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!
October 31, 2013
October 27, 2013
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
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
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
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:
October 10, 2013
Things are quickly going from “okay” to “not okay” in our parks, and it isn’t because of the animals. My friend/colleague in California offers a ranger’s-eye view —
Meanwhile in Death Valley National Park, the tally so far stands at:
- 6 padlocks cut
- 7 closure signs removed
- 3 locks picked
- 2 deadbolts vandalized beyond repair
- 2 piles of poo outside locked restrooms
- 2 big-ass boulders moved aside for a vehicle to drive off-road around a locked gate
- And an unaccountable number of traffic cones and sandwich boards tossed aside or run over by a vehicle
Thank you for vandalizing! Please come again!
Multiply this by more than 400 park units. People intent on getting into a forbidden place rarely stop to consider the consequences of their actions. I fully understand the public’s anger at being locked out of public lands, and their ideological ‘solution’ of trespass, but the repercussions contain unforeseen outcomes. Resource destruction is guaranteed; there is no one to clean and stock bathrooms, monitor trails, protect priceless rock art or other cultural treasures, staff visitor centers, empty trash bins, stop graffiti-ists. Emergency help will be far away. Damage repairs and resource restoration could take years — yes, years. And, not at all subtly, the Park Service ends up being portrayed as the enemy against whom desperate measures must be employed.
It’s our elected officials in Washington, remember???
Chills went up my spine when I read that an elected county commissioner in southeast Utah disclosed plans for “peacefully removing barricades” to Lake Powell and other federal areas, stating that “local sheriffs are in on the plan, too.” He states, “This is not anarchy. This is government doing what government does which is look after the health and welfare and safety of their citizens.” And I sit in disbelief, wondering how barricades ordered put up by one government can be taken down by another, claiming they are a health and safety issue. Health and safety issues would be exacerbated, not alleviated, by having no bathrooms, maps, and helpful personnel nearby. No — let’s call it what it is: an economic hardship, and a difficult one. Removing a few barricades might feel productive, but it is an inferior solution. We need answers from the top, from those who don’t appear to be listening right now.
No matter what the media says, we’re not trying to “make things as difficult as possible.” My Death Valley counterpart, a law enforcement ranger, was told the exact opposite: be as low-key and accommodating as possible. It is not our goal to stir up trouble, no matter whose political agenda that might help, and I am issuing a plea: DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR FRUSTRATION ON THE NPS. Please avoid using inflammatory language like “gestapo” and “Nazi.” I am feeling the same sense of helplessness as you are. Writing an email or making a phone call to your representative in Washington may feel like banging your head against a locked door, but DO IT — every day! And, if you’re contemplating civil disobedience, read this brilliant link first — “Do Visitors Really Need to be Shut Out of National Parks During the Government Shutdown?”: http://www.parkadvocate.org/qa-do-visitors-really-need-to-be-shut-out-of-national-parks-during-the-government-shutdown/
October 4, 2013
Birds, cottontails, lizards — the regular cast of characters inhabits Canyonlands National Park this morning. What is missing, however, are human sounds. Normally I hear the distant hum of traffic entering before sunrise to catch the famous photo at Mesa Arch, but today… nothing. No tires on our pavement, no feet on our trails. Absolutely silent.
“That’s the way a wilderness park should be,” some may say. NO. These national treasures, these places of wonder, belong to the American people and this particular one has welcomed people for 49 years. Keeping travelers out of them is morally wrong. We’re punishing innocent people over political ideologies.
It’s not about my unpaid furlough; that may sting, but I’ll manage. Visitors have planned for months, have come from around the country and around the world to see our national parks, and they encounter barricades, gates, locked visitor centers. This land is called “public” for a reason, and refusing access is senseless.
Tuesday at 8 a.m. sharp, seven staff members gathered to close down the park. It was a somber morning of changing the message on our phones, filling out our payroll online, notifying campground occupants that they would need to leave, laminating and putting up sad signs, cleaning out the refrigerator, emptying all safes, making final deposits.
C’mon, Congress. Lay down your differences. There is no excuse for this.
September 8, 2013
(click on any photo to enlarge it)
Like many towns in the Rocky Mountains, Silverton, Colorado, got its start in the gold- and silver-mining boom of the 1870s. Mine bosses advertised in overseas newspapers to get workers, and ore was extracted at a frenzied pace; the town was gathering place, supply source, and entertainment headquarters. It was a rugged life for those determined enough to persevere through the brutal winters and in the perilous workplaces. Even the mules weren’t safe, as evidenced by the headstone pictured to the right.
An 18:1 ratio of males to females attracted women desperate for income, as the law looked the other way regarding prostitution. After all, prostitutes had to pay a fine of $5 each month to the city’s coffers and, with as many as 117 of them working in 1883, that steady revenue certainly helped balance the budget. They lived on the wrong side of the tracks and frequented the dance halls, saloons, and bordellos on that notorious east side of town.
In the quiet morning light, the town cemetery beckoned us to explore. Scattered beyond the imposing granite monuments of railroad tycoons and city fathers, a small collection of simple headstones marked where a few of these too-used bodies lay. The markers, softened today by dappled shadows, appear to have been purchased by the local historical or cemetery society.
I paused on the hillside, grateful that someone felt their lives and deaths were worth remembering, wondering whether most died alone in their anguish and despair, shaking my head at the pure calamity of it all. This is not the place for a tirade against the indescribable evil of the sex trade, which degrades and demeans women and children and destroys every shred of self-esteem and worth. The ongoing battle to free these prisoners belongs to all of us. Let me simply say that my heart was overwhelmed by these few tragic epitaphs describing women of Silverton. May they rest in peace.
September 5, 2013
The sights, sounds, and smells of an old steam train take us back to a kinder and gentler era, helping us briefly forget recent news of chemical weapons, gang-rapes, and nuclear pollution. Who doesn’t love the harmonious whistle, blown in coded combinations of long and short? The clickety-clack of wheel on track, the swaying cars, the passing scenery?
Passengers milled happily about the Durango, Colorado, railroad station, awaiting the boarding call. At the ticket booth for the narrow-gauge railway trip up into the San Juan mountains, I learned that the only car available was the first-class Silver Vista. I don’t remember ever buying first-class anything in my life, but this was a glass-roofed open-air car, built from blueprints of the original destroyed in a suspicious fire sixty years ago. It was, we would later discover, the favorite car of all the railroad workers. I got two tickets.
Forty-five miles and three-and-a-half glorious hours later, Chris and I stepped off onto the packed dirt roads of the well-worn 19th-century mining town of Silverton, population 500-ish. It’s endearingly ragged, quintessentially western; I suspect the only thing keeping it alive in the 21st century is the narrow-gauge railroad and the 175,000 riders who drop in each year.
What’s a little soot on your face, in exchange for a ride up 3,000 feet and back a century or so?
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Leave a comment about your best or worst experience with trains.
August 21, 2013
“Looking out over the pure sweep of seamless desert, I am surprised to realize that the easy landscapes stifle me—closed walls of forests, ceilings of boughs, neat-trimmed lawns, and ruffled curtains of trees hide the soft horizons. I prefer the absences and the big empties, where the wind ricochets from sand grain to mountain. I prefer the crystalline dryness and an unadulterated sky strewn from horizon to horizon with stars. I prefer the raw edges and the unfinished hems of the desert landscape. Desert is where I want to be when there are no more questions to ask.” – Ann Zwinger, Mysterious Lands.
Today’s photos were from a 24-hour escape to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park where Chris and I camped, climbed, and explored a side canyon whose dinosaur tracks remained unrevealed but whose many petroglyphs enthralled us. I share them with the hope that you will glimpse the beauty of this area for yourself and make plans to visit if you are able. But beware; the bulldog grip this place exerts on your heart is irreversible.