Finding Remoteness

Finding Remoteness: A remote area in the Bear River Range Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
A remote area in the Bear River Range
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
‘Remote’ is not a characteristic I would assign to the city center, a major metropolis like where I grew up. But I also remember summers spent high in the crown of our old magnolia tree, where my 8 year old self may have begged to differ. There, I found wildness—forgot about time and place and the civilization that occupied them. Finding Remoteness

What does ‘remote’ mean? Take a moment, if you will, and conjure a memory—to the most remote place you’ve ever been. Where are you? Why did that particular place come to mind? Was it the distance from cities and towns? Was it the absence of other people? Was it the darkness? The quiet? What makes a place “remote?”

This question has been tumbling around in my head for a while. So, naturally, I took to the internet for answers. A definition: ‘remote’—an adjective—“(of a place) situated far from the main centers of population; distant.” Seems straightforward at first, but the quality of remoteness is open for interpretation. I might argue, for instance, that Lhasa—the Tibetan capital of almost half a million people—is far more remote than the most isolated corner of Utah’s redrock labyrinth. Perhaps that’s an apples to oranges comparison, though.

Bear-shaped remote region in the Bear River Range Data and Photo Credit: Hunter Baldridge
Bear-shaped remote region
in the Bear River Range
Data and Photo Credit: Hunter Baldridge
The Means family from Florida is trying to quantify remoteness and document the most remote place in all 50 states. Project Remote, they call it, defines remoteness as “the point that is the farthest straight-line distance from a road or city [or] town.” According to the Means family, Utah’s most remote location is deep in the High Uintas Wilderness–9.5 miles from the nearest road; a two-day trek from the closest trailhead.

Project Remote inspired me. Their definition seemed reasonable enough, but I was curious about whittling down the parameters of ‘remoteness.’ I wanted to identify the most remote location in Cache County, where I live; so, I reached out to USU Geographic Information Systems instructor, Shannon Belmont, who has been working on this question with her students for several years. As it turns out, the general consensus from Belmont’s class projects produced a fittingly bear shaped swathe of canyons and peaks in the high country of the Bear River Range as the most remote region in the county. There were dozens of other definitions offered through Belmont’s project, of course.

‘Remote’ seems a relative term—relative to the perspective of a traveler and their perceived distance or isolation from the center of whatever world is familiar. When avalanche danger in my home range subsides, I’ll click boots into skis and plow my way to the heart of that bear-shaped expanse of peaks and canyons, trying to find what ‘remote’ means there. Then, perhaps I’ll redefine the word entirely— changing it by season, mode of transport, or state of mind. Until then, maybe I’ll find an old tree to get lost in.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!Defining Remote
 
Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Uintas Graphic: Courtesy Josh Boling & Hunter Baldridge, Copyright © Hunter Baldridge
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J Chase and K.W. Baldwin, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

https://www.outsideonline.com/2314611/roads-around-nowhere

Project Remote, https://www.projectremote.com/

Utah’s Remote Spot in the High Unitas, Project Remote, October 3, 2019, https://www.projectremote.com/blog/utah-remote-spot/

Belmont, Shannon, Final Project – Identifying the most remote location in Cache County, GEOG/WILD1800, SJ & Jessie Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University, https://wildaboututah.org/wp-content/uploads/boling.josh_.GW1800_Final_Project_RemoteLocation.pdf

Karst Topography

Karst Topography: Entrance to a Karst Cave Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Entrance to a Karst Cave
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Rivers run beneath these hills, carving winding caverns through ancient stone, plumbing a subterranean watershed—a second topography, ever changing. What little we’ve seen must lead further in, places mythology might only describe.

Karst topography’ refers to landscapes cleaved apart by the leaching of water through a soluble bedrock layer comprised of carbonate-rich rocks like the limestone and dolomite found throughout Utah’s mountains or the evaporate-type gypsum and rock salt layers found in Utah’s redrock country. Over time, this erosion by surface and groundwater creates pinnacles, rippling fissures, gaping sinkholes, or springs on the surface—deep caverns, plummeting vertical shafts, and winding tunnels through which entire rivers can flow below.

We floated one such river once, in complete darkness, guided only by a subtle current and the voice of our local guide. He said he was of Mayan descent, so we listened closely when he relayed stories of Chaac, the Mayan god of rain responsible for the generous flow of water through the caverns we explored. Indeed, it is within these same caverns that he dwells, we were told. Further north, in Mexico and the desert southwest, it’s Tlaloc, the goggle-eyed Aztecan deity that controls the rain. He, too, is supposed to reside within the body of the earth.

Karst Cave Courtesy & © Josh Boling
Karst Cave
Courtesy & © Josh Boling
There’s no mythology I’m aware of for my little corner of the globe. So, scientists and explorers alike descend into the karstic caves of northern Utah to see what they might learn. “Utah is unique,” one such explorer told me, “with some of the most difficult caves that exist in the world, then some of the most spectacular, and some of the most benign.” Intrigued, I set out to see what I could find in my own back yard. Ribs of bleached limestone called karrens spread across a plateau like a washboard road, sinkholes that occupy the better part of an entire meadow, blind valleys sunken into a void in the bedrock, innumerable unnamed springs, and a small, non-descript cavity in the crust—the thing I had really been looking for this whole time.

Main Drain is Utah’s deepest and the nation’s 11th-deepest cave. It’s also wildly difficult and dangerous to navigate, yet absolutely critical to explore for the sake of furthering scientific understanding. I talked to Larry Spangler of the US Geological Survey in Salt Lake City about the significance of karst landscapes like Main Drain. “The caves that are developed in these terrains,” Spangler says, “are…valuable sources of information in regard to changes in climate and landscape evolution over time.” The chemistries of these caves are unique to their environment, and analysis of mineral deposits within the caves can provide insights into how average surface temperatures have changed over time and how wet or dry the landscape above was in any given period. Karst caves can reveal climate data for specific locales that may help us predict how a warming planet might affect our local ecosystems.

The water that flows through Main Drain and other cave systems like it in the form of snowmelt and subterranean streams carves its way vertically and horizontally through layers of bedrock hundreds of millions of years old—providing researchers a literal inside look at the formation of mountains. And as a map of these subterranean watersheds begins to come together, we gain a better understanding of the hydrology of an area and its effects on water quality.

When I spoke to Spangler, he wanted to make it very clear just how sensitive these karst landscapes are to surface activities, for the health of ecosystems and the integrity of watersheds, of course, but also for the health of human communities. The US Geological Survey estimates that as much as a quarter of the world’s population depends on karst landscapes for their water supply. The city of Logan, where my family and I live, sources its water from one of the larger karst springs in the area. The people are drinking straight from the mountain.

Rivers run beneath these hills, and through us as well.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!
 
Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

Sources & Additional Reading

Author’s note: Caves and other karst features are inherently dangerous. You should never enter a cave or other karst feature without the appropriate training, gear, and an experienced person(s) to accompany you.

Shurtz, David K & Shurtz, Ryan K, The Discovery, Exploration of, and Sufferings withing Utah’s Main Drain Cave, Utah Grottos, April 2005 http://www.jonjasper.com/TonyGrove/MainDrainCave-NSSApril2005.pdf

Haydock, Adam, Cave Dive Operations in Main Drain Cave, Utah, https://www.even-further.com/dive-expedition-in-main-drain-utah

Caving Main Drain Cave, Logan Canyon, Utah, Outdoor Activities, The Dye Clan, August 31, 2013, https://dyeclan.com/outdooractivities/caving/?id=334

Main Drain Cave, Utah Caving, February 14, 2014, https://utahcaving.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/main-drain-cave/

Soto, Limaris R.(modified by), After: Alpha, Tau Rho, Galloway, John P, and Tinsley III, John C., Karst (U.S. Geological Survey Open-file Report 97-536-A), Topography Paper Model, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/caves/upload/Final-Karst-Topography-Model-_Written-Section_5-14-2014.pdf

Weary, David J. and Doctor, Daniel H., Karst in the United States: A Digital Map Compilation and Database, Open-File Report 2014–1156, U.S. Geological Survey(USGS), https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2014/1156/pdf/of2014-1156.pdf

Lawrence, Lawrence E., Delineation of Recharge Areas for Karst Springs in Logan Canyon, Bear River Range, Northern Utah, U.S. Geological Survey/The Pennsylvania State University, https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.543.5904&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Francis, George Gregory, Stratigraphy and Environmental Analysis of the Swan Peak Formation and Eureka Quartzite, Northern Utah, (1972). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1684 https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2683&context=etd

Morgan, Susan K., Geologic Tours of Northern Utah, Miscellaneous Publications, 92-1, Utah Geological Survey, Adivision of Utah Department of Natural Resources, (1992), https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/misc_pubs/mp-92-1.pdf

Connecting Caves, Karst Landscapes and Climate Around the World, Circle of Blue, January 18, 2010, https://www.circleofblue.org/2010/world/connecting-caves-karst-landscapes-and-climate-around-the-world/

Bahr, Kirsten, “Structural and Lithological Influences on the Tony Grove Alpine Karst System, Bear River Range, North Central Utah” (2016). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 5015. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6053&context=etd

Wandering Home

Wandering Home: Naomi Ridgeline from the Mt. Magog Summit Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Naomi Ridgeline from the Mt. Magog Summit
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
There’s a map in my head lined with the topography of memory and time. The landscape has a rhythm, the cadence of muscle memory when enough boot prints have been tracked across it. Earth’s geometries are as familiar as my own. Wandering Home

Annapurna region of the Himalaya; Nepal
Annapurna region of the Himalaya; Nepal
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
George Mallory, when asked in 1923 why he would attempt to climb Mt. Everest, replied, “Because it’s there.” Those now immortal words have been uttered by nearly every adventurer seeking some sort of tenable logic for their quests big or small. Mallory’s words rattle in my brain when I endeavor to do much of anything outside; but those words are only half the answer. Yes, we climb mountains, paddle rivers, and explore canyons because they are there, but also because we are here. That, I think, is the most tenable logic of all.

“…[T]he living world is the natural domain of the most restless and paradoxical part of the human spirit,” wrote E. O. Wilson. “Our sense of wonder,” he continues, “grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery.”

Blue John slot canyon, Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Blue John Slot Canyon
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Everett Ruess was still a child in 1931 when he began wandering the red rock canyons of southern Utah with a burro and his art supplies. He scaled cliff bands and steep canyon walls with alarming abandon, and I thought him reckless when I first read his letters and journals. I still wouldn’t follow his lead; but I wonder now if I had judged him too harshly at first. Mysteries are known and knowledge is gained through perspective; and some perspectives are acquired with requisite risks.

They say there’s a gene that separates the restless wanderers from those more content. Perhaps that’s true; or perhaps it just identifies the tendency with which we gain perspective. I’ve often wondered if I have that gene; but I don’t think it matters in the end. We all wander—into the backcountry, the hinterlands, the backyard. I think it’s the mysteries we seek that are different, and, therefore, the knowledge gained—of ourselves and the places we call home.
 

Jardine Juniper trail, Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Jardine Juniper trail
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
So, I wander my home range: the valley floor with its winding, braided, willow-choked streams; the hills adjacent to my neighborhood; the glaciated peaks of lime- and dolostone that stand sentinel in the alpenglow. A decade ago, it would have been for the rush of adrenaline and the surge of blood in my veins, for the same perspectives sought by Everett Ruess. Now I do it for the deeper mystery of unknown corners of places I once thought I knew—for the knowledge that lies within.
 

There’s a map in my head, lined with the topography of memory and time, shaded by the knowledge gained and the mysteries still yet to be revealed.

I’m Josh Boling; and I’m Wild About Utah.
 

Cache Valley from Naomi Peak ridgeline. Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Cache Valley from Naomi Peak ridgeline
Courtesy & © Josh Boling, Photographer
Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Lyle Bingham

Sources & Additional Reading

Edwards, Mo, Top 10 Slot Canyons in Utah, Utah.com (Utah Travel Industry Website), July 26, 2017, https://utah.com/top-10-slot-canyons-in-utah

Mount Naomi Wilderness, Wilderness Connect (University of Montana) https://wilderness.net/visit-wilderness/?ID=378

Mount Naomi, Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/uwcnf/recreation/wintersports/?cid=fsem_035454

Hike Mt. Magog, The Outbound Collective, https://www.theoutbound.com/utah/hiking/hike-mt-magog

Ohms, Sarah, Sinclair, Jim, Logan Canyon Hiking, Bridgerland Audubon Society/Cache Hikers, https://logancanyonhiking.com/

Cache County Trails, Cache County, https://trails.cachecounty.org/

Hiking Trail Guide, Cache Valley Visitors Bureau/Logan Ranger District, Wasatch-Cache National Forest, https://www.explorelogan.com/assets/files/brochures/hiking.pdf

Cache Trails, A hiking guide for the trails of the Cache Valley, Bridgerland Audubon Society, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/our-projects/publications/