Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Nighttime photography

One of the big challenges of outdoor adventures is capturing that magical experience that is night-time in the outdoors. Here are a few tips to help you take home a little bit of that nocturnal magic.

#1 Use a tripod

Trying to take quality photos at night with a handheld camera can be next to impossible. Use a tripod, a rock, or a handy tree to help keep your camera still during longer exposures to make sure night photos come out bright and crisp. That being said you can also purposely move your camera during night exposures to create fun effects like the one below.

Lava vent in Hawaii (handheld fun)
Halemaumau at night

#2 Use night time settings or longer exposures to expose low light scenes. 

The starry skies setting on a point and shoot can take nice photos of bright stars but use a longer shutter speed (15 seconds, 30 seconds, or bulb) to really capture night scenery.

 #3 Adjust your ISO settings to reduce noise in your photo

Long exposures with low light can cause bright pixels to appear in your photo if you are using a low ISO setting. Decrease noise by using higher ISO settings with longer shutter speeds and a low (wide) f-stop setting like f/2.8.

#4 Pick locations that have interesting features in addition to sky scenes.

Adding interesting features to your night/low light shots can be a great way to make a photo really pop. A sunset with a campfire, shooting stars over a lake, or a tree in front of the moon are a few examples.

#5 Experiment!

Don't be afraid to use different settings on your camera and see what happens. Sometimes something as simple as bracketing the exposure or changing the white balance can make a night/low light photo really special.

Hmmm: the moon or my headlamp?

Thank you to all our great volunteers who take fantastic photos of their adventures and upload them to our website for everybody to enjoy!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Leader Training Trip on the Wild and Scenic Salmon River

Wilderness Volunteers has returned from their annual Leader Training Trip to train a gaggle of new volunteer leaders. This year the project was located on the Wild and Scenic Salmon River in Idaho. The project ended up being a total adventure - perfect for WV leaders in training!

The Story

The original plan for our project was to backpack in to Horse Creek campground along the Salmon River to preform trail maintenance on the regional trails. We began our excursion towards our basecamp only to find after 3 miles of backpacking that the river had taken over expansive sections of the trail! The crew and pack string were forced to turn around and head back to the trailhead. After setting up camp at the trailhead for the night, the group huddled under blue tarps to stay out of a major rainstorm.

The following morning the crew started from the trailhead and worked out reconstructing a upslope rock retaining wall. The hope was that the water level would drop over the course of the day. To the crews' surprise the water level continued to rise, due to warming weather resulting in increased snow melt. The entire group was evacuated to a location up river as the increasing water level threatened to flood the road.
After driving to safety, the group of leaders in training set up a base camp for the third time in three days (outstanding training, if you ask us). For three of the next four day they worked to reconstruct the disintegrating China Gulch trail bordering the roaring Salmon River. They re-tread the trail, trundled large boulders obstructing the path, crosscut down logs and removed overgrown brush from the trail corridor. 
The week of work ended up being a major success, completing approximately two miles of involved trail maintenance! 

Time for Relaxation

The exciting start to the project resulted in the volunteers being thoroughly ready for some R n' R. On the off day, the crew explored Panther Hot Springs, not far from the weeks work location. Comparable to a miniature Yellowstone, Panther Hot Springs spout 199 degree waters which cascade over a rock face, building up mounds of reprecipitated rock! This results in unique and captivating rock formations. As the scalding water flows downhill, it meets up with a small creek which mixes and cools the water to a perfect soaking temperature in cascading pools. Not a bad way to kick back after the challenging work project!

 Leader Training

Aside from the work project, much of the week was dedicated to training the volunteers to become new leaders. Components of the training included Leave No Trace training, back country menu planning, cross cut training, first aid basics, project preparation, and much more!

Keep an eye out for projects with this new group of outstanding leaders! Many will begin leading in the 2018 season. Thank you for your hard work, new leaders!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Coming this August: A Total Solar Eclipse Travels the US

This August 21st a large number of Americans are in for a treat. A total solar eclipse will occur as the moon's shadow travels across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. 

"Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC Emeritus"

WHAT IS A SOLAR ECLIPSE?A solar eclipse happens when the moon travels between the Earth and the Sun. The Moon partially or completely covers the Sun casting its shadow on the earth. In areas where the shadow falls and a partial eclipse is visible the shadow is called a prenumbra. In the area where the moon entirely covers the sun and a total eclipse is visible this shadow is called the umbra. A total solar eclipse is visible from somewhere on earth about every year and a half. The last time a total solar eclipse traveled across the US was way back in 1918.

NASA visualization of a solar eclipse
Remember that the Sun is a giant ball of hot plasma that emits infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light. Looking at it even for only a second can sunburn your eye and cause permanent damage. 

Never look directly at the Sun (even when it is in total eclipse) without appropriate protective eye-wear. 

Doing so can cause both short term and long term damage to your eyes and your vision. Use welding goggles, specially designed solar viewing glasses or create a pinhole camera to watch the eclipse safely.

How to make an easy pinhole camera:

NASA images of the moon's shadow moving across earth during a solar eclipse
As luck would have it our Jedediah Smith Wilderness project in Wyoming's beautiful Caribou-Targhee National Forest is in prime solar eclipse viewing territory.  Total eclipse duration estimates for the area are over 2 minutes. Come meet new people and watch a total solar eclipse while giving something back to our nation's public lands.

"Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC Emeritus"

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Alternative Spring Break in Moab BLM

The Location

Eleven students from DePaul University in downtown Chicago, accompanied by a DePaul instructor/WV leader, recently made the trek nearly 1,400 miles to the Utah desert where they set up camp along the Colorado River for the week. The long drive in cramped quarters allowed for optimal bonding time for the students, who were all too farmiliar with eachother once they arrived in Utah. 

The Project

For their week of work the crew completed an incredible amount of work. They began their week working on Richardson Amphitheater Loop Trail where they made the trail more usable. They brushed out the overgrown Juniper trees, lined the slick rock sections of  of trail with rocks to guide hikers, closed down social trails, removed large and small rocks from the tread, created cairns to illuminate the trail, and installed numerous rock steps and a few retaining walls. 

For their off-day, the group slept in, had a feast of a breakfast consisting of pancakes, bacon, and strong coffee, then set off to hike the scenic and famous Fisher Towers Trail. After the hike and a picnic lunch, the group went swimming at a local creek. 

Their final day of work was at the Grandstaff Trail. Here the crew installed check-steps and a large earthen water bar with a rock-lined drain. After completing their work the group hiked the grandstaff trail to enjoy the views, while other hikers enjoyed the improvements to the trail! 

The Experience

Every participant chooses to join a project for a different reason, and each person will take their own gains away from the week. These gains could be personal growth, learning a new skill, meeting new friends, pushing their physical limits, or the simple treasure of having a adventurous vacation. Here are some of the things that DePaul students gained from their week working and exploring in Moab.

Mandy, a senior at DePaul loved the trailwork!

Martha, an environmental science student at DePaul, loved learning about new plants.

Matt, a public relations student and plant lover, got excited about desert ecosystems.

Maddie, a member of the DePaul Urban Farming Community, loved exploring a new place.

Stay tuned for more WV testaments from projects throughout the summer!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Equipment Spotlight: Backpacking Cots

By Caroline Williams

I have always had issues with my joints when sleeping on the ground, and have tried several different types of sleeping pads, to no avail. To make matters worse, I had neck surgery in June 2015, so finding comfortable outdoor sleeping arrangements is even more of a challenge for me.

When flipping through an outdoors gear catalog one day, I noticed a piece of camping equipment I never knew existed: the ultralight cot. I nearly fainted when I saw the price tag - they can run up to $250 -  so didn't pursue it further.

However, a little voice in my head wouldn’t let me stop thinking about what it would mean to sleep comfortably, no matter the conditions. I did a little research and found these cots are relatively light and easy to set up. After more research, I landed on the lightest one I could find (2 lbs., 9.6 oz.), which was a paltry $249.99. Unfortunately, it was out of stock everywhere, including online.

Because I had a Wilderness Volunteer trip coming up soon, I opted for my second choice. This one was 3 lbs., 2 oz., plus it was a bargain at $239!

I got it home, set it up in my kitchen and tried it out. It was extremely comfortable – I even took a short nap (until my cat woke me up begging for food, but that’s another story). I slept on cots at Girl Scout camps way back in my youth, but they were never anything I would rave about. In fact, I might still have a bruise on my back from the middle cross bar on the cot I used in 1976. It’s not a stretch to say that my new cot was light years ahead of that old canvas and steel cot.

Fast forward a week later and I was out in the desert, cot and all. It was a car camping trip, so I didn’t have to make the decision whether or not to jettison it from my pack. Good thing, because after the week was over I was hooked. There were no protrusions poking me in weird places, I could sleep on my back and side without issue and I slept the best I had in a long time inside of a tent.

Luxury item or necessity? That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself. All I can say is, I will never camp without it again.

Helinox Cot Lite
The basics: $249.95 | holds 265 lbs. | weighs 2 lbs., 9.6 oz

Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite Mesh
The basics: $249.95 | holds 325 lbs.  | weighs 3 lbs., 2 oz

Therm-a-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite
The basics: $239.95 | holds 325 lbs. | weighs 3 lbs.,15 oz

(NOTE: these are the only three that I’ve found on the market.)

Do you have any cot favorites? Know about other options? Let us know in the comments below.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Trailwork Tools of the Trade

Trail work requires many different types of tools- having the right tool for the job (and knowing how to use it correctly) makes trail work faster and a lot more fun. Some of the tools of the trade are common gardening/yard tools while others are very specialized and less well known. Here's a quick overview of common tools used on typical Wilderness Volunteers service projects.


A McLeod (pronounced mccloud) is a handy tool with teeth on one side and a hoe like blade on the other side at the end of a long wooden handle. It is commonly used to rake duff, break up sod clumps, and move/level dirt when working on trails. Its unique shape makes it especially effective for repairing trail slopes and compacting tread.


A Pulaski is half axe and half adze at the end of a long wooden handle. It can be used both to dig and to chop wood making it a trail construction and maintenance favorite.

Rock Bar

A rock bar is a long and straight bar made of metal that is used to pry large rocks, loosen compacted earth, and break up rocks. The length of the bar gives added leverage to the user making moving enormous rocks out of a trail much easier.

Crosscut Saw

A crosscut saw is a large saw designed for felling large trees and bucking (cutting a felled tree into logs). It can be used as a one or two person saw and makes removing large trees from trails a breeze.

Silky Saw

A silky saw is a small hand saw used for pruning, limbing, brushing, and removing small downed trees from trails. They may be folding or non-folding and can have curved or straight blades. Their light weight and versatility make them a must have for trail crews.


Loppers are a manual two-handled cutting tool designed to prune small branches. Long handles provide excellent leverage and make clearing trails of brush and tree limbs much faster.

Single Jack & Double Jack Sledge Hammer

Sledge hammers are used to break up larger rocks into smaller pieces to make them more manageable or to create fill for trail features such as drains, boardwalks, bridges, and causeways.

Pick Mattock

The pick or pick mattock is used for breaking up tread, prying smaller rocks, loosening compacted soil, and grubbing.


The common round-point shovel is fantastic for moving dirt & gravel, correcting tread and digging.

Canvas Bags
Heavy duty canvas bags are great for moving rocks, gravel, duff, and tundra mats. A substitute for these are 5 gallon buckets.


A drawknife is used to peel the bark off dry logs/ felled trees. It is typically used by sitting on top of a log, holding the drawknife by both handles, and pulling it towards you.

What is your favorite trailwork tool? Let us know in the comments below.