Dateland, Bagdad, Young, Fredonia, Salton Sea, Salome, Wikieup, and Nothing, AZ. These are just a few of the places I called home while mapping the southwest.
I’d live out of a tent and my truck. If we were lucky, we’d stay in a forest service cabin which was generally just a doublewide trailer. Getting up each morning to put on either motorcycle gear or jeans and a cowboy hat depending on the type of mapping for that day.
These were long days. We’d be out in the “work area” by 8am to start catching some trails. How early we got moving depended on whether the work area was 15 minutes or over an hour away. There were days we road through some of the best trails around to get to the work area with giant smiles on our faces. Hitting jumps on the way to the first trail. There were also days we were huddled over our motorcycles driving down a straight paved road in below freezing temps. Alternating our hands onto the case of the engine just to keep them warm enough to move.
It was a great and terrible job, but looking back you forget the rough times and the minimal money. You just remember the sights, the adventure and the guys who you became best friends with.
In fact, one of those friends is marrying me next month...
The first job I showed up at was for the Arizona Strip. Would you believe it’s actually really hard to find people to do this work? It’s not hard to get people to SAY they want to do this work or even show up for a weekend, but it’s almost impossible to find people to do it and do it well.
You’re not cruising along offroading. You are sometimes stopping every 10 feet to log in yet another cattle guard, or water tank, or rare plant the Gvt wants recorded, or a game trail, or a side trail etc etc. It can be very tedious. Also, many of these trails have been logged in previously so you don’t want to double record. That means that via looking at GPS and paper maps you need to calculate your position within feet. We tried to start and stop mapping EXACTLY where it was needed as a point of pride.
First home, Kanab, Utah trailer park.
Here we go into the unknown.
This trail ends... right... here.
This is Buck. Dennis owned him and was teaching me how to do this job before I would head out on my own. We all stay in contact via HAM radios. It’s nice to reach out and check in with a teammate even if they are 50 or more miles away.
A lot of these trails are so slight that you have to squat down and just look for 2 tracks via the slightly different height of the brush and plants growing. Others, like this one have giant spiders hanging out on them, but are otherwise easy to see.
Dennis, checking out the road ahead.
The best part about this job is that you aren’t driving roads that are in any book or even on most maps. They are just there. Created by a rancher or a miner a long time ago. Mostly forgotten except by a few wandering souls. I still love finding these roads.
Sure, I love the MUST SEE named trails that are in 4x4 books or websites, but these roads are still where I feel at home. You never know what you’re going to discover.
We’ve found old mining shacks still stocked with old canned food and clothing, we’ve found springs or waterfalls, we’ve come across bones, we’ve found connecting roads from one part of the state to another. Heck, one time we even found a toilet cemented to the top of a hill with a great view in all directions, but that’s a story for another day.
You could go nuts with photos doing this job, but once you settle in you set the camera down and just enjoy life. You keep the sights and sounds for yourself and no one else.
By the end of the 10 plus hour day you are exhausted. Exhausted from staring at maps that are generally 4 feet by 4 feet. (Many of them because they are in great detail) You’re tired from walking ahead to see if the trail continues. You’re tired from bouncing along a dirt road. You’re tired, but you’re happy and satisfied.
Jeremy and I headed out together a few days later. He was doing a little supplemental work while working for Overland Journal to make ends meet.
The head of R2D2 on the hood is the old GVT Gps’s we used to use.
Some of these trails would end right on a hill. We all got very good and backing down and UP hills. You can’t always turn around.
A big factor with this work was vehicle reliability and maintenance. When you are offroading 10 hours a day, every day you break things that no one else does. I often recommend trucks without the electronically engaging 4wd. Sometimes, the foremost offroader in a group will say “I offroad the most of anyone I know and I’ve never broken it. So it’s fine.” I’m sure that’s true, but after a month of doing this work we’d break things that you’d never even think about wearing out. And then again, and again and again.
Keep It Simple Stupid, became the model for our trucks. Anything not needed was discarded and anything temperamental or electronic was replaced with a manual or mechanical alternative.
On the way home we stopped for a photo from Fredonia’s Finest. ;-)
We lovingly referred to these at dinosaur poop. Geologists, we are not.
Old road grater.
Day off? Let’s go to the Grand Canyon for an afternoon.
A few product photos for the magazine. Sure, why not.
Yah, we sorta wished we were down there.
Some more of the team. The good part was that we’d hit these “busy” places mid week usually so there wouldn’t be another soul around.
A real restroom? This was a luxury to us! Woohoo!
So, that was the first week, of many, doing what I did for a living.
I’ll share more as the stories come back to me.