The Cairn Poll

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Cairn Cares?

Small and Discrete
Big enough to be noticed
The bigger the better!
They annoy me but I get over it.
HATE 'em all - get rid of them!!!
No Opinion
Absolutely Yes IF there is No or Little trail
Total votes: 195

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The Cairn Poll

Post by montezumawell »

Do you care about cairns? Here's your chance to show the world your cairn feelings. Why does this matter?

Believe it not, there is an evolving 'cairn controversy' in Sedona.
Those of you who have hiked trails in that area know the Forest Service marks routes with large 'baskets' of rocks. In essence, these 'baskets' are mini-gabions, structures normally used in bank stabilization designs.
Some people also call the Sedona-style cairns 'caged rocks.' Wire for the Sedona-cairns is painted the obligatory Smokey-approved 'Sedona dirt red.' Some pros and cons of these and other cairns will be briefly noted later in this message.

In the meantime, here's the deal: The Forest Service is in the process of constructing many new cairns on some of Sedona's high usage trails. So many tens of thousands of people hike those trails that it's simply a numbers game--a certain percentage WILL get lost no matter WHO is holding their hand! Cairns help reduce the total 'lost' numbers.

Sooo...the Forest Service is putting out a lot more of their Sedona-style cairns. And some of the locals don't like it--hence the controversy. Some unidentified vandals have gone so far as to remove trail crew markers identifying the upcoming locations for the cairns. Apparently, the Forest Service is receiving enough 'input' about the cairns to actually prompt the Sedona District's Landscape Architect to post wordy notices here and there along some trail(s) explaining the cairns. The Architect, Jennifer Burns, even invites the public to call her @ 928-282-4119 to discuss cairns. Imagine that! Then, lo and behold, the Sedona Red Rock News comes out with a nearly full page article on trail cairns. We are not making this up. It could only happen in Sedona, where people have been known to argue about the positive or negative magnetism of vortices. is this poll.

Do HAZ members care about cairns? If so, HOW do they care about cairns? We are planning on alerting Ms. Burns as to the presence and location of this topic and its accompanying poll. The results won't make any difference whatsoever in the Forest Service's plans for more cairns but it least it will hopefully provide some passing entertainment for her.

Disclaimer: the creators of this topic and poll favor the Sedona-style cairns. They blend in well and make great places to sit. They are too much work for the vandals to tear out so they generally leave them alone. However, the Sedona anti-fee crowd has proven its numbers include some industrial strength vandals so it might not be surprising to see backhoes and bobcats attacking the trail cairns.

Ok, the pros and cons of trail cairns are probably as old as hiking. Most people don't give them a second thought but we know some people whose blood pressure is directly affected by the type, number and locations of trail cairns. Some people like to build them or add rocks to them. Some people delight in tearing them down or, worse yet, placing them so as to confuse hikers. Some people feel hikers should be 'on their own' with no assistance except perhaps Divine Intervention and GPS. Others feel comforted by the unseen hands that constructed a well-placed trail cairn. Some feel cairns ought to be only a few balanced rocks. Others think a cairn isn't a cairn unless it is at least chest high. So, that's the size of it. Now the rest is up to you. Participate in the poll and let your narrative thoughts be known to all right here on HAZ--where thoughtful hikers come to relax!

John & Susun in Rimrock

Note--The poll 'questions' are subject to editing and amendment(s).
Last edited by montezumawell on May 03 2002 7:34 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Post by Cakewalk »

I appreciate cairns when they are neccessary, such as on the Ford Canyon trail in the white tanks......

they only need to be obvious and I would rather they dont distract from the natural desert surroundings. Too many or too big will look more like graffitti.
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Post by joebartels »

Sorry I had to interject a poll option there myself...
I really like Cairns if there is NO trail - otherwise it's kind of funny!

I know they've saved my butt a couple times when needed.

At the same time I can't help but laugh when OBVIOUS canyons with HIGH walls and NO other way to go have Cairns. It doesn’t really irritate me though; I just think somebody obviously has more free time than me!

White Canyon has some bad cairn-ing going on, even misleading.

The Browns Peak “easier route” is cairned and a GIFT for those without a clue.

I guess it's kind of irritating at Buddha Beach but that's more of a religious thing. So is that okay?

What I'm curious to know is... Who out there is a 'cairn-er'
Personally I've never felt the need to cairn. Like I have the time to go BACK and appropriately cairn. I guess on another trip, but then I know the route and it skips my mind.

In the past I’ve received e-mails ranting either way over the paint dots to the Flatiron. I guess my first thoughts years ago were 'ya that's vandalism” but I can't really blame them if the FS doesn't make a route apparent as POPULAR as the Flatiron. On the same token I understand how the FS runs and money is always an issue.

I guess money isn't such an issue with the Red Rock Pass in Sedona. (of course most of that money goes for the literature and information stations) I think Sedona might be the exception as the usage on trails is “incredibly” high too. So I can kind of justify the bomb proof Cairns there “only”. However, I prefer 4x4 poles as seen on the Cholla Trail. Though sometimes that’s kind of hard to do with a rock slab!
- joe
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Post by ck_1 »

teva joe wrote:What I'm curious to know is... Who out there is a 'cairn-er'
I think I've rebuilt a cairn or two. Although, we have had visitors from back East who want to do a 'real Arizona hike' we pick a medium length trail like Pass Mountain...they inevitably notice the cairns and ask about them...we explain that they are Arizona snowmen....which they find witty...once we tell them the purpose of cairns, we proceed along the trail to a non-cairn area and let them build one. They get a kick out of it. So we take their picture next to 'their carin'...I usually return a few days later and dismantle the sucker...

Speaking of unnecessary cairns, how about the monster on Flatiron just past the FS boundary?

And of badly cairned areas...Massacre Grounds! There are FREAKING CAIRNS EVERYWHERE!
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Post by evenstarx3 »

I'm always amazed when I see frequent cairns along a well worn trail that nobody, I don't think, could stray from. The first time I hiked Ford Canyon I was very happy to see cairns because, once you're down in the wash, there is no trail at all. The last time I hiked Ford Canyon, a couple of weeks after our HAZ White Tanks hike, cairns weren't necessary because some a**hole had taken a spray can of flourescent orange paint and marked the trail in BIG BOLD arrows :arrow: , not dots. Very, very ugly!
Anyway, if there's no true trail to follow, cairns are necessary, but they don't have to be huge; four or five rocks in a six to eight inch high pyramid is plenty IMO.
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Post by Mike »

I think the best example of unnecessary cairns I've seen (and this fits with Joe's comment of canyons with no place else to go) is at West Fork. Last summer, I did my annual wade (the photos are on the site :wink: ) in May. In mid-October, my wife & went to Sedona for a weekend, and while there hiked West Fork again to see the fall color. I was amazed to see these huge 'cairns' along the early part of the trail. They hadn't been there before! To me, they actually look more like cemetary markers of some sort.

On the other hand, I've been on stretches of 'trail' where cairns have been quite helpful. And yes, I've restacked small cairns a few times, particurally at stream crossings where the trail on the opposite side isn't so obvious, things like that.
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Post by Nighthiker »

I think the forest service should push their maps, maybe it will bring the cost of the maps down. Cairns or signs, folks will still get lost and or not use the trail or some bonehead will point the sign in another direction at a trail junction. Cairns are quite usefull, make sure its a trail cairn and not a mine or millsite claim. As for erecting your own cairns, I was once given a warning by a forest service law enforcement for making a cairn to mark a turn off to an old cabin.
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Post by MaryPhyl »

We call the Blue Springs trail on the Little Colorado the "dot to dot" trail. The cairns are really helpful there. Too often the cairn builders are lost and don't bother to kick them down when they find themselves. I have been known to remove a few when they were obnoxious.

I don't know if it is still there but several years ago someone had done the spray paint thing in Jackass canyon (in Marble Canyon just down from Lee's Ferry). It is a short hike and you can't get lost--go figure.
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Post by azhiker96 »

I don't mind cairns on worn trails as long as they're not gaudy. I do mind folks using colored ribbon or yarn to mark an obvious trail. I've interpreted some of these as discards and added them to my collection of candy wrappers, empty water bottle, orange peels, etc. that I usually find on a trail. It's easy to let a rock cairn fade into the landscape when you look around. Hot pink ribbons just clutter up the wilderness. The FS cannot prevent people from getting lost unless they assign guides to hold hands. Geeze, people get lost on Camelback! If the FS has real problems with a trail they should install railings, pour concrete steps, and stop pretending it's a wilderness trail. I've added a rock or two to a useful cairn on a poorly marked trail. I've never made cairns when bushwhacking though. I'd rather find a new path the next time I'm there.
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Post by nonot »

Surprisingly I'm going to say I like the idea of the forest service in Sedona building cairns!


#1 the Sedona trails I hiked were for many portions, bare rock. There is no apparent trail in many places. The rains had washed the trails fairly clean of any footprints. On 15 miles of trail I probably had to stop 15 times and look around for at least a minute for the next cairn. I wouldn't have been able to cover nearly as much trail as I did if these didn't exist.

#2 If the FS doesn't build them, someone else will and you'll end up with people using paint, etc.

#3 I think the majority of people that build cairns are lost, not finding the route. In the supes, half the time I've followed cairns I end up going the wrong direction (Dacite Super Loop and Cave Trail come to mind.) I'd rather have no cairns at all and figure it out, rather than be led astray, so in my mind if I have to choose between FS cairns and common lost-hiker cairns, I'd choose the former.

#4 I didn't feel the rock cage cairns in Sedona took away from my hiking experience whatsoever, they kept me on trail, prevented unnecessary splinter trails, and gave me peace of mind that the cairns were built by the FS, not by mindless individuals.

I agree, many, if not most of the cairns on the trails were probably unnecessary. But there were a good 30 cairns in those 15 miles that I was glad were there. I had a map and compass and followed it religiously, but when you climb a trail and it opens onto flat rock ledges and only sparse brush, that doesn't do you much good. I would never have gotten lost, but probably would have created some parallel splinter trails.
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Post by big_load »

nonot wrote: In the supes, half the time I've followed cairns I end up going the wrong direction (Dacite Super Loop and Cave Trail come to mind.)
Excellent examples! If you look carefully, you can probably find six parallel cairn-marked trails along parts of the Cave Trail ridge. I spent a couple hours once trying to figure out whether they really corresponded to popular non-system trails.
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Post by Al_HikesAZ »

In response to nonot's reply:
All I'm going to say. :twisted:
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Post by DarthStiller »

I've seen a lot of cairns in the Supes that are in wrong directions. I can usually figure it out right away, mainly because I always have my GPS with me telling me the right direction. Even when they lead off the trail a bit, its usually a braided and faint trail, and they'll lead you back. My suggestion in the Trail Maintenance thread to build one cairn per hike on faint trails was mainly so that people would do it in these kind of faint areas under a non-stressful condition of being lost and putting it in the wrong place. If that happened more often, I think the faint trails would be easier to follow in terms of just following them and also having faith that the cairn is accurate.

As far as cairns in stream beds, I'm in the unpopular camp of the more the better. the two main reasons I think this are:

1. they're the most likely to get washed away in the next rain.

2. it can be easy to miss where to leave the stream bed if it isnt marked well enough. if there are bunch of cairns and suddenly you don't see any, it might be a clue to back up.

My opinion on this also leans in sympathy towards the group of unexperienced hikers, which at one point we were all once members of. If piles of rocks can save a life in the extreme heat out here, I say live and let live.
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Post by azbackpackr »

First of all I've always called them "ducks." They are the trail markers made of two or three stones. Cairns are very large, with dozens of stones.

Nomenclature aside, I think sometimes they are ok. There are some dedicated duck-kickers (help, call PETA!) out there, most notably Pete Cowgill, a writer, and one of the founders of the So. Az. Hiking Club. He is well-known for it (mostly because he brags about doing it.) He just figures they weren't necessary back in the 50's when he started hiking in the Catalinas, so why are they necessary now?

However, people do get lost and die in the Catalinas every year, despite all the ducks along all of the trails. And the ducks, if well-placed, keep people walking on the same path, such as where to connect up on the far side of a creek, instead of creating many little paths.
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Post by DarthStiller »

I'm thinking of putting a cairn (not a duck) on Superstition Peak 5057 when I go in 3 weeks. :twisted: If someone wants to knock that one over, they'll have to go all the way up there to get it.
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Post by azbackpackr »

There are huge cairns on top of lots of peaks. I think some may have some historical background, in fact. There is also a tradition in the Arctic of building really big ones as waypoints. I think some of those are just ancient.

Anyway, if there are not too many I don't see the problem--they can easily be dismantled if too many.

I hope my post fixes the problem where it says: "no posts exist for this topic."
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Post by PaleoRob »

azbackpackr wrote: I hope my post fixes the problem where it says: "no posts exist for this topic."
And thank you for that! :D
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Post by joebartels »

hence the term
"get your ducks in line" :-#

actually wiki backs you up, I'd never heard that...
says the one rock protruding is the shnouser and it points in the line of travel
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Post by azbackpackr »

I've spent a fair amount of time hiking with real old-timers. I joined a hiking club when I was 19 in San Diego, and often hiked with guys who were in their 70's. I probably first heard the term "duck" back then, but I know I heard it used in Tucson as well, maybe by my sons' Scoutmaster, also in his 70's, and some old SAHC members.

Schnauzer? Hmmm. But, schnauzers don't quack!
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