“There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” - Ed Abbey
May 15, 2013
May 8, 2013
Scheduled to give two outdoor geology programs this morning, I studied the clouds intently. My winter uniform was retrieved from the closet on this blustery May day that SHOULD be nearing 80 degrees but showed no promise of hitting mid-50s. Park visitors, God bless ‘em, still come to ranger talks no matter the weather.
As I approached my assigned overlook, rain twelve miles off was descending in thick curtains, silently drenching the desert below. Precipitation gives a shimmery appearance that glistens in your heart as much as on the landforms, and I felt momentarily giddy to see my parched park drinking up the gift of water.
Shallow depressions in the sandstone gathered the droplets, half inch deep, two inches deep. These ephemeral potholes nurture all living things, from the tiniest of organisms to our largest predators. To see standing water is to receive soul-refreshment. Who doesn’t need that???
May 1, 2013
“Down sank the great red sun, and in golden, glimmering vapors
Veiled the light of his face, like the Prophet descending from Sinai.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”
And a little later you added:
“You know– one loves the sunet, when one is so sad…”
“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”
But the little prince made no reply.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The display is breathtaking, every single evening. It is simultaneously mundane and miraculous, always beckoning me to the porch for the last few moments of each day. Apricot and periwinkle, magenta and tangerine, colors of life and delight and laughter, best shared with one you love.
[Colors have not been altered on any photo.]
April 25, 2013
gossip |ˈgäsəp| noun — casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.
These three 350-foot-tall sisters have been whispering to each other for many millennia; they’ve seen the whole gamut of visitors. If you get to Arches National Park, spend some time in the glorious Courthouse Towers neighborhood where it’s next to impossible to snap a bad photo.
April 17, 2013
[Note: this encounter occurred just hours before the Boston Marathon carnage. Draw your own conclusions about the importance of preserving wilderness in this increasingly violent world.]
The last ten feet of a steep slickrock ramp beckoned me upward, and I dug my boots in for the final push. Breaths were coming quickly as I hit the top, where flying pebbles and a furious clatter of hooves announced a startled ungulate. I froze in place.
A magnificent desert bighorn ram with fully curled horns bolted to a sandstone knoll twenty yards distant and turned to study me. Heart pounding, I lowered myself to a crouch.
He sniffed the air, locating molecules of my scent.* His solid muscular body remained tense, ready to scramble, as I attempted to appear even less threatening. I recalled being told that herbivores can be put at ease if you act herbivore-ish yourself, so I lowered my head in a quasi-grazing stance and avoided eye contact.
A good five minutes passed. We were breathing easier now; he seemed more relaxed and less jumpy. He sniffed again, licked his nose, and did something I never would have predicted: began walking haltingly toward me. Not for a second did he take his eyes off this curious green-clad flat-hatted creature as his curiosity drew him in for a closer look. In disbelief, I quickly scoped out an escape route should the need arise.
He and I soon came to a wordless understanding that we weren’t a threat to each other. Finding a small rock overhang twelve yards distant, he parked himself, still eyeing me, unperturbed by my camera work. I snapped photos and admired the physicality of this six- to eight-year-old ram.
A front hoof lifted, scraped the sandstone twice. Repeating with the other hoof, he folded his legs beneath himself and bedded down for a long stay. My senses, atrophied from living in a too-easy world, strained to catch details about him on this spring morning. Silence was interrupted only by the tic-ticking of falling graupel (snow beads) as the minutes slowly passed.
Tingly legs told me it was time to unbend, and bid him farewell; I had more miles to hike, more cairns to build, more trails to patrol. But now this day’s tasks would be colored by a vivid overlay of my chance encounter with a wild, elegant, handsome beast. All was well in my world.
*(Immediate regret: the single spritz of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue that I had applied hours earlier. What an affront to his senses.)
April 8, 2013
Only ten minutes of daylight remain, so we sprint from the car to the overlook with our cameras and our willingness to be impressed. Even so, the view into the canyon stops us in our tracks. There is no river vista quite as expansive as that at Dead Horse Point State Park, next-door-neighbor to Canyonlands. Eons of erosion have dismantled rock, grain by grain, leaving this tapestry of sandstone guarding the miniaturized Colorado River 2000 feet below.
April 3, 2013
Not having a 4WD vehicle in the West can be annoying; I find myself coveting my sister’s FJ Cruiser
all the time whenever I need to get somewhere rugged. But with good instructions from friends who have been around, Olive (99,000 miles and counting) continues to explore vistas that other Priuses won’t.
The first time she did this, I was camping in a remote BLM campground and had to cross a shallow stream four times to reach my site. As in, drive through the water, not go on a bridge. For seven days. Dozens of crossings. I found out Olive could handle that.
Last summer, I had her at 10,000 feet in the mountains when a couple on ATVs zipped by. Incredulous, they slammed on their brakes and got off to ask if they could photograph my Prius in a land of pickups. Olive happily posed, unaware that she was out of place or being secretly mocked.
Last week, my daughter and I found ourselves on a narrow sandy jeep road atop a godforsaken mesa, in search of the Secret Spire. Side roads here are often unlabeled, and we weren’t exactly sure we were on the right one. Afraid to slow down and risk getting mired, I just kept going, and going, and going… and, yes, the Spire was worth it.
There’s one thing she’s attempted and backed away from: a debris-laden mudslide spanning the highway. I absolutely love my Prius, but you know what? That FJ Cruiser is looking sweeter all the time.
Leave a comment if you’ve taken your vehicle where it shouldn’t have gone.
March 28, 2013
Desert landscapes benefit from having contrast; Utah’s beauty is at its peak in the seasons where red is tempered by something else. In springtime, small flower blossoms accomplish that. Autumn brings golden cottonwoods, lighting riparian zones afire. Winter, however, earns the prize: white snow breaking up vast expanses of sandstone, looking for all the world like a layer of frosting on sedimentary cake.
Winter also reveals easy-to-read clues of wildlife activity. Tracks are far simpler to follow and identify in fresh snow, leaving my mind to imagine what that scurry was all about, or who ate whom, or who lives where.
This winter’s long stretch of bitter cold (continuous weeks below zero — an anomaly for southern Utah) left a new sensation underfoot when I returned. Our soil was broken up and fluffed by frost action, and it felt as if I were walking on sifted flour instead of packed desert sand.
Do consider visiting your national parks in the off season. It has become my favorite time to explore new places.
March 20, 2013
“In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty.”
– Christopher Morley
I was alive for decades before I began to understand and name my own personal sources of refreshment and refueling. With joy I report: life has taken me to a place where I daily experience them in feast-ish proportions. When I am roving the trails on ranger duty, standing on the edge of canyons a couple thousand feet deep, staring at ragged mountains jutting two a a half miles above sea level, breathing in great lungfuls of silence, that ‘secret nerve’ is fully activated. At times it seems that my heart can barely survive the reverberations.
What stirs YOUR secret nerve? What fills you, satisfies you, nourishes your soul? I’d like to know.
March 13, 2013
Spring is marching forth with unbridled energy as I return to Utah to begin my fifth season as a ranger in Canyonlands National Park. Winter’s remains are draped over the land; pockets of snow cower on the north sides of blackbrush and juniper, knowing their demise is imminent. The strengthening desert sun leaves no option.
Driving up and over the high knoll which conceals the massive sandstone chasms, knowing what spectacular view lies just ahead, I inhale deeply… but nothing in all the earth prepares me for the beauty that unfolds southward.
Words from a Mary Oliver poem rise in my soul, reverberating like harmonics after a deep gong has been rung –
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”
Joy, joy — I am back where I belong.