Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The part of the job I love

Monday was a day on the job that I love. It is a day to recoup from the weekend visitors and get paperwork done. But I decided against all that because I knew on Tuesday it would rain. I put on the light weight uniform and heading out on the SW Trail. Lately the adjacent landowners have informed me they have been picking up our visitors on their property. The last pair picked up was in bad shape---out of water, dehydrated, and absolutely lost. So I figured I would head out and see where exactly visitors are going wrong. I was granted the permission of the landowners to drop into their property if need be.

I radioed Dispatch and called into service indicating I would be on foot patrol. Dispatch came back and asked if I wanted 1 hour status checks. I said no, but then I realized why they were asking. JC, a park ranger at Rocky, lost his life while on foot patrol. Ever since then there has been changes made while rangers are on foot patrol.

My task list of the day was two fold---check archaeological sites and figure out what visitors are doing wrong. I parked the vehicle at the carcass dumpster and started walking through the brush where I thought I knew a shortcut to the trail. Um, status checks huh. I bumped my head on a motion camera and so as I walked away I gave DFR the finger. I'm sure that'll show up at a going away party. I stumbled through poison oak about three times before jumping the creek, landing in the creek, and getting to the other side. I've always said I didn't get poison oak so this would be the test.

Alas, the trail. I started down the trail with GPS in hand looking for sites. I found 4 of them, one that required bush whacking and the other 3 I found by learning to walk past the site then coming back to it a different way. Bush whacking here sucks.

As I finished with the first site and was taking notes, I looked up to see a coopers hawk. Then another hawk, a sharp shin, entered the field of view and dropped down to tap the coopers on the back. I watched this for 10 minutes while I took notes for the Field Observation Card, which always gets me a mention on Raptor Man's email updates. And then I trudged on.

I came to the fence where I believe visitors make their near fatal mistake and took some pictures so things could change and visitors wouldn't be picked up by the landowners trespassing. Then I did what the visitors do and hopped the fence.

I immediately came upon a beautifully new bulldozed road and started following it. Within a half mile I came upon a second road, but decided against taking it and continued on. I am so glad I did. I crossed the creek at least 15 times with one being knee deep. I was enjoying the solitude, the quietness, and the new views. I was watching for tracks to see how far people had gone on the road when I came upon what I believed to be a mountain lion track. I continued to see them for sometime and then started looking behind me every so often just to be certain I wasn't being followed.

I had decided as the heat of the day was approaching that if I did not come upon another road to my east by 12pm, I would turn around. I suppose one issue visitors have is they probably don't know which direction is which so when they get lost they can't determine the best way to go. The second pair the landowners picked up were traveling in the opposite direction of the park. At 1125 I noticed a road on the ridge line and by 1139 I found the road. I hiked up the road and I mean UP. I used the bulldozer tracks as steps because it was so steep. I saw two horny toads on the way up.

Upon reaching the top, I noticed that the road ended right there at the top. And then I heard it...the yelp of the coyotes. They were right over that grassy knoll. I slipped my gun out of my holster and started up the rise. Calm down folks, the gun was just in case they were right over the edge and I spooked them enough for them to come at me. As I got to the top, they stopped yelping and I noticed movement in the bushes across the way. I dropped my pack and sat down. I watched an adult come out of the bushes, look my direction, and then head up the hill. Shortly there after two pups came out heading up the hill. I got up and headed where I thought a road might be. )I was thinking to myself at this I am exhausted and most visitors are unprepared so we could have some issues here. The landowners don't live in the valley, it is just where they put their cattle so they aren't always there.)

I turned on the GPS and did a quick calculation of my distance straight line from the park... 5.5 miles. OUCH. I walked over to the earthquake equipment figuring a road had to be there and jumped the fence to find about 5 different roads. Again, knew where I was so there wasn't a chance of me getting lost. I headed towards the HV house. A house I had always looked at from OP and wished I could see it up close and personal. Today I would.

I found a gate that led nowhere and snapped a photo so I could explain to the landowners were exactly I ended up. I could see the corral down the valley where I branded cattle last year and saw the vehicle moving away from it. Most likely I was going to come upon the landowners today. I continued on the gravel road between the green hills enjoying the beauty around me. To be able to own property like this would be wonderful. I dropped down unto the main road and headed towards the house.

I came upon 4 cows standing on the left side of the road and they quickly crossed over to this area near the trees. And then all of the sudden the entire herd started coming at me. Almost like they were surrounding me as some were in front and some were behind. They ran up on the hill and I dropped over the other side just as I heard the vehicle coming behind me. Not sure which owner I was about to meet, I turned to face the vehicle and held up my hands. It was J&K and I had just talked to K earlier in the day. They gave me a ride to the HV house. J really wanted to drive me back to the park, but I was determined to hike the entire thing. He offered me a coke, water, or a beer. As I look back upon it, I wish I would have taken the beer.

I started up the pasture past the horses and through the two gates. As I was climbing yet another hill I thought if this doesn't flatten out soon, I'm going to have to call 501 to pick me up. I was exhausted, overheated, and ready for bed. I was pretty sure I would lose a toenail or two because my feet had been wet for a while now. Finally it flattened out and I reentered the park.

I drove to the campground store, bought some ice cream and some vitamin water and called it a day. Can't complain that I just got paid to hike 12 miles without seeing another sole for 11 miles of that. I called Dispatch and called out of service...Good evening.

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