Be Nice to Box Canyon

Have you strolled through Box Canyon lately?

It’s one of my favorite places to go when I just have a few hours and need to get outside.

Our kids love climbing the rocks.

We love having picnic dinners in the canyon.

Or packing library books in to read as we’re perched on the top of a rock formation.

We go there at least once a week.

I love Vedauwoo and a walk through Box Canyon is the perfect place for families.

But lately I’ve been sad, and angry when I walk through the canyon.

Because of things like this.

Excuse me while I step on my soap box!

Why on earth do people feel the need to carve their initials into aspen trees.

Why?

Is it because aspens along the path are already scarred with graffiti? Why not add my initials too?

Why not add my initials too?

Monkey see, monkey do?

Tree carvings suck.

No.

No.

No.

It is NOT okay to carve into trees.

It’s called vandalism.

It’s called graffiti.

It’s not art.

It’s punishable by a fine, $325 for one family who thought it was cute to Instagram their family tradition of tree carvings on federal lands.

Wouldn’t it be great if they had a family tradition to clean up trails instead and didn’t turn aspen tree bark into their own twitter feed?

$325 is too light of a fine if you want my opinion.

Here’s what the US National Forest has to say about it, “Respect living trees. By carving or chopping into the trunks of trees, people unknowingly damage the tree by slitting veins right below the bark. These veins transport nutrients and water throughout the tree. If the damage becomes severe, it will deprive the tree of nutrients and food, and the tree slowly starves to death.”

We’re already dealing with a pine beetle epidemic. Why would we want to destroy more trees by being jerks?

There’s one problem with this.

The USFS doesn’t have time to patrol and hand out fines to people being jerks in our forests. They are understaffed and underfunded and doing the best they can with what they have and I think they are doing a great job.

Let’s help them by taking care of our local forests.

Let’s preserve them so our children’s children can enjoy them without seeing trees marred by jerks.

Let’s report anyone we see carving trees to the USFS and local authorities.

Let’s teach our children to be respectful of our natural world so they learn to respect it.

Let’s remind visitors to our local forests that this is our home and demand that they care for it too.

Because I don’t know about you, but I seek solace in the wilderness.

And seeing trees destroyed makes me angry, not peaceful.

Let’s be good stewards of the land.

{end of rant}

{thanks for tuning in}

{feel free to share this post and help get the good word out}

 

Walking a Fine Line…

This morning when I woke up I planned on writing about happy things like the trail conditions at Tie City (slushy, melting, but skiable) and Curt Gowdy State Park (dry, beautiful, dust off your mountain bike and take the afternoon off). But, then I read this article and it got me all fired up. I’m still all fired up. I need to go hike it off.

Please excuse me while I step on my soapbox.

In Hawaii hiking bloggers did something stupid. 

They wrote about and promoted a hiking trail that encouraged people to trespass on private property.

Naturally, we’re outraged.

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We walk a fine line here at Just Trails. We want to talk about cool and amazing things and trails all over the place BUT we don’t if they fall on private land or if publicizing the area might compromise it’s historic nature or damage a fragile ecosystem. We just can’t morally, ethically and legally.

We’ve discovered a lot of cool places that are “off trail” and we just don’t talk about them. It’s hard because sometimes we really want to share them with others. But we can’t. We won’t. And we’ll never tell you to trespass on private land even if we can guarantee that you’ll see something amazing.

We only talk about things that you can easily find on public land here–things that others have written about but with the disclaimer to leave on footprints and take only photographs. 

We tread lightly every day–balancing the need to protect things and still talk about cool outdoor spaces. At the end of the day I believe that we protect what we know and what we love. Part of that protection process starts with simply knowing what’s out there.

It doesn’t start with tromping through private land because some idiot outdoor blogger told you to.

 

6 Tips for Safe Hiking During Hunting Season

Yesterday we were hiking at Chimney Park and the place was more crowded than usual with hunters gearing up for rifle season.

But, just because it’s hunting season doesn’t mean that we need to stay off our favorite trails. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons to hike.

With a little bit of planning it is possible to stay safe during hunting season.

Here are a few tips (portions of this post were originally written for an article I wrote last fall for Seattle Backpackers Magazine).

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1. Be informed. A quick phone call to the local Department of Fish and Wildlife can tell you hunting season dates, where hunting is allowed, when to expect to see hunters in the woods and give you tips on where to hike safely.

2. Be visible. In some parts of the United States, hunters are legally required to wear neon orange when hunting certain types of game. This safety requirement makes them highly noticeable to other hunters in the area. As hikers we aren’t required to wear bright colored clothing, but it’s a good time to leave the earth-toned clothing in the closet and make a neon fashion statement.

3. Make some noise. Talking, singing, whistling or packing noisy kids up a mountain will alert hunters to your presence. Hunters and wildlife prefer to be away from noisy trails, so make your presence known. If you do hear shooting, give a little holler to let hunters know that you are in the area. The American Hiking Society recommends yelling “Hikers on the Trail!” I recommend yelling “Hey man get your eyes checked can’t you see I’m a person not an elk!”

4. Keep dogs on a leash. Unfortunately, if a hunter isn’t following the basic hunter safety principle of “be sure of your target and what’s beyond it,” a dog tromping through the brush can be mistaken for game. Hiking with your dog on a leash will keep your dog from wandering off trail. You can also use a neon vest, collar or leash to make your dog more visible.

5. Avoid hiking during certain times of the day when hunters are most likely to be hunting. This will vary on location, but it’s a safe bet to try to avoid hiking during dawn and dusk when visibility is reduced and wildlife is active.

6. Stick to popular and well used trails. Hunters typically look for game away from well established trail networks. If you’re uncomfortable with hunters, hunting season is a great time to visit a National Park or State Park that doesn’t allow hunting.

 What safety tips do you have for hiking during hunting season? It’s worth it to take a few extra safety precautions and still be able to enjoy autumn hiking.

Wyoming Wilderness: Finding Balance

Recently I attended a panel discussion at the University of Wyoming about the past, present and future of Wilderness in the state of Wyoming.

Since then I’ve been pondering our wild areas and the careful balance between protection, recreation and industry.

But first some background. Brace yourself, it’s about to get nerdy around here.

Background

On September 3, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. This bill established the National Wilderness Preservation System and set aside 9.1 million acres of wildlands for the “use and benefit of the American people.” Since then Congress has preserved over 100 million acres in designated Wilderness areas (yep with a capital “W”–)

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What is Wilderness?

According to the 1964 Wilderness Act the term “Wilderness” is defined as “areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain.”

Here’s what I learned about Wilderness in the panel discussion. There are 3,111,232 acres of designated Wilderness in Wyoming. You can click over here for a nifty map. There are no permanent roads in Wilderness areas, there are no bicycles allowed, and the Forest Service won’t even use chainsaws (because they are a motorized)…just regular crosscut saws. There are a lot of rules about wilderness areas and the law isn’t always black and white especially pertaining to commercial enterprise and permanent roads.

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Wilderness areas are wild and for the most part untouched.

At this discussion there were 5 panelists who each had different views on Wyoming Wilderness. Below is what I took away from each panelist.

Margi Schroth: Owner of the HF Bar Guest Ranch.

The HF Bar Guest Ranch has been in operation for 103 years. Schroth believes that we have a responsibility to leave a legacy and to leave the Wilderness as good as we found it. To do no harm.

Joel Bousman: Sublette County Commissioner

According to Bousman, right after Wilderness areas were designated in Wyoming people flocked to them. The act brought attention to the Wilderness, it had the opposite effect. There was also some wild west stuff going, some people wanted to tear out highways, close down ski lodges, there are even reports of Forest Service employees destroying personal property (as in burning down cabins) that were on newly designated Wilderness. Eventually the drama subsided. Bousman believes that we need to create more Wilderness areas by working with people on the ground, the locals. Not by taking wilderness away from people.

Ralph Swain: US Forest Service Regional Wilderness Manager

Swain believes that what defines Wyoming is our Wilderness, our wildlife and our wild character. He’s an advocate for preserving Wilderness for future generations and got a little bit sentimental about it.

Alan Simpson: Retired US Senator

Simpson believes that Wyoming looks good because our ancestors made it look good when they first came here and we’ve been taking care of the Wilderness ever since. He believes that it’s “tough as hell,” to keep balance in a state filled with Wilderness, oil and gas.

Bart Koehler

Koehler believes that Wyoming is what America was. Many states don’t have anything left that could be classified as a Wilderness area.

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So how do I feel about the Wilderness?

I believe that we protect what we love. I love the wilderness, I love walking through a forest and not seeing garbage on the side of the trails. I love busting my lungs and making my legs burn on a steep mountain trail. I love fragile alpine terrain. I love clean rivers and cold high altitude mountain lakes. I love standing on the top of a mountain and seeing nobody else for miles and miles and miles.

So naturally I want to protect and preserve Wyoming’s wilderness and I’d love to have more Wilderness areas added to the list.

But at the same time, I appreciate roads that my tax dollars pay to get me to those places. I like to hop on my mountain bike and ride. I also like cutting down firewood with a chainsaw. If I were to get lost or injured I’d like Search & Rescue to be able to hop on speedy ATV’s to find me. And we write trail guides for a living so naturally we are pro-outdoor recreation. I want to be able to take my children to beautiful outdoor spaces so they learn to love, respect and preserve them.

That’s where the careful balance comes in. The balance between pure, raw Wilderness and wild spaces where we can recreate. I have to agree with several panelists who emphasized that the discussion of future Wilderness areas needs to happen at the local level, it needs to be grassroots. It can’t be a decision made by a bunch of politicians who don’t even own a pair of hiking boots.

Every day I’m thankful to live in Wyoming. I don’t always appreciate the wind, or the rolling prairie but I do appreciate the people who had the forethought to put aside land for the “use and benefit of the American people.”

What do you think about Wyoming’s Wilderness? Do you think that there’s any place in our region that should be a designated Wilderness area?

p.s. if you’re curious here’s what the Sheridan Free Press wrote about the event.  

PSA: Bags of Dog Poop

A few weeks ago we discussed bad trailhead parking and I promised that I would step off my soap box…but as spring has sprung I’ve noticed something. Poop.

Now we’ve written about poop on the trails before, that post went wild and it turns out that a surprising amount of people get emotional about shit.

But in the past 2 weeks I’ve seen ridiculous amount of bags of dog poop on the side of the trail.

C’mon people!

Recently I was hiking with our kiddos at Happy Jack. Nothing serious, a mile at a 2 year old’s pace.

Not far from the trailhead we ran into this.

bag of poopIt’s dog poop in a white plastic bag…perfectly blending in with the snow. I made a mental note of it’s location so I could grab it on our way out and toss it in the garbage at the trailhead.

About a half mile down the trail, just as we were at our turn around point we ran into another bag of dog poop on the side of the trail. Just hanging out, waiting for someone to pack it out.

2 bags of poop.jpgSo I asked my 2 year old what we should do about. He said “put it on the garbage”–so we packed it out, picked up the second bag of poop and a handful of other trash we found littered on the trail and properly disposed of them.

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Now, it’s appears that it’s just not me who is fed up with dog owners leaving their bags of poop on the trails. Close to home the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers think it’s inconsiderate. Hikers in Portland are annoyed with it.

But as I hike around Laramie I can’t help but notice these icky bags of poop are magically popping up on the side of trails more frequently than in the past.

I’d rather see a wet steamy pile of dog poop on the side of the trail than a plastic bag of Rover’s fecal matter.

Last summer I saw this.

Poop on the trails

Here’s the deal. We can all agree that this sucks. I promise to pack out my children’s dirty diapers if the dog owners out there promise to pack out their bags of dog poop. It’s just the right thing to do.

Oh wait, I already pack out dirty diapers.

Update 3-24-15

This shitty saga continues. Do people just “forget” to pick up their bags of poop? If so why go to all the bother to even bag it? I’m so confused!

Exhibit A. Less than 100 meters from the Tie City Trailhead on 3/20/15

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Exhibit B. Less than 75 meters from the Tie City Trailhead on 3/24/15tie city 2

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Do bags of dog poop on the trail annoy you too? Leave us a comment and tell us if you’ve ever picked up another person’s bag of dog’s fecal matter.

 

PSA: Don’t Park Like a Jackass

I try not to be too snarky on the blog. I want people to come here and be inspired, not ticked off. But please forgive me. Today I feel the need to climb onto my soapbox and remind people how to park.

One of my pet peeves is pulling into a crowded trailhead on a Saturday morning and realizing that someone has parked their car parallel instead of perpendicular taking up valuable parking space.

Here’s an example.

bad parkers

Yep, those two vehicles took up 4, maybe 5 parking places. But wait, there’s more! This isn’t just a winter phenomena.

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Here we are at a popular trailhead last summer. Doesn’t looks so bad right? Here’s the view from a little ways up the mountain. Still, not bad.

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Until we zoom in.

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Yah, thanks jerk. We aren’t anti-RV but you know where to park those things.

Now, if you park like a jackass it doesn’t mean that I hate you or that I think you should be inside eating cheese puffs instead of on the trails.

No, I just put you in the same category as people who leave their campfires burning and burn down the forest, don’t clean up their trash (ironically that trash is usually beer bottles, dip cans and cigarette butts) and refuse to bury their poop.

I’m stepping off my soapbox now with a little reminder to all of us (myself included) to be a little bit more considerate of others, especially when parking at trailheads.

What’s the worst trailhead parking job you’ve ever seen? Leave us a comment, bonus points if you post a picture of it on our facebook page!

Why is horse poop better than dog poop?

I spend quite a bit of time on the trails and I see a lot of thought provoking things. Some of these things occur naturally while others are man made. While hiking in Colorado I often see signs reminding people to pick up their dog’s poop and the odd thing is that these trails usually also allow horses but there are no similar requirements for horse poop. So after many many hours of mental effort trying to figure out why, this is what I’ve been able to come up with:
  1. Nobody wants to step in dog poop.” This is true but I would argue that stepping in horse poop is much more unpleasant. I spent over 900 miles on trails in 2012 and not once did I have to step out of the way of dog poop but I did once or twice for horse poop.
  2. There is more dog poop than horse poop therefore it’s more of a problem.” I don’t know about this one. Maybe. But it taks an awful lot of dogs pooping before they produce the same mass as a horse and dogs are kind enough to spread theirs out more so if you do step in some the problem will be minor.
  3. Dog poop is somehow worse for the environment.” I don’t know how this could be the case but even if it’s true, is it really better for the environment if your dogs poo is sealed in a plastic bag and carted off to a landfill to sit for a thousand years or so. (I’ve even seen bags of dog poop left on the side of the trail. Now I know what you’re thinking but my car was the only one in the parking lot on an out and back trail so they didn’t pick it up on the way out.)
  4. It isn’t practical for horseback riders to clean up and pack out horse poop.” I would submit that a horse carrying a human could also carry a shovel and a garbage bag with no additional inconvenience and that the real issue is one of horseback riders no wanting to stoop to such a level.
Some closing thoughts:
  • I’m not referring to trails that either do not allow dogs or do not allow horses. In these cases I assume that should the other animal be permitted the same rules would apply.
  • I don’t have a dog or a horse nor have I ever been inconvenienced by the feces of either animal while hiking. I’m just trying to make sense of rules that confuse me.
If you care to stoop to my level and talk about horse and dog poop, I’d love to hear it.

How to Prevent Trail Damage During the Mud Months

It’s spring in the Rockies.

This means that within a 24 hour period we can go from snow to sunshine to rain. It’s also what my Dad calls the “mud months” when you’re not sure if you should hike, snowshoe, ski or try to do all 3 based off of the trail conditions.

Regardless of the weather, during the mud months it’s important to try to take care of the trails and prevent unnecessary damage and erosion. Here are a few tips:

  • Stay on the trails. Don’t walk (or ride if you’re mountain biking) around mud puddles on the trails. Walking around a mud puddle damages vegetation on the sides of the trail and eventually widens the trail. Invest in a pair of gaiters and embrace the mud, walk right on through it. Boots can be washed.
  • Select your boots carefully. If you have the option, minimize trail damage by wearing a lighter pair of boots. Heavy boots compact the soil and can really tear a trail  up. But at the same time, a good waterproof boot is necessary to charge through muddy puddles and good traction is a must. So, know the pro’s and con’s of a heavy vs lighter hiking boot before you head out.
  • Adhere to trail closures. Sometimes if trails are too wet they will be closed to protect them until the mud dries up. As tempting as it is to bypass a ‘trail closed’ sign, don’t do it. Do you research before you head out and select an alternate open trail. We’ll try to keep local trail restriction information posted on our social media sites.
  • Look for south facing trails and lower elevations. Trails tend to dry up faster with a little bit of sun making southern slopes a better choice for dry trails.

What do you think about hiking on muddy trails, should we stay off of them until they are dry or should we use them, but be cautious?

Can hikers and cyclists coexist?

Lately the outdoor community has been buzzing about mountain bikers and hikers sharing the same trail, specifically the  Pacific Crest Trail and according to Rocky Mountain Journal, a 2-mile section of trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve written about sharing the trails before but for some reason the debate surrounding the Pacific Crest Trail seems downright nasty.

Those who think that the Pacific Crest Trail should be closed to bicycles cite reasons like “it’ll change the dynamics and experience of the PCT” and “if that happens I’ll go out of my way to pull step-over logs across the trail on blind corners.” They also argue that the Appalachian Trail isn’t open to bicycles, so why should the PCT open itself to cycles.

Those who support bicycles on the PCT simply write, “in thinking about the myriad reasons why we as cyclists want access to the Pacific Crest Trail, our thoughts always somehow come full-circle, back to the notion that we, just like everyone else who enjoys the PCT, are devout nature enthusiasts…We have a profound respect for our environment, the places we ride, and the people we share the trails with.

We haven’t hiked the PCT yet but I’m sure that if bicycles are permitted there will be an increase trail usage, at least initially, along with environmental impacts, safety concerns.

It kind of reminds me of early debates in the downhill ski community regarding letting snowboarders on the mountain…”they’ll destroy our trails, run over our kids, and ruin the culture of the sport,” were common quibbles.

Personally I’m torn. On one hand I believe that hikers and cyclists can safely co-exist. On the other hand there is something cool about being on a trail that’s just for those traveling by foot. Frankly, I’m just glad they aren’t considering opening the trail to ATVs.

And it’s become somewhat of a good guy vs bad guy debate, hikers trying to make mountain bikers out to be the bad guys and mountain bikers trying to claim the moral high ground.

When it comes to hikers and mountain bikers, there is no good guy or bad guy, we’re all just trying to play outside. Rarely do we encounter a jerk who is a hiker or a jerk who is a mountain biker. For the most part people on the trails are good, they say “hi,” they step aside, they follow good trail etiquette. We’ve picked up trash left behind by hikers and mountain bikers and both forms of recreation leave a footprint on the environment.

One thing is for certain, If the PCT were open to cyclists, you can be sure that we’d want to ride the trail just as much as we want to hike it.

What do you think, can hikers and cyclists co-exist?

 

Should we share unique places (and risk losing them)?

We started Just Trails to show people the amazing places they can go and visit. And to make it as easy as possible for anyone to visit those places. But I feel compelled to say something about not ruining the scenery and history while exploring.

As a general rule, people should take only pictures and leave only foot prints. (I think I got that from the Leave No Trace website but I couldn’t find it when I went back to look) Speaking of leave no trace; for backpacking and camping, those principles are a no brainer and can be found on their website.

Think about it. You don’t really wan’t to know how many people your girlfriend slept with before you. It’s the exact same thing for your quiet secluded campsite. You want to believe you are the first human being to ever see that particular place and so is the person who comes after you.

But the thing that bothers me so much more than poor camping etiquette is when I find what would be an awesome old historic site in the middle of nowhere and it’s been wrecked. And not the kind of wrecked that winters above 10,000 feet will do, the kind that people do.

The excitement of visiting these places has a lot to do with imagining how the people lived and learning about their triumphs and struggles by studying and reflecting on what’s left behind. But if everything has been taken, or scrawled with graffiti, I can’t do that. I feel cheated and I want to get revenge on some selfish stranger who I will never meet.

By the way, damaging or removing anything from a historic site is against the law.

We aren’t going to stop sharing really cool places. We just expect that if you visit them you will leave everything like you found it, just like we did, because we can’t share it after its gone.

Also instead of getting all preachy I think I’ll just start putting pictures of lazy, careless, and selfish outdoor behavior on a facebook album and vent there.