I was scouting a new trail in the Parashant National Monument, located in the Grand Canyon. At one point I wanted to take a shortcut, but didn’t know if the road ahead was open. A recent storm had me concerned about a washout. If the road were passable and interesting enough, I’d consider taking guests on it later.
Nearby was Bar 10 Ranch, so I stopped in. Asking for information, I got directed to an old cowboy hanging out by a covered wagon. An affable gent, he used to drive horses and other animals over that road. He had to stop, though. The road was too rough for him at his age so now he drives them the long way around. He remembered a few ATVs had gone up the mountain on that trail before the storm. But he didn’t discourage me. “You look like a really smart guy,” he remarked. “I’m sure you’d turn around before you got into too much trouble.”
Interesting advice, to be sure, but I took it to heart. I knew he meant well. So I took the shortcut trail.
Old-Timers add to existing information
The usual resources (trail books, Internet, and such), are great. But there are times when you want to go someplace that’s not as well known. You just know that a unique and fascinating adventure await you. The key is to find it.
In other cases, you may want to avoid the popular and well-documented places. (Do you really want to spend a weekend with an Instagram crowd?)
It’s times like these that call for using a really knowledgeable resource. Someone who really knows the area. And someone willing to patiently share his wisdom with an outsider.
I call that person an Old-Timer. Every town has at least one. Smaller towns and rural areas may have more than one.
Note that not just any older person will do. He has to be a true Old-Timer. This individual knows the back roads, hills, valleys and nuances of where you want to go. He has been there and done that.
These discussions can be really rewarding. The Old-Timer is likely to share trails and places to go that are not well known. But just as importantly, you may learn of a trail (or land feature) to avoid. Something may have occurred since the trail guide or blog post was published.
This first-hand knowledge supplements what’s found on the Internet, in guide books, and in other resources.
Where to find the Old-Timers
Start by visiting where people hang out. In a small town that mostly likely is a tavern or café/restaurant.
Other possibilities include:
- Senior center: Try just before or after lunch. The phone may get passed around to the guy you need. One lady at a senior center told me about a wonderful, remote the place they went to drink as teenagers. Not the kind of place I was looking for. She passed me off to another gentleman before she got too far down memory lane.
- Post office: The post mistress in a small town usually has time and loves to talk about their town.
- A ranch or farm nearby: the dogs are probably friendly.
- General store
- Donut shops: Sounds odd, but in my experience, there usually are four or five retired guys hanging out at the local donut shop.
If you’re a ham radio operator, try the area repeater frequency or the national calling frequency. Most times, only old timers monitor the radio all day. Hams love to talk.
Note that all these involve talking with strangers. Yes, striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Personally, I don’t think we do enough of that today. We’re glued to our electronic devices, communicating with friends via text messages and emails.
A one-on-one conversation can be an enriching and rewarding experience.
In each case you’re looking for a particular bit of information (trail condition, location of a campsite, and such). But the person may open up and share a lot more. The serendipitous nature of that sharing just adds to the experience.
Questions to ask the Old-Timer
The list will vary depending on the location, but some common questions include:
- Can we get through?
- What is the condition of the trail (muddy, heavily rutted, strewn with boulders)?
- Can you recommend a particularly good spot for camping?
- Are the bugs bad over there/up there?
- Can you recommend a part of the (natural area/national park, etc.) that isn’t as well traveled as most? Emphasize that you don’t like crowds.
- Who owns the tow company in town? Might need to call somebody.
- Anything about this area we should know about?
Listen carefully, and be willing to follow up with new questions. The more you know going in, the better prepared you will be.
Crowded destinations require better planning
Due to Instagram, blog posts and other resources, many trails and landmarks are well documented. Unfortunately, all that attention means the location is likely to be crowded.
Add in the pent-up demand from the pandemic, and many destinations and trails are packed, especially on the weekends.
This is all the more reason to seek out an Old-Timer near your destination. Tap into those years of wisdom and knowledge to help make the trip more interesting and enjoyable.