Thursday, December 17, 2009

Volunteers wanted for Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count in Zion National Park

The National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count in Zion National Park will be held on Saturday, December19th. This is the 38th year Zion has participated in the birding event. The Audubon Society project is an effort to count as many birds as possible in different locations across the country in a 24 hour period.

This years Zion Christmas Bird Count will be focused in an area 15 miles in diameter (177 square miles) within the national park. The official count will be included in a special edition of American Birds Magazine.

Volunteers of all skill levels are encouraged to participate. This is great opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to contribute to a national bird census that can have a real impact on bird conservation, according to the Audubon Society's website:

"Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action."

It's also a chance to rub shoulders with and learn from experienced and knowledgeable birders.

Last year, volunteers tallied more than 5,000 birds including 85 different species in Zion. 55,000 volunteers participated in the nationwide.

To volunteer or to find out more information about the bird count, contact Claire Crow at 435-772-0212 or

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The BLM has proposed 63 sites in Nine Mile Canyon for the National Register of Historic Places

The Bureau of Land Management has proposed 63 sites in Utah's Nine Mile Canyon for the National Register of Historic Places. Nine Mile Canyon, located on the Tavaputs Plateau in Northeastern Utah is home to as many as 10,000 different rock art drawings. Nicknamed "the longest art gallery in the world," Nine Mile Canyon contains one of the densest concentrations of Fremont culture rock art anywhere in Utah.

Since 2002, deposits of natural gas are being developed on the Tavaputs Plateau. Truck traffic going to and from these natural gas wells is disturbing enough dust in Nine Mile Canyon that preservationists and rock art lovers are concerned the irreplaceable archaeological sites could be damaged. With more development pending, the BLM and conservation groups like the Nine Mile Coalition, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are trying to call attention to the situation.

The rock art, or petroglyphs (drawings pecked or carved into the stone) found in Nine Mile Canyon have been chiseled out of sandstone covered in dark "desert varnish." The figures, formed in the freshly exposed rock, stand out in contrast to the darker, older background rock of the panels. The perpetual dust kicked up by large truck traffic in the canyon threatens to dull the contrast, and visual power of these rock art panels.

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While the National Register of Historic Places wouldn't provide protection for the archaeological sites in Nine Mile Canyon, it would recognize their importance.

For more information about the Fremont Culture and their rock art.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Feast - Dutch Oven Style

Did you know the Dutch Oven is the official cooking pot of the state of Utah? That's right, the Dutch Oven

was designated Utah's official cooking pot in 1997 for its historic use by early Utah settlers.

The Dutch Oven, a popular outdoor cooking tool for both Utah pioneers and modern-day outdoor enthusiasts, can be used to prepare a wide variety of delicious cuisine in settings usually reserved for roasting hot dogs and S'mores.

Dutch Ovens are cast-iron pots with snug fitting lids that are specifically designed for cooking directly in the coals of an open fire. The oven’s lid is equipped with a tall iron lip, allowing coals to be added to the top of the pot, baking the contents of the oven evenly, much like an modern household oven. Dutch Ovens work so well in fact, that many people who've used them in the outdoors have incorporated them into their regular cooking repertoire.

If you’re looking for a fun new dish to add to your Thanksgiving feast this year, why not consider baking one of your courses in a Dutch Oven? You might just end up with a new classic. And you’ll know exactly what to prepare on your next camping trip.

Here’s a couple recipe ideas to stoke your creative cooking fire!

Thanksgiving Roasted Herb Turkey

Cooking a full turkey is always a labor intensive process. Why not make it fun by doing it in a Dutch Oven?
Here's how:

  • 1 turkey
  • 1 onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic pressed
  • 1 cup water

Basting Sauce

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp dried mint leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp sweet basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Thaw turkey if frozen. Before preparing the turkey, light a pile of at least 50 charcoal briquettes for the Dutch Oven.

Place thawed turkey in a 15 inch Dutch Oven. Slice onion into large pieces and place them in the turkey cavity with the chopped garlic cloves. Rub the remaining pressed garlic over the outside of the turkey. Pour water in the bottom of the Dutch Oven. Put the lid on the pot and add 15-20 briquettes to the bottom of the pot and 20-25 on top.

Melt butter in a separate pan and add the herbs to create a basting sauce. Frequently baste the turkey with the herb sauce as it cooks.

Add fresh coals about once an hour. Cook the turkey until the center of the turkey's temperature reaches 170 degrees.

Marshmallow Sweet Potato Casserole

What could be a better marriage between outdoor cooking and Thanksgiving than borrowing marshmallows from the campfire classic Smores, and adding them to the traditional Thanksgiving sweet potato dish?

  • About 8 sweet potatoes or yams
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 pound marshmallows

Boil the sweet potatoes in water until they are tender. This can be done in the Dutch Oven first or in a regular stove-top pot, whichever is easier given your cooking conditions. Remove the skins and mash the sweet potatoes. Add butter, milk, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika. Butter the sides and bottom of the Dutch Oven and fill it with the mashed sweet potatoes. Place the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes. Bake the casserole by placing 10-15 coals below the Dutch oven and 5-10 coals on top. Let the dish bake until the marshmallows become golden-brown.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bighorn Sheep Festival in Moab - November 20-21, 2009

Head-butting bighorn rams fighting it out for the rights to mate with the top female sheep in the herd. How often do you get a chance to see exciting wildlife behavior like this in a wilderness setting?

Only once a year at best. Most of the year rams (male) and ewes (females) hardly interact at all, living their lives in separate family groups. But at the Bighorn Sheep Festival in Moab in late November, you'll have an opportunity to see some of the most exciting activity of the year. The breeding season, or "rut," is in full swing and male bighorns are clashing horns in their annual competition to attract the attention of the lovely ladies.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is hosting its annual Bighorn Sheep Festival in Moab this November 20th and November 21st. DWR biologists will keep a watchful eye on the whereabouts of Moab's bighorn sheep leading up to the event, and guide those attending to the most likely spots for a sighting. Biologists will lead the group to likely spots near paved roads in Moab Canyon and along the Colorado River Corridor. Event attendees should bring spotting scopes or binoculars if they can, and the biologists will provide them for those who can't. You're welcome to follow along in your own vehicle or join the group in vehicles provided by the DWR guides.

The guides will meet the public on Saturday morning (Nov 21) at 8am at the Moab information center. Sheep watchers should expect the event to last until early afternoon. While DWR Outreach Manager Brent Stettler can't guarantee a close-up encounter, but he adds, "We almost always see sheep."

For more info about the event visit the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website. Or contact Brent Stettler personally at by phone at 435/613-3707, or by email at

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cut your own Christmas Tree this year in Utah's National Forest

"The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!" - Charles N. Barnard

Maybe so, but that doesn't mean that any old tree will do. For many families going out and picking the perfect Christmas tree is a long standing tradition. And for some, that tradition isn't complete without hiking into the woods, selecting the perfect tree, and cutting it themselves.

In Utah, permits to cut Christmas trees on national forest land are starting to go on sale. District offices in Fishlake and Dixie National Forests are now selling permits, costing about $10. Between now and the end November, permits will go on sale in forests across the state.

All species of trees except Ponderosa pine trees can be cut with a permit. Trees up to eight feet tall may be selected and they should be cut near the ground - about eight inches above the ground. Rules vary in each Ranger District. Here's a link to the specific rules and regulations for cutting trees on the official US Forest Service website. Try to select your tree from a densely forest area, where thining the stand will be a benefit the forest.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Horsethief Campground outside Canyonlands National Park - Campground of the Week

It's too cold to even think about camping in northern Utah right fact it's snowing in as I write this. So if you've got camping on your mind, you've got to be thinking southern Utah, where it'll be considerably warmer. It was actually perfect near Moab this past weekend, where Sonja and I spent a couple days working on landscape photography and squeezed in a little bit of climbing as well.

Saturday morning we woke up early to catch sunrise with our cameras at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. If you're interested in the details on how to photograph the iconic landmark, check out my article here on We arrived late Friday night, so we didn't want to drive all the way into the park, but wanted to be within striking distance Saturday morning for our date with the magic of sunrise. So we stayed at one of my favorite BLM sites in the Moab area, Horsethief Campground. You can also find this description with all the campgrounds in the state of Utah in my guidebook Moon Utah Camping.

Horsethief Campground Scenic rating: 7

This new campground is an excellent alternative to the limited camping options in the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. The campground is a few miles from the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. The large campground sits on a plateau-like landscape with expansive views to the southwest of the 11,000-foot peaks of the Herny Mountains. Well-spaced sites with flat gravel tent pads sit in a pygmy forest of pinyon pine and juniper trees. On the downside, these small trees and the scrubby sagebrush dotting the campground provide little shelter from the sun or wind. In this desert environment that regularly sees temperatures above 100 degrees F, this lack of shade is a real concern. Three gravel loops named after different horse breeds lead to sites with good privacy.

Campsites, facilities: There are 60 sites for tents and large RVs. Picnic tables, barbeque grills, garbage service, and vault toilets are provided. There is no drinking water. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees: Reservations are not accepted. The fee is $12 per site. Open year-round.

Directions: From Moab, drive north on Hwy. 191 for nine miles and turn left onto Rte. 313 following signs to Canyonlands National Park. Continue 12 miles on Rte. 313 and turn right onto a gravel road signed Horsethief Campground. Continue 0.5 mile to Horsethief Campground.

GPS Coordinates: N 38 35.050' W 109 48.854'

Contact: BLM Moab Field Office, 435/259-2100

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway: the best scenic loop drive in the Wasatch

The scenic Sunday drive is an American Classic! Like Thanksgiving turkey, apple pie, or Super Bowl Sunday, the Sunday scenic drive is an American tradition. Americans have always been fond of their cars and there's no better way to enjoy your automobile than taking it for a cruise. No traffic, no pressure, no time limits. Just you, your car and the road, and the scenery, of course. Not all scenic drives are created equal however. One of the key components of an enjoyable scenic drive is that it needs to be close to home, yet far enough away that it feels new and exciting.

If you live along the Wasatch Front, there's not a prettier stretch of pavement for a weekend gettaway than the Alpine Loop connecting American Fork Canyon and Provo Canyon. The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway (State Route 92) can be approached via American Fork Canyon through the town of Alpine, or alternatively from Provo Canyon (US Highway 189). Either way you approach it, the Alpine Loop promises stunning vistas and brilliant fall scenery. The loop drive curles around Mt. Timpanogos, one of the most dramatic summits in the Wasatch Mountains. Along the way, get out and stretch the legs by checking out Timpanogos Cave National Monument in American Fork Canyon. If you're interested in extending your outing, consider hiking up to the cave system. This is the last weekend the cave is open for tours before it closes for the season. The three cavern cave system is accessed via a paved trail that gains over a 1,000 feet. The cave can only be visited with an official National Park Service tour. Tour tickets are available at the monument, the tour takes approximately 3 hours.

Provo Canyon's Bridal Veil Falls offers another beautiful opportunity to get out of the car along this drive. The narrow ribbon of falls cascades down a 600 foot high step-like limestone rock formation on the south side of the canyon. The falls can be viewed by pulling off the highway at the Bridal Veil Falls/Nunn's Park parking lot. A short walk up the Provo River Trail (0.5 miles) will lead to the base of the falls.

The Alpine Loop Drive is best done in the next few weeks. Early fall storms have cloaked the upper reaches of Mt. Timpanogos in a blanket of white (see the photo above), adding to its already dramatic appearence, but the road remains snow free. The road won't be open for long though, it closes for the winter season as soon as it's covered by snow.

Here's the view looking west down American Fork Canyon - Photo by Mike Matson

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Five fun ways to enjoy the fall colors in the Wasatch Mountains

Autumn has officially arrived and the Wasatch Mountains are awash in fall color! The aspens and maples are starting to turn and the palate runs from a deep gold to fiery red. Autumn is one of the most enjoyable times of year to experience Utah's mountains, but the best colors don't last long. When the first storm of the season rolls in, many of the leaves get knocked off the trees and before you know it, things have that, stark, wintery feel. The next two weeks will be the peak of the fall color.

Here's five quick ideas on how to get out into the Wasatch Range and enjoy the color while it's at its best!

1) Hike to Mary and Catherine Lakes near Brighton at the top of Big Cottownood Canyon. This chain of small mountain lakes (also includes the pond-like Dog and Martha Lakes) sit in a series of saddles above Brighton Ski Resort near the crest of the Wasatch Range. At just under four miles round-trip, the hike is a great half-day outing. The scenery gets progressively more impressive as you hike up, culminating at Catherine Lake, which sits in the bottom of granite cirque perched between Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Keep your eyes peeled for moose grazing on the foliage around the lakes. Their huge antlers are especially impressive during fall!

Mary Lake, Big Cottonwood Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah, Photo by Mike Matson

2) Rock climb at the Hellgate Cliffs above Alta in Little Cottonwood Canyon. In the rock climbing world, Little Cottonwood Canyon is known for its clean granite rock and vibrant bouldering scene. But up near the top of the canyon near the little town of Alta, you'll find excellent sport climbing on white and black streaked limestone cliffs. Great views all the way down the canyon give climbers a chance to appreciate the beautiful fall colors while they clamor up the rocks.

Michelle White climbing on the Hellgate Cliff, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah, Photo by Mike Matson

3) Spend a day with your camera on Mt. Timpanogos. Mt. Timp, as locals call it, is the jewel of the southern Wasatch. At 11,749 feet, Timp is the second highest peak in the Wasatch Range, and stands dramatically above the town of Provo. Its open slopes and steep topography make it a stunning place to take pictures. And if you have the energy to get there, the summit offers dramatic 360 degree views. There are photo-ops all along the trail and at the base of the mountain at the Sundace Resort. So pick your adventure and don't forget your camera!

4) Take a scenic drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon, over Guardsman Pass, and down into Park City. If you're looking for a low-key weekend adventure, just hop in the car and take a mountain drive. It takes about an hour to drive from Salt Lake City, up Big Cottonwood Canyon, over Guardsman Pass, and back down into Park City. Guardsman Pass will close for winter once it starts to snow, so this is the best time to cruise this scenic route. Enjoy dramatic views of the Wasatch from down in the canyon and wide open vistas over Park City and the Heber Valley from the pass. Golden and orange aspens line the road, with the brightest colors at the upper elevations. Note: Guardsman Pass is not paved. The road is well graded and appropriate for most cars.

Aspens on Guardsman Pass, Wasatch Mountains, Utah, Photo by Mike Matson

5) Mountain biking in Park City. Park City is northern Utah's mountain biking capital. Trails branch out like a spider web from downtown in every direction. Because Park City is higher in elevation than Salt Lake, the fall colors are significantly more pronounced. Riders will be welcomed by a constant birage of crimson from the rocky mountain maple trees lining the single track. If you need somewhere to start, check out the Lost Prospector Trail right above town.

Mike Matson mountain biking at Deer Valley near Park City, Photo by Sonja Matson

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Buckskin Gulch Story Published in the Utah Adventure Journal

Check out my latest feature story about Buckskin Gulch in the fall issue of the quarterly magazine, Utah Adventure Journal. The magazine is new this year, it's free, and can be found at many of the outdoor shops in Salt Lake City like REI, IME, Black Diamond, Christy Sports, Canyon Bicycles, etc. They go fast, so pick one up soon! If you're a Salt Lake local, it's definitely worth checking out. You can also read the story and see the photos on-line at their new website

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zion National Park's Obervation Point Trail / East Rim Trail

The Observation Point / East Rim Trail (7 miles round-trip) is one of Zion's most spectacular (and strenuous) hikes. Built in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps, this trail is literally carved out of the rock walls of the canyon. It climbs steeply from the canyon floor up through the enchanting Echo Canyon before joining the East Rim Trail up high on the desert rim. The route offers hikers outstanding views back down Zion Canyon from Observation Point, a vista you won't soon forget. Though similar in length, Observation Point is higher than Angel's Landing, and is far less busy.

The trail is easily accessible via the park service shuttle bus service running through the park. If you're camping at South or Watchman Campgrounds near the park entrance, just hop on the bus and ride it up canyon to the Weeping Rock stop. That's where the real work (and fun) begins. Expect to get some serious exercise in the first three miles, as the trail gains about 2,000 vertical feet. The paved track winds through wildly striated sandstone formations carved by the erosive power of water and wind. You'll see sagebrush lizards, Indian Paintbrush wildflowers, and short, dramatic slot canyons on your way to the top. After three miles of climbing the trail joins the East Rim trail for a half mile to Observation Point. This flat rim-edge section offers stellar views down into the Zion Canyon. Enjoy the vistas and rest your knees for the jarring descent back to the canyon floor.

Bring plenty of water and food for this day hike. It can be hot this time of year, and cold if there are thundershowers. You'll also be happy if you take a camera with you, in my opinion there isn't a better spot to capture Zion Canyon in the park. Expect to spend at least five hours on the trail, if not more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lone Peak Cirque: A Perfect 10

I was lucky enough to spend the past two days backpacking and rock climbing up high in the Wasatch Mountains at Lone Peak Cirque. The place is spectacular! And getting there will kick your butt. There's no way around it, you pay the price to reach Lone Peak, but once you're there, it's worth it.
My friend Kelley Paasch (above on the approach hiking through the first Hammongog) and I climbed two different routes on the gray alpine granite walls that rise around the cirque. First, we climbed the Lowe Route (5.8) on the Question Mark Wall and then the next day tackled the Middle Route (5.9) on Tom's Thumb, a 500 foot tower that climbs up the very heart of the Lone Peak's South Summit. The climbing was stellar and the views from on top of the walls were almost equally impressive. Can't say I've climbed better routes...anywhere.

The camping was awesome as well. This is one camp spot that earns a perfect 10 for scenery in my eyes. A soft green meadow surrounded by stark, soaring walls rimmed with lingering snowfields. Little yellow wildflowers added a touch of color to the lush meadow floor and pikas squeaked from beneath the car-sized boulders.

This is one of those spots I'd rather not write-up for fear that too many people knowing about it might wreck its solitary, isolated character. But as Kelley and I decided after our second climb, the place is just too hard to get to ever get really crowded. There are three different trails to reach Lone Peak Cirque and they're all brutal. We took the route up from Alpine, which is a climber's trail if I've ever seen one. Straight up for about 5,000 vertical feet. Lone Peak Cirque's elevation is 10,412 feet and the parking area in the town of Alpine is about 4,951 feet. So be ready to get a workout.

There's lots more info about the cirque in Stuart and Bret Ruckman's Rock Climbing the Wasatch Range. You can also find details about Lone Peak, climbing routes, approach info, etc online at Mountain Project.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Utah is going Bear Crazy!

Another bear was killed in Utah on Wednesday when a Garfield County resident perceived the animal as a threat. That's the sixth bear that's been illegally killed without a permit in Utah this year. Here's the complete story in the Salt Lake Tribune. Its understandable that people are nervous around bears after the incident two summers ago in American Fork Canyon. On June 18th, 2007 a boy who was camping with his family was dragged from his tent and then mauled to death by a black bear. It was the first fatal bear attack in Utah's history. While the incident has everyone on edge, people need to understand that it's not okay to kill bears when they encounter them in the wild. Biologists are not certain what Utah's bear population is, but they estimate it's between 3,000 and 4,000 animals. That's a small bear population, especially for a state with so much wild land.

What should be done then if you encounter a bear? First off, consider yourself lucky! It's rare to see a bear in Utah, and you should be excited to see one in it's natural environment. Second, give the bear plenty of room. Bears are wild animals and their actions are difficult to predict. Black bears are not typically aggressive, so your first reaction shouldn't necessarily be fear. If the bear feels threatened, or feels it needs to protect its cubs, it may react aggressively, but usually black bears are very mellow, calm animals. Bears should be naturally afraid of humans. When they lose this natural fear is when problems occur. Finally report the bear to the local authority, especially if its hanging around an area close to humans. Leave it to the experts. It's not your place to take care of the problem.

If you're camping, be aware that your actions as a camper can have both a positive or negative effect on bears. Camping in bear country carries with it a responsibility. Leaving food and garbage out in camp can attract bears. Bears have a keen sense of smell and can smell food from miles away. Use bear boxes if they're provided and don't leave any food out around camp. Never eat or store food in your tent. Absolutely never feed bears. When bears gain access to human food, it hurts the bears and creates a potentially dangerous situation. Human food is far more nutritious than bear's natural diet. Once bears start eating human food, they'll go to great lengths to continue. Because relocation efforts are largely unsuccessful, bears that start eating human food usually end up being killed. As the old adage goes, "A fed bear is a dead bear." In developed campgrounds use provided bearproof lockers and in the backcountry carry bear canisters or effectively hang your food.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ferruginous Hawks struggling in Eastern Utah

Any of you who are birders might find this story in the Salt Lake Tribune interesting. Sounds like the Ferruginous hawk population living in the Uinta Basin near Vernal is struggling. There's been extensive development of the natural gas resources there and the long term disturbance has had a detrimental effect on the nesting activities of these raptors. Here's the link to the story. What's encouraging about the story is someone (the group Utah Wildlife in Need) is actually doing something positive for the birds.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Zion National Park's Horse Fire Update

In the previous post we talked about the lodgepole pines trees and how wildfire plays a role in their life cycle. Lodgepoles are a "pioneer" species, meaning they are the first tree to re-establish after a forest fire. We also discussed how the government's policy of forest suppression over the past 50-100 years has resulted in a forest make-up that is possibly more suseptible to pest infestation. Fire management has changed radically in recent years, and the Horse Fire in Zion National Park is a perfect example. I started following the progression of the Horse Fire two weeks ago on July 9th. Rather than aggressively put out the fire, the fire fighters on the Horse Fire have been letting the fire burn, in a controled fashion. Here's the goal, according to the National Park Service Website update:

"The fire is burning in a fire-adapted ecosystem and is achieving the resource benefits it is being managed for. Most of the area has shown a light understory burn, with little torching of larger trees. This will reduce the amount of dead and down fuel and provide an opportunity to regenaration of native plants. The reduction of fuels will also lower the risk of wildfire to adjacent private lands from future wildfires."

Although the fire has closed a section of the West Rim Trail for a couple weeks, its in the remote, northern portion of the park. Aside from some smoke settling Zion Canyon at night, there little adverse effects from the fire. Its cool to see a new approach being implemented! If you'd like to learn more about what's going on with the fire here a link to the NPS page.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Utah Field Guide - Lodgepole Pines and how the tiny pine bark beetle is transforming the forests of the American West

Why are the forests dying? I get this question almost every day on my raft when I'm working as a river guide. I guide on the Salmon River near Stanley, Idaho, in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, one of the prettiest natural settings in the United States. The surroundings are gorgeous, but there's no denying it, the forests around the river are dying. Everywhere you look, you see stands of red (starting to die) and brown (dead) trees clustered together in sad, lifeless clumps.

The die-off isn't limited to Idaho. You'll see it anywhere in the American West where lodgepole pines grow. The entire Rocky Mountain Region is suffering from the blight. Including Utah. The problem is particularly apparent in the Uinta Mountains along the Mirror Lake Highway, where the trees are withering by the hundreds in almost every campground. Who's the killer? And why isn't anyone doing anything about it?

The lodgepole pine forest is being killed by the Rocky Mountain pine bark beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae). That's right, tiny (1/2 centimeter long) beetles who burrow into the bark of the tree and kill the host from the inside out. In the Western United States and Canada bark beetles have killed 36,000 square miles of forest. Depending on the area, beetles have infested as much as 40% of the lodgepole trees in the forests, and may kill up to 80-90% of the mature trees before they're done. With 90% of the trees dead, the forests will look almost entire devoid of green, living trees.

Isn't there something we can do to stop the beetles? We'll dive into that later. But first lets get a little more familiar with lodgepole pines, how to recognize them, where to find them and why they're such an important part of Utah's mountain ecosystems.

Characteristics: Lodgepole pine trees (pinus contorta) are distinctly recognizable by their rail straight trunks and high thin crowns. Their trunks are popular for traditional fences on western
ranches and are often used to build cabins because they are so consistently straight. Historically in Utah, lodgepoles were used to support mine shafts and for railroad ties. The needles of a lodgepole pines are short (relative to ponderosa pines), about 2 inches long and grow coupled together with other needles. The needles are twisted or contorted, giving the tree its scientific name pinus contorta. The bark is thin and scaly, and ranges in color from orange-brown to gray.

Where to find lodgepole pines:
Lodgepole pines usually grow above 6,000 feet in elevation in mountainous terrain. In Utah lodgepoles pines can be found in the mountains in the northern half of the state. The Uinta Mountains have the largest and most widespread distribution of lodgepole. Stands of these trees will often be associated with a natural disturbance such as fire, or in areas where the forest has been cleared by people. Their cones need extreme heat to release their seeds. In nature this heat is only generated by wildfire, so fire is necessary part of the lifecycle of lodgepole pines. Their niche as the first species to establish after forest fires makes a "pioneer species" playing an important role in forest succession.

Now that we have a feel for what lodgepole pines look like and where they live, lets explore what's happening with the forest and the pine bark beetle.

Pine bark beetle infestation: Pine bark beetles have always been present in the Rocky Mountain environment. The populations ocilate on a boom and bust cycle, much like other insects. The most recent major infestation occurred in 1983. Beetles attack the tree by tunneling into the bark where they lay their eggs. Young larvae mature inside the tree before leaving it to find a new host for the next generation.

What makes this infestation different from previous ones is how large and widespread it is. Biologists believe there are several factors contributing to the scale of this infestation. One factor is the current make-up of the forest. Pine bark beetles only infest mature lodgepole pines. We've already mentioned that lodgepole forests tend to develop in places where there's been some disturbance, whether that be a wildfire, or a man-made, such as logging. The suppression of forest fires may be playing a role in this current cycle. Because there have been less frequent fire events overall in the American West in the last 50-100 years, there are more mature trees in the forest for the bark beetles to attack. This is a result of larger trees not being burned in fires, but also a lack of fires releasing seeds from cones. So, there is effectively more food and habitat for these beetles than during previous cycles. Another contributing factor may be a prolonged and widespread drought. The trees natural defense against the beetle is sap. Trees bleed thick, viscus sap in an effort to flush the beetles out of the their bark and prevent them tunneling into the tree. Drought conditions prevent the trees from producing as much sap, thereby reducing their natural defense system against the beetles. Warmer weather has also aided the beetles in their expansion. Week-long periods of extreme cold weather can kill entire generations of pine beetles, but a long run of warmer winters has allowed the pest to survive.

What can be done about this outbreak? Unfortunately, not much. Typically outbreaks last for one to three decades. A long period of bitter cold temperatures could cause the outbreak to collapse. But much more likely, it'll be matter a the beetles running out of food - meaning most of the trees will be dead.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mountain Bike Race at Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon

The Chris Allaire Memorial Mountain Bike Race is being held tomorrow, Saturday, July 18 at Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. The race is the Utah Open State Championship. The racing starts at 8:15AM and continues through the final starting time at 11:00AM.

Fore more information call Ed Chauner (801) 942-3498 or online at

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free Weekend in Utah's National Park!

Have you heard about the National Parks System's Fee Free Weekends? The National Park Service is waving the ENTRANCE FEE to the National Parks in over 100 different parks this weekend (July 18th and 19th) and again for the weekend of August 15th and 16th. Here's the link to the NPS site. In Utah the parks that are included are some of the state's (and the country's) best. Here's the list (with photos for inspiration!):

Arches National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument

Zion National Park

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Natural Bridges National Monument

Granted a lot of the smaller parks don't charge a entrance fee anyway, but Arches, Bryce, and Zion all normally charge a hefty fee, so this is really awesome deal. With five national parks in southern Utah, you could save a Benjamin over the weekend. Note: only the entrance fee is being waived, you'll still have to pay for camping, tours and concessions. If you're going to go camping in the one of the parks check out our guidebook Moon Utah Camping for a complete guide to every campground in Utah's national parks and the state as a whole.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mountain Biking in Park City (with Video)

With temperatures heating up to normally sweltering mid-summer levels in most of Utah, its time to seek relief in the mountains. One of my favorite mid-summer escapes from the Salt Lake City is a quick drive up to Park City to mountain bike one of the many excellent single-track trails. Expect temperatures to be at least 10 degrees cooler in the mountains than down in town.

Depending on where you live, Park City can be a great day trip, or a destination in itself. If you're traveling from far away, there's tons of lodging options in PC, but there's also great camping opportunities. Check out our guidebook Moon Utah Camping for complete information about the campgrounds in and around Park City.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wildfire closes the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park

A wildfire, named the Horse Fire, is currently burning in the high country of Zion National Park near the West Rim Trail. The fire is approximately 1.5 miles southeast of Lava Point. The fire was started by a lightning strike on the 4th of July. The National Park Service has closed the trail from Lava Point to Potato Hollow. The small fire has burned 20 acres and is being managed by a multi-agency team including the park service, BLM and Utah state officials.

Here's the view down into Zion Canyon from Lava Point, where the fire is burning.

If you've got a trip planned to Zion, don't panic. This is a small fire in the northern part of the park. Unless you're planning on backpacking the entire length of the remote West Rim Trail, the fire probably won't have a significant impact on your visit. Zion Canyon (the main attraction in the park) is still open and as accessible as ever. The park service expects some smoke may settle into Zion Canyon at night, but doesn't predict it will be a major concern. If you'd like read the official park service report on the fire you can see it here.

If you're heading to Zion, pick up a copy of our camping guide, Moon Utah Camping. The book has all the info you'll need for camping in the park as well as recommended hikes in Zion Canyon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rare Guilty Pleas In Artifacts Sting - follow-up story

Here's a link to the follow up story on NPR about the artifacts raid in Blanding, Utah. Very sad really.

This certainly seems like a case where the government is singling out a particular town to make an example for everyone - and to set a precedent. It's sad to see people's lives being destroyed over digging up artifacts. At the same time, they were caught because they were selling the artifacts for profit, which makes them look a lot less innocent.

As someone who loves the outdoors and enjoys seeing intact remnants of the Anasazi and Pueblo cultures in southern Utah, I'm both surprised and impressed the federal government is actually doing something about illegal harvesting and selling of these precious treasures. It only takes one visit to a defaced petroglyph site to feel deeply disappointed in our modern human race (notice the unappealing effect the bullet holes have on the petroglyph panel above). There is a very finite number of artifacts, petroglyph panels, and preserved ruins in the Four Corners Region. I believe we should make every effort to protect these sites so that others may see them in as pristine condition as possible. On that note, I think this is a significant step towards sending a message that it's not okay to steal from this national treasure for personal gain. After all, federal land belongs to the American Public as a whole, not to individuals.

On the other hand, it's easy to understand the outrage of Blanding locals as the Federal Agents barged into their community and arrested two dozen of its members. I'm sure there's a feeling among locals that these are their artifacts. They're living there every day, they know the land better than anyone. Boundaries between private and public land probably feel arbitrary to locals who know that almost nobody except the local community will ever visit many of these sites. Most of the artifact sites are unmarked and it takes an intimate knowledge of local landscape to find them. Something you only have if you live there. Blanding is a small community in the middle of large, barren, arid landscape. Making a living on the high desert is difficult. And frankly, times are tough. Just ask the makers of the artifacts themselves, it was an economic downturn of one kind or another that forced them to leave the region in the first place. One drive through town on US Highway 191 and you'll understand it takes a certain resilient, perhaps defiant personality to survive there.

There's the two sides of the coin as I see them. I like to hear what other people think. Weigh in on the comments thread to this blog.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Blanding, Utah in the National News for illegally selling Native American Artifacts

The small town of Blanding, Utah made the national news today. Here's a link to the story on National Public Radio site, 17 people were arrested for removing and selling Native American artifacts found on federal and Indian lands. One suspect, Dr. James Redd, committed suicide the day after the arrests. Blanding locals were not happy about the way the arrests were made, when dozens of armed FBI officials wearing body armor stormed in and handcuffed suspects as old as 73 years of age.

Blanding is near Hovenweep National Monument in the far southeast corner of Utah. The area is rich in Native American artifacts and history. According to Bruce Adams a Blanding local quoted in the NPR story, artifacts can be found on every farmer's field and trail in the area. Removing them from public lands however, is against the law.

If you'd like to visit the Blanding area and see the rich culture and history found there, consider these three camping options. In the town of Blanding there are two RV campgrounds, the Blue Mountain Trading Post RV Park, and the Blanding Gofer Camp Park. These campgrounds are in town right off US Highway 191 and very close to the Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum - a musuem protecting and displaying pre-Columbian Pueblo Indian ruins and artifacts. Better yet, consider making the drive down to Hovenweep National Monument and staying at the excellent national park style campground in the monument.

Here's a detailed write-up of the Hovenweep campground from my Moon Utah Camping Guidebook

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument is one of the best kept secrets of the Four Corners Region. Hovenweep is a Ute/Pauite word meaning "deserted valley." What's so impressive about this particular deserted valley is the structures left behind by its ancient inhabitants. Towers, multi-room pueblos, and small cliff-dwellings leave a record of a culture that thrived in this canyon as little as 700 years ago. While the monument is a substantial drive from just about anywhere, it offers a more intimate view of ancient ruins than you'll find in the more heavily visited Mesa Verde National Park. Hikes of varying length access six different groups of ruins. The Hovenweep Campground is a short distance from the main Little Ruin Canyon and enjoys views to the east of the Sleeping Ute Mountains across the border in Colorado. Juniper and pinyon pine trees grow between well-designed and maintained sites. The parking aprons are gravel. Like the park in general the campground appears to get little use because it is so far out of the way. The campground features a small amphitheater overlooking a shallow ravine. The eight-mile round-trip Holy Ruins trail leaves directly from the campground. The trail leads to a complex of ruins that stradles the Utah-Colorado border.

Campsites, facilities:
There are 31 sites for tents and RVs up to 36 feet in length. Semi-covered picnic tables, flush toilets, drinking water, and a dish-cleaning station, aluminum and plastic recycling, garbage service and fire grills are provided. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees:
Reservations are not accepted. Fees are $10. Open year-round.

From Blanding drive 15 miles south on Hwy 191 and turn east (left) on Rte. 262. Follow Rte. 262 for nine miles. Continue straight towards Hatch Trading Post. Follow the road as it bends south, following signs to Hovenweep National Monument. Nine miles after Hatch Trading Post turn north (left) again and continue to the park entrance.

GPS coordinates:
N 37 22.999' W 109 04.254'

Hovenweep National Monument, 970/562-4282,

Monday, June 29, 2009

Moon Utah Camping Reviewed in the Salt Lake Tribune

The guidebook I wrote, and inspiration for this blog, Moon Utah Camping got a quick write-up in Travel Section of the Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday, June 28th. You'll find it on page H-4 in the Away/Travel and Outdoors Section. If you're interested in learning more about the book here's the link to our site and the Moon Outdoors website promoting the book. You can also order it here off the Utah Camping Blog.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Utah Field Guide - Engelmann's Spruce

Englemann Spruce (picea engelmannii)

Our campground of the week is Spruces in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains just east of Salt Lake City. Not surprisingly Spruces is named after it's most common tree species, the Englemann spruce. Engelmann spruce are a species we all know living in the United States because of one of our strongest national traditions: Christmas trees. Englemann spruce are often chosen as Christmas trees for their perfect conical shape, well spaced yet gently drooping branches, and vibrant blue-green needles.

Engelmann spruce are conifers in the pine tree family. They are the most widespread spruce in America and are one of the most important trees species in the southern Rockies ecosystem. Found above 8,500 in elevation, Engelmann spruce typically grow in sub-alpine environments mixed in with other similar coniferous trees like blue spruce, sub-alpine fir, and white fir. The trees do best growing in shady conditions with adequate moisture. Living at high-elevation where the growing season is short, they grow slowly, but can live very long lives. Englemann spruce will grow steadily for 300 years and it's not uncommon to find 500-600 year old individuals. Trees as old as 800 years old exist.

Mature Englemann spruce range between 80-130 feet tall with a diameter up 3 feet. Their needles (see the photo above) are blue-green in color, about 1 to 1 1/4 inches in length and spread from a central branch. They grow off the twig evenly in all directions. The needles are sharp to the touch, but not very stiff. The bark is (see photo) thin and scaly and flakes off in small discs. The cones are yellow or purplish-brown and hang from the upper branches of the tree. The cones scales are papery thin with sharp, jagged edges.

Fun Facts about Engelmann Spruce:

1) The tree is named after botanist George Englemann. Englemann was a physician and a botanist and lived in St. Louis in the 18th century.

2) Wood from Engelmann spruce are used in pianos, violins and aircraft parts.

3) Traditionally the tree was used for a variety of purposes including weaving into baskets, carving into canoes, roofing for shelters, dressings for wounds or cuts, and chewed for cough control.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spruces in Big Cottonwood Canyon - Campground of the Week June 25 - July 2

Finally it's stopped raining in Salt Lake and the weather up in the Wasatch Range is getting warm enough for pleasant camping. If you're looking for a quick get-a-way from Salt Lake, one of the most accessible campgrounds is Spruces in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Spruces Campground - east of Salt Lake City in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest

Spruces is located in Big Cottonwood Canyon less than a half-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Big Cottonwood Canyon is one of the recreation jewels of the Wasatch Mountains and the Salt Lake area in general. Steep, craggy peaks rise quickly from the canyon floor, beckoning campers to come out and explore. Many popular hiking trails of varying length and difficulty leave from the Big Cottonwood Road and make Spruces on of the best campgrounds for hiking in Utah. The 3.5 mile Days Fork Trail leaves directly from the campground and accesses a beautiful canyon and old mining camps. Lake Blanche, one of the best day-hikes in this part of the range, starts a short distance down Big Cottonwood Canyon at the S-Curve parking lot. Hundreds of easily accessible rock-climbing routes have been established on the quartzite cliffs up and down canyon. Some of the most concentrated and popular collections of routes are at crags like Storm Mountain (which has one of the single best crack climbs in the Big Cottonwood, Gordo's Wall 5.10c), the S-Curve, and the Salt Lake Slips (great for beginners). Excellent single track mountain biking trails are located at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon at Guardsman Pass, and via chairlift at Solitude Mountain Resort (the Sunrise lift started running for mountain biking and disc-golf on Saturday June 20th).

For being so close to such a big city, the wild character this campground maintains is remarkable. Stately spruce and Douglas fir trees shade many of the campsites and give the area a lush, alpine feel. Big Cottonwood Creek runs through the campground and attracts fisherman to the open meadow downstream from the camping. Moose frequent these wetlands, providing a good chance for a sighting. The loops and parking areas are paved, and the facilities are well maintained. Thick trees provide good separation between the sites. Spruces is a huge campground and is usually quite busy. If you plan on camping there on a weekend (especially the upcoming 4th of July weekend) make reservations in advance.

Campsites, facilities:
There are 97 sites for tents and RVs and three group sites for up to 50 people. Individual sites 10, 35, and the three group sites are wheelchair accessible. Picnic tables, barbeque grills, fire pits, drinking water, modern restrooms, and garbage service are provided. Firewood and ice are available. Pets are not permitted in Big Cottonwood Canyon because it is a watershed.
Reservations, fees: Reservations are accepted at 877/444-6777 or online at and must be made a minimum of three days in advance. Single sites are $18, double sites are $36, triple sites are $54, group sites are $120, and extra vehicles and day use are $6. Open late-May through mid-October, weather permitting.
From Salt Lake City, take I-15 south to I-215 south. Take Exit 6 (6200 S) for Wasatch Boulevard off I-215. Follow Wasatch Boulevard to the Big Cottonwood Canyon Road Rte. 190 (7200 S) and turn left at the mouth of the Canyon. Follow the winding road 10.1 miles up the canyon to Spruces Campground on the right side of the road.
GPS Coordinates:
N 40 38.546' W 111 38.244'

Salt Lake Ranger District, 801/466-6411.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Snow Canyon - Campground of the Week for June 17-24

I haven't talked much about Utah's state parks yet on this blog, but that's not because they don't deserve recognition. The more time I spent outside in Utah, the more impressed I am with the state parks here. Utah has five national parks, and they are amazing, deserving, wonderful places. But because the landscape here is so unique, not every interesting area can be encompassed in the national parks. And where the national parks leave off, the state parks pick up. One of my personal favorites in the state park system is Snow Canyon State Park. Located just north of St. George, this desert canyon offers a beautiful, quiet alternative to the zoo-like atmosphere of Zion National Park this time of year.

Snow Canyon

Snow Canyon State Park preserves a red and salmon colored desert rockscape accented with dark layers of desert varnish, lichen, and basalt. In the northern part of the park, lava flows from as recent as 10,000 years ago cap many of the red rock formations like chocolate frosting on a red and white layer cake. The desert floor is covered with a mosaic of flora, including narrow-leaved yucca, creosote, pinyon pine, rabbitbrush, scrub oak and three leaved sumac. The park is home to the endangered desert tortise and many species of birds, including the lesser nighthawk, Costa's hummingbird, and ash throated flycatcher, rock and canyon wrens, northern mockingbirds, and lesser goldfinch. The park features a paved trail for biking, many hiking trails, and good rock climbing on the red rock faces. Intensely varnished walls make for unique climbing on sharply in-cut holds on the Circus Wall, only a few hundred yards off the main road. In total, there are approximately 180 climbing routes in the park. More climbing info here at Mountain Project. The campground in Snow Canyon is located in the heart of the scenery. Tent sites and RV sites are in seperate areas, making for a pleasant experience for both. The scenic walk-in sites have views south down-canyon, while paved, tightly spaced, full hook-up RV sites have covered eating areas that incorperate local lava rock into their design. Tent sites sport thoughtfully placed red sand tent pads under trees to maximize available shade. Solar-heated showers offer a much-needed opportunity to clean up on desert road trips.

Campsites, facilities:
There are 14 full hook-up sites, 17 sites without hook-ups, and two group sites. Cottontail Group Area accomodates up to 35 people and Quail Group Area up to 50 people. Full hook-up sites have picnic tables and barbeque grills. The other sites have picnic tables and fire pits. Aluminum recycling, garbage service, drinking water, and modern restrooms with showers are provided. A station is available. Leashed pets are permitted.

Reservations, fees:
Reservations are accepted at 800/322-3770 or online at Single site reservations must be made a minimum of two days in advance and can be arranged up to 16 weeks in advance. There is a non-refundable reservation fee of $8 for individual sites and $10.25 for group sites. Full hook-up sites are $20, sites without hook-ups are $16, the group sites are $3 per person (with a $50 cleaning deposit), and the day-use fee is $5. Open year-round.

Directions: From St. George, drive north on State Route 18 for eight miles, turn left into the park, and continue 2.2 miles to the visitors center and campground. Here's a look at the park on Mapquest.

GPS coordinates:
N 37 12.168' W 113 38.390'

Contact: Snow Canyon State Park, 435/628-2255.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Camping Field Guide - Mountain Goats: are they good or bad?

One of the animals you're likely to see if you spend any time in the Wasatch Mountains are mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus). Their conspicuous white coats and relatively tame dispositions make them highly visible, especially in the heavily traveled Wasatch Range. They're most comfortable clamoring across rocks, where their soft-hoofed feet give them uncanny agility. Steep terrain provides protection from predators and is the most likely place to spot them.

Mountain goats can be easily recognized by their thick white coats that keep them warm in extremely cold temperatures. They actually grow a double coat, with thick, course outer hairs reaching up to eight inches in length, insulated by a 2-3 inch thick fine wool under-layer. Each spring mountain goats molt or shed this thick coat (notice the partially molted coat above). If you're in an area with goat activity, check on the bushes and shrubs and you'll likely find their fur. By mid-July they've completed this process and begin growing their new coat for the coming winter. These coats allow them to live above timberline even during winter. Though when snow covers their food, I've seen them as low as Storm Mountain in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Another defining characteristic of mountain goats are their dark horns. Both male and female goats grow horns. The horns range between 6-11 inches in length and have yearly growth rings (see the rings on the right horn). These horns look very different than the large spiraling horns of bighorn sheep and are an easy way to tell the two species apart.

Mountain goats have very confrontational personalities. (Watch the video below) Female goats, known as nannies, can be particularly nasty to each other. They are highly competitive, territorial, and protective of their personal space. Fights occur over the best grazing resources, salt licks, and resting spots. Generally a hierarchy based on size and age is followed.

But goats don't limit their aggressive behavior towards their own species. In Washington's Cascade Range where salt is a precious resource, goats have become accustomed to associating people with salt. They'll wait for you to pee and then lap up the salt off the rocks. In both the Enchantment Lake Basin near Leavenworth and on Liberty Bell in the North Cascades, I've had goats mock-charge me while I was still peeing to get at my salt. I've even arrived at the top of a multi-pitch rock climb and had goats waiting for me.

Mountain goats are herbivores and eat a varied diet of grasses, sedges, herbs, leaves, mosses, and lichen. In other words, almost anything.

As with many mountain ranges in the Western United States, mountain goats are not native to the Wasatch Mountains. They were transplanted here by people. There is some debate as to whether their introduction is good for the sustainability of the Wasatch ecosystem. Like other exotic (non-native) species, mountain goats have multiplied quickly and their undiscerning grazing habits have had a negative impact on fragile alpine plants. A lack of natural predators has allowed populations to expand, increasing the pressure on high altitude vegetation.

Below timberline mountain goat's natural predators include wolves, lynx, cougars, eagles, and grizzly bears. Above timberline the only real predatory threat is from golden eagles during the birthing season. The Wasatch Mountains never had, or no longer has wolves, lynx, or grizzly bears. A very dense population of mountain goats is living on Mt. Timpanogos, in the southern part of the Wasatch Mountains.

To better understand the issue of introducing mountain goats consider the case of Washington State's Olympic National Park as described on Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo website:

"There is a continuing debate over the mountain goat population in the Olympic National Park. In the 1920's, a hunting club worked with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the US Forest Service to introduce these non-native animals to this area. The 15 mountain goats transplanted in 1920 multiplied to over 500 by 1977, and more than 1,000 by 1983. Since they eat most plants and create wallow for dust baths and trails, there is concern over damage to extremely fragile alpine ecosystems and rare native plants. After years of debate and dozens of hearings, a plan was introduced to solve the problem. Since the 1980's, over 400 goats have been removed and transported outside the region to the Cascades and to other states. In the 1980's Woodland Park Zoo veterinarian Dr. Jim Foster headed a birth control program of birth control implants and male sterilization for mountain goats in Olympic National Park. This issue is still heated and not resolved. "

How do you feel about having mountain goats in the Wasatch? Do you like seeing them in the high country? Or would you rather have intact plant communities? Is there some way to have both? I'd like to here what people think. Please weigh in the comments.