I was at the stunningly beautiful Delicate Arch in civilian clothes on my day off, introducing visiting friends to this icon of the park and of Utah. A 60-ish man was eating a small packet of gummy fruits and a beggarly chipmunk heard the rattle of the wrapper and approached him.
-- google image --
“Please don’t give him any,” I pleaded. The reply was coupled with arrogance: “Oh, I already did.” I felt my fists clenching, which frightened me, and I decided it was time to breathe before saying something I would regret forever. I realized that this man had already made up his mind that a minute of his own entertainment was worth far more than big concepts like animal health, visitor safety, ecosystem balance. Even if he knew it carried a fine (which I’m sure he didn’t consider), there was no law enforcement ranger around to write a ticket.
I wasn’t in uniform. My badge is the only thing that carries weight; still, I couldn’t resist trying. “Human food is terrible for their diet. We wouldn’t want them to become lazily dependent on handouts of junk food.” He paused and then replied under his breath, “One of us wouldn’t.” I had to walk away. Really. Just get myself out of Ranger Mode and pretend to be a tourist, taking photos, enjoying the arch and the exquisite day.
My fingers were slipping, and toe holds were smaller than I liked, so I threw one leg up on a ledge and hooked my heel over the corner. It was a desperation-born move but my two encouragers on the ground admired my spunk and creativity; they cheered as I muscled my way onto the narrow projection of rock and stood up. I was on the wall again at long last.
Both of my partners this day were advanced, having climbed for years. I, an ‘advancing beginner,’ went along to watch and learn, and to belay them from the ground along some of the hundred or so climbs on Potash Road. In exchange for my modicum of helpfulness, they urged me to try some of the short sections of each route that had a few do-able moves. “You gotta get on the difficult stuff, even when you’re just learning. You won’t advance if you stay in your comfort zone,” Atty said. And then he put me on a climb several grades beyond my ability. “It’s 90% mental, 5% technique, 5% strength,” he added helpfully.
I came home with less skin and more bruises than I started with. My triceps ached for a couple of days, highlighting my laxity in exercising. So… why do I love this sport? Why do I feel so alive on the rock? In part, because every tiny effort is rewarded by a new insight into or understanding of body mechanics, friction or physics. It focuses my concentration like a laser. There is an exhilaration in willing yourself to find places where the rock can provide just enough support for each of your four tired limbs. It opens the way for you to boldly go where you’ve not gone before. (Cue Star Trek opening music and Captain Kirk’s voice…)
I’ve created an entertaining Facebook photo album that tells a short story of my climbing attempt. You can find it here.
The Grand Canyon, a mile deep, will always hold the ‘grandest’ honors. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, however, is the ‘deepest, steepest, narrowest’ canyon in North America. When it was being surveyed for hydrological uses in 1900, it ate up wooden boats. All further exploration had to be done on inflatable air mattresses; the walls were too steep to walk along. But surveying was not my purpose in visiting.
It's 2000 feet to the bottom of this chasm. Awfully impressive.
I was there to see Colorado instead of Utah for a change. Mountains instead of desert. Metamorphic rock instead of sedimentary. Rain instead of sunshine. First hints of fall colors instead of cacti. To experience 8200 feet elevation instead of 4100. To shiver instead of sweat.
Don’t laugh, but I was wearing my light down jacket, warm hat, and gloves when we got to the mountains. Desert life has certainly made this hardy Minnesotan more cold-sensitive.
The tent was up, the supper cooked and eaten, and the fire crackling when raindrops began plopping with disquieting portent. My campmate Bill threw an armful of branches onto the flames as we dashed for the car; 45 minutes of rain didn’t extinguish them, after which we gladly absorbed the fire’s heat while listening to coyotes yipping, an elk bugling, and other assorted mountain sounds before retiring.
A Great Horned Owl hooted us awake during the early morning hours, as moonlight invited itself in through the open tent doors. I can’t think of a finer welcome for the new day.
In the mood after work for a plate of good Thai food from our local restaurant, I was on the waiting list for a table for one. A moment later two French women walked in, and in the process of perusing a shared menu we struck up what passed for a conversation across a language barrier. I invited this mother and daughter, traveling around the Southwest for 30 days, to join me at my table. The next hour was delightful — and they were so very very grateful for the assistance in knowing the food, the menu, the ordering process, whether you could get it without shrimp, how to say “not spicy,” etc. Of course they took pictures of the “ranger woman” who invited them, and we ultimately exchanged addresses and emails for future contacts. Naturally, there was the “you must come visit us in the south of France” added on, with complete sincerity, at the meal’s close.
FYI: In France, there is no such thing as a To-Go box. It is gauche to take your food home with you; you must consume it on the restaurant premises. My new friends thought that it was better our way as it “wastes little.” They have become adept at asking for boxes here!
It slipped out casually as I walked with a visitor from India: the two things he admired most about America were national parks and public libraries.
The first I expected; the second surprised me.
He described his public libraries in India as sorry collections of old damaged books, for which the borrower pays to use. His delight at finding free book-borrowing privileges was obvious. It made me stop and think about what we take for granted: good information at our fingertips at no cost, reference materials free for the using, and all this usually in pleasant attractive surroundings.
Grand County Public Library, Moab, Utah. Many people arrive by bicycle.
Our local library in Moab is a wonder to behold. A few years ago it won the “Best Small Library in America” award, for reasons that are immediately apparent to even a casual observer. I rely on it for everything from free Wi-Fi to books on CD for trips, and all the staff know me by sight and by my sparkly shoes. Heck, you can even check out a laptop for on-site use if you have a library card! Take this building away from Moab and the little town would be diminished inexpressibly.
Thank your local librarian today, will you? And here’s a shout-out to my dear mother, who has taken on the responsibility of organizing and cataloguing the decades of donated books in her retirement community’s library. May all your Dewey Decimals be in order!
Monolith at Courthouse Towers
My life in Utah’s national parks is marked by frequent moments when the beauty around me is so palpable, so physical, it nearly overwhelms. It can be biological, meteorological or astronomical: a collared lizard’s magical appearance, a sudden squall with subsequent rainbow, rocks set afire by the horizontal rays at day’s end, or the Milky Way dispersing my thoughts in its million billion stars. These fleeting glimpses are so powerful that they often stop me in my tracks. Being “in the moment” and giving myself to the experiencing of every nuance enlivens my soul and spirit and mind; it replenishes the deep well of passion that fuels my interpretation of this park for visitors. Everybody benefits.
Three Gossips & Sheep Rock glistening after a rain
A recent post-monsoon drive left me with these photos. (Click to enlarge.) The beauty moments were strung together one after the other after the other, and I was almost gasping for air…
What a rainbow!!!
The Fiery Furnace. Rock formations are nearly 100 feet tall.
The 60-ish man with utter lack of balance and zero stamina was worrying me. Our hike goes along edges of precipices, up sandstone faces, down the same, across one gap three feet wide, over irregular rocks, through cracks. It is not for the faint of heart nor faint of balance. He was breathing hard at every stop and sitting down wherever possible. Several times I watched him nearly tip over just from the moves we had to make as we scrambled through the obstacles of the Fiery Furnace — a maze in Arches National Park that requires a permit or a ranger-led tour for exploration.
As we rounded a bend on a very exposed and somewhat slanty ledge, he stumbled and I gasped. The drop was 40 feet down onto rock and we might be doing a body recovery if a fall ever happened right there. Catching himself, he continued on; I, however, made a beeline toward him and quietly asked him to come up and hike right behind me. “No, no, I’m staying with my party,” was his ego-preserving answer. I shrugged and let it go, knowing that the worst dangers were finally behind us.
After some thought, I’ve decided that ‘no’ will not be an acceptable answer in the future. Yesterday one of my fellow rangers had a middle-aged woman trip and fall into a crack (30 feet deep, 2 feet wide) — but she got wedged at the top by one leg (think ‘the splits’) and was able to be retrieved with some pulling and yanking. Other than being scraped up and scared, she wasn’t hurt. It would have been disastrous had she fallen to the bottom.
So… this is the hike I lead three times weekly. With 25 people of all different ages and abilities, a complicated route, six or seven interpretive stops, a steady stream of questions, weather that regularly brings oncoming storms, all while keeping my eyes peeled for the rattlesnake that sometimes makes an appearance on the trail.
I LOVE MY JOB!!
Kathryn on a new conveyance in a new place. She likes that.
I’m a fan of cross-training. In my case, however, it’s not the “swimming in order to improve endurance in running” variety. No, I’m talking about my deepening belief that if you undertake endeavors that you’ve never done before, it helps you successfully meet the NEXT new thing that you’ve not faced before. Today’s photo: there I am, biking through the Gravelly Range in Montana on a mountain bike (that’s TWO new things!) just a couple of weeks before leading my first ranger tour through Arches National Park’s “Fiery Furnace.” Finding out that I could muscle through the first one increased my confidence to tackle the second one, even though they are very different things.
How about you? Have you any experiences that would support this concept? Leave a comment.