Category Archives: outdoors

Wilderness Reality Check

Zion hikes
Zion National Park – Angels Landing Hike

selfie culture turns deadly

  • Instagram deaths in Yosemite NP
  • Bison attacks in Yellowstone NP
  • Fatal falls at the Grand Canyon

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National Park deaths across the US have skyrocketed in the last couple of decades, due to people falling from extreme heights.

There are numerous, recent stories in the news related to clueless people – falling to their deaths, just for a selfie-photo in front of a great viewpoint, that I am simply stunned by the numbers. Tumbling into waterfalls, getting lost in the woods, or just vanishing without a trace. Naive people trying to “pet” wildlife and getting hurt in the process.

Drowning is the most common cause of death inside National Parks, followed by auto accidents and falling from extreme heights.

Social media is the number one driver in a destination’s popularity, and the amount of accidental deaths in parklands. Recently there has been a 90% increase in vehicle accidents, a 60% rise in calls for ambulance and a 130% rise in searches and rescues.

The Deadliest Parks in the West:

With so many stories surfacing and avoidable tragedies happening, that I feel compelled to write a post about the inherent dangers of the outdoors. Not just the bears, but all of it.

Sometimes you have a fraction of a second to make a life-or-death decision. Unfortunately many things in life are not 100% safe. We cannot simply close nature down.

mountains

The advice here is only some of the basics.

Wear proper footwear, understand where danger lies, obey warning signs and know the limits of your own physical ability.

Running shoes are suitable for most trails, but hiking boots are usually better. Never hike in flip-flops and if you must hike in sandals, make sure to get ‘sport sandals’ with traction soles, arch support, plus secure, sturdy straps.

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Seems like good reasoning to those middle-aged, who can remember time without the digital age of distractions. For the rest, who have been staring at a smartphone or video game for most of life, this here is life preserving advice. So listen up.

It used to be called ‘common sense’ – and we learned it at a very young age, with overbearing parents, rules, restrictions and reckless playing outdoors (most everyday). Many hours away from home, off on your own and exploring. Falling, scraping knees, taking a tumble off the bike. Living and learning through experience.

Since many children now grow up totally sheltered, in an indoor environment, looking at screens all day, and existing primarily in cyber space – I guess social media isn’t teaching us the basics on how to survive outdoors and in real life.

Unless of course, you gravitate to those specific channels/videos on wilderness survival (bushcraft), outdoor safety, map reading skills, terrain, protection, wildlife, etc.

The hip, cute camping couple with the custom van build (and unlimited funds) may seem entertaining and cool, but are they offering something of substance? Are you learning anything valuable, or just watching someone else travel?

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books on death outdoors

WISDOM:
Sound Judgement

DEATH and injury are always a factor when enjoying wild and natural places. Lightning can strike you, a wild animal can attack, you could fall off a cliff, you could injure yourself, slip into the river or you can get lost – and die. Happens all the time, especially in the mountainous, extra large land of California.

WILD, naturally means uncontrollable.
(animal, weather, water or location)

This nature experience you crave is not a video game, nor movie on a screen; This experience is real, raw and often dangerous. Being outdoors near wild animals, next to raging rivers, on dirt roads, on hiking trails, way away from society, has some risks involved.

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Granite Slides

HEED the WARNINGS

WATER is DEADLY overall in California: Waterfalls, rivers, creeks and lakes are dangerous due to numerous factors. While granite rock slides may be appealing in the Sierra Nevada mountains; Loosing your balance and cracking your skull on hard rock may change your life forever, if you can even get to the nearest hospital 100+ miles away.

Always know where & how far the nearest hospital is located. Not just the city name, but the physical location. This simple bit of knowledge is often overlooked by eager travelers, campers and hurried city folks looking to make the most of their time away.

The mighty Pacific Ocean is notorious for shark attacks, surfing accidents and drownings. Beach goers often forget the dangers of the ocean water, when kids, food and family are involved. Ocean swimming/surfing can be dangerous to your health (during big storms) with sewage river run-off.

cliffedge
Moab, Utah is surrounded by red rock cliffs

Lakes and large recreational reservoirs  are places where people love to relax and more often than not, drink alcoholic beverages. Deaths related to boating, jet skiing and tubing usually involve intoxication. When boating – wear a life vest.

Toxic algae can be found floating on water and can be deadly to humans and dogs. Know what toxic algae looks like, smells like and keep pets on leash and out of the water.

White water river rafting is also a sport which has annual fatalities, but just wading near a raging rivers edge can be dangerous – if you loose your footing. Once gravity pulls you down, even if you are a “strong swimmer”, it is hard to manage the swiftness of the river. Waterways can be dangerous, so always wear a life vest.

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COMFORTABLE CITY vs LIFE OUTDOORS:

Stay sheltered in your own, comfortable, safe space, with electricity, wifi, cell phone reception, air conditioning, plenty to eat and the hospital nearby.

Or you could choose to venture out beyond the unknown, if you have a good head on your shoulders. This is where education comes in, and we are not talking about typical higher learning.

Read all about the place you want to visit. The more remote a locale, the more you need to know about that area and it dangers.

dangerousSQ

Wilderness Areas in California

rangerKnow your plan, tell someone and go out over prepared. Do the research online and off – for the destination you seek. Collect topo maps, talk to rangers on the phone, discuss trails and routes with other hikers or online; gather info well ahead of time, so you can get the gear to make such a trip into the wild a success.

  • always check the weather, as often as possible
  • carry a cell phone – with fully charged battery; , maybe even a backup recharger
  • automotive: top off coolant, oil, windshield washing fluid, check tire pressure. Tune up, especially for road trips. Carry jumper cables, abundant water and a tire patch kit.
  • know how to read a topographic map, outdoors (without cell phone signal and/or GPS)
  • get a first aid kit (review/restock it)
  • study and practice outdoor survival skills, even at home
  • know current fire conditions, campfire safety
  • learn about (current or recent) wildfires burning and what areas have been affected. Roads, trails and camps could be closed.
  • always carry drinking water; extra water in multiple containers
  • get a reliable water filter (for collecting drinking water en route)
  • pack basic camp tools: shovel, bucket, knife, saw, lighter
  • traveling solo, always err on the side of caution.

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Wild Animals

Snakes are the least of your concern. Yes, rattlesnakes can be found on hiking trails and at campgrounds. Know how recognize a rattlers sound, where they may be hiding and what to do if you encounter one.

The small critters are often cute and very photogenic, but they are usually after the food you have. Do not feed the wildlife. Do not try to touch the animals. Heed all warning signs about raccoons stealing food. Aggressive squirrels can chew a hole your backpack and bite you, with the possibility of rabies. Desert burros take leather shoes,  or marmots eat radiator hoses in your vehicle.

Mice or rodent droppings can carry the deadly hantavirus, so this means no sleeping on cave floors, picnicking under boulders or sweeping out old cabins or motorhomes (without a proper mask).

And always use the steel bear boxes for storing food when available.

Camping & Hiking with Bears!

cougarsMountain Lions – generally avoid human contact if possible. There have been a few incidence over the decades where females or children mountain bikers have been attacked by wild cats, often known as cougars.

Know that mountain lions prefer to chase and catch their prey, which means speeding by them can trigger this reaction. And no, you cannot pedal faster than the wild animal.

Best tactic to avoid this situation is to make noise when enjoying the trails. Be noisy with vocals, talking, singing, bells on hiking boots and most animals will avoid the confrontation all together.

If however, you are camping alone at a remote location – and a big cat shows up, then you have to make your presence known, pretty loudly, possibly for hours. You may hear growls, hissing noises or high pitched squeals (mating calls) off in the near distance, which means you might be camping next to a favorite meadow where this big cat hunts for food.

Stay awake and aware of what area the mountain lion is patrolling. Make loud noises, yell, sing, fire your gun off and/or bang on metal objects. Cranking loud music works to drive away wildlife, but don’t totally forget that there is a large predator nearby. Keep alert throughout the night for any new activity in camp and be prepared to defend yourself with a weapon.

snow

Winter Weather in California
Road Conditions in California
Snow Chains / Tire Tools

snow conditions

And lastly, the human factor – 

Strangers

Solo and single – don’t talk to everyone.

Parents used to tell their children “don’t talk to strangers” as that single act could lead to predators taking advantage of a situation. Whether it is a ride they need, directions, a cigarette or perhaps an invite extended to join them, keep it short and polite, but firm. Don’t go off traveling with them, if you just met. Don’t get inside their vehicle. Offer to make a phone call for them, if they need the sheriff or rangers.

Any lengthy conversation with an unknown person can lead to a new friendship, perhaps, or a serial killer. California has always been a haven for crime, due to the massive population. During the 1970-1980’s the Golden State had a news story of abductions, missing girls or murder sprees almost every week. These days mass shootings have taken over the spotlight.

Need help, try asking officials if they are around. Park rangers, camp host, store clerks, road crews, utility workers. Keep it short when asking for directions with total strangers. Never tell anyone you meet – your plans, destination or itinerary. If they seem trustworthy and you are not traveling alone, you have more flexibility and can use better judgement.

Police departments patrol cities, whereas in rural areas, law enforcement is served by the county Sheriff. Always know what county you are located in. In National Parks, National Forests, BLM, State Parks and Wildlife Refuges personnel patrolling are called rangers.

Bring local phone numbers written down and in your wallet. Cell phone service (to look these things up online) is spotty and often non-existent when traveling the backcountry roads. Prepare and plan like you don’t own a smartphone.

mist trail
Yosemite’s Mist Trail

sample news articles:

Falling off of Angels Landing @ Zion NP

Yosemite NP (100+ deaths occur annually)

Loving Nature to Death – The Guardian 2018

Ghost Towns in California

California’s Historic Ghost Towns

Historic cities and towns are commonplace inside California, but very few towns are totally abandoned. By definition ‘ghost towns’ are population locations that have previously thrived (usually in mining), but they ultimately have been deserted.  Sometimes a few residents will stick around for the seclusion, but the place often appears empty. Finding an open business is a rarity.

generalstore
inside the old general store

North Bloomfield allows visitors inside the buildings to check out the furnishings, decor, fixtures and the interiors. As part of a ranger guided daily tour, you can explore these historic structures up close and personal.

ghost towns

towns in business

almost abandoned

shackleaning

California mining ruins

findingfall
Malakoff Diggins State Park

California ghost town

deserted mines & ghost towns

creosote

Garlock, California
(most of the buildings torn down by Knott’s Berry Farm, for decor at their amusement park)

Panamint City, CA
(old mining camp, way above Panamint Valley)

Montgomery City, Hwy 6
(old mining site, 4×4 required. N of Bishop, CA)

Skidoo, Death Valley NP
(old mining ruins, near Wildrose Canyon)

Tucki Mine, Death Valley NP
(old mining camp, near Wildrose Canyon)

field deserts
North Mojave Desert
greenshack
Randsburg, California; circa 1999
skidoo
skidoo mine, DVNP

woodsiding

Seasons of California

spring summer autumn winter

All Four Seasons in California

californiaWhile some may think there are only 2 seasons in California

WINTER (the wet season) and SUMMER (the dry, hot season) which may also be known as Fire Season (as in wildfires).

There are indeed 4 Seasons in California:

However – Spring and Autumn are much shorter, as rapid swings in rain and drought (weather related events) often dominate the West Coast region.

And by the way, Earthquake Season is any time of year.

june lake loop
June Lake Loop is a popular spot for Autumn Colors

campCamping Season can be all year long in California, where we often have mild winters, sometimes without much precipitation.

Southern California has camping and hiking all the time, in every area. Deserts are a favorite camp destination in the winter months, usually December thru March. Find more info on Desert Camping. See also, a page on Winter Camping.

The Central Coast and Central Valley regions often have campgrounds available and open year-round. Northern California and the Sierra Nevada mountains get most of the real wet weather, between November and April, so campgrounds usually close (for half the year) depending on weather conditions.

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High Country Sierra Nevada mountains

Often the higher elevations of California (5000’+) can only be accessed by vehicle during summer months. Deep snowpack means paved roads are usually closed for the majority of the year (Nov-May) and sometimes, during a ‘good’ winter, the main Sierra highway routes do not open up to public access until June or July. Read more on Sierra Road Conditions.

potrerocabin

California Road Conditions

snow conditions

June Gloom in California

june gloom

seasonal weather patterns

Late spring in California is a wondrous time of year for getting out and exploring. Thousands of prime hiking trails and camp spots, coupled with relatively mild weather throughout the state, should insure that your ‘gotta see’ list is long. Total Escape is stuffed full of weekend ideas and your excuses for not leaving the house could be vanishing with the warm weather.wildflower

However, for those dwelling in the coastal regions of our great state, spring isn’t all it is cracked up to be. I’m talking about the dreaded marine layer fog, more affectionately referred to as ‘June Gloom’ or ‘May Gray’. This weather pattern can even last into July and August!

The hotter it is inland, the more likely the beach will be cloudy. Advection fog occurs when warm, land air moves out over cool, ocean water. The cold, California Current and upwelling produce cool, moist marine layers that blanket the entire coastline up and down the state. San Francisco is notorious for its dense fog.

birdsandfog

Many tourists and newcomers in California expect warm summers with plenty of sunshine, only to be disappointed by dreaded cloudy days. Otherwise known as overcast!

April was warm, but May is gray. It can be annoying, but why wait it out at the beach? … just head east to catch some rays.

califrepublicIf you’re like most folks who prefer the bright, warm sunshine to the gray, cold mist of a heavy marine layer, you might want to head inland. In most places throughout the state it is warm & the sun is shining and very warm inland by June. It only takes only a few miles of eastward travel to lose the gloom and be basking in the warmth of yet another classic California day.

Although, triple digit heat can also begin around June 1st in parts of the southwest. Regions like Death Valley, Vegas, Arizona, and the Central Valley of California often see temperatures creeping past 100 degrees, in the month of June. Consider that tidbit in your road trip planning. Check the forecast.

You may need winter jackets for the campsite at 5000′ elevation – but air conditioning on the drive there. A wide swing in day time temperatures can be expected in Cali.

Coastal Fog California

marinelayer

campCamping season is warming up and the crowds are often sparse at the start of the season. Campgrounds are most crowded when “school is out for summer break”, so if you want a quiet camp, choose to explore the back roads.

Travel season is non-stop in California, all year long; and now, so is Wild Fire season.

campfireJULY 1st typically marks the start of the seasonal NO-BURN DAYS: no more open burning, no residential brush burns, no campfires outside of developed campgrounds.

Check with the local rangers for specific conditions. Cal Fire, USFS, BLM, County Fire Agencies

snowSNOW MELTS – June is also the month that many of the snow covered mountain passes finally open up for the summer season. These are the main paved routes that go over the highest points in NorCal and the Sierra range, making Wilderness Areas and alpine lakes accessible. Wildflowers will bloom May-July in the Sierra Nevada!

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California Road Conditions (click map to see more info)

(California State Routes, Interstate & US Highways)

drumtribes
Summer Solstice Campout – JUNE 20-22