USGS online map resources simplified

By Gabe Howe, SMC Director/Field Coordinator

Ashland, OR | 26 October 2012 -- I recently published an article through the Medford Mailtribune's Oregon Outdoors section that directed readers through online map resources and how to use them. The resource I gave less attention to was the USGS map locator and downloader. 

The map locator and downloader may deserve a little more credit, so here are some easy tips to help you use the service more easily.

Head over to and click on the link for the map locator. A Google map appears. Use it to scroll, center and zoom to find your area of interest. When you have found the general area you're interested in, click the "Mark Points" bubble just to the right of the map.

A grid should appear with different names for quadrangle map sections. When you're ready to locate the USGS topo map you want, click on the map and a red tear-dropped shape bubble will appear; click it.

From there, a pop-up window comes out with a few different options on it. First, notice that you can download either a detailed 7.5-minute quadrangle, or a 15-minute quadrangle, which is less detailed than the 7.5-minute but also covers more space. I almost always want the 7.5 minute version.

Also notice that there are different year releases, which has posed some serious problems, at least in my USGS map finding in southwest Oregon.

In 2011, a whole slug of new quadrangles came out, but a good number of them omit designated roads, trails, and other really important features like section numbers and county gridlines.

Same 7.5-minute quadrangle downloads, much different information. 
Check out the difference between this 2011 release of the Josephine Mountain 7.5-minute quad and this 1998 release of the same map.

Any backcountry user is going to go with the older, wiser map.

Each USGS quad is available in PDF format which makes for large files. And for those of us that prefer having map in the field, printing the PDFs is the quickest way to topographic freedom.

Despite creating some confusion, the folks at the USGS are doing a great job of making information available, and they deserve credit. Just a few years ago, USGS quadrangle maps were still being held hostage.

Your Siskiyou adventures

Ashland, OR | 18 October 2012 -- The SMC is in the midst of revamping our website. We're going to shoot for a fresher look and make the information you need easier to find, as well as make some additions.

We are going to start adding trip reports from your Siskiyou adventures. Interested in seeing your adventure published on our website and blog?

This is what your report should include:
  • Date of your trip
  • Easy to find description location. This could include GPS coordinates, county grid descriptions, or driving instructions
  • Description of the route, including mileage, difficulty, and considerations for time
The best trip reports will include:
  • Pictures
  • A far out and luring destination
  • GPS coordinates for route traveled
  • Google Map
  • Ecologic descriptions
  • Some reflection or insight the trip provided
  • References to more information
Some great examples can be found on the Washington Trail Association's website by clicking here. 

Please send trip reports in .doc or Google Doc format to SMC Field Coordinator Gabe Howe at  howegabe(a) Also attach pictures or other documents. The author of the best trip report will receive a free long-sleeved SMC shirt and a $25 gift certificate to REI. 

Volunteer Profile -- Angie Caschera

Name: Angie Caschera
Age: 22
Crews: Skeleton Crew June 22 - 28; Wrecking Crew Aug 18 - 26
Total hours on the trail: 130

Caschera logs out a fatty on Kalmiopsis Trail No 1109 north of Blake's Bar. 

Ashland, OR | 16 October 2012 -- Recent SOU graduate Angie Caschera speaks passionately about her experience with the SMC. That's because it changed her life.

"It opened up my spectrum," she says. "Especially that trip in August, it blew my mind."

Challenge was nothing new to Caschera. To pay the bills and her college tuition, she works as a caretaker for people with intellectual disabilities. Caschera admits her job, which includes bathing, cooking, cleaning for and managing three young men with varying levels of functionality, is tough.

"But I enjoy helping them become more independent in the community."

Working with the SMC helped Caschera "get out of the box and build patience. We built a team," she says. "We're all taking care of each other down there in the K-Hole. You've got to communicate with the group to make good decisions."

Many 2012 volunteers began calling the Kalmiopsis Wilderness the "K-Hole" because the only way out was a rugged 12-15 mile hike out with 4000ft. of elevation gain.

The Kalmiospis' wildness made Caschera feel, well, wild. "There's no one around. You can yell. You have all this freedom, and you get to be who you are -- there are no social demands."

Caschera was able to use her work experience in June toward practicum hours she needed to complete her B.A. in Outdoor Adventure Leadership at SOU. In August she came back for more.

But Caschera's stewardship experience didn't just allow her to log some practical work hours for school and get out of the box. Working in wilderness got her looking forward to her own vision.

She has dreams of opening a camp that provides therapeutic outdoor experiences for those with intellectual disabilities. "I liked seeing how Gabe operates, how he facilitate the experience. You have to put the energy out there to get something back."

"Angie always seemed in control, even in sometimes grim situations," says Gabe Howe, SMC's Director and Field Coordinator. "She's a trail monster."

Those close to the SMC say Caschera is eligible for the Lifetime Volunteer Award in spring 2013.

SMC Field Correspondent

Oct 20 - 21 Soda Mountain Wilderness Trip

Want to see what the Soda Mountain Wilderness has to offer for fall colors and fun? Then join us this Saturday, Oct 20 - 21 for an overnight work trip on the Lone Pilot Trail. 

Carpools will leave from Ashland at 7:30am on Saturday, and we'll return by 6pm on Sunday. The camp is about 4-miles hike from the trailhead, and the work site is another couple of miles past that. We'll be removing a few logs and brushing out about 1200ft of trail. 

Giant ponderosa pine near work site. 
Volunteers should be in good shape and come prepared with basic gear, including 
  • weather appropriate clothing, 
  • backpack, 
  • warm sleeping bag, 
  • sturdy boots,
  • gloves,
 SMC provides transportation arrangements, food, tools, leadership and a fun time.

Weather looks promising, but we would cancel if conditions became dangerous. 

The 20,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness encompasses a diversity of ecosystems, including oak chaparral that should be on fire with fall colors. The Lone Pilot Trail is a 12-mile connection of closed roads the SMC is converting to trail, and the work site is in the most remote section of it.

Long story short: this trip brings you into the heart of Ashland's nearest and dearest congressionally designated Wilderness Area. 

Email SMC volunteer coordinator Gabe Howe at howegabe(a) for details and sign ups!

SMC stands out

Jillian Stokes stands behind Dan Heimbigner
While working on applying for a foundation grant, one of the questions to answer was, "What sets the SMC apart from similar organizations?"

The answer was easy.

What sets the SMC apart from most other trails organizations is that we engage so many young people into our programs. We so much appreciate every volunteer who takes the initiative to sign up and the courage to show up, but the majority of our volunteers are not eligible for the Denny's discount, and they won't be anytime soon.

This year Southern Oregon University students put in over 1200 trail hours. If you include recent alumni and students from other schools, it goes to somewhere around 2000 hours.

Engaging young people is a key component of the SMC's strategy, because the need for heavy Wilderness trail maintenance in southwest Oregon isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And there is no abundance of unique, no-cost, life changing work programs like ours, either.

So we're excited to keep putting young people to work into the woods, and engaging younger and younger audiences. Moreover, we're so proud that since we started in 2010, our volunteers demonstrate an increased rate of employment after participating in extended work trips.

This is where some of our volunteers are now working.

  • Seth Swan, 2010, Amtrak
  • Stefani Gissel, 2011, Trailside Discovery Camp
  • Daisy Moser, 2011, Sunstone Bakery
  • Josh Pfefferkorn, 2010-2011, Bridge City Cycles
  • Caleb Howe, 2011, YMCA
  • Dan Heimbigner, 2010, Whatcom Environmental Services
  • Kris Freitag, 2010, Berry Seed Bank & Plant Conservation Program
  • Em Halleen, 2011, Red and Black Cafe
  • Brianna Peaslee, 2011, Art4Life
  • Sarah Goodchild Robb, 2010-2011, Bard High School Early College
We can't wait to see what our 2012 volunteers will be up to next year!

Volunteer Profile - Austin Kasner

Austin Kasner in Soda Mtn Wilderness Area
Name: Austin Kasner
Age: 22
Crew: Wrecking Crew, August 18 - 26 2012, Kalmiopsis Wilderness
Total hours on the trail: 100

Ashland, OR -- Before this summer, SOU senior Austin Kasner had never stepped foot in a congressionally designated Wilderness Area.

But in May he got his feet wet with a day-long work trip in the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area with the SMC.

"That day was invigorating, and it sparked my interest," Kasner said in an interview. A day in the Soda wasn't enough, though. "I wanted the chance to break my routine and change lifestyles."

So he signed up for an 8-night stewardship trip in the Kalmiopsis. He spent nine days working through brush and downed logs on Upper Chetco River Trail No 1102 between Slide Creek and Taggart's Bar. By the end of day one, it dawned on Kasner how far away he was from civilization.

"But after the first day, I was really comfortable. The leaders knew exactly where they were, they were so familiar with the area," he said, but he admits the work was tough.

Before the attack of Kasner and his crew
After a couple of days of heavy trail work, Kasner moved ahead of the group to inspect conditions. It didn't take long until he encountered a 700 ft section of trail completely filled with brush and fire-killed knobcone pine. "I didn't think there was any way we were getting through that."

But the next day Kasner and his crew punched through the section, one log at a time, over 150 in total. "I was really impressed by our work," Kasner said. The next day the crew had to relax, and Kasner had the chance to explore the Chetco River and Babyfoot Creek. 

"It was cleaner and clearer than any
river I've ever been to," Kasner noted. Camping at Slide Creek was a highlight for him. "The Chetco brought us back to life at night."

Over the next couple of days, Kasner focused on keeping morale up and getting work done. With his help, the Wrecking Crew was the first in at least a decade to work this section of trail.

"I learned how strong I was mentally. I found myself a little more involved, a little more part of the Siskiyou Mountain Club."