Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 31, 2010

Create your own story

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:56 am

“And now for something completely different…” — today let’s play a game. I’ll give you three photos and you write the storyline. Characters can be me plus anyone or no one. Here they are:

Wingate sandstone pillars at sunset

1. Marvelously carved sandstone cliffs, minutes before sunset. Lots of iron in them. Many panels of native people’s rock art in the area. Coveted by rock climbers for their nice cracks.

It's the night before the full moon -- the best night for landscape photography.

2. Moonrise over same sandstone pillars.

REI Half Dome tent -- the best!

3. My favorite tent.

OK, go. Today YOU write the blog. I have to go pull tumbleweeds from the visitor center front “yard.”

August 30, 2010

So, I took the wrong fork…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:27 am
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“I’ll catch up with you. The wash shouldn’t fork, but if it does, stay left.”

Famous last words. Bill and I were the only humans in the entire Book Cliffs universe (as far as I could tell) and I am directionally impaired as well as distractible. I prefer following a person over following a trail, but I figured that Crescent Wash was a safe place for me since it goes only two directions. No worries.

The day was hot and still. The wash bottom was not sand, but rock cobbles, boulders, and occasional cracked mud platters. My water bottle sloshed in my backpack as I picked my way “upstream,” which is a misnomer as no running water exists here except during flash floods.

Kathryn takes refuge in shady sandstone stalls. (Photo: W Sloan)

I walked for a bit and then found a shady alcove in which to rest, hydrate, and give Bill a chance to catch up. As I sat in what looked like carved sandstone choir stalls (you’ve seen them if you’ve been to cathedrals in Europe), I wondered what was taking him so long. He’s a fast hiker.

I knew I could easily find my way back the few miles to the truck, but you don’t want to be separated from your hiking companion. I sat listening to the intense silence and wondering whether to head back down-canyon or wait a few more minutes. My shady spot convinced me to wait. I wasn’t worried. Yet.

Ten minutes went by before I saw Bill coming up the wash, looking intently at the ground. He was walking more slowly than usual. I let him get within ten yards of me before I greeted him, as his concentration prevented him from even seeing me in my choir stall. He had been using his considerable tracking skills (he follows bighorn sheep a lot) to locate me, as I… had… missed… the little… tributary fork…

No, Mom, a GPS would not have helped me...

Yup. He had gone up the proper left fork and had NOT seen any of my footprints. This convinced him to turn around and go up the right fork (which, in my defense, was the main fork and significantly wider) to see what tracks he could locate on the rock and dried mud. Sometimes he relied on only a freshly-overturned pebble, or more cracks in the mud than were typical, as finding a true footprint was not possible.

I felt somewhat foolish as we hiked down to the correct turn-off, but he never chided me once. I thereafter called him Tracker Bill.

If you’re reading this, Tracker Bill, please accept my grateful thanks. I’d be lost without you.

August 29, 2010

Ghost town of Sego, UT

Could this have been the company store?

I could almost hear the clank of train car couplings in this deserted canyon. Old trestles from the early 20th century, heavy with their massive lumber legs and horizontal supports, stood in various states of washed-out-ness along the creek bed. Scrap metal lay in odd places, rusting silently. Dollops of blackened ancient coal were draped on ridges, giving a tough and dirty feeling to the site.

Almost a Bonnie-&-Clyde shot

A good-sized collapsed wooden structure invited guesses about its original use — hotel? boarding house? brothel? Rusted-out automobiles riddled with bullet holes taunted my imagination.

Sturdy rock buildings scattered about the area for a couple miles — dwellings with fireplaces and even rude bedframes built into them — helped me connect with residents from a hundred years ago as I photographed a large rock-and-mud oven outside and wondered what they had roasted. Throughout this area, cattle were grazing and mooing as I walked and pondered. Cowpies paved the landscape of old Sego Town.

All that remains is the shell of this once-fine building

The biggest mystery was a HUGE sandstone block building that looked for all practical purposes like a former community center or church or civic building. For a town whose population peaked in the 1920 census at 198 persons, it was entirely out of proportion. In contrast to the lower levels, its topmost tiers of stone were so expertly dressed, so beautifully laid, that it made me wonder if a skilled stonemason had moved to town most of the way through the project. Massive openings on the front suggested a grand entrance. An ancient boiler sat forlornly encased in the crawlspace mud. What could this have been???

Humble abode near a spring and towering cottonwoods

I went to our little Arches National Park reference library and found A History of Grand County, by Richard Firmage. The notations about Sego read like a soap opera. The various mining companies that had coal and manganese claims in the area were not financially sound, and left their workers holding empty promises for five months’ back wages. Employees were forced to buy from a company store, whose prices were double those of the general store in Thompson, six miles south. They were fired if they complained, and no other jobs were available in the area. Even the company doctor quit over the utter mismanagement and heavy-handed control.

This grave is fortunate to be marked with whitewashed rocks. No inscriptions, no names, no dates.

The town eventually died in the 1950s. Some houses were moved to Moab — to aid in the housing shortage caused by the uranium boom. A small untended graveyard with barbed-wire fence and unmarked headstones hides mute histories of past inhabitants.

I still wonder about this beautiful stone building. I hear that one of our employees who works in the entrance booth lived in Sego as a small child; I need to interview her. There are stories — colorful, emotion-laden stories — waiting to be told.


Addendum: my supervisor found further details and photos at this site. Check it out for more back-story. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ut-segocanyon2.html

August 28, 2010

Riparian habitat? Not here.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:27 am
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Mancos shale forms the inhospitable lower elevations of Book Cliffs, southeastern Utah

Mancos Shale forms the inhospitable lower elevations of Book Cliffs, southeastern Utah

Job description: evaluate every wash system in a half million acres of public land, looking for suitable habitat for an endangered species. Translation: get paid to hike and make notes. I tagged along this weekend with Bill, our park service wildlife biologist, as he is looking for any place that the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher might be able to breed. We started in the Book Cliffs, inhospitable-looking outcrops of Mancos Shale north of Arches National Park.

Getting paid to hike is a sweeeeeet way to spend your days… especially if it is in wilderness and you never see another human being. This day we would walk about 8 miles round trip up Crescent Wash, noting that the 1987 USGS maps mentioned springs in two or three places. Upon arriving at said “springs,” all that remained were a few scattered tamarisk trees — huge water-users, invasive species. Bone-dry sand. Not a drop of water anywhere. Tamarisks half-dead. Habitat? You’ve got to be kidding. For rattlesnakes, sure, but not flycatchers.

Crescent Wash -- representative of many local drainages. Not a single drop of water unless it has rained recently.

Hiking in hot parched washes in Utah in August might not be on top of just anyone’s list of Fun Activities, but I enjoy it. It’s just me and the natural world — without any buffer, any distractions. I sense my thirst, feel my muscles working, savor the few shady overhangs where a water break happens. I study the plants and soils around me for clues about local history; flash flood evidence is everywhere in this particular drainage. There is quite a story to tell, if only I can develop the skills to decipher it. I think I need more time in the wilderness.

August 27, 2010

Golden Huntsman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:28 am
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My pet spider for the day

[Note: Book Cliffs posts to start tomorrow. Need to corroborate facts.]


My eyes fluttered open in the early morning light. A small figure was ambling across my ceiling directly above me, and I reached for my glasses. A Golden Huntsman! Here in my bedroom! He had been in my housemate’s room the day before, so I captured him in Tupperware. I do practice “catch and release” with wild animals here, although the two actions would be separated by eight hours today.

He’s a good spider — not venomous, although the larger ones can inflict a painful bite; judging from his mouthparts, I can see why. He’d rather be eating crickets and cockroaches.

My thumb, with BootsGolden Huntsmen can get to be two inches across, so this guy is just a wee one. For a spider, he’s very beautiful, with good fashion sense in combining colors. I named him Boots for the black feet (all eight of them) which are fun to watch as he crawls around his box. That’s my thumb, for scale.

Visitors ADORE live specimens, whether they are “scary” animals or not, so I used him for ‘Show & Tell’ in the field before releasing him. How many tourists have Boots’ photograph, I can not tell, but there were lots of cameras going for this guy as well as for my captured scorpion from last month.

Arachnophobes need not look closely.

August 23, 2010

an Emily Dickinson quote

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:17 am
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My castle in the clouds

I drive by this stunning formation on every single trip between my two national parks. The light was just right this time; my car could not NOT pull over. Kind of like with the sunflowers. I agree with Miss Dickinson:

“Life is a spell so exquisite that everything conspires to break  it.”


Heading into remote backcountry again tonight, for three nights, this time to the Book Cliffs where I’ve never been. We’ll be evaluating and mapping riparian (river/stream corridor) habitats for their suitability for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Along the way I suspect we’ll see everything from lively petroglyphs to large predators. I will be off blog until Friday but hope to have some excellent new content for you upon my return.

August 21, 2010

Prairie Sunflowers by the trillions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:37 pm
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millions? billions? trillions?

I hadn’t been up to the Canyonlands mesa in eight days — eight days with a LOT of rain in them. As my car topped the rise by Dead Horse Point State Park I came upon a sight that made me gasp; in field upon field upon field, as far as my eyes could see, Prairie Sunflowers clogged the landscape. Their heads all faced the sun, as Helianthus species are wont to do, and I had to pull over to take it all in. Locals have never seen anything like it. Neither have I.


This field is usually green, not yellow

August 20, 2010

Chocolate waterfall

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:25 am
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Looks puny in photo; need a person for scale

It looked like something out of “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.”

A couple miles of deeply-puddled 4WD road ended in a sizable pour-off which was disgorging the contents of the thunderstorm. After a 140-foot free-fall, the muddy waters were extruded from the collecting pool into a ribbon that followed gravity into Courthouse Wash and eventually into the mighty Colorado River… which would be flowing intensely red that day. I love the summer monsoons.

Heading, eventually, to the Pacific

August 19, 2010

This time, a ram

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:41 am
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Radio-collared Sheep #410, our quarry for the day. Pushed the zoom to 40x and look what I got!

#410, a six-year-old ram, was eluding us. There were beeps coming across the receiver on Tuesday as we spent the day criss-crossing the mesa tops looking for signals on Bill’s radio-collared bighorn sheep, but he couldn’t pin this one down. It gave confusing location clues, and if it were across the canyon we had no choice but to drive many miles on rocky ledgy roads AROUND the head of the canyon to try to get to the other side and pinpoint it. Then it would fall silent. No sheep sightings on Tuesday; we’d look again Wednesday.

Tracking bighorns isn’t easy, and it is time-intensive. They are excellent at hiding out, tucking under ledges where the line-of-sight signal won’t be picked up, meandering into another drainage. Ultimately, they’ll all get found, sometimes later rather than sooner.

We started Wednesday gazing through binoculars at a pictograph panel that Bill had found only because one of his sheep had bedded down right below it. While waiting for the collars to turn on (only eight hours per day of signal, to save battery power) we drove to another that my Prius would never be able to access — both of these from centuries or millennia B.C.  Rock art moves my soul; I sense a connection with whomever painted or pecked it. It is found everywhere down here.

The monsoons are excellent this year. Green is everywhere!

As we went from canyon rim to canyon rim, holding up the antenna and receiver and hoping to hear beeps, Bill spied a new arch in a remote section of BLM land. It was hardly taller than me, and maybe ten feet wide; we took pics and left it Unnamed.

Storm clouds were thickening to the south and west. Lightning is not your friend on any mesa, but least of all when carrying a lightning rod, so we hurried to find this ram. Bill finally homed in on it in a side drainage off of Spring Canyon, just as the electrical storm began in earnest. Back to the truck we hastened; at least we knew where he was. Wind, dust, and rain swirled all around us for the next hour.

The ultimate "Where's Waldo" is spotting a sheep in this habitat

As the remaining gruff rumbles of thunder moved off to the northeast, we took up positions on the cliff top with our binocs. It was now time to locate the needle in the haystack. Check this photograph of the boulder field. Now imagine it is your job to find a perfectly-camouflaged animal, sitting statue-like, not wanting to be sighted. Bill can do it — sometimes from just a horn poking out from behind a rock. I sure can’t. You can guess who sighted ram #410.

Good day, a good day. Ancient artwork, monsoon, subsequent waterfalls, a ram… and wilderness. A very good day.

I made it easy for you. I centered the ram. 10x zoom.

August 18, 2010

Overcast delight

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:19 am
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Within the Fiery Furnace at Arches NP

In a sunny desert environment, morning overcast is a welcomed contrast. Cloud cover keeps the temperature from rising too quickly, and also provides some additional photographic interest. I was accompanying Ranger Joel on his Fiery Furnace tour and he became positively gleeful in anticipation of remotely-possible waterfalls within the Furnace, should rainclouds park over us and drop their contents. While that scenario never developed, I did enjoy the new lighting; I hope you do, too.

"Clock Tower" -- perpetually stuck at 2:49

Ham Rock, Windows Section

The Organ; Courthouse Towers, Arches NP

Fiery Furnace, Arches NP

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