Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 13, 2009

Fiery Furnace

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:42 pm


deep within the fiery furnace

deep within the fiery furnace

Take a carpet square.  Lay it over a tennis ball.  See how the fibers separate?  Well, thanks to the 5000 feet of compressed salt underneath this park, the same “fins” that form on the buckled carpet square will form in real life in the Entrada sandstone when a salt dome rises underfoot.  Salt, under tremendous pressure, acts more like toothpaste than like a solid.  It will flow into fissures and cracks along fault lines, and then push upward on whatever is above it.  Sandstone, being more brittle than a carpet square, will fracture along parallel lines.  As water seeps in the fractures, freezes, pushes the rocks apart, and repeats that process a zillion times, the edges of the fins begin to erode.  Eventually you have something like a zany loaf of sliced bread, made of rock.  Today I went in between the slices.  Oh, but there is one small detail:  many of the slices are dead ends, and there is a lot of crumbled eroded rock in there, and there are NO maps, NO cairns, and NO water.  Good thing I had Ranger Carrie.


Driving to the Fiery Furnace, one sees a huge depression called “Salt Valley.”  It is an area where the salt flowed (was squeezed) out from beneath the underlying rock, and the overlying strata collapsed upon itself.  It is dramatic, and you can see how the edges would have met up at one time long ago.  We begin our climb from the top, scrambling across boulders the size of garages, and across narrow ledges that are actually the tops of eroded fins.  We squeeze through slots just wide enough for a human being, and crawl through baby arches that have just met the requisite 3 foot dimension (in any direction) for becoming a named arch.  Ranger Carrie lets us name any arch we find, but nobody comes up with as good a name as its real one:  Kissing Turtles Arch.  We discover potholes laden with mosquito larvae, hear stories about the discovery of large Surprise Arch overhead (it was the park superintendent, so imagine his surprise!), and marvel once again at the mild temps blessing the area this spring.  From the name, one might surmise that it can feel like a blast furnace in there, but honestly there is more shade than anywhere else due to these rock slices of bread.  It got its name from how it glows a brilliant red at sunset, for which only the name ‘furnace’ is suitable.

A teen-aged girl behind me in the group kept saying things like, “It is so restful in here,”  “I just love being in here,”  “I feel like I am in another world,” and “Wouldn’t this be an awesome place to paint or read or take photographs?”  She looked like a city-slicker and I challenged her to make wilderness a part of her life on a regular basis.  And then I challenged myself to do the same.  We ALL need wilderness.


  1. I’ve just followed up and read back to the beginning. I love the first hike and (nearly) getting lost……. and I love your descriptions of the silence as well as the scenery. I know I will live vicariously through your blogs. Way to go, Kathryn!

    Comment by Mom — June 13, 2009 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Mom! It’s good to know that Fine Stories are happening all the time; I just need to be aware and catch them, and share them.

      Comment by kath56ryn — June 13, 2009 @ 4:32 pm | Reply

  2. Well, done, daughter!
    Like mom, I have just followed (albeit backwardsly) your trail from the Frozen North out to the Desolate Desert. Wonderful start to an even more wonderful summer of adventure. You are adventuring in quite the proper way – even if losing the trail was inadvertent. That’s the way the best adventures of all begin . . .

    Comment by Dad — June 13, 2009 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

  3. How do you suppose we, or any visitor, can possibly even scrape the surface? You are seeing such completely different formations each day. I was thinking “arches” but not needles and loaves of bread and box canyons ……… (and purposely not scorpions and black widows and velvet ants). Love, Mom

    Comment by Mom — June 13, 2009 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

    • I glibly told a co-hiker that I felt as if eight weeks here would give me a good knowledge of the park. Then, hearing how ridiculous that statement sounded, I back-tracked: “No, eight weeks will give me a good FEEL for this park, but will leave 98% of it unexplored.” It is not just arches: it is dinosaur tracks and ore deposits and alcoves and all the things already mentioned. It is the coolest place!

      Comment by kath56ryn — June 14, 2009 @ 7:06 am | Reply

  4. Kathryn how cool…you are seeing God’s handiwork!
    What an enriching awesome experience!

    Comment by Kathy — June 13, 2009 @ 11:19 pm | Reply

    • Yes! Yes, yes, yes!

      Comment by kath56ryn — June 14, 2009 @ 7:07 am | Reply

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