Hitch 1: U-Routes

Hitch leads: Ben Dunphey and Tisha Farris
Crew Members: Chris Jackson-Jordan, Bri Wills, Baba, Lisa Weidemann, Nick Larson

Working the U-Routes project these last two weeks had been a combination of tedious GIS learning and re-learning and long trips on four wheels and two legs, giving us scope to where public-vehicle use goes farther than is necessary. U-Routes are unauthorized user routes or “roads” that have been created off the designated routes throughout the national forest lands. The U-Routes project focuses on finding active erosion concerns along these routes and plotting them on our GPS Trimble units. To do so we would park our vehicles and walk to and fro on these U-Routes throughout Idaho’s Range lands, mountain tops, and even burn sites.

During this project, we walked the collision line of two worlds; the virtual and the physical. We spent the first few days orienting ourselves within the ‘ArcGIS’ and ‘Trimble’ world of computerized data-sets and map layers. Through the training and use of this GPS instrument, I was able to appreciate how much of an asset a mini computer or a mega GPS unit can be when out recording findings in the field. I especially found them helpful with simply finding the U-routes we hoped to examine. It seems many of the U-Routes were blocked off a decade ago and much had changed in the way of vegetation, trails, and road quality since. There were times my group members and I found ourselves relying on our Trimbles to show us the direction we needed to walk since the U-Route was no longer connected to the closest designated road. This is where the physical world came at us like a lead brick. Some of the routes were short, few and far between, where as others seemed to go on for-literally-ever right next to others of similar extent. The finding and the walking of all these U-Routes had a litany of experiences such as impossible stream crossings during the high flow months to extreme re-vegetation where climbing up and over the trees would have been as productive as it was walking between them. This mash-up of computer meets reality leant to some very interesting jaunts up and down windy mountain sides and though fields of numbers with enough underscores to fill said fields, just like the wildflowers filled many of our U-routes.