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PaseoWILD: Soaking in the High Desert

An encore post from Wildways Trekker, John Davis, who continued his wilderness trekking in October 2014, exploring the far reaches of the Grand Canyon Watershed with friends from Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. John returns to PaseoWILD September 20, 2015. Thanks for following!

This video by Sarah Ponticello, the Sierra Club Campaign Representative for the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, follows members from Wildlands Network, the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council on their journey to explore the far reaches of the Grand Canyon Watershed in October 2014.


Day one of our weeklong trek, dubbed PaseoWILD, and we barely left camp. As rain poured hour after hour, and thunder occasionally added bass booms to the syncopated pitter-patter, we wondered in our tents and tarps what we were entering – in the Canyon Country this inordinately rainy week, and all over in this climate chaos century. Granted, no one weather event can be safely attributed to carbon pollution, to human-forced climate disruption; but two inches of rain in one day in Utah’s high desert in late September (and more to follow) seemed to my admittedly foreign senses almost unnatural, almost a premonition of the wrathful weather to come.

This year, charting another route between Bryce and Grand Canyon National Parks, our team of Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Wildlands Network explorers had already waited a full day for a multi-inch rainstorm to pass and our gear grew wet before we’d even reached Bryce Canyon’s Under the Rim trailhead.

During PaseoWILD, we aimed to better learn the “Paunsaugunt to Kaibab wildlife corridor,” which comprises much of the geological wonderland known as the Grand Staircase, and is traversed twice yearly by a migratory mule deer herd. Paseo Wild would explore and photograph this key wildlife connection and promote the proposed Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument as its southern anchor.

PaseoWILD was guided by Grand Canyon wilderness ranger and advocate Kim Crumbo (along with Grizzly Bear follower Doug Peacock, one of the real rebels upon whom Ed Abbey’s iconoclastic character Hayduke is based), and intrepid young wilderness photographer Kristin Caldon (whose tireless trekking will this November, just before she turns 30, make her the first woman to trek the entirety of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, a vast labyrinthian realm where a slip can be fatal).

Thank goodness, the sun still does follow, and on day two, we began to dry and hike. We saw some proud and powerful pronghorn (“antelope”) as we approached Bryce Canyon; and saw mounds of the threatened keystone species Utah prairie dog, surprisingly close to Bryce’s car camping areas. Once on the trail, Under the Rim, we were hit by another strong storm, this one dropping hail and forcing us down quickly for shelter from wind gusts and lightning (neither a welcome force, even if entirely natural, when one labors with a big pack along an exposed ridge). In several areas down near Yellow Creek, which ran thick yellow-brown with run-off, mud accreted so to our boots that they gained pounds and made us stagger.

Indeed, Bryce Canyon National Park features some of the strangest substrates I encountered last year during TrekWest or this year during PaseoWILD. Frequent freeze-thaw cycles and occasional powerful rainstorms (such as we’d just faced) and recurring wildfires mean much shedding and eroding of rock and dirt from the canyon walls’ soft pink limestone and from grounds below. We walked through a recent burn zone where the trail was buried in a foot of rock and dirt from a huge debris flow. Ponderosa pines across many acres were still green and growing if they were old enough to be strong and thick, but smaller trees had been scorched or buried.

Again we had to wonder, as we crossed multiple debris flows and climbed over countless down trees: how natural are these disturbances; is human-induced climate chaos making fire and flood more frequent and/or more severe here in the Grand Staircase? How may altered disturbance regimes affect the Paunsaugunt to Kaibab (Bryce to Grand Canyon) wildlife corridor, migrated annually by mule deer and continually by many other species?

Protecting this wildlife corridor, is a primary focus for Wildlands Network and our partners including Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. This work is part and parcel of creating the larger Western Wildway – becoming ever more important in the face the climatic disruption and habitat fragmentation our society is causing.

For the Wild,
John Davis
Wildlands Network Carnivore Program Director and Scout

Special thanks: The other team members (some supporting from a distance) are too cool to leave unmentioned: Kelly Burke, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council executive director and Paseo Wild organizer; Ed George, filmer of TrekWest and other adventures; Greer Chesher, writer and naturalist; Danny Giovalli, founder of Kahtoola gear; Jon Fisher, a Park Service trail crew member (and cooker of delicious Southern-style breakfasts); Ryann Savino, a talented young writer considering a foray into rewilding stories; and Pinky Two-legs, mysterious writer and friend who tends to appear whenever I’m undertaking adventures for which I’m logistically or financially unprepared.

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