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.”

July 21, 2009

seen on a hauling truck in Moab

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:12 am

“To be used only for radioactive material,” it said on the side of the truck driving by me.  Great.

fleeing felon foiled by ecosystem

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:49 am

I am required to carry a radio with me each time I am out in the field. It’s a safety thing. 2 pm Friday afternoon at Park Avenue, the radio waves came alive with squawking and chatter at about the time I saw two Ranger vehicles (that is, Law Enforcement) race northward with lights and sirens. I couldn’t make out any of the code words the dispatcher seemed to be using, and besides, I was there to teach my visitors about birds. But there was a LOT of radio traffic. I turned the volume down.

Next day I ran into one of the guys I knew could tell me something. “What was all that radio chatter about yesterday?” I inquired. He leaned forward and said quietly, “Fleeing felon.” “In the park?!?!” “We didn’t exactly know where he was, so UT highway patrol asked for our assistance.” A bit unsettling, not knowing where the felon was, I thought to myself.

What had happened was that a routine traffic stop on the freeway exit up at the north end of the park (no access into park) found a buttload of drugs, and the driver fled on foot into the desert. Grand Co. Sheriff, UT highway patrol, and Arches law enforcement folks joined together to find him. He went into hiding, and even with a helicopter to search the slot canyons, was not found. After five hours of searching, the Arches LE people were allowed to return to their former duties, because the guy was not a serial killer and posed no threat.

At 9:30 pm, a dehydrated individual walked into a gas station and asked for a drink of water. He was arrested and jailed. Don’t you love it when the ecosystem does what all our technology fails to do???

good hiding places

good hiding places, but no water

well-cooked bacon, raw eggs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:31 am
Blithely peppering the eggs that were not cooking.  (Note one escapee from griddle.)

Blithely peppering the eggs that were not cooking. (Note one escapee from griddle.)

The perfect camping morning deserves the perfect breakfast.  As we were going to conclude our trip on Sunday morn, we thought that coffee and bacon and eggs and blueberries and yogurt sounded excellent.  Only the best, to celebrate our fine camping trip.  The smell of sizzling bacon wafting through our site was likely enough to wake the downwind neighbors.  After the bacon was done I put on another liter of water to boil for the French press, as my friends couldn’t do with just one cup each.

Cracking the eggs onto the greasy griddle was very satisfying, as I watched the whites quickly bubble and congeal.  Five eggs, happy eggs, yummy eggs.  M-m-m-m!  We waited, they drank their coffee, we commented on the sunrise and the sleeping-under-the-stars experiment, and … the eggs weren’t cooking.  Turned the heat up.  No heat.  No gas.  The last liter of coffee water had used up every precious molecule of LP in the small green tank, and my spare tank was… in my apartment, 18 miles south.

“Quick!  Turn them over!  They might have a chance of cooking on the hot griddle,” Kathy suggested hungrily.  I complied.  There was no turning these puppies, as they needed another minute or two to solidify.

You know, there is something refreshing about having friends who can laugh at a bum rap.  They blamed the gas shortage on their coffee addiction, and we pulled out the cheese and crackers to supplement the nice crisp bacon.

wind scorpion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:11 am

Wind ScorpionAn entomologist brought a mason jar to show to our day campers, with this wind scorpion in it. It was only about an inch long and lived in his house. “Wind” because they are fast, “scorpion” because they dine like scorpions even though they have no stinging tail. Not venomous, but their bite does pinch. A small praying mantis dropped into the mason jar was just about caught in the air and devoured within minutes. They liquify their prey and suck the juices out. All that was left of the mantis was a small pile of debris, or maybe mantis dust.

For a bit more information on wind scorpions, I’ve prepared a second post — just click on Wind Scorpion 2.

I was folding laundry last night and grabbed a towel and shook it out. From the corner of my eye I saw a dark bit hit the floor and scurry reclusively underneath a map. I instinctively stepped on it (probably not the most ranger-ish thing to do) and I will take it in to work today where we have a dissecting scope. I want to identify it. Knowing what lives with me is calming.

July 19, 2009

109 is quite enough

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:51 pm
Friends Kathy & Chris Holck, under Double Arch

Friends Kathy & Chris Holck, under Double Arch

Car thermometers, given time to equilibrate after sitting in the sun, are pretty accurate. When yesterday’s high hit 109 late in the afternoon, my friends and I just looked at each other and said, “Let’s find a cooler place to hang out than this desert.” I mean, it is a matter of survival. We played Scrabble in my apartment, where the swamp cooler was able to keep it below 80 and it felt incredibly refreshing. We drank about a gallon of water and Gatorade and I made the word HOLLY for 42 points, once I was able to think clearly again.

Just like the cowboys used to do…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:44 pm
look ma, no tent!

look ma, no tent!

The Devil’s Garden campground, our only one in Arches National Park, is 23 miles from the nearest town. It is QUITE dark up there, by design, and makes for exceptional night sky events. Friday night I slept in my lots-of-mesh tent, and was awakened early next morning by the light of Saturn (I think) shining through the nylon fabric itself. I remembered what we were told during training: You must sleep out under the stars at least twice this summer, so just do it. So, Saturday night, I hauled my Thermarest sleeping pad and my sleeping bag and pillow out of the tent and set it in a sandy area of the campsite. Girlfriend Kathy did the same with her stuff and we laid on our backs and were rendered speechless.

The milky way spanned the entire dome of sky. Errant bits of space debris from the Perseid meteor shower (next month) regularly hit our atmosphere and flamed into oblivion, leaving us pointing and gaping. There were almost more stars than space between them. Jupiter was beginning its ascent in the east, just above a large outcropping of sandstone silhouetted in the dark. The silence was all-encompassing, and I felt miniscule in the grand scheme.

I only wish I weren’t so near-sighted. Waking in the night, I would put my glasses on just so I could once more see the gazillion points of light above me and around me. It was a Night To Remember, with the 100+ degrees at sunset turning into the perfect 70 as we slept. I will lay out my sleeping gear under the stars many, many more times.

Life is too short to be enclosed. I pity the poor people whose journeys lock them into RVs and Airstreams.

July 16, 2009

blog on vacation ’til Monday

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:04 am

My dear friends arrive from Ft Collins, CO, this afternoon and we will play together in the 103-degree heat for 72 hours.  I hereby give myself permission to not post anything until Sunday night!

Teacher-Ranger-Teacher… future

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:52 am

This is my 100th post.  It is an important one.

Last night five of us TRTs supped with Paul, our Chief of Interpretation for some bigger area, also a Superintendent of a bunch of parks on the Colorado Plateau.  He is our bosses’  boss.  Our bosses, Nancy and Karen, came along to confirm that this TRT program is the NPS’s best idea since sliced bread.  [Side note: Historically, MOST of our country’s seasonal rangers were what were called “90-day wonders,” and most of those were school teachers who squeezed in an NPS naturalist assignment between Memorial Day and Labor Day.]  Paul was there to build a fire under us and remind us what a special breed we are.

The upshot of the evening, however, was that he summed up his intention to find a way to morph our positions into Seasonal Ranger jobs for next year (or following) if we so desire.  The government has put into place a daunting beaurocratic maze of hiring practices, including centralizing seasonal hiring into one main office in the nation.  Paul despises that idea, for lots of good reasons, but it is the Park Service’s attempt to remain fair and impartial and let things like test results and resumes determine a hire instead of local politics.

Bottom line is this:  Because we are doing a fabulous job, if we desire a “seasonal” (3- to 6- month) position, they will find a way to help that happen.  We can get help writing our resume’ with just the correct words that the feds like to hear — quite different from a regular resume’ — so that we are under high consideration for a coveted job in the high season.  Our boss would give us personal notification of vacancies, as well.  That is how much we are valued here.

Or we can just come back next summer as a Teacher-Ranger.

Let’s just say that the 12-minute drive home from that four-hour dinner left my mind awash with possibilities.  My heart is grateful.

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