re facing upriver when they surf. Once we get on the wave, they’re teaching me how to surf, because they’re badass surfers.” Beyond the classroom, the hordes of river surfers in the water each day has grown exponentially. “You always have to wait in line at the token waves and even at the more challenging ones,” Slate said. “The upper wave in Salida was rebuilt to be more user-friendly and there’s easily 15 kids there at any given time. I like to see all these people surfing.” RENTALS: TEST RIDE THE WATER Last summer, the MKS river surfboard rentals were completely booked several days a week during the peak summer months. “We saw so much more growth than what we anticipated that we were out of boards regularly,” Brake said. “The types of boards being rented also shifted to more performance-oriented boards, and more people started buying their own boards, too.” This summer, MKS is expanding their rental fleet to 30 river surfboards, including 10 different designs from Badfish SUP, Hydrus Board Tech and Sol Paddle Boards. The surfboard rentals are available by reservation, and MKS is adding wetsuit rentals this summer as well.

Beyond MKS, only a handful of retailers offer river surfboard rentals across the state including Durango’s 4Corners Riversports, CKS Main Street in Buena Vista and Grand Junction's Stand Up Paddle. RIVER SAFETY NEEDS TO STEP UP One essential, yet lagging, trend is river surf safety. Releasable leashes, personal flotation devices (PFDs) and helmets are among the basic safety equipment. For some surfers, there’s a gap in education when they transition from ocean to river. “Ocean surfers are reluctant to put on a releasable leash, because they’re used to wearing a non-releasable leash in the ocean — but rivers are a totally different environment,” Slate said. “Then, PFDs are not as comfortable when you’re lying prone. Helmets are commonly not used but river surfers could fall and hit their head on a rock, another person — especially if multiple people are surfing at once — or on a hardboard. Kayakers naturally put on a helmet, but many river surfers don’t have that background.” To help, a life jacket rack — with free, first-come, first-served PFDs — was installed at the Buena Vista River Park and Salida’s Coors Boat Ramp last summer. Riordon agrees that safety practices and education need to be developed by the river surf industry and in communities. “Like the winter backcountry community, river surfing should develop free introductory training for river surfing and water safety,” Riordon said. “And like the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, we should publish the descriptions of individual waves, water flow levels and a daily surf report with hazard indicators.”

HUGE POTENTIAL “There are more arteries or veins inland than there are coastline miles. With development, more people can surf inland than in the ocean,” says CRSA Vice President Eric Thomas. Most of the plausible whitewater park locations in Colorado have been developed, but there remains a need to maintain and update wave designs to be river-surf friendly. And the vast opportunity to carve rivers statewide allows surfers to explore a variety of unique waves and waterways. At 2,000 CFS (cubic feet per second), the Animas River’s Durango Whitewater Park surfing is world class, Harvey said — but if it gets too big or too low, the swimming is really challenging. The Gunnison River Whitewater Park is growing in popularity, he added. One of the most alluring, exciting elements of river surfing is the discovery of a wave’s personality, how it shifts and comes alive with the water flow. The unpredictability and possibility of a wave’s arrival creates a sense of urgency around that wave’s fleeting existence. High flow days became synonymous with the uncontrollable desire and spontaneity of a skier’s powder day. And the energy of that shared experience connects river surfers in a simple, joyous way. No one noticed that day when I countlessly fell on the first wave at Montrose Water Sports Park. It was the process of learning and happiness I felt connecting with the water that mattered. The next time I surfed in Montrose, I caught every wave. Eventually, all surfers can find their flow.

MORGAN TILTON is an adventure journalist specializing in outdoor industry news and adventure travel. She grew up on Colorado’s Western Slope, where she commenced board sports on snow at her home mountain of Telluride Ski Resort, 18 years ago, inspiring her curiosity to eventually carve waves. Crested Butte, Colorado, is home.

The author catches a wave at Montrose Water Sports Park. photo by Eric Phillips


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D ecadence

Tips for cooking gourmet camping meals guaranteed to become a tradition BY TIONA EVERSOLE

The fire crackles as the sun slowly begins its descent below the canyon walls. Nestled next to the flames is a large cast iron pot with a lid. Lifting the lid from time to time, the smell of the meal inside escapes and makes our mouths water as we wait patiently for the call, “Dinner’s ready!”

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deal for car camping and raft trips, the Dutch oven is a hefty kitchen item, weighing in at roughly 14 pounds (depending on the size). While slightly heavier than other camping cookware items, the meals that a Dutch oven prepares stand out from the typical foil pouch or hot dogs on a stick. Plus, the Dutch oven serves as a multipurpose cooking tool: use it to simmer, boil, steam, sear, pan-fry, sautee or bake meals. Its sheer utility makes the Dutch oven well worth the extra weight. Dutch oven cooking is something of an art: it takes time and practice to perfect different methods and recipes. But when done correctly, a Dutch oven meal is one of the best outdoor dining experiences. Whether you’ve already dabbled in cooking with Dutch ovens or are interested in trying out this new skill on your next trip, up your camping meal game with these tips.

DUTCH OVEN SELECTION AND HELPFUL TOOLS When selecting a Dutch oven, opt for one that has a flat lid. This will allow your coals to lay level and distribute heat evenly, and can also second as an additional cooking surface. A Dutch oven with feet will provide room underneath to place charcoal or other heating elements as well. Size and depth are also important factors to consider, and will depend on your cooking goals. For overnight raft trips with large parties, opt for a larger Dutch oven — about 14 inches in diameter. For a simple car camping getaway with a friend or loved one, a smaller 8-inch Dutch oven will do just fine. A deeper Dutch oven is ideal for most Dutch oven meals, while a more shallow Dutch oven is best for baking. Having the lid closer to the contents allows for browning the tops of specific items such as bread.

The best kind of Dutch oven will have a flat top for the coals to rest on top.

Invest in a pair of heavy duty, heatproof gloves for handling the Dutch oven. A couple of other helpful items to have handy are a charcoal chimney (if choosing to cook with charcoal) that helps start the charcoal and will heat it up quickly, and a 4-in-1 Dutch oven tool. This nifty device assists with lifting the lid to check on the contents, and can also be used as a trivet for either the Dutch oven or the lid. HEAT SOURCE The most important aspect of cooking with a Dutch oven is to maintain consistent heat. Not doing so will result in uneven cooking. The best fuel for consistent heat is charcoal. Start by lighting the charcoal first and allowing the briquettes to fully heat up. Then distribute the briquettes above and below the Dutch oven, placing one-third of the briquettes on the bottom and the other two-thirds on top. Wood embers are another option, but the embers produced depend on the type of wood. Softwoods, such as pine, produce a weak ember that is not ideal for Dutch oven cooking; whereas hardwoods, such as oak, beech and hickory, will produce a longer lasting ember. FINDING THE SWEET SPOT The trickiest part to Dutch oven cooking and baking is getting the placement, temperature and timing just right. Make sure to select an area with flat, even ground

Cooking with a Dutch oven is an art — and like any art — takes practice to perfect.

that’s out of the way of the wind to place the Dutch oven. Any kind of slope will tilt the Dutch oven and result in uneven cooking of the contents. For most recipes, a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. So how do you determine how much heat is needed to achieve this temperature? A good rule of thumb is to take the diameter of the Dutch oven, double it and add one. For example, a 14-inch Dutch oven would need about 29 charcoal briquettes to reach 350 degrees Fahrenheit. However, take this with a grain of salt. Factors such as the air temperature, type of heat source and the contents within the Dutch oven will play a part in the final results of your meal. Ultimately, practice makes perfect with Dutch oven cooking. The more you work with a Dutch oven, the better you will become at reading the signs for optimal meal prep. TIME TO EAT! When it’s time to move the Dutch oven from the hot coals, use caution and move slowly; the Dutch oven will be hot and heavy. Take the lid off and allow the contents to cool before serving, as it will be extremely hot. Let everyone know that it’s time to eat, and watch as the fruits of your labor are enjoyed around a warm campfire below starry skies.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Recipe: 2 boxes yellow cake mix 2 cups water 6 eggs 2 sticks butter (softened) 1 cup vegetable oil 1 cup brown sugar 1 can sliced pineapple 12 cherries (optional) Directions: Prepare and heat Dutch oven. In a separate bowl, combine cake mix, water, eggs, vegetable oil and one stick of butter. Set aside. Once Dutch oven is heated, add the other stick of butter and brown sugar; stir until caramelized. Lay the sliced pineapple on the bottom of the Dutch oven in the caramelized brown sugar. If using cherries, place in the center of the pineapple slices. Pour the cake mix on top, cover and bake! Pro tip: replace water with the pineapple juice from the canned pineapple. For more Dutch oven recipes, visit our website at www.adventurepro.us/dutchoven-recipes.


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Spring Mountaineering Increase the length of your peak-bagging season by learning how to navigate snow-covered terrain WORDS AND PHOTOS BY SUZANNA LOURIE

It’s no secret that outdoor enthusiasts love spring — mountain bikers rejoice for dry trails, backcountry skiers praise a more stable snowpack. But for some of us — the trail runners, hikers and peakbaggers out there — spring can feel like a three month waiting game, as if a mountain is off limits until every last snowfield has melted off its flanks. It doesn’t have to be.

F Choosing the right tool. Technically you’ll want a “piolet” (French for an ice axe used in mountaineering). These days the terms are mostly interchangeable, but some old school climbers still differentiate “ice axes” as technical tools used for climbing steep snow and ice.

Go to snow school: Take a mountaineering class or hire a guide to learn fundamental skills like efficient snow travel techniques, footwork and selfarrest with an ice axe.

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or me, embracing the snow doubled my peakclimbing season from three to six months. It allowed me to push my limits and achieve things I didn’t think possible. Most importantly, it created a new way of relating to the mountains in my own backyard. I found freedom at 13,000 feet while looking out over a San Juan skyline — dramatically draped in white, muffled and deafening, all at the same time. Sure, it’s more complicated — there’s extra gear to carry, no trails to follow, avalanche and snow-related hazards to consider. But, for those of us who feel inexplicably called to the mountains, the reward is well worth the effort. In fact, discovering snow climbing or “mountaineering,” in the general sense of the word, is a blast. If you’ve ever StairMastered your way up a San Juan choss hill, I can assure you that scampering up a snow slope in spiked boots is objectively way easier (and more fun). All you’ve got to do is put in the time — learn the basics and get some new gear, and you too can enjoy a snow-covered summit right in your own backyard. With a bit of planning and preparation, you don’t have to wait for summer to reach a mountaintop.

A D V E N T U R E P R O . u s

HERE ARE FIVE TIPS FOR SPRING SNOW CLIMBING: 1. GO TO SNOW SCHOOL Take an avalanche education course. There are many resources out there, and deciding where to start can feel overwhelming. THE ESSENTIALS: • There is only one certifying body of avalanche education in the country: the American Avalanche Association (A3). Keep that in the back of your mind always. • Where do I take a course? The A3 doesn’t offer courses itself but instead authorizes certain providers to teach its curriculum. One well known provider is AIARE, but plenty of local guide companies offer courses as well. To find a course with an official provider near you, visit www.avalanche.org. • Familiarize yourself with your local avalanche forecasting center for daily reports about avalanche risks and potential dangers where you live. For Colorado, it’s the Colorado Avalanche Information Center: www.avalanche.state.co.us. 2. GET EDUCATED For all types of climbing, your first layer of security is you. Knowing how to efficiently travel across snow slopes using proper footwork/crampon techniques is the key to preventing injury. Mountaineering involves a lot of sharp, pointy tools that are designed for protection, but can achieve the opposite if used incorrectly. THE BASICS: • Snow travel techniques: Safely walking on flat or steep snow slopes in variable conditions includes footwork techniques such as step-kicking, front-pointing, crossover step, duck foot and plunge-stepping. • How to use an ice axe: Understand basic self arrest techniques to stop yourself in the event of a fall on an icy or steep slope. For this one, there is no substitute for hands-on practice, and I recommend learning from a professional.

• Crampon techniques: Know how to walk in crampons (it’s harder than it sounds), and be sure to understand how to put them on, take them off and make adjustments. Snow can be hard or even become full ice, and crampons are your lifeline. Practice footwork techniques wearing them. • Take a class. Sure, a class isn’t required, but it’s definitely your best bet for learning these skills and getting hands-on practice in the backcountry. Look for a course offered by a local organization like the Colorado Mountain Club or check out a regional guide service. 3. GEAR UP • Mountaineering boots: Leather, waterproof and insulated are a few characteristics of a good boot. Double or plastic boots are overkill for the Four Corners area, just make sure it’s solid, sturdy and warm enough to be covered in snow all day. • Crampons: Steel crampons with 10-12 points (look for horizontal front points versus vertical which are used for ice climbing). Universal or step-in crampons are easiest to start with since they will fit any type of boot. Make sure you know how to fit your crampons properly to your boots before going out. • Ice axe: Keep it simple — look for a single axe designed for general mountaineering or glacier travel. The shaft can be straight or slightly curved — experts recommend 60 centimeters minimum for the length. • Helmet: Climbing-rated helmet for rock/ice fall — make sure it fits over a hat.

The term “mountaineering” traditionally refers to the act of getting to the top of a mountain using ropes and traveling across glaciated terrain. Today, it encompasses everything from multipitch rock or alpine climbs, to ski mountaineering. For this piece, we’ll use it to refer to non-technical (non-roped) ascents over moderate to steep snow slopes.

4. PLAN (AND UNDERSTAND) YOUR ROUTE Start small. Even for the most experienced peak-baggers, climbing mountains in winter will feel like an entirely different world. Terrain looks different, new hazards exist and you need to know how to navigate off-trail (i.e. map and compass). Start with an easy (Class 1) hike on a popular trail where you are certain you will not get lost. Build from there and wait to tackle a peak until you’ve built a foundation of confidence moving through snow in the backcountry. THE PLAN: • Learn to navigate with a map and compass. Batteries die in colder temperatures, so don’t put yourself in a position where you’re forced to rely on technology. • Study maps of your route and understand how the terrain will look in real life. Remember it will be covered in snow. • Know the meaning of avalanche terrain, slope angle and terrain trap, and learn how to identify these features. • Have a backup plan. 5. START EARLY You have fewer hours of daylight in spring than summer, so prepare to start before dawn. Hiking on snow takes roughly one-third longer than what a typical hike would take on a trail (if a climb takes 7 hours in summer, allow 9-10 hours, if not longer). In spring, north-facing slopes are ideal snow climbs because the sun hits them late in the day. That blissful ease of ascending a snow slope goes out the window once solar radiation hits. Warm slushy snow is not

The “American Technique” or “Hybrid Step” involves a combination of flat footing (aka “French Technique”) and front pointing to securely ascend slopes steeper than 40-45°.

only dangerous due to the increased risk of avalanches and rockfall, it’s also terrible to move through, thus prolonging your exposure to these objective hazards. At the end of the day, have fun. Pushing your comfort zone is the very essence of adventure, and the mountains offer an excellent stage for challenge and growth. Embrace it, enjoy it and don’t risk losing it. Practice safety first, so we can continue to experience new adventures in the alpine and enjoy all of the abundance in our own backyard.

SUZANNA LOURIE is a former journalist turned wilderness guide whose love of the San Juan Mountains inspired her to pick up a pen and paper after a six year hiatus. You can usually find her above the treeline on some remote peak between Durango and Ouray running (downhill) with her pup, Oso.

BONUS TIPS: • Bring a more experienced partner. • Always tell someone about your plan before heading out. • Seek out learning opportunities. Join a mountaineering club or climbing group near your hometown. • Embrace the beginner’s mindset. Be okay with turning around. • Hire a guide. If you’re still feeling apprehensive about a snowy summit climb, trust your gut and go with a professional! Sure, it costs more, but there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. • Conditions are important. Be a student at all times. Don’t just check your iPhone’s weather app. Familiarize yourself with resources like www.weather.gov and understand how patterns might affect avalanches and other snow hazards. • Know your limits. For more information on ski mountaineering gear and a suggested packing list for spring summit climbs, head to www.adventurepro.us/springmountaineering-gear.


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Cause & Effect:

Wolf Reintroduction Can wolves returning to Colorado actually help the state’s cattle industry; and how much do we really know about the predator’s impacts? B Y R YA N W I C H E L N S

Wolf Reintroduction


hris O’Bryan almost seemed to stumble across the idea while talking: “That would be a really interesting thought exercise,” he said after mentioning that there was a possibility wolves in Colorado could actually help the state’s cattle industry. O’Bryan, a postdoctoral fellow at Australia’s University of Queensland has spent a lot of his career examining the unforeseen impacts of bringing big predators back into an ecosystem. A 2018 study of his published in Nature Ecology and Evolution compiled the effects of leopards in India, red foxes in America and falcons in New Zealand, among others. But even he would admit that the impacts these animals have on their environments can be hard to track. Bringing wolves back to Colorado — a plan set in motion when a ballot measure ordering such was passed narrowly by

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Colorado voters last November — has some better known benefits: wolves eat deer, which could both lower the number of deer-auto collisions in the state, as well as help keep deer-assisted diseases like Lyme disease in check. But it was a comparison to dingoes in Australia that made O’Bryan perk up. “Deer and elk directly compete with domestic herbivores — with cows,” he said. According to O’Bryan’s study, dingoes play a role in controlling populations of red kangaroos, Australia’s most prolific native herbivore and a constant competitor for grazing space with cattle. By killing kangaroos, dingoes have actually made it easier for cattle to eat. Sure, O’Bryan said, the occasional dingo might attack a cow directly, but his study notes the predator has still managed to increase a pasture’s output and profitability.

Could the same thing apply to Colorado’s incoming wolf population? Elk in particular are a major competitor with cattle for grazing space in the state, and also happen to be major food sources for wolves. But O’Bryan says that like so many of these cause-and-effect scenarios, it’s hard to know for sure until we can observe it. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, humans overhunting elk and deer led gray wolves, once prolific statewide, to turn to a new prey: livestock. Consequently, wolves themselves were eradicated from the state by the 1940s. And prior to Election Day 2020, a wolf’s possible impacts on cattle were precisely one of the larger arguments against returning the predators. Michael Robinson, a conservationist with the Center for Biological Diversity is skeptical about how the Australian study

will apply to Colorado, saying it’s more often cattle that push elk out of grazing land, rather than the other way around. “It seems fairly obvious to me that livestock tend to displace animals such as elk,” he said. That would mean the elk that wolves are eating are largely deeper in the woods and not at competition with the state’s cattle. But in reality, whether or not wolves will help or harm cattle in Colorado isn’t something we can answer definitively until the wolves return — a process that isn’t scheduled to begin for another year or two. According to O’Bryan, so many of the effects of apex predator reintroduction — or any adjustment to the ecosystem — are intertwined and related in obvious or obscure ways, and it’s almost universally impossible to see all the potential factors involved until after it’s already happened. This is called a trophic cascade, the long chain of cause-andeffect that branches and weaves after a change to an ecosystem. In the case of wolves, who sit near the top of the food chain, that cascade is a waterfall, working

its way down to the smallest pieces of the environment in multiple different directions. While we can know a lot of the major impacts, especially having seen wolves reintroduced to other Rocky Mountain ecosystems, a lot of the smaller details are simply impossible to notice. “It’s just like any prediction,” O’Bryan said. “They’re never really right. Predators have a cascading effect on species simply by being in a landscape.” Robinson agrees at least theoretically: “Do we have a way of knowing everything that is going to happen? The absolute answer is no. But do we have a means of at least predicting the future? Yes.” According to Robinson, wolves are among the most studied animals on Earth, and we have good reason to believe we know at least the major impacts of bringing wolves back to Colorado. “Are we going to find wolves in Colorado that have six legs and fly? No, we know that pretty definitively,” he said. “Are we going to find wolf impacts on a random ground squirrel that we didn’t expect? Sure. But there’s a lot in between.” “I don’t think we’re ever going to know

every little impact,” said Nancy Warren, the executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, a wolf advocacy group. “We need to have an umbrella approach,” she said, advocating that we look at the big picture rather than trying to itemize every change. “I’m a believer that wolves have a net beneficial impact on the ecosystem.” For O’Bryan, picking and choosing impacts isn’t the way to think about predator reintroduction. “Generally, we know apex predators are important to the health of systems, and when you see ecosystem degradation, you see impacts on human health and well-being,” he said. For him, almost everything about reintroducing a big predator like the wolf is a net benefit to the system, even if we don’t recognize them yet.

RYAN WICHELNS is a full-time writer based in Ridgway, Colorado. When he isn’t at his desk writing, he’s at his desk planning months-long exploratory mountaineering expeditions in remote ranges. Either that, or he’s skiing.


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Roamin’ Old Roads with Hoffman Birney A novel inspires a modern-day road trip across the American West BY MORGAN SJOGREN


n 1928, author Hoffman Birney haphazardly threw a bedroll, thermos, shovel and revolver into his Chrysler Roadster, that he affectionately referred to as Betsy, and set off on what may be the first documented iteration of the iconic “great American road trip.” According to Southwest historian Gary Topping, “his purpose, at least in part, was to demonstrate the degree to which the automobile could serve as a practical transportation through in the hitherto undeveloped West.” Starting from his home in Tucson, Arizona, Birney drove a 7,250-mile loop around the western U.S. covering the Grand Canyon, Four Corners, Rocky Mountains, Mojave Desert, Yosemite/Eastern Sierra, Idaho, Montana and the Navajo Nation. Though Birney was a prolific Western author, he originally compiled his tales from the road for his friends, with no intention of publication. His easygoing tone makes the reader feel as if they are in the passenger seat as he assures, “I made no more preparation for the trip than I would to drive to town.” The resulting travelogue, "Roads To Roam," became one of Birney’s most beloved of the eleven Western novels he penned, influencing Western tourism. Admittedly, I have a bit of a historical crush on Birney, who appears timelessly cool in short shorts, a brimmed hat, aviator shades and rippling ab muscles in lieu of a shirt. However, while Birney looks as if he could seamlessly step into 2021, the landscapes, highways and towns he wrote about do not. His musings in "Roads To Roam" spotlight Four Corners destinations that continue to be iconic road trip destinations today. Furthermore, Birney reveals just how much of this region has been altered and infiltrated by human development in the last century, much of it originating during the years immediately preceding and following Birney’s big trip. Today, driving around the Southwest with a copy of "Roads To Roam" feels like bringing Birney himself along for the ride, and his frank descriptions of iconic road trip destinations and routes are still relevant today while helping modern travelers like myself perceive just how much these places have changed.


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"Roads To Roam" by Hoffman Birney transports readers through the Southwest on a 100-year-old road trip. photo by Morgan Sjogren

A portrait of Hoffman Birney. Photo courtesy of Utah State Historical Society A view of the Mesa Verde skyline that has given generations of travelers a glimpse back in time. photo by Morgan Sjogren


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“Here lies the true painted desert … the use of the term to describe any other terrain in the southwest is not justified.”-Hoffman Birney photo by Morgan Sjogren

FLAGSTAFF, AZ As I roll into Flagstaff, I am pleased to note that the attractions that caught Birney’s attention are still prominent today. Known as a tourism hub since the early 1900s, the newly minted Route 66 first paved its way through Flagstaff in 1926, opening passage for road warriors like Birney who would have taken the route past Humphreys Peak towards his next destination, the Grand Canyon. “There is a toll road kept in excellent condition, that works up through the pines to well above timber line on the San Francisco Peaks that tower over town.” While the population was a meager 3,000 in 1928 (the year it was first incorporated) compared to the robust 75,000 today, Flagstaff still boasted a fusion of touristy stores and nearby wilderness. “Within what one might call the metropolitan area of Flagstaff are interesting ice caves out back of O’Leary Peak, the prehistoric ruins at Eldon and Wupatki; and sunset mountain Flagstaff is on the old National Trails Highway, and is, along with Williams, the principal port of entry to the Grand Canyon.” Yes, the Flagstaff of 2021 is much larger; and yet one might still describe it in a similar fashion while standing on the corner of Main Street next to the old train depot today with a cup of gourmet coffee from Firecreek Roasters. This mountain town is still a gateway to desert adventures. SOUTHEASTERN UTAH/ NAVAJO NATION From car commercials to Instagram posts, the vast stretches of desert passing through the Navajo Nation and Four Corners are symbiotic with road trip culture. While

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extreme weather conditions and long stretches between towns with gas stations remain a peril to unprepared travelers, the passage is far less of an adventure than it was for Birney. “Somewhere in America there may be — I say there may be — three hundred miles of road worse than between Cortez, Colorado and Tuba, Arizona. There may be, but I doubt it; and I know I would not wish to drive it.” Today, Highway 160 is well-paved, although some still complain about driving its narrow two-lane portions at night. The modern highway system used today, passing from Tuba City to the Four Corners, was modernized beginning in 1956 to make way for coal and uranium mining opportunities. These road improvements certainly facilitated a new wave of road warriors and tourists traveling through the pastel Chinle badlands near the Little Colorado River to the splendid red sandstone cliffs and towers near Kayenta. Of course, Birney was already aware of its appeal as he passed this way, bumps and all: “Here lies the true painted desert … the use of the term to describe any other terrain in the southwest is not justified.” However, I can’t help but wonder: would Birney have resisted the notion of an improved road if he understood it would open the doors to industrial development in the area ranging from mining and the Glen Canyon Dam to mass tourism that overwhelms once remote destinations? MILLION DOLLAR HIGHWAY/ HIGHWAY 550 Where the desert roads did not impress Birney, the mountain byways delighted him. Despite the precipitous turns and drop-offs that still chill the spines of drivers in 2021, Birney praised the Million Dollar Highway. “Back and forth we zigzagged, following a broad, well-graded highway that seemed literally to defy the mountains … At the summit the (altimeter) registered 11,300 feet — as close to heaven as Betsy and I have ever been … The road, save for the stretches that were under construction, was excellent.” Birney, born in 1891, had the ability to recall the changes in this area over the previous decades. “Before this motor highway was built, six-horse stages used to ply between Silverton and Ouray and the trip was regarded as one of the most scenic and adventurous in the West.” Birney also commented about the outdated railroad system. “I first saw (Silverton) in 1905, traveling there by train from Durango, riding the narrow-gauge D. & R. G. that puffs along through the deep cañon of the Animas River. Wonder if the locomotives in use today still have huge “spark arrestor” stacks?” I think Birney would be quite surprised that almost 100 years later the railroad still utilizes these coal-fired trains to entertain tourists!

Roamin’ Old Roads with Hoffman Birney As Birney neared Durango on his trip, he felt the still relevant conflict in the area between scenic beauty and overcrowding. “As it is the river and the railroad are crowded. The automobile road (it’s U.S. Highway No. 550 by the way) climbs the mountains south of Silverton, loops back and forth across rounded summits … to enter the Animas Valley.” Birney stopped for a cup of coffee from the Strater Hotel and continued on down the Highway to Mancos. MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK Birney described Mesa Verde National Park (founded in 1906) as a land of mystery, interest and charm. “The Mesa Verde dominates the Montezuma Valley and Point Lookout dominates the Mesa Verde.” The view from atop the Mesa Verde road remains almost as Birney saw it, with the local community of Mancos retaining its rural agricultural charm and small size. “Beyond lies the fertile farmlands of the Montezuma Valley, crossed by a white ribbon that is the road from Mancos to Cortez.” Above these modern settlements, Mesa Verde National Park still protects an area of Indigenous cultural density Birney explains that, “scarcely a mile of any of these gorges, nor an acre of plateau between them … does not hold a cliff-dwelling, a storage cyst, a house-site, or some other record of prehistoric Pueblo peoples of the Southwest.” He is referring to the Basketmaker and Ancient Pueblo people who inhabited the region between 600-1300 CE. In fact, he even suggests this homeostasis goes back further. “Few of the tourists who, in thousands, visit the Mesa Verde each season can possibly realize how tremendous a population this irregular tableland supported some ten or fifteen centuries ago.” While the prosperity of these ancient civilizations impressed Birney, the development created by the tourism industry since his previous visit in 1905 startled him. “There’s a fair-sized hotel … numerous tents and cottages that are rented to tourists, and quite a group of artistic ‘dobe structures — museum, recreation halls, administration building, and so on — that make up Park Headquarters.” It’s an ironic juxtaposition considering the prehistoric population exceeded the “boom” that Birney witnessed. Still, Birney would be relieved to know that the town of Mancos still barely tops a population of 1,000, and in some ways the small farm town at the foot of the national park still resembles the world Birney passed through a century ago. BIRNEY’S PROPHECY Mesa Verde proved to be a pivotal point in Birney’s road trip where he could contemplate the past, present and future: “Twenty three years before I had stood in almost this precise spot and had seen Spruce Tree House, my first cliff-dwelling. It seemed that centuries, aeons, had elapsed since that day in the fall of 1905. I’d wandered far. I’d lost and I’d gained. I’d known adventure adversity, and some measure of success… but here I was

again, and the rectangular black windows of Spruce Tree House still stared across the cañon like dead eyes in an ivory yellow skull, eternally mocking the ephemeral emotions of mankind. Hell, why struggle with philosophies? It’ll all be the same in a hundred years.” I expected to be shocked by the massive changes Birney’s writing reveals. But what I find most intriguing about "Roads To Roam" is how relatable his descriptions remain. Birney’s century old musings about the changes in the Southwest that he experienced in 1928 foreshadow the place we travel through today. Flagstaff remains a dazzling portal to adventure, the Painted Desert is gorgeous yet certainly no place to breakdown on a 100-degree day, and the San Juan Mountains are exhilarating albeit crowded during the summer months. However, on a quiet, midweek morning in the sleepy town of Mancos, Mesa Verde looming above, one can still notice the distant hum of a rusty old engine, its tires spinning on the gravel road, and wonder if Hoffman Birney has finally returned for a visit.

MORGAN SJOGREN runs wild with words around the Colorado Plateau. In 2018, she published "Outlandish," a collection of stories and recipes written while living on the road and in the wild out of her Jeep (affectionately named Sunny). You can read more of Sjorgen’s books and stories at www.therunningbum.com.

Now abandoned, one can imagine Birney driving past this once lively curio shop one hundred years ago. photo by Morgan Sjogren


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Looking out among the agricultural lands of Paradox Valley in the West End of Colorado, with the La Plata Mountains in the background. photo by Tiona Eversole

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Heritage, Apples & Bounty in the West End How one part of Southwest Colorado seeks to reclaim the bounty of yore through agriculture and cultivation



ows meander through fields lying fallow: alpine snowpack keeps the lowing animals rumbling through rolling desert country this time of year. In the distance, a jagged ochre ridge saws to the horizon: the La Sal mountains gaze toward us, silently, deferentially. Sixty miles from the nearest stoplight, the West End of Colorado corners Montrose and San Miguel Counties into the towns of Norwood, Naturita, Nucla, Bedrock, Redvale and Paradox. The region’s slogan, "Many Towns, One Community" belies its varied past. Known for years as a hub of extraction — first of vanadium, uranium and coal, then later as manual labor exported to wealthier towns up-valley, the West End might be refreshing its approach to survival. Instead of relying on external benefactors, the communities — more than ever — are turning inward to reinvest in their future.

THE FOUNDING OF THE WEST END COMMUNITIES With the founding of Piñon in 1896, West End settlers bought into the concept utopia. Part of a broader movement of communal societies founded in the wake of 1893’s economic crisis, “small groups … elected to remove themselves entirely from [the capitalist] system in favor of a more communal lifestyle in which they could support and rely upon one another,” writes Madison Basch for Colorado Virtual Library. Many of the transplants migrating from the Midwest by way of Denver imported a mindset framed by modesty, pragmatism and hard work. A massive labor of economy and love, founding members of communities known then as Piñon, Coventry and Cottonwood dug the ditch and erected the trestles that would provide water for (hopefully) decades to come. They planted hectares of apples, pears, peaches and grapes. Barns were raised, and children were reared in the idyllic yet difficult country life many so often romanticize. The West End, for years, blossomed.



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"...Ute bands didn’t just lose their water, land and mineral rights in the San Juans; they also “forcibly relinquished (about four million acres of) land to the US government,” and were relocated to arid lands far from their An old bridge crosses the San Miguel River, one of the lifelines of the West End.

Yet the rise and fall of mining, plus boom-and-bust cycles for skilled labor tested this area’s “frontier spirit.” The West End, colonized by European settlers, unknowingly continued a legacy devoted to water and abundance that the U.S. military had attempted to quash in the generations of Colorado Natives preceding the region’s settlement. THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE WATER In seasonal Ute travels, bands “returned to the same springs, creeks and rivers to ensure that we had enough water for people and horses …” noted the exhibits at the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose. The naturally functioning San Miguel River (and her sister river, the dammed-yet-still-wildish Dolores River) have hosted humanity for over 10,000 years — memories and traces still found in ancient buildings, structures and art. Petroglyphs and pictographs of pre-colonization life in the West End’s fertile yet harsh environment remind visitors and locals alike: life out here can be beautiful. Water is precious in the Southwest: West End settlers had labored for its use — even while the Southern Ute had to fight for their rights only recently to receive an allotment that treaties granted over a century before had promised. With the federally-ratified Brunot Agreement of 1874, Ute bands didn’t just lose their water, land and mineral rights in the San Juans; they also “forcibly relinquished [about four million acres of] land to the U.S. government,” and were relocated to arid lands far from their ancestral homelands, according to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. In writing of water in his 1986 classic novel, “Cadillac Desert,” Marc Reisner notes: “It was one of those details that dwell in a special kind of obscurity reserved for the perfectly obvious.” APPLES AND THE FUTURE The obvious steps to the future lie nestled within nuanced complexities of “The American West and Its Disappearing Water” — many of which tie back to the 19th century doctrine of Manifest Destiny, “the ultimate commodification of land as property, possession and conquest,” according to Diné (Navajo) Park Ranger and archeologist Adesbah Foguth of @Native_Power_Rangers on Instagram.

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ancestral homelands..." These complexities created the communities that brought many of our foremothers to this land. If, in 2020, our society struggled, collectively, to reconcile its identity and reevaluate its values, 2021 challenges us: how will we show up for the things we believe in? The West End’s Apple Core Project promotes fruit tree preservation through mapping, identifying, grafting, planting and documenting heritage apples, and reorients the region toward the abundance of yore. In their work reviving legacy apple cultivars, founders Jen Nelson and Mel Eggers both echo the desire to “create healthier food systems (and) wholesome communities.” Nelson spoke of her desire to personally reestablish sovereign food systems, honor the hard work of our predecessors and incorporate a workplay balance into daily life. Eggers nodded, and partner Bodie Johannsen remarked: “this is about figuring out a plan to just make it all happen.” All three spoke of leaning into the spaces we intentionally create, looking to a modern-day visualization of community that lets us continue to work the land in a way that’s healthy, systemically, at the same time as looking forward to how we share it with others. As children scampered behind them, the three apple farmers looked wistfully to the jagged horizon: “this is about honoring the land.” Maybe it’s the revitalization of a collective community consciousness for wellness and prosperity that sparks joy within residents new and old. Honoring the past, however we understand it, is important to us all. Whether there’s something in the water, the sand or the sun, the West End’s allure is undeniable. The biggest challenge to those who are drawn to it? Learn to honor the past. Elevate the area’s abundance. Invest in the community, and make your time count. The people, as much as the land, don’t forget. For more information on Native American food sovereignty, watch “Gather.” https://gather.film/

DANI REYES-ACOSTA saunters between the mountains and the desert. As a freelance brand strategist, educator and mountain athlete, she thinks we can all have a say in how we build community with others on this planet. Find her on Instagram as @NotLostJustDiscovering.

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Rafting Trip

Personal Essentials Raft trips may require a lot of gear. But for those new to the sport as well as experienced rafters looking to add a few new personal items, start by focusing on what you will need to get on the boat and out on the river.




STOHLQUIST Rocker (men’s) $14995 ASTRAL Layla (women’s) $13995 NRS Big Water V Youth (youth) $10995

IMMERSION RESEARCH Penstock Shorts (men’s) $79 NRS Guide Short (women’s) $6495 FUNLUVIN’ FLEECE Shorts & Skirts $40-$50

ANKER PowerCore 26800 Pwer Bank $6598 BIOLITE HeadLamp 330 $ 5995 GOAL ZERO Nomad 100 Solar Panel $39995 OUTDOOR TECH Turtle Shell 3.0 Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker $7995



KOKATAT Legacy Drysuit GORE-TEX PRO (men’s & women’s) $1,185 IMMERSION RESERACH 7Figure Dry Top $449 NRS Endurance Splash Pant (men’s & women’s) $11995

CHACO Footwear Z/1 Classic (men’s & women’s) $95-$105 ASTRAL Loyak (men’s & women’s) $95

L AY E R S PATAGONIA Sunshade Hoody (men’s & women’s) $55 - $79 MELANZANA Micro Grid Hoodie (men’s & women’s) $73

DRYBAGS WATERSHED Westwater 80L $ 188 - $261 NRS Tuff Sacks 5L-55L $ 1995 - $4495

SAFETY UNCHARTED SUPPLY SEVENTY2® Survival System $389 CRKT Bear Claw River Knife $ 4999

M U S T H AV E S JACK’S PLASTIC WELDING Paco Pad - Starting at $19099 CROAKIES Classic Eyewear Retainers $899 - $999 PELICAN G40 Personal Utility Go Case $3995 LIL' SUCKER Koozie $949 For detailed reviews of items from the Gear Bin, head online to www.adventurepro.us.



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Monticello, Utah

Multisport days and good grub in the Land Above the Canyons WORDS AND PHOTOS BY BRET EDGE

Quick, name a Southeast Utah adventure town whose name starts with “M”. I bet you didn’t guess “Monticello”, but this little outdoor paradise just an hour south of the popular outdoor destination of Moab, Utah, is every bit as rad — without the crowds, traffic and expensive hotels. Multisport days start in the high desert and end in the high alpine. Homemade donuts, authentic Thai food and make-it-yourself pour over coffee keep fuel levels (and stoke) topped off during a killer weekend in the “Land Above the Canyons.” SAME DAY, DIFFERENT SPORT The Abajo Mountains tower over town, which itself sits at a lung busting elevation of 7,000 feet. Burly locals like Dustin Randall, owner of San Juan County’s only outdoor store, Roam Industry, bike from town to ski 2,000-foot vertical laps on Horsehead Peak, then finish the day sending world famous splitters at Indian Creek. Mere mortals are strongly advised to choose less ambitious multisport days. Not a skier but still want to have fun in the snow? Grab a sled and fly down the old ski resort hill at the lower bowl. Wait, what ski resort? The Blue Mountain Ski Area was one of the first lift-serviced ski hills in the U.S., operating from the 1950s through 1990. The lifts are gone, but the overgrown ski runs remain. BIKE You’d think mountain bikers who live in Southeast Utah would have the inside scoop on all the secret trail stashes; but

Comb Ridge rises high above Highway 95 in Southeast Utah.

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the rugged, remote trails in the Abajos are about as well-known to most as what’s inside Area 51. That’s a shame, since trails like Robertson’s Pasture, Shay Ridge and Spring Creek deliver the goods with grin inducing flow and technical terrain peppered with killer views of Canyon Country. These trails are no joke though, and should only be ridden by upper intermediate to expert riders. Families and newer riders will enjoy the Abajo Foothills Trail System just south of town. These trails offer a much less adrenaline spiked adventure, but are still fun enough to justify a visit. HIKE It’s not all skiing and biking, though. Hikers can experience three natural bridges and countless Native American sites and rock art on a 9.8-mile loop through the canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah’s first national monument designated over 100 years ago. Several shorter hikes lead to each of the

three bridges, or to other attractions such as the Horse Collar Ruin Overlook. Stick around after sunset and you’ll be awed by skies so thick with stars they’ll leave you breathless. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that in March of 2007 Natural Bridges became the first International Dark Sky Park. If the few visitors at Natural Bridges are too many, hikers can lose all the crowds on spectacular trails and routes in the canyons and flat tops of Cedar Mesa, which offers archaeology buffs ample opportunities to explore Ancestral Pueblo culture. Keep your eyes on the ground as you just might find a potsherd or arrowhead, but remember to leave them where you found them. CLIMB Would you rather get your kicks climbing rocks than looking at them? Lucky for you, Indian Creek is less than a half hour from town and provides dozens, if not hundreds, of frustratingly epic crack climbs and equally epic camping. You’ll need a full rack (or three) and the knowledge of how to use it, though. The Creek isn’t a place for beginner climbers to test their mettle unless climbing with experienced friends or a guide. Fear not, for a small crag off Lloyd’s Lake Road in the Abajos known locally as “Keep it Like a Secret” boasts over 30 bolted routes, most in the 5.6 to 5.8 range. Beta is available at, where else, but the Roam Industry shop.

ADVENTURE FUEL Kick off a day of adventure by grabbing homemade donuts at Blue Mountain Foods or a breakfast burrito at the Grist Mill Inn, which also serves as a bed & breakfast if you’re looking for a place to rest your head. Locally made scones can be had from time to time at Roam’s shop, along with freshly-made pour over coffee. For dinner, grab a pie at Wagon Wheel Pizza and follow Randall’s lead by asking for extra sauce. If pizza isn’t your thing, PJ’s is known for their killer wings; and the local Thai restaurant, Ja Roen, draws Moab and Blanding locals alike for dinner. A killer weekend in Monticello with your climbing rack, skis, mountain bike, hiking boots and appetite will leave you wondering why you’ve never taken the time to visit, while also planning a hasty return.

BRET EDGE lives in Moab, Utah, with his wife Melissa, son Jackson and Huck the Adventure Pug. He’s a photographer, writer, mountain biker and hiker inspired by a life lived outdoors, wheat beer, tequila, dark chocolate and burritos — especially breakfast ones.

A hiker ascends a ladder on the Loop Trail at Natural Bridges National Monument.

Owachomo Bridge reflecting in Zeke’s Bathtub.

Climber on route at Indian Creek.


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Vandenbusche and John Hrovat portage their crew’s 33-pound Caravel boat during their 1972 expedition down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. photo courtesy of Duane Vandenbusche

Dr. Duane Vandenbusche Gunnison Valley virtuoso Dr. Duane Vandenbusche is the first-ever Western Slope chronicler to be named Colorado State Historian in the position’s 96-year history B Y M O R G A N T I LT O N

Duane Vandenbusche stood on the gravel bar, blanketed with splintered debris and rocks, peering down the Narrows, one of the most dangerous sections of The Black Canyon of the Gunnison River in Colorado. Vandenbusche, then 35 years old, leaned against the jutting corner of the cliff, completely alert and trying to decode the obstacles downriver.


he canyon bottlenecked to 44 feet wide with no shore, and its vertical walls towered more than 2,000 feet above the expeditionists’ sopping wet boots. Vandenbusche and his two friends, David Nix and John Hrovat, could not see beyond the upcoming bend. But a foamy current was in sight, a sign of Whirlpool Rapid, which immediately followed this tight artery. It was 1972. The base of the dark rock was lightertoned, near the water’s surface, where the levels surged from winter runoff — yet another sign of the wild and unpredictable environment. They were more than halfway through their four-day, 53-mile venture through the canyon, from the old railroad town of Sapinero to the town of Lazear, and completely immersed. The canyon walls ranged from 500 to 2,700 feet high. They wanted to find out if they could thread the entire length of the Black Canyon. “A 25-foot waterfall drop waits for you at the end of The Narrows, if you don’t get out. You have to brush the left wall and exit the water on the left side before reaching the waterfall. It’s a great adventure,” Vandenbusche said. Prior to Vandenbusche’s expedition, the first known footsteps at the Dr. Duane Vandenbusche, a professor at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, recently made history as the first-ever Western Slope chronicler to be named Colorado State Historian in the position’s 96-year history. photo courtesy of Western Colorado University

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bottom of the gorge were of the Tabeguache, a nomadic band of the Ute people, who lived in the region and feared the dark canyon’s raging rapids. “The canyon was called ‘Black,’ because of its depth, its dark and vertical walls, and because in sections of the gorge, the sun shines only 33 minutes a day. Some canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, narrowness, darkness and dread of the Black Canyon,” Vandenbusche later recorded in “The Black Canyon of the Gunnison,” one of 11 books the 83-year-old has published on western Colorado. Few others had ever attempted to discover the perilous Black. In 1900, a five-man crew called the Pelton Party optimistically pushed off from Cimarron to explore the river in its entirety. Their wooden boats, each 300 pounds, had proven unfit for the turbulent rapids and endless portages above shallow stretches, violent zones and over pyramids of humongous boulders. After 21 days and 14 miles, the party climbed out of the canyon, defeated. Noting their missteps, William Torrence and engineer Abraham Fellows entered the canyon on foot, where they swam and scrambled for 10 days with an inflatable rubber air mattress in tow the following year. They had been commissioned by the U.S. Geological Survey to locate a site for the Gunnison Tunnel, which would transport Gunnison River water to save the Uncompahgre Valley. They succeeded.

danger. Falling rocks are a danger. Slipping on the rocks 300 feet above the canyon floor, where you sometimes had to walk, would be a danger. Every moment in the canyon, you’re very cognizant,” Vandenbusche said. He had never been to the Mountain West and sagebrush country prior to accepting his professorship at Western Colorado University and road tripping over Monarch Pass, an exposed high-altitude drive that terrified him. “People didn’t move around very much at that time,” he said. “I needed a job and didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t think twice about it. It turned out to be the greatest move of my life.” Now, Vandenbusche is in his 59th year of teaching at Western Colorado University. He’s the longest-serving professor in the state’s history. In 1971, he also took over the track and cross country programs and developed the women’s program, serving as the coach for 37 years. His men’s and women’s teams have won 12 national championships. And last August, he was nominated as the Colorado State Historian, a position he’ll serve until Colorado Day 2021. Vandenbusche’s outdoor adventures go hand in hand with documenting and sharing the stories of the Gunnison Valley, too. Every year, he would traverse from Crested Butte to Aspen on Fischer cross-country skis with three-pin bindings (those 50-year-old sticks are still his favorite pair to date). They used pine tar, rather than skins, to climb over 11,900-foot East Maroon Pass. Today, he connects with open space by mountain biking, fishing in the high alpine lakes, downhilling in fresh powder and Nordic skiing the groomed trails. He hikes to Aspen every summer through the wildflowers and backcountry skis Red Lady Basin. There are not many places in this region he hasn’t explored. “The Gunnison country has done a lot more for me than I could ever have done for it,” Vandenbusche said. The preservation of our environment and landscape is innately intertwined to the preservation of history, as well as our experiences in the wilderness that keep us young. In 1974, Vandenbusche co-rowed former Governor of Colorado Richard Lamm “I hope that the Gunnison Valley and Colorado stay pristine and on a 15-mile, two-day whitewater raft trip down the Black Canyon of the environmentally sound with the protection of our water, resources and the Gunnison River. Here, the crew charges through Leapfrog, a quarter-mile set of great outdoors,” Vandenbusche said. “I want Colorado to stay eternally rapids between Cimarron and East Portal. photo courtesy of Duane Vandenbusche young with a lot of freedom and good stewards of the mountains and the land. The young are the hope.” But as far as Vandenbusche knew upon entry, no crew had completed a full traverse along the Black, although he recently learned that a duo completed the first descent in 1934. “I’d gone down many parts of the canyon on fishing expeditions, which were tremendous. The fishing was unbelievable,” Vandenbusche said. “And, I’d been reading about Fellows and Torrence, and Fellows gave me his materials and notes. He’s a big hero of mine. I wanted to go all the way — because, no one really knew too much about going all the way.” The pioneers pulled along a 75-pound Avon Redshank raft, which was “way too big,” he said. “You can’t run a lot of that water in the canyon,” Vandenbusche said. “There are too many rocks, too many waterfalls, you can’t really see where you’re going (with the canyon bends) and the water drops very fast.” They brought 100 feet of silk rope, life preservers and iodine tablets. They slept on ponchos in the sand, shivering through the cold nights, and ate canned food — with the exception of fire-roasted steak on night one. Heroically, they made it through The Narrows and to their take-out at Pleasure Park. They celebrated, but wanted to improve their time; so they returned the following year with a slimmer, 33-pound Caravel. They, again, finished in four days. “Looking back, it was probably more risky than we thought at the time. If you got hurt in the canyon, it’s very difficult to get out. The water is a

MORGAN TILTON is an adventure journalist specializing in outdoor industry news and adventure travel. She grew up on Colorado’s Western Slope, where she commenced board sports on snow at her home mountain of Telluride Ski Resort 18 years ago inspiring her curiosity to eventually carve waves. Crested Butte, Colorado, is home.

Vandenbusche (left) stands with Dick Eflin — who co-opened the Crested Butte ski area in 1961 — and Bill Allen (right) at the top of Eflin’s Way ski run. photo courtesy of Duane Vandenbusche


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V I S TA S Seasons are just one of many cycles that exist within nature. As outdoor enthusiasts, we spend the majority of our free time enjoying these cyclical changes in our favorite environments. Spring marks the point of rebirth, stability and reawakening in nature's seasonal cycle that every plant and animal patiently waits for during the depths of winter. After a winter consisting of an incredibly unstable snowpack and reports of heartbreaking avalanche fatalities, backcountry travelers have anxiously waited for a stable isothermal snowpack, signaling the start of the spring skiing season in the steep alpine of the San Juan Mountains, affectionately known by backcountry enthusiasts as the “corn harvest season” for the soft, large-grain snow indicative of optimal spring conditions. Following reports of stable snow in the high country, skier Alex Ekey makes his way toward the day’s objective: to ski the San Juan corn hidden within a cirque of couloirs above Highway 550. words and photo by Nate DeCremer

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Profile for Ballantine Communications

Adventure Pro Spring 2021