Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 10, 2014

Respect: optional?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:40 am
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IMG_3116With a warm smile and friendly greeting, I welcomed the vehicle full of young people to Canyonlands. As I leaned out the kiosk window to collect their $10 entrance fee, the acrimonious diatribe began. Abbreviated version: “You mean I have to pay to get into public land? Doesn’t it belong to all of us? I already paid at Arches, you mean I have to pay AGAIN? Is there free camping? What service are you providing? You don’t NEED services in a national park; just let people in to enjoy the land.” I listened and acknowledged their concerns, then began to calmly explain, but they did not want to hear it; their minds were made up. “This is ridiculous — we’re turning around.”

The splenetic young man in the next truck, same party, fairly spat out his words at me: “Standing here collecting $10 is NOT  a service.” He squealed his tires as he drove off to follow his buddies.

The 20-somethings’ selfishness and rancor threw me. Something tells me they didn’t grow up seeing gratitude modeled, or respect, and it isn’t easy to learn these character qualities as adults.

Who provides clean toilets and toilet paper, prints maps, empties trash, plows roads, erases graffiti, installs water faucets for their safety? Who rescues them when they get lost or their car runs out of gas? Who maintains the trails they want to walk on, erects radio repeaters for communications, or takes their mounds of empty bottles to the recycling center 35 miles away? Who creates and installs signs so they can find their way in this wilderness? Who drives the 6,000-gallon water trucks up from Moab? Next time they need any of these things, perhaps the national park entrance fee would seem a reasonable exchange.

Yesterday a man let his two dogs out of his car just as I arrived at an overlook, and they took off running. “Sir? Your dogs are welcome here, but they must be on leashes.” “ANTI-ANIMAL,” he vented, as he whistled for his pets to return. When they got to his side, he loudly told the canines, “NOT YOUR FRIEND.” I took a deep breath to say something but chose to walk the other direction instead of getting tangled up in this miasma of emotion and strong opinion.

Most of my conversations with visitors are delightful, but ones like these drain my joy. I’m a Minnesotan, for crying out loud, and just want people to get along, be happy, and play by the rules. Four cars after the one that opened this post, an elderly Georgia gentleman with a long soft drawl showed me his senior pass, then said, “Do me a favor?” “Sure.” “You have a real wonderful day.” And off he drove.

And I did, by choice.

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Leave a comment about some brief interaction you’ve had that startled you.

 

 

May 22, 2014

Just another 1440 minutes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:45 pm
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MUST. GET. INTO. WILDERNESS.

Come along with me for a recent 24-hour period, and see how I “do” a day off of work… and, as always, click on any photo to enlarge it.

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Having found our BLM camp spot on the canyon rim away from it all, Chris builds a fire to chase away the evening chill. In spite of the calendar page saying May, evening temps often dip into the 40s or 30s here in the high desert. Our humble spaghetti supper warms us, and we forgive a mouse intruder who runs across the stove seeking leftovers.

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At precisely the time indicated by NOAA, the Full Flower Moon rises just south of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. I wordlessly press my hand into Chris’s as I am again overcome by a sense of my own smallness in this crushingly beautiful universe.

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We roll out our sleeping bags on the sandstone and burrow deeply into them; the Flower Moon will shine on us all night long as it arcs from east to west. A single cricket is the only sound in all the bright darkness.

Pre-dawn brings first birdsong, and we settle for oatmeal with cranberries and walnuts since I forgot the tea and coffee. Shafer Canyon glows with low-angle spears of light; White-throated Swifts take to the skies. A beautiful spring day is in store.

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We follow directions in an 18-year-old guidebook to a remote location north of Arches NP and bushwhack into a deep wash, finally dropping into a narrow canyon where we’re mesmerized by the abundant wildflowers — Silvery Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemmon, Pale Evening Primrose.

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Biological Soil Crust (aka “Cryptobiotic Soil”), its top 3 mm filled with living organisms, has stabilized and nourished this area for centuries. (Please do not walk on it. Ever.)

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Further upcanyon, big rains five days earlier have created the inevitable patch of jiggly quicksand. My guy’s foot is swallowed up to his ankle. We make a run for firmer sand, laughing.

As the towering canyon walls close in, allowing just a body’s width to pass through, Chris freezes and motions me to halt. To our left, on a boulder in a side crack, a downy youngster rests in the noon sun. Her ear tufts are a species give-away: Great Horned Owl, probably around eight weeks old, probably told by her parents to stay put while they nap. She is surprisingly non-plussed by our presence. We shoot pics and sneak away, not wanting to encounter the talons of a watchful adult.

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The canyon dead-ends in a dramatic slot.

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When we pass Miss Owlet (I surmise female due to her large size) on our return trip, she is napping. The fifteen feet between us seems immaterial; a very wild animal is sharing the same spot as I am, and the moment is powerful.

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Extricating ourselves from the wash, we’re led by the map to Boca Arch a few miles away…

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…and then on to Caves Spring, where ancestral Puebloans sheltered nine centuries ago.

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To close our day in the backcountry, we come upon a century-old miner’s cabin made of railroad ties still standing in the desert.

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I LOVE EXPLORING. My heart is utterly joyful when I’m discovering new things, savoring each revelation, as present as I can possibly be, using every sense to learn more about this soul-stretching world in which we live.

Now I want to know: where is an exhilarating place YOU have explored?

 

May 6, 2014

A moment’s beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:42 am
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Spring rainstorm, Candlestick Tower

Spring rains, Candlestick Tower

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”     – John Muir

May 2, 2014

In this treacherous terrain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:50 pm
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Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Walking two by two in the pitch-black, by starlight and headlamp, we repeatedly called the name of someone we’d never met. An elderly man had wandered away from his RV two hours before sunset without jacket, water, or food. Temperatures are still getting down below freezing each night; he wouldn’t survive until morning if we failed to find him.

Our three “hasty teams” of park rangers got to the trailhead first and began searching in the most likely places — along the steep, cliff-edged Syncline trail — while awaiting search-and-rescue personnel from over an hour away. I’d walked this perilous stretch many times, always in daylight. The new moon afforded no luxury of shadows, and our thin arc of headlamp light gave barely a hint of the chasm a few yards away. Our radios worked only intermittently in these canyons. My imaginative hiking partner presumed a hungry mountain lion lurked nearby, while I was more concerned about our nocturnal rattlesnakes.

I had returned from a long run just before the knock on my door requesting searchers, and was tired, but someone’s life was on the line. As I sat down on a rock ledge to dig in my pack for a chocolate soy milk box, the thup-thup of the arriving helicopter brought encouragement: sixty thousand lumens of light! The K-9 unit, 34 searchers from two counties, and an ambulance crew were already on scene. It was now a race against the clock.

Finding a solo male boot track in a wet sandy wash, we radioed it in. They already had found excellent prints and were on the man’s trail, so we went to the highest exposed point of rock to relieve the very chilled radio relay team. Our job was now to monitor radio traffic and pass messages to and from those without coverage in lower canyons.

High on Upheaval Dome, Emma and I turned off our headlamps and watched the helicopter make pass after pass along the ridge line, shining its spotlight in an area of interest. The pilot’s impressive skills awed us as he hovered over one spot, searching, searching. The radio crackled with news that a person was hunkered down on all fours, not moving; ground rescuers plotted the pilot’s GPS coordinates and soon reached a very cold and disoriented subject. Six hours in, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. It would be several more hours before all personnel were cleared from the scene.

Sleep was fitful. An hour after sunrise, I was opening the visitor center and welcoming our first guests. “Your park seems rather quiet,” one said. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, I could only murmur, “We prefer it that way.”

 

 

 

 

April 19, 2014

Back in the (blog) saddle again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:05 am
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Mesa and clouds

Faithful readers: please forgive my lapse. I’ve been silent for nearly six months, causing some to wonder if I’m still blogging, or even alive. Today I begin composing anew — SEASON SIX! — while continuing my search for adventures to fuel my writing and banish writer’s block.

It becomes more challenging to have a ‘beginner’s mind’ (shoshin*) in a place that’s become so familiar and so known. Sharing with all of you helps me accomplish that. My intent, as always, is to invite you along as I encounter Great and Marvelous Things as a seasonal ranger in Canyonlands National Park.

The high desert of the southwest is my playground and work station, and I love to pique your curiosity and whet your interest. Backlogged winter adventures and off-duty exploits are fair game for blog posts, and I delight in answering questions from my readers about national parks, deserts, wilderness, my job, why I perpetually have bad hair days, anything at all. I’ve enjoyed meeting some of you here at the park and I appreciate every person who takes time to read my thoughts.

While it is still painfully slow to load photos with wilderness internet speeds, I hope to add albums from time to time. Let me know in the comments what you’d like to see in this blog, and I will incorporate those into upcoming posts. How many of you are on Instagram? I believe I can get that going, too.

The photo above was taken from the base of our Shafer Trail, the old mining switchbacks that took uranium hunters down into our canyons in the ’40s and ’50s.

Thank you for your patience, my friends. Glad to be back!

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*having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

October 31, 2013

Link to mammoth photos

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:08 pm
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I’m sorry that some of you had difficulty linking to the scholarly article to which I referred in my last post. Try this blog instead. (If you want to access the article, search “Sand Island Mammoth Petroglyph”  and the authors, “Malotki-Wallace.”) The writer uses the original author’s photos with his permission. While standing at the panel I found it immensely helpful to have a drawing in my hand of the pecked-out portions so I could know what I was looking for, and those very exact maps are here. If these aren’t mammoths, I’d love to hear what else they might represent!

Mammoth #2 on far left of panel.

#1: Newer bison superimposed over older mammoth glyph.

October 27, 2013

Seen any Pleistocene mammoths lately?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:59 am
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Golden leaves in October glory along Cottonwood Wash, home of unparalleled rock art .

Golden leaves in October glory along Cottonwood Wash, home of unparalleled rock art .

Rock art in the American southwest is plentiful. Painted on or pecked into sandstone cliff walls are countless anthropomorphs, spirals, kokopellis, handprints, animals — notably bighorn sheep and snakes — and geometric shapes. It fascinates; the powerful connection across the centuries is what keeps me searching for rock art. I want to ‘meet’ new artists in each location.

The small town of Bluff, Utah, boasts an impressive panel along the San Juan River at Sand Island, which Chris and I carefully explored last week. The weak October sunlight bounced off hundreds of deep yellow cottonwood trees in the floodplain as we worked our way along the wall of Navajo sandstone, perusing image after image. Some we could relate to; others were mysterious. It was splendid.

Our rock art lives were about to change, however.

Acting on a tip from a local, we proceeded upriver to a location previously overgrown by thick stands of invasive tamarisk, recently cut down. There it was: the image of a bison. It evoked the long linear bison images in the French caves — stylistically ancient, powerful. We could tell only that it was OLD.

And then, just to its left, a mammoth outline started to come into focus. Mammoth with tusks, mammoth that last roamed the area 10,800 years ago. Paleolithic art. Binoculars up, the panel unfolded before us. Far different from everything else we had seen in that location, or any location. 11,000 to 13,000 years old.

We’ve seen large mammals in rock art before — elk, cougar, bear — but mammoths are altogether rare, with forgeries among them. This one, apparently, is the real McCoy. My camera couldn’t capture much of the deeply weathered images, but click on this link to the scientific paper about this panel. Skim the text; study the excellent photos. Judge for yourself whether this is truly a mammoth.

Flickers swooped from tree to tree, leading us back to the car. I walked in silence, thinking of the other puzzling petroglyph I’ve seen: the one that looks exactly like a long-necked dinosaur with wings at Natural Bridges National Monument. If ancient humans documented local mammoths, couldn’t they also document local dragons?

October 19, 2013

100,000

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:23 am
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Last night, after I laid my head on my pillow and my body settled into a deep and restful sleep, the 100,000th view of my blog took place. This is not something of import to my readers, but the milestone means a great deal to me; I set out in 2009 to record my adventures only for myself and a few family and friends in Minnesota. To learn that readers have clicked in from 132 countries makes me shake my head, and consult an atlas. (Could you point to the Bailiwick of Guernsey? or Réunion? I couldn’t.)

I’m a classic example of how determination and tenacity trumped skill-less-ness. Lacking any computer literacy, I muddled through teaching myself the basics of WordPress. My first month of blog posts had no photos because I was clueless as to how to add them. I lost more posts than I can count because of technology glitches, sporadic signal in the wilderness, or touching the wrong button. I’m a social media ignoramus and haven’t gotten into Twitter, so I lack networking connections that could ‘boost my numbers.’ My children are making me learn Instagram (‘rangerkathryn’) but that progress is laughably slow. I don’t even know how to fix the varied last names on my email, Facebook, blog accounts — am I Burke, Colestock, or Colestock-Burke? (Answer: all.) Forgive me. I’ll get techie help at Thanksgiving from my very talented son.

If you are a new blogger, be encouraged: it takes only discipline, fueled by inspiration. Find your passion and share it with others! Sit down to write when it’s easy, but also when you’re feeling blocked and mute. Read and comment on others’ blogs. Learn by doing. Do!

“Thank you” seems paltry to say to you, my readers. My sincerest gratitude goes to each one. I’d keep writing without you — but, oh, how fun it is to have you along!

October 17, 2013

Open, open, open!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:32 am
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Ranger Victoria, Ranger Rob, Ranger Lauren -- Arches NP, 2010

Ranger Victoria, Ranger Rob, Ranger Lauren — Arches NP, 2010

WELCOME BACK TO WORK, all 401 NPS sites! WAHOO!!!

A sixteen-day closure was excruciating, but in the last year America’s national parks welcomed more than 270 million regular people. They all came, and continue to come, for their own reasons — beauty, refreshment, to-do list, head-clearing, exercise, inspiration. If I could give only one message to Congress, it is this: These places are essential in the fabric of our lives.

To those putting on the green and gray today: brace yourselves for the most sincere, profuse, grateful expressions of joy and delight and relief that you’ve likely experienced in that uniform. My experience in the entrance station on the first day Canyonlands opened (under state funding) was almost surreal: nearly 100% of the cars that drove up were grinning, clapping, laughing, high-fiving me — ecstatic to be able to return to their parks. It was an unceasing stream of “I’m so happy to see you” and “Thrilled that you’re back at work.”

I’ve seen lots of smiles in this park — but this day was one solid grin, from beginning to end. And, to my peers working in entrance booths and visitor centers across America today, all I can say is: ENJOY IT. There’s nothing like ‘going without’ to remind us to be grateful.

OPEN THE GATES!

 

October 15, 2013

Anonymous rangers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:43 am
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Arches National Park, "The Three Gossips"

Arches National Park, “The Three Gossips”

I’m imagining, with a smile, what would happen if we sat all our legislators down with tea and scones while they watched this three-and-a-half minute video. Go get your cup of something hot and click on this link:

Anonymous rangers

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