Sunday, March 18, 2012

Offroad: Virgin River

Nine hundred and ninety nine times out of a thousand the Virgin River is pretty much as laid back a river as you'll ever want to meet. Always a refreshing and beautiful landscape, it was once a terrible hardship to pioneer travelers; but, today, merely an annoyance preventing one from crossing anywhere one wants and a source for mosquito's and Tamarisk.

However, its increasing schizophrenia has been bringing it to people's mind a bit more often lately; namely, the thing has had two 500-year floods in the past five years! The restorationists have had a couple substantial setbacks of late when huge volumes of water tried to see just how high up the banks it could erase in one fell swoop.

We were greeted to the 2011-12 snowbird season, yet again this year, with a couple of weeks of rain. Nowhere near the deluge we had last year, but enough to prevent much escaping from the condo.

We were awakened one morning by some screeching outside the window and were able to watch in interest as a native hawk settled on the fence ostensibly to show us what bounty's await if we ventured outdoors. There at his feet (?) lay a fat, juicy pigeon which he had just dispatched for his breakfast.

For about 15 minutes we watched mesmerized as with dispatch he plucked feathers and shredded beak-sized gulps from its carcass - it was though he'd done all this before.

When there was nothing left but a beak and some bones we looked at each other and decided that rain or no rain we were going to unload the rigs and venture out.  [A free Google Earth file of this route is available at: Google Earth Trail FileOffroading Home: Season 2012 - 01 Virgin River.]

With only a couple of hours to deal with, we couldn't go very far so we decided to see if we could still get down along the river this year; and, as it turns out, you can.

Donning our helmets - as is required by law in order to ride the back-streets of Mesquite - we quickly found the entrance to the marked river-side trail at the Hafen Park. You need to search a bit, because the ubiquitous "we don't want no vehicles" have been placed to make you think that you can't ride along the shoulder to get to the signed trail entrance.

If you're following along on the free Google Earth map you can see the park parking lot with the trail beginning just a short way along the walking path and only accessible by traveling along the dirt shoulder.

From there, believe it or not, there are hundreds of little contractor flags placed to mark where you can and cannot go. I wish now that I had stopped long enough to get a photo for you to see. They are definitely NOT biodegradable; but, at least they were placed there for a better reason than all the Popsicle sticks that Nancy Hall's group put down on Gold Butte to advertise who had planted/donated their landscape plants.

Taking care not to depart from the appointed path when we could see it, we easily navigated northeast along the bank and could immediately see that it wasn't the same channel as we had been on before. It had made a new home for itself this year.

We noticed all the brown Tamerisk trash-plants which, according to those in charge has been a terrible infestation wreaking havoc on native willow's and other species. We hear that they are brown now because they are dying from another non-native species - a bug which the BLM has imported from China or somewhere that is SUPPOSED to ONLY attack Tamarisk!

What happens when the Tamarisk is all gone you ask? Well, the bug is just supposed to quietly die off without any fuss! OK, I hear it; but, I'm not going to believe it until I actually see it. This one's just way too "convenient" to believe and makes little evolutionary sense - a bug that has evolved to only be able to survive on ONE food source? I guess it's possible but must be seldom seen.

The short but beautiful little ride ran along the bank then through the sand hills on the east end of town to exit at "Tuffy's Lane" on East Old Mill Road.

We decided, sort of a proof of concept, to see if we could navigate back via the back roads. If you need to use the back-roads to ride from your house into the surrounding hills, the local ordinance allows it EXCEPT that you must be wearing a helmet, do it basically only during daylight hours and for heaven's sake: stay off of Mesquite and Pioneer Boulevard's (the red line), except to cross.

As you can see from the map, we crossed Sandhill and attempted to enter one of the city washes which here-to-for has always been accessible, and in fact a route they preferred you to take instead of on the paved roads, especially to get under the freeway.

The city spent almost all last year remodeling the wash with cement embankments and in their infinite wisdom have now padlocked the gates with signs saying it is "dangerous" because of possible flooding. Actually, no more dangerous than it has been for the hundred or so years everyone has always used it; but, ...!

Instead, we wound around through a church parking lot then down Arrowhead Drive back to where we needed to be – always a fulfilling accomplishment.

Learn A Little More

Do you remember Bobby McFerrin? He was a completely unique performer who used his voice to provide percussion while he sung. These many years later his technique has become much less novel and in fact has it's own name: Beatbox.

He is an accomplished performer, actor and lecturer these days, as the following video clip from the World Science Festival on Neuroscience attests where he uses the pentatonic scale to reveal one surprising result of the way our brains are wired.

Bobby McFerrin and the Pentatonic Scale


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