Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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.

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