Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 22, 2009

Like a slice of peach pie

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:07 pm

Some experiences are just plain wondrous.  Like biting into a warm fruit pie fresh from the oven, or building a campfire on the sand at the ocean, or studying a dragonfly’s wing under a hand lens.

Or speaking off the cuff to a group of visitors at North Window, and discovering that every last one of them wants to know more and is fascinated by the same things that fascinate me.

Or being asked by a third grade teacher if she could make a 1-min video of me greeting her students and telling them something cool about my park.

Today I headed to another new place in the field, and when I got there I set up my sandwich board and waited patiently to drum up business.  No.  Too hot, too sunny.  I glanced around to see that everyone was resting in the shade of the massive North Window, so I hauled my water bottles and box of props up there and decided to give them nothing less than my very best.

I pulled out my car-wash sponge, appropriately cut and colored to mimic the sandstone fins of Arches.  I spun tales of many years of erosion, and of the wondrous trifecta of conditions (nil precipitation, salt underneath, many small fault lines) necessary to create such a wonderland.  I told them about the magical cryptobiotic soil covering our dirt.  I fielded questions about the differences between natural bridges, arches, and windows.  I helped them know about what mineral color our landforms here, and why it is so hard to find wildlife in July in the desert.  I entertained them with stories of reckless visitors who fell and were injured, and promised a nervous mom that it was the adults who needed the warning and not the children.

By the time I reached a good stopping point, there must have been 25 people under that shady arch, listening intently (well, except for the international visitors who could not understand me).  I thanked them for their interest and stayed around for questions.  A tough skateboard-type teenager dressed in black gave me the HEY RANGER and asked with utter seriousness if we were looking at the Grand Canyon out beyond North Window.  I just LOVE questions like that because it tells me that they are thinking and making connections, no matter how crazy the Q may sound.  “Hmmm, well, Grand Canyon is about 7 hours SW of here, but I gotta hand it to you, my friend — that is the SAME RIVER that flows through the Grand Canyon!!  Way to go!!  Isn’t it cool how it has carved those deep gorges at many places along its length?”

Here’s the deal.  EVERY person who stops me to ask me a Q is standing there because they want to be there.  Every one of them is on vacation, which puts them (usually) in a good frame of mind.  Every one of them comes with an open mind, ready to learn.  The kids are usually hitting a string of parks and are very knowledgeable, and quite ready to demonstrate what they have learned.  They are in a breathtakingly beautiful place.  The weather is often quite nice.  I just can’t think of a better set of conditions under which to offer facinating information to eager learners.

And then, and then… when one family follows me to my car and the dad goes out of his way to say (for the second time) how grateful he is for my talk up at North Window, and how much they ALWAYS learn from every encounter with a ranger… it just melts my heart.  It just makes so much sense.  The National Park System WAS the best idea our government ever had.

And I get to be part of it.  What an unparalleled privilege.

Excerpt from essay by Edward Abbey

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:11 am


The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona is something special.  Something else.  Something strange, marvelous, full of wonders.  So far as I know, there is no other region on earth much like it, or even remotely like it.  Nowhere else have we had this lucky combination of vast sedimentary rock formations exposed to a desert climate, of a great plateau carved by major rivers — the Green, the San Juan, the Colorado — into such a wonderland of form and color.  Add a few volcanoes, the standing necks of which can still be seen, and cinder cones and lava flows, and at least four separate laccolithic mountain ranges nicely distributed about the region; add more hills, holes, humps and hollows, more reefs, folds, salt domes, swells and grabens, more buttes, benches and mesas, more synclines, monoclines and anticlines than you can ever hope to see and explore in one lifetime, and you begin to arrive at an approximate picture of the Plateau’s surface appearance.

An approximate beginning.  A picture framed by sky and time in the world of natural appearances.  Despite the best efforts of a small army of writers, painters, photographers, scientists, explorers, Indians, cowboys, and wilderness guides, the landscape of the Colorado Plateau lies still beyond the reach of reasonable words.  Or unreasonable representations.  This is a landscape which has to be seen to be believed, and even then, confronted directly by the human senses, it strains credulity and retreats a little beyond complete belief.

The canyon country does not always inspire love.  To many it appears barren, hostile, repellent; a fearsome, mostly waterless land of rock and heat, sand dunes and quicksand, of cactus, thornbush, scorpion, rattlesnake and agoraphobical distances.  To those who see our land in this way the best reply is, “Yes, you are right, it is a dangerous and terrible place.  Enter at your own risk.  Carry water.  Avoid the noonday sun.  Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently.”

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