Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 31, 2010

Climbing Assessment #1

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.