Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 12, 2009

My giant playground

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:54 pm

Victoria, 25, approached me as I typed in the ranger room at the Visitor Center (VC) on my off hours.  “Do you want to go play in the Fiery Furnace?” she queried.  It was sweet, kind of like when your puppy yips at the door to go for a walk, and you really do want to walk, so it is a win-win.

The Fiery Furnace is one of Arches’ mysterious places.  Only two 25-person tours go in daily, both ranger-led, because its maze of sandstone fins has no map, no trails, and most GPS units don’t work in there.  We do sell permits to individuals who watch an intro film, know they are going to get lost, and still insist on going in on their own.  Today Victoria and I would be those people. 

Ranger Victoria leads groups through there multiple times weekly.  It is different, however, to traipse in there without a route, and just go exploring.  Lots of the canyons end in dead ends. Others are impassable from rock falls or too-steep approaches.  You just have to go with the flow.

 It was 4 pm when we headed in, and there was plenty of shade from the huge walls.  The first thing we did was find a secluded comfortable canyon and lie down on a warm rock fin and just vegg.  We had three hours until we had to be out to catch a ride back to the VC with Ranger Patrick, who would be leading his 25 people through.

I lay there looking up at five tongues of rock hanging over the edge of the 100-foot cliff above me.  I realized that I had the privilege of being in a huge rock playground that very few others could access.  We decided that a combination of walking, exploring, resting, drinking water, and talking would be ideal for a hot July afternoon.  Never once did we encounter another individual.  We did get lost a few times, requiring back-tracking to get out of tight spots or precipices.  Enjoy a few pics from our Explore!

Fiery Furnace, 7 pm

Fiery Furnace, 7 pm

 

me in my playground

me in my playground

 

Intrepid rangers Victoria and Kathryn

Intrepid rangers Victoria and Kathryn

La Sal Mountains & Oowah Lake

rainstorm in the La Sals
rainstorm in the La Sals

Triple digits — time to get out of Dodge and beat the heat.  The La Sal Mountains (Spanish for ‘salt’) are only 45 min east of Arches, and the highest peaks reach 12,000 feet.  There are a couple of National Forest campgrounds nestled in there so Jess (a Wisconsin girl) and I throw our gear into her car and exit Moab. We have both been in the desert for a month now.  We are about to find out some interesting things about that.

The La Sals are a type of mountain called laccoliths, which simply means they were formed from igneous goo pushing up from underneath that never cracked the crust.  Kind of like a pimple on the earth’s surface.  We have three ranges of laccoliths that I can see simulataneously, so there is definitely something about the geology here that is different.

aspens high in the mountains

aspens high in the mountains

As we head south and east of town, we begin our ascent.  These pimples are fairly abrupt at their edges, and the flora becomes noticeably different as we rise.  It’s raining up there (makes its own clouds), and the air is cooler.  It smells really fresh.  We turn off the AC and roll all windows down.  Climb, climb.  Larger trees!  Trees with real leaves!  Deciduous trees!  Climb, climb.  Wildflowers in bloom!  Lupines!  Indian paintbrush!  Higher over the switchbacks, onto a dirt road.  Aspens!!  Huge aspens!!  Oh, my — a robin!  Listen!!  Northern birdsong!!  Wood thrush!  Warblers!  Tweets and chirps I can recognize!!  Conifers, sweet conifers, everywhere!

We looked at each other and simultaneously chimed, “We’re home!” and then laughed out loud. Neither of us had realized how “other” this desert home has been to us, until we found ourselves back on Terra Familiaris.

chicken on a stick, slathered with BBQ

chicken on a stick with BBQ

As we built our supper fire to cook our chicken breasts (which we had to saw up and spear onto sticks, so it looked like calamari), we talked about the missings we had for the north woods.  When we put the tent up, we could push the tent stakes right into the earth without pounding with a rock.  When we walked around, our feet felt padded by the earth instead of landing on hard stone with each step.  A babbling brook coursed down-mountain behind our site — so very north-woods-like.

cave woman cooking

cave woman cooking

Anything is better with BBQ sauce on it, so we took our best-we-could-do chicken breasts and slathered them with red stuff and ate them right off the sticks.  We felt like cave women.

And then we walked up to Oowah Lake.  I stifled a laugh.  It wouldn’t even pass for a small pond in MN, but someone got the bright idea to make an earthen dike along the creek, back it up, stock it with small rainbow hatchlings, call it a lake, and charge $5 to camp there.  It is, well, nice, unless you’re comparing it with northern MN lakes.

Warner "Lake" in the

Warner, a second "lake" in the La Sals (ahem... I could walk around it in eight minutes)

I will now admit to the tiniest twinge of homesickness when I experienced the La Sal Mountain ecosystem.  As long as MN was a distant memory, the desert’s mysterious beauty captivated me.  When the familiar birdsong and earthy smells struck my ears and nose, however, I realized that there is plenty to miss back home.

Still, my home is here right now, and I am very pleased to be here.  I find contentment and joy in each day.  The desert is a harsh taskmaster and I am learning tons from dwelling in it.  I marvel at the survivalist abilities of local flora and fauna.  I marvel that I can go out in the 100-degree day and drink lots and lots of water and walk and work and still survive.  Appetites are rather suppressed in the heat, so I drink a lot but don’t eat as much as I do in MN.  I am probably losing a few pounds, and my skin is browner than it has been in a while, but this is the Way of the Desert.

I really AM a tree-hugger

I really AM a tree-hugger

flora with fauna

flora with fauna

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