Getting Ideas for a Backcountry Wandering Adventure from a Map


The basic premise of The Gentle of Art of Wandering is that you can have an amazing adventure no matter where you are if you allow yourself to see. But you won’t have that adventure if you never get out. That’s why it’s worthwhile to have a backlog of ideas to keep you going out.

As mentioned in the book, if you need an idea, a map is a good place to find one. And last week I used a map to find a very different and excellent backcountry adventure.

This adventure started several months ago when someone told me about an old masonry dam in the middle of the desert on a river that is only wet when it rains. The dam was built in the 1890s to provide irrigation for a very questionable real estate scheme.

Although the dam’s foundation was built on bedrock, the surrounding land and flood plain was (and still is) a combination of sand, silt, and mud. As you can imagine, when the first big storm came, the surging water quickly dissolved the dirt and went around the dam.

With the dam rendered worthless, any hope for the real estate project washed away with that first surge of water. The real estate project is now very isolated range land. The dam is still there and, except for a handful of cattle, all alone in the desert.

The first task for this adventure was to find the dam on a topo map. I happen to have topo map software on my laptop, and eventually found the dam on the map. If you don’t have maps on your computer, a paper map will be just fine. The process is no different. It is as simple as scanning the map until you find what you’re looking for. You might even find some other places to check out for another adventure.

Once you find what you’re looking for and know where your ultimate destination is located, the next step is to find a road to get you near there. In this case, I found a dirt road that would get me within two air miles of the dam. Even better, my intended parking area was on public land.

Because many maps are out of date, it is important to get a good feeling for where the road should be located and where you’ll be making turns. Because I have electronic maps, I can export various waypoints from my computer to my very simple and inexpensive handheld GPS device. I can then use those waypoints to make sure I am driving the right direction. Again, if you’re using paper maps, you’ll have to be very aware of land features to keep you in the right direction.

Once you have your destination and the route for getting there set, the next and final step is to get out there and check it out.

Except for a couple of locations, the road proved to be quite drivable. Many backcountry roads can be nightmares. Even better there were no locked gates on the route to stop us in our tracks.

An unexpected surprise was the scenery along the way. Most of it was stunning.

Once we got out of the car, the scenery continued to be stunning as we walked along.

The vegetation too was interesting.

And when we took a closer look at the sandstone, we found it loaded with ancient seashells.

The only real hiccup we ran into on the walk was trying to figure out how to cross this deep-cut arroyo. This arroyo is almost twenty feet deep.

The best way to cross a deep-cut arroyo is to find a cow path since they have already figured it out. If you are not sure if you can find the cow path or similar landmark on your way back, mark the point with your GPS device (if you have one).

After three miles of walking we finally made it to the dam. It’s not the Hoover Dam. But it’s still impressive considering that it is in the middle of nowhere.

You can see how the “river” washed away the surrounding soil to leave the dam high and dry. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to invest this much in a dam only to see all your efforts washed away by the first big rain?

In this picture you can see that the dam was built on bedrock and that the “river” has now even cut into the bedrock to lower the riverbed even further. The right side of the dam is now completely washed away.

After grabbing a bite to eat at the dam, we headed back to the car. On the walk back we followed a couple of ridge lines and found three or four pottery sites (small farmsteads from a thousand years ago) along with several flint flakes along the way. It’s amazing to think that someone was able to survive, let alone farm, in such a difficult environment.

But that’s the greatness of wandering; you’ll always find something no matter where you are. And searching a map is a good place to start your wandering adventure.




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