Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Signing Out

Greetings from Colorado. There haven’t been any new posts in several months because I moved to Grand Junction, Colorado at the end of March to continue recreation work with BLM.


I started working as a seasonal wilderness ranger for the King Range NCA in 2009 and became permanent in 2011. It didn’t take long to stop counting how many times I hiked the Lost Coast Trail, or how many miles I walked, but it’s enough to say that I know the King Range National Conservation Area very well.  I’ve enjoyed my time here but I decided that it was time to shake things up a bit and see some new country. Of course, not a week goes by that I don’t day dream about the Lost Coast.


I’ve seen it change quite a bit since my first season. This is an ever changing landscape that is being sculpted by waves, wind, rain, and seismic activity. Every spring the rivers have a new mouth, sometimes shifting hundreds of feet. Hillsides erode and crumble into the sea. Ocean creatures such as whales, octopus, anemones, and all sorts of fish are washed onto the shore where birds are always waiting at the breaking waves for their next meal to appear. Year after year I’ve observed the movement of the same ginormous logs that are thrown onto the beach during large winter swells. They stay there throughout the summer only to be gobbled up again by the ocean the following winter and moved another few hundred feet down the beach.


And then there’s the wildlife. There’s the time a bear came into by camp (with volunteers) and violently shook and slammed every bear canister onto the ground. Another time a bear silently circled my camp late at night, strolling within feet of my hammock. I really enjoyed when I was working up on the switchbacks of Rattlesnake Ridge Trail when I looked down at Big Flat Creek to witness a bear slowly making his way down the creek and soaking at every pool of water (or looking for fish?).


The river otters are always a delight to see. By far my favorite is when I observed several young otters learning how to catch fish. The family of otters scurried into the waves together and only after a few minutes the adult otter (mother?) caught a fish and pulled it up onto a rock to eat. One by one, each of the youngsters took a try at getting a bite. But the adult was determined that they each get a fish of their own and none of them had a “free meal.” Well, she finished her dinner and watched the kids try on their own. Soon she decided to get back in the water and show them, again, how it was done. It didn’t take long for her to pull another fish up onto the rock, this time she shared.


One of my favorite creeks on the coast has a deep pool near its mouth. It was here that I was eating lunch while waiting for the tide to recede one afternoon when I witnessed 2 snakes attempting to catch fish in the pool. They lied out on a log that crossed over the pool and intently watched the fish dart around below the surface. Then suddenly, one of the snakes would strike down into the pool and I’d see flashes of light followed by a dark streaks whiz around in the water in the grand dance of life-death. But alas, the snake slithered back onto shore and onto the log with an empty mouth and began his intense gaze back into the water, completely stiff except for his head ever so slightly moving back and forth.


I have dozens of stories like this but of course they don’t happen every day or even every week. But I do run into and talk with people every day. People like you who are reading this right now, planning your trip. It’s wonderful to meet people from all over the country and all over the world who come all the way out to this remote area of northern California to experience the rugged, beautiful and unforgiving Lost Coast. Visitation has continued to increase and nearly doubles every few years – the lost coast isn’t lost and it hasn’t been for a long time. That being said, you can still find solitude if you know when and where to look. What has always been difficult to escape, though, is the evidence of mankind – the trash, toilet paper, human waste, graffiti, and campsite structures. Although I have gradually found less and less junk hanging from the trees and slightly less exposed turds, I have always packed out large amounts of trash and litter year after year.   A large part of this is in the form of micro trash – bits of wrappers, twisty ties, nylon strings, tent stakes, ten foil, orange peels and all sorts of odd bits of plastic. After I go to every campsite on the coast I’d always come off the trail with at least a half-gallon worth of micro trash, minimum.

These, maybe from one individual...

Adds up to this from multiple visitors

every week it's a fresh batch of trash left behind.

My guess is that most micro trash is left unintentionally. I’ve found a good way to avoid leaving trash and other items behind is to always check my campsite and resting locations before I leave them. I also have ONE designated pocket  - a backpocket or a cargo work well – for wrappers and other small trash items. This way you’re not getting into this pocket for your camera or sunscreen while pulling out wrappers that blow away in the wind in the process. Keep in mind that most things don’t burn. A lot of what I pack out is from fire rings: Plastics, metal cans, foils, and food! Notorious fire ring trash is instant freeze dried food packaging (e.g. mountain house); these are thick plastic and foil!!!! They don’t burn.  

A used Mountain House package just left here.

Bottom line is: if it’s not straight paper - like cardboard or toilet paper - please don't burn it. Leaving anything behind is an eye sore for other visitors and reminds them of the dirty, busy, noisy city life that they probably came here to escape. Seeing wrappers at a campsite, toilet paper dangling from a bush, a pile of trash inside of a circle of rocks, and marine debris “artfully” hanging from a tree are the very things that most people come here to avoid. We can do better. We can do better picking up after ourselves and we can also pick up and pack out things that aren’t ours.


The torch is being passed to you. You have, and always have had, the responsibility. I was just an educator and a custodian – it’s your land (and the land of all the flora and fauna, more importantly). How do you want to leave it for the next visitor, for your next visit, and for your children?


This blog will still be here and will have more than enough information for you to successfully plan a trip. If you have any general questions about trip planning you can still shoot me an e-mail but anything immediate or about current conditions you should call the King Range Project Office.



PS: I was hiking up Big Flat Creek during early spring and came across these sights. How do you think these happened?




  1. Thank you for this wonderful resource. More importantly, thank you for your work and dedication to our public lands.

    As a former Coloradan and present Mendocino County resident, I thank you for helping maintain my favorite California playground (the King Range) and wish you great luck and adventure in the Rockies. If you do some Colorado exploring, I recommend you check out the Flat Tops Wilderness, particularly the Devil's Causeway Loop (http://www.trimbleoutdoors.com/ViewTrip/1235598) and Wall Lake Loop (http://hikingcoloradotrails.com/trails/wall-lake-and-trappers-lake-loop.php). Cheers, and happy exploring.

  2. Thank you so much for your information and for keeping this blog up even though you've moved on to another state. It's a wonderful resource and when my friends and I make a trip up there, we will definitely do our walkthrough and pick up every visible piece of trash we can. Cheers!

  3. I hope someday to hike this trail. Thank
    You for your service!

    I remember packing out _everything_ at Mt. Whitney which has a very strict pack in/ pack out policy including biological waste ;) Everyone also swept up anything in front of them so you will very rarely see trash on the trails. I wish it was like that at every single trail! Hopefully it has improved @ King Range!