Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 31, 2010

Climbing Assessment #1

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:48 pm
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Nate and Kathryn at Lomatium Rappel #1

Deep in the Fiery Furnace, climbers and canyoneers have devised routes over the years. Arches National Park has never had an official policy governing these activities, and suddenly one is wanted by a higher-up. Two of the employees who are gathering data for this assessment were heading up into the Furnace today, and took me along for practice with ropes and rappels.

This rope has to be anchored around the large boulder

We were all gratified to see that, other than some rope rubs and grooves at the edges of rappels, there does not appear to be significant resource damage from these activities. What interested me most, however, was that my colleagues — one climber and one canyoneer — had difficulty agreeing on what should be and shouldn’t be permitted in the park. Personal biases are strong forces, and it’s my guess that many policies in place are tainted with these biases. Fortunately, the new policy-makers’ intentions include trying to AVOID bias; several mechanisms are in place to assist with that.

While we’re talking about biases, mine is that the 75 individual permits we’ll allow each day in the Furnace is FAR too high a number. The footprints off-path and through fragile environments caused far more damage than the rope rubs. Rangers who are struggling to give tours on those sold-out 75-permit days report that people are tripping over each other among the fins. That number, apparently, was pulled out of a hat instead of being evidence-based. I would love to see that number slashed to 25; let’s protect that resource, and its rare species!

And yet… (pause) … is 25 evidence-based?!? It’s a number I pulled out of my head. More data is needed.

Lithic scatters, bones, biscuitroot, and aerie

knapped flakes found within a few feet of each other

Here’s your new vocabulary for the day; see if you can use it in conversation.

LITHIC SCATTER: a surface scatter of cultural artifacts and debris that consists entirely of lithic (i.e., stone) tools and chipped stone debris. This is a common prehistoric site type that is contrasted to a cultural material scatter, which contains other or additional artifact types such as pottery or bone artifacts.

As Tricia and I hiked out to locate a Great Horned Owl’s nest near Delicate Arch, we had to veer from established paths. I’d say four of our six miles were off trail, and what a treasure hunt THAT was. Staying off the biological soil crust (formerly ‘cryptobiotic soil’) was tricky, but it took us along the slickrock edges and down sandy washes. I felt as if I were on a scavenger hunt; Tricia’s experienced eyes found all manner of remarkable items.

1. The sharp thin razor-edged flakes from knapped chert were lying ALL OVER in certain places. I picked them up and marveled at the people who made them, and then returned them to their spots despite wanting to keep a couple for souvenirs.

Part of the food web

2. The area below the owl alcove that we found (with about 5 gallons of whitewash blanketing the rocks) was strewn with regurgitated owl pellets and bones of small rodents and young rabbits. I hooted, “Who’s awake? Me, too…” to no avail. We’ll have to go back early in the morning to hoot again.

Canyonlands biscuitroot


3. The Canyonlands biscuitroot is blooming!!! This species of concern grows ONLY at the base of fins of Entrada sandstone. Such a narrow niche allows it to be found in only two counties in the world. It is a precious and protected plant.

We concluded our day scoping out what a recent visitor directed us to: a possible Peregrine Falcon aerie at the north end of the park. This will be closely monitored for nesting activity in the coming weeks.

Two threatened species in a day. Happy.

March 30, 2010

The Pavarotti method

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:37 pm
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Ready to head out the door to my "Pocket Program" location

I scrounged the last parking spot at The Windows, one of our more popular neighborhoods in the park — my assigned location to deliver my “Pocket Program” (5-10 min) about ravens. Scouting out the site, I delighted to see three families with youngish children milling about, gathering themselves for the assault on the formations 1/4 mile away.

There is something about an official-looking person in a uniform. It doesn’t matter if your hat says VOLUNTEER or RANGER; folks smile and know that you have something to offer. If there happens to be a raven puppet on your hand, well, the Pied Piper effect quadruples.

“CRO-O-A-K!” I got their attention with my sorry mimicry of raven voice. The puppet came to life and the kids’ eyes brightened and twinkled. Normal barriers fell away; non-English-speakers stepped right up, and fear of a stranger dissipated instantly. I’m telling you, puppetry is magical. It holds the key that unlocks many, many opportunities. And it always draws a crowd. Within a few minutes there were twenty people in a circle around the raven puppet, wanting to put it on.

Role-playing different intra-species communications of a raven group, their untapped theater skills blossomed. “Let’s play” and “I want my mommy” and “Danger!” were acted out by youngsters. It is food for my soul to see the delight in their eyes; I adore these eager learners, and can’t get enough of their enthusiasm.

“Some singers want the audience to love them. I love the audience.”                                           (Luciano Pavarotti)

March 29, 2010

Waning light at Courthouse Towers

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:32 pm
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Three Gossips & Sheep Rock

Full moon — the date on which moonrise and sunset times coincide most closely. I skipped supper and drove up the switchbacks to La Sal Mountain Viewpoint. Snuggled in blankets and hoping for an impressive moonrise, I sank into my camping chair and listened. And watched. And waited.

Looking north from La Sal Mountain Viewpoint

Five miles northward, the openings and misshapen walls of the Windows began to glow with a bronzed light. Behind me, the wondrous figures and walls of Courthouse Towers faded into silhouettes. The first bats, always Canyon Bats (formerly called Western Pipistrelles), began their nightly insect-hunting as a cloud bank snuffed out any ideas I had of moonrise over the La Sals.

At the base of a desert shrub


Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:45 pm
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I spent an hour at Park Avenue Viewpoint recently, on a gloriously kaleidoscopic day with cumulus clouds scuttling between the sun and the canyon, alternately illuminating and concealing a thousand points on the sandstone. The play of light and shadow fascinates and delights. One particular massif stands guard at the entrance to Park Ave and to me symbolizes strength, endurance, solidity. The photographs of it at the beginning and end of my hour were not taken from the exact same point, but the contrasts and comparisons are still interesting.

SW corner of Park Avenue, Arches National Park

March 28, 2010

Bucolic bovinity

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:39 am
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I can't moo-o-o-o-ve any faster...

This is why you don’t ever go 50 mph in the 50 mph zone en route to Canyonlands NP. It is calving season now, too, which makes it many times worse. The all-black cattle (I wish I knew their variety) are an absolute menace after dark; parkies call them “Invisible Cows.” I’d rather hit a mule deer any day…

March 27, 2010

(KR + KA) x AT = IO

Little did I know that a mathematical equation would guide my visitor interactions.

In a recent post about my first guided walk, I summed it up: “Park interpretation is one part factual knowledge, one part story-telling, one part entertainment, and a whole lot of knowing how to read your audience.”

Ahem. I just discovered that what I intuitively knew to be true has already been officially codified: Knowledge of the Resource (KR) plus Knowledge of the Audience (KA) times Appropriate Techniques (AT) equals Interpretive Opportunity (IO).

My KR has a strong base and grows daily as I devour everything I can find about my beloved desert. My KA is solid, based on five decades of studying people. My AT is what I was coached on. The IO is the result/product.

Some days I feel as if 90% of my job is “the relaying of information.” This could be anything from where the bathrooms are to what our annual rainfall is to which is the prettiest arch that they should not miss. Someone of substantial import in the interpretation division of the NPS has a different perspective: “The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.”

We can amaze people with facts all we want, but unless they are provoked enough to form an emotional connection with the park (aka “the resource”), they will not care enough to go deeper. Going deeper might mean bringing the next generations here, or supporting legislation that will protect wild places, or joining a volunteer work crew to remove invasive tamarisk trees along the Colorado River.

I’m going to be provocative today.

March 26, 2010

Little Wild Horse Canyon, almost

Little Wild Horse Canyon, near Goblin Valley State Park, UT

No rain within 50 miles. That’s the requirement for entering slot canyons, which are deeper than they are wide, and are formed by violent running water in sandstone or limestone. Little Wild Horse Canyon, 90 minutes west, was our destination.

The trailhead is disturbingly popular, with half a dozen vehicles already there. Rats; I like the illusion (since I can’t have the reality) of having a place to ourselves. We sign in at the register so that they’ll know we were there if a flash flood carries our bodies into the next county.

I won’t go into the details of the “almost” in the title, except to say that we missed a right-hand turn and ended up in left-hand Bell Canyon instead of the slot we wanted. It was miles before we figured out our error, so we backtracked a short way into Little Wild Horse with the few minutes we had remaining. It was mesmerizing, mysterious, beautiful.

Utah has more slot canyons than anywhere in the U.S., due to its climate and geology; I think there are a few discovery trips I need to go on.

Dinosaur bone put-back

It was bound to happen.

Dino pelvic bone in situ

How many of you know about the Paleontology Protection Act? I thought as much. I’d never heard of it either. Neither had “X,” whose name shall not appear here in order to protect the innocent. His or her gender may have also been changed in this story.

Out on her day off, X went in search of dinosaur bones outside the national park. Knowing exactly in which rock layers they could be likely found, she surveyed local cliffs and FOUND some WAY COOL pelvic bones of dinos, as well as chunks of limb bones. They looked about as big as my own pelvic bones. She brought them to her house, wrapped carefully in toilet paper.

Yes. It's a dinosaur bone.

A visiting ranger from The Maze district of Canyonlands N.P. ooohed and ahhhed over them, and then brought up the Paleo Protection Act. X had no idea that her collecting them was not appropriate on federal land. Fossils need to be left in place. X knew she had to return the bones to their original site the next day.

I went with X and together we climbed up about 500 feet of mostly talus slope. The [unnamed] layer shimmered with petrified wood chunks, which are collectable in limited amounts. It wasn’t until X carefully laid the beloved bones exactly where she found them that my eyes began to see them differently from the surrounding rock.

It was a little sad. I know that the next person who walks past them will pick them up and take them home. It’s illegal, but it happens every day. I’m grateful they are so far up that stinkin’ cliff.

March 25, 2010

Sego Canyon Rock Art

Limbless mummies. Bug-eyed space aliens. Shamanistic anthropomorphs. Trapezoidal beings. One of Utah’s best collections of rock art is found in this canyon north of Thompson Springs. The National Register of Historic Places helps preserve an gallery of outdoor artwork in this setting.

Alien bug-eyed anthropomorph with unusual accompaniments; Barrier Canyon style, over 2000 yr old

Three different cultures are represented here, and their artwork is utterly distinctive. The Barrier Canyon style, two to three thousand years old, is mysterious and beautiful. These figures are all painted (pictographs) and many are life-sized.

The Fremont culture flourished here between 600 and 1250 A.D. Their figures typically have trapezoidal heads and bodies, and often wear necklaces. A richly-decorated panel shows multiple individuals.

I’ve no photograph for the Ute artwork, but it is post-Spanish and therefore shows horses.

I find pictographs and petroglyphs deeply intriguing. They help me make an emotional connection to people far removed. What scenes from their lives were worthy of depicting? What can we infer about their lifestyle? Did they have pets? Why is the artwork concentrated in certain places?

Fremont culture (about 1000 yrs ago)

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