Castle Valley Comments

Joe Auer of Castle Valley is recuperating at home after a harrowing near-death experience last month. Auer, an avid outdoors enthusiast who enjoys hiking, rock climbing, bicycling and other sports was participating in one of his favorite pastimes, which is the perilous sport of base jumping.

On the afternoon of May 3 at one of his preferred spots down Kane Creek, north of Moab, Auer was preparing to jump off the 500-foot sheer cliff not far from the Amasa Back Trail parking lot.

But on this particular jump, things didn’t go as planned. As he launched himself off of the edge of the cliff his parachute opened facing the cliff wall, which forced him to slam into the wall where he sustained injuries to his arm and wrist that limited his ability to steer the chute away from the cliff. As a result, he landed hard at the base of the cliff and simultaneously into the wall, sustaining more injuries.

Grand County EMS and Search and Rescue were dispatched to the scene where a technical rescue was employed to get him down to the parking lot to a waiting Classic Air helicopter. Auer stepped off the edge of the cliff on his ill-fated jump at 3 p.m. Three and one-half hours later, at 6:30 p.m., he was loaded up in the helicopter and on his way to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction where he spent the next two weeks.

Auer’s injuries included a dislocated wrist, broken bones to his heel, all of his ribs were broken, fractures to his jaw and nose, and other bones near his sternum, but he is lucky that he will eventually mend from all of the breaks. It will be another month before he will have use of his left hand and arm and a couple more months before he can put weight on his leg and foot.

He hopes to be back to work at the Moab Brewery and the Sorrel River Ranch by the end of summer. I didn’t ask about his next base jump, but knowing Joe it will probably be like riding a bicycle after a crash; you get right back on.

Thirty years ago this week, this column reported on a fire that originated at 395 Castle Valley Drive. The human-caused blaze burned an acre of grass and brush but there were no structural damage or injuries during the firefighting operation at the lower end of the valley. The fire began when a sudden gust of wind blew hot embers from a barbecue grill onto dry leaves. The fire spread to a cottonwood tree and from there it took off.

Spontaneous combustion was blamed for a fire that started near a storage shed on the DayStar Adventist campus two weeks later. That fire damaged the shed and destroyed most of the contents. Firefighters had to extinguish the burning grass, which blackened about an acre, before they could advance to the shed as the fire blocked their way. The fire in the shed was difficult to put out because of the various types of flammable liquids inside. Nearly 5,000 gallons of water were poured on the site that evening.

The story about the fire on 395 Castle Valley Drive concluded by saying: “With the hot summer months approaching, the Castle Valley Fire Department will be conducting their annual brush fire fighting seminar on Tuesday, June 12 at 7 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.” Although it is no longer an annual event, the fire department did present a Firewise and fire defensible space open house this year on the same date, June 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall.

With the wet winter and spring this year, the fire season seems to be pushed back a few weeks. Our fire danger is currently listed at “moderate” and the higher elevations still have a “low” fire danger. But the wet winter and spring also produced tall, thick vegetation that hasn’t been seen in the valley for a long time. The cheatgrass, foxtails and other types of weeds are turning brown and it will create an interesting fire season if the right conditions prevail to ignite those open fields of tall vegetation.

Two people declared their intention to be on the council by the filing deadline. Tory Hill, a current councilmember filed for re-election and Pamela Gibson, presently on the planning commission, filed for the seat currently held by Alice Drogin.

Anyone else wanting to run for the town council has until September to file as a write-in candidate, otherwise an election will be eliminated and the candidates will automatically be appointed.