Life in Desolation Canyon

Haaaaaahaaaaaa, did I catch you with the title?  Since it’s a bit of a slow news day, except for the fact that Obama finally evolved, and I’m not particularly interested in controversy right this second, I’ll just go ahead and put up a boring post.

I’m not sure if any of you will be interested in this or not but I thought I’d mention that our youngest daughter is off to Desolation Canyon again to finish her research in fluvial geology (her mountain pictured above).   She’s working on her Master’s at the Colorado School of Mines and will be finished with her thesis by the end of Sept. or early Oct. and has a job with an oil company in Denver beginning on Nov. 1st.   This will be her last opportunity to get all the information she needs to complete her research.

I thought some of you might be curious about life on the river.

Apparently, her research area is somewhat unique, even for a geologist, in that it is so remote and lacking in amenities, so to speak.  She is one of only two students on campus allowed to requisition the satellite phone and also takes a gps locator device she uses to send a message every day with their location mapped out.  There are three possible messages which are pre-recorded, “all’s well”, “send help soon”, and “send help now”.  She will use the satellite phone to get weather updates every five or six days and also of course, if there is an extreme emergency or if the locator doesn’t work for some reason.

This will be her third trip.  The first was about this time last year and it was a group consisting of her academic adviser, her industry adviser, a PhD student, two river guides and herself.  They spent 10 days on the river in two different locations and she was able to see the lay of the land, and begin measurements and analysis of “her mountain”, which apparently is a fantastic out crop with lots of useful information for the oil industry.  She’s taken a real right turn since being a water consultant.

The weather was dicey this time last year and still very cold at night and they had several thunder storms and plenty of hail.  During the first big down pour most of the tents were flooded at their primary camp and they had to dry everything out, not easy in cool weather and then set up new sleeping quarters on higher ground and dig moats around the tents for drainage.   She and her advisers spent a lot of time on the mountain investigating the most useful areas and setting up a strategy to acquire all the information she was going to need to finish her research in two additional trips.  There is a very narrow window of opportunity to get to the site because of weather and river conditions.

The second trip was at the end of August last year and she and Chelsea, her river guide for all three of her trips, spent 21 days in the baking sun (average temp of 100).   The raft above is packed for two people for 21 days. Her site is only accessible by rafting down the Green River for three days and then another full day rafting out.  They spent some time directly across the river photographing the outcrop with a gigapan system and visiting a natural spring where they were able to acquire fresh water to bring back to camp for purification.   They set up a secondary camp near the old McPherson Ranch and spent a couple of nights there.  The rest of the time they spent hiking up “her mountain” and while Chelsea found a shady spot to read, our daughter “worked the channels”.  Chelsea was there just in case of accident or injury as the site itself is several miles from camp across a large meadow and then up.  Even with really good walkie-talkies it would still take someone a couple hours to get from camp to the research site so Chelsea was her shadow in the field.

After the first couple of days and a little experience with heat exhaustion, they began heading out in the pre-dawn hours of the morning using their head lamps to begin the hike.  This way she was able to begin her work as the sun came up and get off the mountain before the most intense heat of the day did them in.  Back at camp, after cooling down in the river, and with a gas powered generator she would upload her photos from the day and work on her notes for several hours.  Chelsea would cook and maintain the camp.  This was followed by dinner and a quick game or two of rummy and then lights out.

By day 14 or 15 they were out of ice and perishables were either gone or inedible.  They kept water and beer (yep) cool by floating them in the river.  The toilet (above) was full of flying bugs, which was a little nerve wracking, and their clothes, hair and bodies looked and smelled as if they were never going to be clean again.  The Green River is not exactly the clearest water in the world for bathing or doing laundry.  She’s a very accomplished outdoor person and has spent quite a bit of time in the middle of nowhere for days on end but this trip really tested her.  Of course afterward a sense of accomplishment and the benefit of some great stories and useful research information erase most of the worst memories of the trip, and there were more than a few.  She’s actually looking forward to the next trip.

She leaves Saturday for her third trip.  This one will be four weeks (28 days) and she’s taking along another geologist as well as her trusted side kick and new best friend Chelsea, the river guide.  Our daughter is 6’ tall and no shrinking violet but she needs help this time because there are a few areas on the mountain she needs to scale down in order to get the last batch of measurements she’d really like to get.  They’re also going to work on a project that will depict scale as it’s critical to her project.  Her search for a research assistant lasted all year and finally she found Neil, who is apparently excited to experience all the mountain has to offer.  He’s also really smart and will be a good brain storming partner to help solve the remaining challenges.   She’s hoping of course that they’ll still be friends once it’s over.   We’ll be looking for the “all’s well” signal everyday and waiting for that phone call once they get off the raft in the little town of Green River on June 9th.

16 Responses

  1. Gorgeous photos. That area looks amazing.

    Like

  2. I’m still completely in awe of her, Lulu! I also think you should swing by SLC for a couple of days toward the end of her trip–we could visit and see the sights/hike/whatever and then you could go surprise her by picking her up for the trip back to SoCal.

    Just a thought. . . 🙂

    Like

  3. That’s awesome. I’d love that. I grew up in the desert and would love to see that area, the higher (elevation) desert. Some of my best memories are of camping in the four corners area.

    Like

  4. Wow, lms, great admiration for your daughter. Great pics. I’m absolutely terrified of heights so not exactly a mountain person. Closest I have ever come to anything your daughter has accomplished was my college basic geology field trip to the Arbuckle Mountains in OK. lol, they are only a few hundred feet high (although that is due to erosion; they reportedly are the oldest mountains in the U.S.).

    Like

  5. Hi all. Yeah she’s a trip and pretty much fearless. I knew we were in trouble when she was about 14 and called me from Lake Mojave and asked if she could jump off the cliffs into the river with the guys. Uhhhhm nooooooo. She called again about two hours later to let me know how fantastic it was. A month’s restriction for that one.

    George, my family on my Dad’s side is from Montana and my grandpa was one of 10 so we have relatives all over the four corners and love love love it. My sister lives in NM but has also lived in CO for many many years. Most of our daughters field work, except for six weeks in Alaska a few years ago, has been high desert. She loves it.

    I’m trying to figure out how they’re going to pack the raft for 3 people for 28 days and still have room for the people.

    Like

  6. Michi, she’s not coming home after the trip, but going back to Golden to work all summer on her thesis………………………..busy, busy. Our son and family are going to take Pursy Lane back to her in June when the kids get out of school. I won’t see her again until December unless I fly in for a quick visit or we fly her out here, maybe for Labor Day or something.

    But she’ll be in CO for a couple of years anyway before she has to go to Houston so one of these days we’ll meet.

    Like

  7. Thanks for sharing, lms.

    I love that part of the country. I’ve wanted to do the Desolation Canyon rafting trip for years — and your daughter gets to do it as part of her Master’s thesis! 28 days camping out is a long time. How are they going to carry enough beer to last the month? Maybe they’ll tow a “beer” raft …

    Like

  8. Maybe they’ll tow a “beer” raft …

    Good idea. Last August they got a tow from some BLM guys almost all the way to their camp which saved them a couple of days. It’ll be interesting to see a picture of this years raft and compare it to last years. I think they may be getting some additional supplies this year from another raft coming down stream as they’re going to be there so long. The ice, which sits in the bottom of the raft in a large ice chest surrounded by the cold water of the river, will last much longer in this weather than it did last summer.

    Like

  9. Woah! Beats hanging out in a dark lab and playing Civilization while babysitting a spectrometer. On the plus side, I got really really good at Civ 2. A beer raft sounds more fun!

    XX

    Like

  10. That’s very cool. The whole thing. Thanks much, lmsinca!

    She’s taken a real right turn since being a water consultant.

    You mean, because she’s working in energy, or has she started watching Fox News? 😉

    Like

    • Kevin

      You mean, because she’s working in energy, or has she started watching Fox News?

      lol, Fox News. No, because she switched from emissions and water to oil. It’s mostly a joke around here that she switched from being an environmental consultant to the oil industry. She’s a very practical girl and when the two schools, both back east, that accepted her and offered her money to work with their researchers on water projects, lost their funding, she went with her back up plan and chose one of the two oil schools that seemed to want her. Her research is still consistent with water and so she tried to leave that door open in case opportunities change in a few years. She loves what she’s doing now though and also really enjoyed working for an oil company last summer, even though it was in Midland. She feels lucky right now that she doesn’t have to move to Houston yet.

      Like

  11. Makes me want to go back to school to be a geologist. Or drop out & be a river guide.

    Like

  12. “msinca, on May 10, 2012 at 6:29 am said:
    Kevin

    You mean, because she’s working in energy, or has she started watching Fox News?

    lol, Fox News. No, because she switched from emissions and water to oil. It’s mostly a joke around here that she switched from being an environmental consultant to the oil industry. She’s a very practical girl and when the two schools, both back east, that accepted her and offered her money to work with their researchers on water projects, lost their funding, she went with her back up plan and chose one of the two oil schools that seemed to want her.”

    Great pictures and story. It’s great when you can find something you love to do AND it actually pays well.

    Like

  13. Aren’t kids amazing and terrifying? My son has a story of driving out of Tibet in the middle of the night with miscellaneous strangers from different countries and the road suddenly disappearing before them. I’m sketchy on the details of how they got out, but they did.

    Like

  14. I’m sketchy on the details of how they got out

    Sounds like this is one of those times when it’s a blessing that kids don’t tell parents everything. 🙂 I don’t have kids, but with the wisdom of age I look back on some of the things I did in my late teens and twenties and I think “probably better that I didn’t tell Mom and Dad about this at the time. . . they slept a lot better at night that way.”

    Haaaaaaaaaaaaahaaaaaaaaaa, as lms would say!

    Like

  15. Aren’t kids amazing and terrifying?

    Oh yes, gotta love ’em but there are times when I could carry groceries around in the bags under my eyes………………………………….lol. I will be glad when she gets back in an office full-time, although I’m sure she’ll find something interesting to do on the weekends. Our son was the same way until his son was born and then he finally settled down.

    Like

Be kind, show respect, and all will be right with the world.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: