Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 14, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:06 pm

The NPS has very strict standards for what is required when putting together an interpretive program.  You need a title, an intro/grabber, a theme related to the park, an activity, a  transition, a conclusion, and a “so what?” at the end.  (“So what are you going to do with this info?”) Today we spent six hours or so working through some previous educational stuff, and inventing new stuff to use on the trails, on our “roves,” and in the Visitor Center.  Great ideas were floating around the room, and I am the only newbie among the four Teacher-Rangers, so I was soaking them all in and hoping to appropriate a few of those for my own.  My boss looked at me soberly and said, “I hired you because you are creative.  I need to see you come up with your own stuff.”  Gr-r-r-r!  

The ‘aha’ moment eventually came.  Nobody has done a program on ravens!  They are ubiquitous, culturally significant, and unmistakably a part of the park.  They are fascinating creatures because of their high intelligence and their capacity to play.  I get to develop an interpretive program on ravens!  Yay!

They want me to have three short programs, so I am considering the next one to be on either soundscapes of the desert, or about silence itself.   All this in my ‘spare’ time…


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:53 pm

No.  It wasn’t me.  I have heard so much about dehydration since arriving here that I am drinking water ALL the time.  A local doctor said, “You live in Moab? You’re dehydrated.  End of story.”  The #1 health concern in this area is not scorpions, rattlesnakes, rock falls, or tumbles — but dehydration.  People seriously underestimate the amount of water their body needs, until it is too late.  Thirst is NOT one of the early indicators, so you learn to drink all the time, even when not thirsty.  

While I was up at Delicate Arch last night watching the sunset, my compatriot Ranger Bill was in the ER getting two liters of IV fluid pumped into him.  His pulse was 173 and he was as dry as could be.  

Drink your water!!

Safety first

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:09 am

Who is responsible for my safety?  Of course, the only acceptable answer is: I am.  Our trainers drill that into us from day one, tossing in useful morsels like “remember that it is always easier to get UP than to get DOWN.”  Well, rangers are inquisitive and always want to see or know or do something different.  

As I was sitting at Delicate Arch, waiting a good hour for the cool sunset shots (which would come all at once), I watched a man with a tripod go somewhere that I really wanted to go.  Let me help you picture this.  Imagine a slanted soup bowl with a wide rim.  On that rim sits Delicate, between two major drops.  Well, he found a way to scoot right past the huge foot of Delicate and walk down the rim in order to photograph it from the side.  Neat!  Oh, if he can do it, lithely and without slowing his steps, while carrying photographic equipment, SURELY Ranger Kathryn could!   So I traipsed over to the hulking base of the giant arch, and began to make my way gingerly past it.  Jiminy, this was getting steep, with no flat places to set my feet.  But I had just seen Jack do it, so I convinced myself that I could do it, because OF COURSE my beloved brothers would be nimbly skipping down there, and what the heck?  I placed my feet as carefully as I could, testing the grip before moving the next one.  The three or four story tumble into the bowl suddenly became an unpleasant probability instead of an abstract concept.  The scores of camera folk across the bowl were watching me with too-great interest, probably placing bets with each other to pass the time.  

My mind battled with my gut; my gut won.  I would retreat and leave the cool side-on photo to the nimble risk-taker guy.  And then reality set in… in order to turn around, I would need to turn feet 180 degrees opposite from where they were.  Sandstone is slippery, from all the easily-eroded grains constantly being rubbed off.  There was no good purchase.  My gut was in full “Aaiieee!” mode, but I composed myself and thought, “Nobody can help me.  There is not room for a helper.  I must get myself out of my own predicament.”   A little thought, a little adrenaline, a little careful foot turning, a little pause to breathe… and I picked my way out.  

I am not afraid of heights, but the drop into the soup bowl was a prospect I did not relish.  Hey, I am here at my sunrise writing spot, so you know that this ended safely.  It is a trade-off, as is everything in life:  give up the photo to keep myself intact.  I’ll take it.  And, when you go to Google images and type in Delicate Arch, and see that unique side-on photo?  It isn’t mine.  But I’ll treasure it as a lesson learned.

Delicate Arch Sunset, #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:22 am

my first sunset at delicate arch

my first sunset at delicate arch

The line of cars snaking up the windy road to Delicate Arch was my first indication that I would not find solitude and silence.  Silly me; a Saturday in June, in the coolest national park around?  What else besides crowds?  Try crowds with cameras, tripods, and a congenial spirit.  At least a hundred people are heading up the slickrock trail at about 6 pm, just to get up to ‘The Arch’ and hang out and revel in the party atmosphere waiting for ‘The Moment’ in which to snap ‘The Shot.’  Or, the 400 shots.

I had not hiked to this most iconic of all arches before.  It is a destination with a universal attraction, because it is perched on the edge of a deep sandstone bowl on one side, and a steep drop-off on the other down into one of our valleys.  The La Sal (“the salt”) mountains sit ceremoniously in the background, sometimes with a dusting of snow up top as the tallest are above 12,000 feet.  Put all that together and you have a pretty spectacular photograph, in the right conditions.

The camaraderie among the hikers is easy and natural.  We’re all headed to the top, a 3-mile round trip across slick hot rock and ledges that would be scary if you had a fear of heights.  If you’re walking near someone else or keep leap-frogging with them, you greet them and ask where they’re from, and suddenly you have instant friends.  Or, you get someone to take your picture of you with your own camera, and then you have a new friend.  Very pleasant group.

UNTIL you get to the arch.  That is where the jockeying for position begins.  Arch hogs get booed off; if you want your pic taken underneath that arch, you’d better be quick about it and vacate immediately!  One elderly man with a tripod tottered over there and was taking a bit too much time photographing, and people across the bowl (remember, at least 100 cameras poised) started whistling for him to move, or offering him a beer if he moved, etc.  He moved.  There is power in a crowd.

You wait.  You wait for a cloud to pass.  You wait for the sun to sink with long rays.  You wait for the arch hogs to vacate.  You wait for the ravens to go away from your backpack.  And, ultimately, all the waiting is rewarded, this night, with some spectacularly ephemeral lighting opportunities.  In the seconds that the sun sprays its light on Delicate Arch, all the folksy chit-chat suddenly ceases and shutters begin to click from every perch.  This is serious business, hiking up here for a perfect photo.

I excuse myself after about 30 great shots over 20 minutes, wanting to get down in silence.  Leaving the 100 behind, I realize that the temp has started to drop; instead of the day’s high of 89 degrees, it is now 82, and the trek back is ALL downhill.  The sun has made its grand disappearance, and the quality of the light is diffused and softened in the desert. Color goes away, leaving just large monochrome shapes and silhouettes.  I stop to listen — to the silence, to the heart of the desert, and to my own inner longings being satisfied in every moment.  

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