Picture yourself scrolling through your Facebook feed. You see a friend’s picture on top of Mt. Timpanogos. They look happy, healthy and adventurous. You get a little envious.
You text your friend, which you believe may have mentioned an interest in hiking in the past, you’re not positive. You make plans to hike Timp next Saturday. If your Facebook friends could do it, anyone could, right?
You’re excited as you drive through Provo Canyon, wearing your brand new hiking boots you picked up at the store yesterday. You get out of the car, snap an exciting “before” picture and head to the trail to start hiking.
But after a while, you start hurting. You realize the heat is out of your control. You’re uncomfortable. You wish you were in better shape. Then, you start asking yourself whose idea was this in the first place.
You get a little angry at the general people in your life for not telling you that the outdoors actually are terrible.
So, this was my exact experience about a decade ago. And yes, I did turn back.
Since then, I’ve learned more about what it takes to actually enjoy the outdoors. I often go on backpacking trips with my dad. He’s been an outdoorsman his whole life and I get to benefit from his years of experience. This year we did a three-day backpacking trip in the Needles District at Canyonlands National Park.
“My name is Shannan Marcak. I’m a park ranger here at Canyonlands National Park. My title is Needles District Interpreter but I’m not sure that means something to everybody. I would say the short form is we interpret natural and cultural landscape in the same way people interpret language.”
Before we set off on our trip, I wanted to talk with Shannan about what Canyonlands officials were doing so visitors were getting a wild, yet safe experience.
“So we have rules and regulations in national parks, including this one, for several reasons," Shannan said. "The primary one is actually visitor safety. These places can be challenging. They’re not like most people’s home environment and without a little preparation and knowledge and understanding of where they are coming, They can be put at risk. Things as simple as understanding how hot our temperatures can be and how difference heat in a dry environment can be from a really humid one.”
Every area has its own issues and here in Utah, water is a big one. That’s why the staff at Canyonlands wants visitors to be prepared while exploring the desert. We were greeted at the trailhead by a park ranger who set up a water station making sure people had enough water before they started hiking. On a small folding table, she had a five-gallon container of water, pamphlets and sunscreen. We chatted for a few minutes; she snapped a photo of my dad and me. And then, with a smile, she rushed us off to the trail because with every passing minute, it was getting hotter.
“What we are finding is, like all national parks are, visitation is increasing," Shannan said. "And as there are increasing numbers of us, things like water sources become depleted much more quickly, particularly, for instance, in a year like this one. It’s quite dry and hot this spring. So really are trying to help people understand that planning your trip so its length is adapted to suit the amount of water you’re able to carry is valuable not just to you but the landscape you are coming to enjoy because the plants and animals that are here need that water too and if we use all of it, there’s nothing left for them.”
My dad and I were advised to pack in all our water. We had about three gallons each in our packs, weighing about 25 pounds.
While hiking, we ran into a group of guys from South Carolina. They seemed to be experienced backpackers and I asked Jake what he and his group did to prepare for this trip.
“We knew we wanted to come somewhere in southern Utah so water was really important," he said. "We each brought two gallons a piece for a two-night trip. And just having the appropriate gear besides that was relatively minimal – sunscreen, maybe one change of clothes…”
But there were some things that Jake didn’t appreciate about the park.
“I will make the comment though that I haven’t enjoyed this as much because I feel like it’s a little bit overregulated. I don’t like having designated campsites. I really prefer when I can find my own campsite. And the grab bags for feces is a little bit annoying. So I like feeling a little bit more like you’re not running into any other people and you’re kind of exploring that for the first time…” Jake said.
And those are two additional rules at Canyonlands – if you want to camp, you have to apply for a permit and if you’re backpacking, you have to carry a grab bag or Toilet-To-Go.
When my dad and I picked up our camping permit at the visitor center, we were warned that if a ranger came upon us while we were backpacking, we might be asked to show that we had the Toilet-To-Go.
As we hiked back to the trailhead, packs significantly lighter because we used up all our water, we notice two young women who seemed lost. One called to us and sure enough, they had lost the trail. They didn’t know they needed to follow the cairns – or small rock towers that help hikers stay on trail. Cairns are especially necessary in the desert because trails can so easily disappear by the elements, like wind and water.
We point them in the right direction, quickly teach them about the use of cairns, and we continue to our car. I smile because I’m reminded of my failed attempt at hiking Mt. Timpanogos all those years ago.
Support for Loving Our Lands To Death is made possible in part by the USU Quinney College of Natural Resources, where students and faculty promote the sustainability of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. Information can be found here.