Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 21, 2009

Where NOT to pee — [for girls only]

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:56 pm

IMG_1099Tip #73:  Do not squat to pee on a pile of rocks.  Choose sand, or vegetation, neither of which will act as a deflector.

I think boys learn this early in life, but somehow I missed out…

Haiku R Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:57 pm

I love haiku.  Feel free to submit any haiku, any time.  While 5-7-5 is the purest form, I will delight in anything that evokes a natural image in three lines.

Desert Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:57 pm


Raven at Delicate Arch

Raven at Delicate Arch

What kind of organisms would live in this god-forsaken place?  I am gaining eyes with which to see them.  It is marvelous.


Underneath a rock panel near Kachina Bridge, the ranger pointed out a spider web.  “When you see a messy web, with a funnel feature built into it, look for a Black Widow spider,” she said.  I got down on my knees and peered into the rock crack sporting a dangly web strewn with dead leaves and grasses, twirling in the breeze.  Yes!  There she was!  My second BW spider in a week — I gazed from a respectful distance.

I am learning to locate water by the flora.  If I see a cottonwood tree, I know it loves wet feet and there will be water nearby or just beneath the surface.  The color green, in this landscape, is the clue of clues:  the more green, the more likely one will find water.  I love to scan the washes, where all the rainfall runs willy-nilly off the cliffs and travels with great rushing force.  After a rain the grasses are flattened all in the same direction, and sand has been moved around.  Boulders are shifted, potholes are carved, and water is evident as a dominant power here — despite its scarcity.

Rounding a switchback on a path, seven silent vultures perch on old dead snags, watching for their next meal.  Their kyphotic postures help them scan below, hour after hour, day after day.   In my campsite, Western Scrub Jays chased each other noisily through the low branches, flashing blue as they went.  One landed five feet above my picnic table and studied me and it, carefully looking for edibles to steal.   A raven took a position at the top of an old gnarly juniper nearby, emitting an occasional bored ‘croaaak’ while thinking of what to do next.  A titmouse fearlessly landed on my table, cocked its head, and introduced itself.  Several of these birds will not be found at Arches, with its lower elevation and more brutal temps; Natural Bridges is at the edge of two different biomes, so has more diversity.

May I see more — and then more!  Always more.

Dinosaur pictographs!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:29 pm


The faint dinosaur image painted on rock

The faint dinosaur image painted on rock

We travel onward to Natural Bridges National Monument, the recipient of the “darkest skies in America” designation.  Satellite imaging consistently showed pitch-black in these coordinates, and the park has capitalized on that by developing astronomy programs and having ranger-led star talks nightly.  All of its electrical needs are generated by a vast array of solar panels, so remote NBNM is off the grid entirely; it uses diesel generators as back-up in cloudy weather to energize its Visitor Center and employee residences.


Put this park on your bucket list — please.  It is a treasure.  We got there at 1:25 pm on Friday and got one of the last few sites in the 13-site campground, which has no running water; get that at the Vis Ctr a few blocks away.  Elevation 6500 feet, pygmy forest of juniper and pinyon pine — glorious!  The air is clear and sweet, with whispers of sage scent that become full choruses of heady, intoxicating sage aromas filling your lungs and cleansing your brain after each rain.

The timing is perfect: a ranger-led hike leaves in 30 minutes to one of their three massive bridges in the canyon below.  I absolutely love ranger-led hikes.  I loved every one I went on as a kid, soaking up the ranger’s knowledge, picking his (they were always male) brain, asking Qs and knowing I’d get an authoritative answer.  I was always at the front, able to touch the hem of his garment.  Still am.  Only now it is scary when I put on the ranger uniform and realize that people are looking to me for the authoritative answers!  

Ranger Dottie was well-read and of tremendous assistance.  We wound down the canyon, descending 400 vertical feet, learning plant facts galore along the way.  Underneath Kachina Bridge, a massive fortress-like opening carved by running water (which differentiates it from an arch, NOT water-formed), Ranger Dottie delivered a gift:  hand-outs mapping the abundant rock art in the area.  Six pages of panels on grid paper, upon which some industrious artist type had painstakingly copied the pictographs and petroglyphs onto graph paper so we mere mortals with untrained eyes could find and study the images.  A whole new world opened, as I stood in the shadow of the monstrous bridge, looking at the Entrada sandstone upon which Ancestral Puebloans had left their many marks.  Only now I could finally SEE those marks.

Handprints are found in almost every rock art panel in the Four Corners, as are mammals (such as bighorn sheep) and spirals (possibly signifying journey, or passage of time).  Snakes are common, no surprise.  Anthropomorphic shapes differ from place to place, but are usually present and always fascinating.  But here’s what got me:  two different panels I saw showed DINOSAURS.  Large herbivores, like Apatosaurus, were perfectly represented.  I got out my camera and tried hard to make the faint dinosaur come forth in the poor light, and then I decided to just sit back and enjoy this delicate mystery that shall never be solved.  WHY would Puebloans paint something unless they were familiar with it?  Perhaps their forefathers told about these creatures.  Perhaps they ran into a few.  Perhaps… perhaps… I don’t know.  But the fact that dinosaurs are present in their rock art, including a perfect pterosaur (pterodactyl) in Utah, sends shivers up my spine.   

Remind me not to forget to visit the dinosaur footprints trackway west of the park.  I want to walk where the dinos walked.

My Collared Lizard

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:21 am


an eye-catching reptile!

an eye-catching reptile!

The day promised good weather — cloudless expanse of blue, and low 6os for dawn temps.  We would learn all we could about “The Ancient Ones,” predecessors of today’s Hopi and Zuni.  These early Puebloan people were active 700 to 1000 yrs ago in the Four Corners region, and were skilled masons, farmers, and artisans.  Our morning hike would circum-ambulate the modest canyon which they populated, and examine what was left of their structures.


We strapped our Camelbaks (100-ounce water packs) onto our backs and headed down.  To our delight, we owned the park — again — and the silence was before, behind, and around us.  Each time we arrived at a ruined structure, we got out our trail guide and read about what it was and how it was used. Jess was in the lead, and in the middle of the hike she stopped abruptly and said, “Camera!”  — in which moment everything inside of me went TILT YIKES OH BOY WHAT’LL IT BE — 

When I first began reading about the reptiles of Arches, the Collared Lizard was the only one I flat out told my colleagues I was going to find and photograph.  It is an unassuming 9 or 10 inches long, but its coloration — oh my!!  Bright turquoise body and bright yellow head!!  In the red and tan desert!  And it is rare, so I had no business boasting that I would find it.  But, here he was, posing on the rock for us long enough to snap a few good shots and zoom in and snap a few more.  Gorgeous, gorgeous reptile.

And I believe it was put there just for me, a pure and simple gift.

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