Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 10, 2009

Kait and the scorpion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:46 am


My co-worker, Kait, was not two hours into her first training day yesterday — in the very room where I was sitting this morning — when she pushed a rolling chair with her calf and got stung by a scorpion that was sitting on her chair edge.  Felt like fire, she said.  I made a mental note to shake out shoes and clothing and take nothing for granted, if it was on her chair in the conference room in the visitor center.  As I am sitting in my car writing this today, I realized I forgot to shake out my shoes this morning… new habits are hard to learn, until there is a painful reason to remember.

First hike not quite as planned

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:44 am

Courthouse Towers, a favorite prowl of mine

Courthouse Towers, a favorite prowl of mine

Having 1290-some miles under my belt in the past 33 hours, I planned to take hike #1 at the closest trailhead.  Courthouse Towers beckoned.  It was 6:20 pm, and a lovelier evening could not be imagined.  I had memorized much of the park map over the past five months, so knew that it was an “easy one-mile hike with return over same trail” through towering fins that remind one of skyscrapers on Park Avenue.  The tennis shoes I’d been wearing for a couple of days were perfect, as was the temperature and the attitude of the hiker.  I had my water along.  Being new at 5000 feet, I started at the downhill end so I could have energy for the return.  O joy!  My first steps are taken!  Twenty minutes or so of picking my way nimbly through a large ancient wash yielded discoveries of ephemeral pools in potholes, teeming with tadpoles and water insects and larval crustaceans who have to hatch, mature, and procreate before the pool dries up.  It felt as if I were walking on the back of a millennia-old whale, crusted with lichens, smeared with red sand, divots missing where erosion was most active.  Layers of ancient tidal flats and beaches were underfoot. 

The farther away from the parking area I got, the more alive the desert became… and the more silent.  I was working my way slowly uphill, easy walking, following cairns carefully placed there by generations of previous walkers.  Every once in a while a breeze would come up; it was as if it were trying to push on these giant sails of ancient sailing vessels, humming and whistling as it did.  When it died in a few moments, the stillness was overwhelming.  I stopped — held my breath.  If it weren’t for the one or two birds in the canyon, not one sound would be heard.  I am told that the sound of the desert is equivalent to the sound inside a recording booth, and I do not doubt that for one second. 

I picked my way further up the canyon, noticing that it was getting steeper and narrower. Had I seen a cairn recently?  There were still shoe prints beneath my feet, however, so I pressed on.  In another ten minutes I looked up and before me was a steep box canyon that was clearly a dead end.  On my drive up, I had gone to the overlook of the trailhead at the other end for a view of my destination; I knew this canyon was not it.  Others had been caught in the same predicament, though, judging from the waffle prints in the sand.  I surmised that the REAL trail might be around the other side of a bookshelf-like projection a few minutes back, so abandoned the box canyon in favor of Plan B.  

The second canyon, around the ‘bookcase,’ ended as the first one did.  The same waffle footprints trekked there.  It was now about 7:20 and I knew sunset was 8:40… but also knew that it could get very dark very quickly. I would take no chances.  I started scouring for rock ledges under which I could sleep, if an emergency required it.  There were plenty.  Scorpions and midget faded rattlers already used them. 

About now I am imagining my children rolling their eyes, saying, “Can you BELIEVE Mom got lost on her first easy walk?!?”  “Yeah, so much for Ranger Mom!”  “Well, she never was very good at directions…”  I made the unanimous decision with myself to return to civilization, did a 180, and marched downward.  The stillness was so marvelous that I began to place my feet where they would be most soundless.  I slowed down and really, really listened to the wilderness.  The surreal nature of my surroundings began to sink in as the sun slowly descended below the fins, leaving me in a shady glow that penetrated my whole being.  I figured I’d find the last cairn and solve the mystery.

Cairn-imps should be strung up by both thumbs.  Some industrious child had felt like stacking rocks where rocks should not have been, leading me off course on my ascent.  It became apparent that I needed to have taken a left fork instead of the right fork I had inadvertently taken, so I moved the cairns to their proper location and built three more of my own to reinforce the proper wash in which to walk.  And then I looked at the sun, looked at my watch, and walked up to where three Rock Wrens were chattering and playing.  Two fins that intersected like a massive prow of a litho-Titanic were leading me back to my car.  I reflected on my first important lesson of the desert:  Side canyons are incredibly easy to get lost in.  Don’t lose your cairns.  Ignore footprints.  And don’t forget to listen to the silence.

Arrival… at last!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:38 am

Left Austin yesterday morn at 0610, a cool 49 degrees.  Rolled in to ANP today at 1525, a cool (for them) 84 degrees.  I feel as if I am in a desolate foreign country, as nothing — not the weather, not the flora, not the fauna — resembles MN.  My first sighting of the Klondike Bluffs left me trembling, trying to drive and crane my neck at the same time.  The colors are surreal:  deep red ochre that penetrates one’s pores, and odd blue-green wash the color of copper patina that is really iron (absent the O2).

As I walked through the front door of the Visitor Center my cell phone rang.  It was Juliana Smith, Lead Interpreter, wondering where I might be.  “Here!  Right here!” I replied, and she came running up with a big hug to welcome me.  Within moments I had been shown around to the other workers and introduced, and there seemed to be an excitement that I was here — as much on their parts as on mine.  I kept looking around me, pinching myself mentally, saying… “It is happening.  It really is happening.”   The more people I met, the more it confirmed my understanding that I will really fit in here and will enjoy these people tremendously.  

Nancy (lead person over both parks, Canyonlands and Arches) was working behind the Visitor Center (hereinafter VC) desk and I got to listen in on her next five conversations with guests.  I can’t believe how much I don’t know.  Yes, I can.  When the first Junior Ranger came up, however, to be quizzed… she smiled at me and said, “Go ahead!”… and I winged it and then she gave me the “No more than five min max per jr ranger…” and sent me on my way.  She reminds me so much of Josie:  Animated, expressive, humorous, smiling with her face as well as her eyes, and full of life.  I am going to like Nancy.

I got shown to my apartment, checked in by the ever-useful Kyle, who adjured me to ALWAYS put in a work order if I needed ANYTHING done here because, well, nothing gets done unless it goes through the proper channels.  And he was gone.  I unloaded my car, piling things high in the LR, and knew it was time for my first hike.

“Wicked Brew”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:30 am

This is the place from which I will send all my blog posts, and retrieve all your comments.  It is a red shack in a parking lot, with a nice man who just made me a coconut latte’ and who tells me I can use his Wi-Fi any time I please.   How sweet is that?!!?  His vintage red bike with Obama bumper sticker is parked out back.  I’ll buy a lot of coffee drinks from him this summer.

I’m here!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:27 am

1290 miles, more or less.  What a breathtaking drive between Denver and Arches — everything but the kitchen sink and (active) volcanoes.  But…as of 3:25 pm Monday… I”M HERE!!  It is stunningly beautiful!!

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