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HomeTechniquesTracking Box

Layer Cake Tracking and Other Treats - Part 2

By Brandt Morgan and The Pacific Northwest Tracker Association

Cross Section Tracking

Often the pressure releases (varying hills, valleys, cliffs) of a track are hidden from view because they're down inside on the bottom. Cross section tracking allows you to get to them and study them in detail. To do this, mound up a coke-sized bunch of sand and smooth it flat on the top with a straight edge (a long knife, ruler, stiff paper, etc.). Have someone hold their hands around the sides while you press a deer hoof or some other print into the sand and pull it away. Now take a sharp straight edge and slice straight down through the "coke", pulling away the remaining sand so you con see a cross section of the track. You can slice down anywhere you want. The best way is to take quarter-inch slices, slowly studying and working your way through sections of the track (end-to-end, longitudinal, diagonal - whatever). To study the tracks of wild animals, take plaster castings, press them into the molded sand and - presto!, you have a near duplicate of the original track that can be sectioned.

Layer Cake Tracking

Every time a track is made, waves of disturbance are sent out like ripples from a rock tossed into a calm lake. Layer cake tracking is a variation of cross section tracking that allows you to see these waves. For best results, use fine, wet sand. Pretend you're making a layer cake. Mound up an inch of wet sand and smooth it over flat with a straight edge. Then sift a very thin layer of flour over it. Without touching the flour, add another half-inch of sand. Continue adding alternate layers of flour and half-inch sand until your "cake" is at least four inches tall. Then make a print (hand, foot, hoof, etc.) and take cross sections as you did before. This time, though, make your first slice an inch or so in front of the actual track. If you were careful making your "cake", you'll see a clean cross section of horizontal sand layers divided by white lines of flour. As you cut closer to the track, you may see the layers beginning to buckle and fold like rock layers in Glacier National Park. And when you slice through a cross section of the track itself, the swirls and waves will become even more obvious, radiating out from the track in all directions. Take quarter-inch slices of "cake", studying the changes in these waves as the depth and pressure of the track change along its length or width.

The main purpose of layer cake tracking, of course, is to allow you to study the deformation of the ground caused by varying track pressures. But as you absorb the beauty of the wave-like patterns, you may also begin to see why native Americans say, "The track of the fox is felt around the world".

From The Tracker magazine, May 1982, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from The Tracker magazine, visit the Tracker Trail website