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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Destinations

Feb 11, 2019

Forever Moab

Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef…. Five of the most beautiful National Parks in the US are a stone’s throw from Moab, Utah, America’s capital city of extreme sports.

WRITTEN BY

Georges Dutigny

This story originally featured in the Spring 2014 issue of the Outdoor Journal. 

I will never forget Moab, even though we did get off to a bad start, on those first few days there. Alas, Moab itself is nothing more than a small, run-down, backwater town, utterly devoid of charm.  Originally a mining community, constructed after World War II, it was known for its Uranium mines right up until the 1980s. Not exactly a spot you dream of vacationing, even if you are an extreme sports enthusiast.  The architecture is uninteresting, monotonous, boring, without a soul. Even its restaurants are just so-so – what a let down for the taco and red pepper fan in me. In short, Moab the city doesn’t really merit a stop.  And yet, it is known worldwide for the exceptional beauty of its natural surroundings, as well as the infinite number of skydiving, slacklining, trail running and rock climbing sites immortalized by unbelievably talented athletes, in epic movie scenes and most notably, on YouTube.

Driving through Arches National Park, Rangers lead popular walks into this maze of sandstone fins twice each day from April through October. Photo: Apoorva Prasad.

A MILD, WILD, OR EXTREME EXPERIENCE

The thick red cliffs surrounding Moab beckon you to take the plunge as BASE-jumping is legal in most spots. Countless canyons bid beautiful escape, whether by hiking and trail running on foot or by mountain bike. Some of the most difficult bike trails in the US are Slickrock Trail and Amasa Back, the latter ending at the mouth of the Colorado River.  As for the river, whose waters never exceed 10⁰C, even in summer, it offers class 4 and 5 rapids, making it ideal for kayaking and whitewater rafting. And then, everywhere you walk, there will always be that next rock, more stunning than the last, calling out for you to go bouldering: any number of climbing adventures is within reach. When the rock is soft and loose, like sandstone, it can be quite capricious.  Guaranteed to get your blood pumping!

When I think back on my stay in Moab, my blood pressure goes up, my body floods with endorphins and adrenaline. I slip on my trail running shoes, pack my Camelbak, adjust my bike helmet and make sure that my parachute is securely fastened to my back.  You never know. Moab makes you feel like flying! The town is bursting with enterprises ready to accompany you on any one of these marvellous activities. The logical first step in planning a trip is to pay a visit to the office of tourism or to check out the website: www.discovermoab.com.  This will allow you to take in the magnitude of possibility, but also of potential dangers. Remember the movie 127-hours!

Turret Arch in the Windows Section of Arches National Park. In the background, the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains attain heights of nearly 13,000 feet. Photo: Moab Area Travel Council.

MOAB BASE CAMP

As an outdoor sports vacation destination, Moab gratifies the eyes while invigorating the muscles.  You will sleep, eat breakfast, and have dinner there, but the rest of the time you will get away. If you have the means to pay for a stay in one of the two absolutely amazing resorts, then I highly recommend it.  My preference is Red Cliffs Lodge (www.redcliffslodge.com) because of its warm, familial atmosphere and superior service. Converted to a hotel in 2002, it was formerly a cattle ranch, typical to the region, and is located on the banks of the Colorado River.  Frankly, there’s nothing not to like. All right, maybe the pool is a little conventional, but it was also ranked as one of the pools with the best view in the United States. Whether you are in the pool, your bed, or the restaurant, steep canyons tower all around you. Obviously, it can feel a little enclosed, but that’s inevitable in the area.  Besides, if you borrow a horse, you will be at the summit in a couple of hours. It’s worth noting that the outright finish line for Primal Quest, a very prestigious event and one of the most difficult expedition-length adventure races in the world, was at the hotel in 2006.

Countless canyons bid beautiful escape, whether by hiking on foot or by mountain bike.

Once a genuine working ranch, the hotel has a western themed décor, complete with authentic articles from all over the area.  The owner of the hotel rules her roost with an iron fist and a real sense of showmanship. In the basement, there is a movie theatre and a museum dedicated to all of the actors and movies that have filmed in the region over the years from John Wayne films to Thelma and Louise. Don’t forget the opening scene of John Woo’s Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise, or still yet the notorious 127-hours that I mentioned earlier, the Danny Boyle film with James Franco which is entirely set in Canyonlands, less than 50 km away and Utah’s largest National Park.

For those seeking a bit more luxury, at the price of less local colour, I would recommend Sorrel River Ranch.  Very classy and even more sumptuous, the hotel belongs to a rich family from New York. The villas for rent are magnificent and very cosy.  I don’t have a single complaint about the service in this high-end establishment. It is perfection. You can even bring your own horse (50$ a day) and your dog (100$ room cleaning fee).  It’s a slice of peaceful extravagance in the middle of the Far West, and an ideal couple’s retreat. Hey, what about a honeymoon in Moab? Bring your in-laws. They’ll love you forever!

Cover Photo: The Colorado River’s source is in Colorado but crosses Utah and Arizona while flowing southwest.

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Environment

Oct 09, 2019

Forrest Galante: The Modern-Day Charles Darwin

Except biologist Forrest Galante is not searching for the origin of species, more like auditing the books, and in a few very successful instances, erasing names from the roster of extinction.

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WRITTEN BY

Douglas Baughman

As host of Animal Planet’s Extinct or Alive, Mr. Galante sets out looking for animals long-presumed to be extinct, or as he put it, “gone from the planet, wiped off the face of this earth.” His searches have cast him across 46 countries. In the process, he has been bitten by sharks and venomous snakes, mauled by a lion, charged by a hippo, stung by a man-of-war jellyfish, and stabbed by a stingray.

Forrest catches a ride on the dorsal fin of a tiger shark.

“Shit happens, like for real—the bee stings, the food poisoning, the allergic reactions,” he says. “I flew into a cocaine dealer’s airstrip in the middle of the Amazon just to gain access to caimans [large reptiles closely related to alligators that can grow to more than 13 feet in length and weigh up to 880 pounds]. These are all real things that we did, and they are all filmed and on the show and part of the challenges we face in order to do the work that we do. The reason we’re so successful is because no one else is doing it. It’s very dangerous and very difficult. And I love it!”

Last year, off the eastern coast of Africa, Mr. Galante captured camera footage of a Zanzibar leopard, a big cat that had been classified as extinct for 25 years. More recently, during an expedition to the Galapagos earlier this year, he found a female Fernandina Island tortoise, a species not seen for more than a century. The finding is one of the most significant wildlife discoveries in decades.

I caught up with Mr. Galante at the wildlife film festival in Grand Teton National Park last month. I specifically wanted to ask him about his early childhood growing up in Zimbabwe and how that experience possibly shaped his perspective of wildlife conservation and influenced his career.

Forrest examines a turtle near Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.

Forrest Galante: As I sit here in this beautiful lodge looking out at a few bison roaming around it’s probably the closest thing to Africa that I’ve seen in North America, outside of Alaska. Where I grew up, basically just like this, overlooking a valley and a lake, at any given time, you could see megafauna, large animals roaming the plains of Africa. But sadly that is something unique to the African continent, except for very small microcosms in South America and at one time Southeast Asia, and of course, at one time here. It has disappeared from the world, and it’s disappeared because of human impact and hunting pressure. Growing up in Africa, I witnessed the disappearance first hand. Watching the numbers of large animals diminish shaped my entire being with regard to becoming a biologist who focuses on extinction. I realized that to study those creatures that are not long for this world and try to preserve them is the most important work.

DB: One of the things the conservation movement and environmentalism rarely discusses is the effects of military action in the world on ecosystems and species. Coming from Zimbabwe you would have seen the devastation war and civil conflict wreaks on the landscape.

“What right do we have to take over a habitat that’s been there over millennia?”

FG: Not just directly but indirectly as well. Zimbabwe went from a country that was super-affluent to one that was poor and starving in the span of just 10 years. Every tree suddenly was needed for firewood or building, every animal for food, and that’s an indirect result of conflict. That’s terrible. Culturally, there were many things the Shona people where I’m from in Zimbabwe would not touch, never dream of eating because they had always been affluent. But now, when they’re starving to death, those traditions and cultures go out the window in order to save themselves. That’s terrible for the people; it’s terrible for the culture, and it’s certainly terrible for the wildlife.

Forrest amongst a herd of water buffalo in Southern Sri Lanka while searching for Pondicherry Shark; Near Yala National Park.

DB: When you consider North American history, for example when bison roamed from Montana to Texas, and then compare that time to now, where parks like this exist for the most part as natural zoos, what does that say about the future of wildlife conservation and is preservation from extinction our only recourse? Is that where we are now?

FG: Well, just think how sad that is. It’s terrible, actually. To get a glimpse of what the natural world was like – because this is just a drop in the bucket of what it should look like – and see how stunning it is and how much wildlife there is and then realize it’s gone, to me, is horrific. It’s not fair. So, yes, where are we at in this world? Well, there are eight billion of us. We’ve taken over and pushed out room for the wildlife to be natural. And that’s the problem. It’s overpopulation. It’s an encroachment on habitat. What that means is managing what remains because these little pockets, like this beautiful one we’re looking out at here, deserve to be saved, and the species that reside in them and their carrying capacities all need to be managed.

Testing the effects of hecs technology on a Tiger Shark in the Caribbean.

DB: How do you envision managing it because management means different things to different people? North America, where we had large landscapes to set aside, is very different from circumstances in other parts of the world, like India for example, where establishing a wildlife refuge for tigers means displacing large populations of people. In our effort to preserve wildlife, what is the criteria for establishing an equitable balance?

“Displacing a large population of human beings is absolutely worth it for a small population of wildlife.”

FG: Displacing a large population of human beings is absolutely worth it for a small population of wildlife. If human beings own every piece of wilderness, where’s the balance, where’s the space for wildlife? What right do we have as just another living organism to take over a habitat that’s been there over millennia? That’s the difference between being a humanitarian and being a biologist, and on a bigger scale being a realist? There are 6,000 tigers left in the world. There are eight billion people, two billion of them are Indian. No offense to the Indian people – I’m not a humanitarian, clearly – but the tigers deserve a little land.

DB: What are your objectives in the conservation movement? What would you like to see happen in the next five, ten years, or even the next generation?

FG: I don’t want to see just one thing done. I don’t want to save the bison. I don’t want to save the tigers. I want to see a generation of young people who care about saving all of it together. The message I tell on my show is about hope. We live in a time when we are so callous of ecophobia – a condition, by the way, I absolutely hate! – because species extinction and global warming are in the headlines every day, to the point that you feel nothing anymore. Rhinos are going extinct. Okay, next. I mean, you feel nothing because you see and hear it every single day, so flipping that on its head, giving it a positive message and not saying look at how doomed we are but rather look at what’s left, look at how great these beautiful things are that still exist. That’s the story I tell on Extinct or Alive. Whether I find the extinct animal or I don’t find the extinct animal, either way, along the journey we’ve encountered this incredible habitat, that incredible animal, this amazing interaction and all those little pieces of the puzzle, those little things that still exist in the ecosystem are so mind-bogglingly fantastic! That’s the message I want people to take away. The culmination of all those little things to inspire a generation of people to care about conservation, to care about preservation is what I want to see.

DB: How do you feel about working in television?

FG: I love it. I absolutely love it. I love it because it allows me to reach such a large audience. It’s nice to be able to tune into television that is not just entertaining, but that is scientifically valuable.

Forrest in the Grand Tetons.

Watch the new season of Extinct or Alive, which airs beginning October 23 on Animal Planet.

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