Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 16, 2010

Tapestry Arch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:41 pm
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Tapestry Arch, Arches NP

The air was still, the heat oppressive. It was my first day back in Arches NP after living and working on the cool of the 6000-foot mesa that comprises Island in the Sky, Canyonlands NP. I was sticky, sweaty, and ready to hike somewhere away from people.

It’s a mystery how I managed two seasons here without ever getting to Tapestry Arch. This lovely span is not on the park map, and visitors rarely find their way to it. PERFECT. Just my kind of hike. I would do trail monitoring — repair cairns, erase social trails, put up juniper log barriers to stop off-trail traffic.

The desert was as silent as I have ever heard it as I made my way to the shade underneath the arch and shed my sticky backpack. Water — that’s what my body craved. I sat in the cool of the massive rock beam overhead and drank a half liter, and then just sat and listened, and sat and thought, and sat and watched, and sat just to sit.

And, after a little while, a new sound began to make itself known in my ears. Putting two fingers to my wrist, I compared it to my pulse; it was a perfect match. It was my heartbeat. My heartbeat! The desert was so silent that I could now hear my own blood flowing through my veins.

Now THAT is quiet. Welcome to my desert world.

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August 15, 2010

Of domes and rattlesnakes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:52 am
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Overlooking the Green River, from the top of Mini Half Dome

It was my last night living at Island in the Sky, and friends wanted to explore a new place. Destination: Mini Half Dome. It looks for all the world like a shrunken version of Yosemite’s great granite formation, but unlike that one it is eminently accessible (if you know the combination to the service gate). Forty minutes before sunset, four of us hiked up to its summit and enjoyed yet another fab photo op at Canyonlands NP.

Midget Faded Rattlesnake on park road after dark

On the drive home after dark, a snake was in the oncoming lane; at that time of day and on asphalt, it’s usually a rattlesnake. Not wanting him to be run over, we stopped the car to shoo him off the road. He (she?) was too shy to even rattle at us, but kept its face pointing in our general direction the entire time as it slithered sideways off the shoulder and into the blackbrush. I was grateful for this first opportunity to see a Midget Faded Rattlesnake. It was only about 18 inches long… and very beautiful. Please be kind to snakes; they are not to be feared, and are an exceptionally important part of our food web.

One last night for the Perseids, on the basketball court… it was as delicious as could be. I can’t get enough of these endless skies, uncountable stars, and Milky Way.

August 14, 2010

Moving 32 miles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:18 am

It’s moving day. The powers that be (my beloved bosses in both national parks) have decided that I shall spend the next seven weeks in housing down at Arches NP in order to free up space here at Canyonlands NP for new incoming workers who arrive today. Naturally, I spent last night on the basketball court… and did a little anticipatory grieving, as there is no reasonable sleep-out space at my next apartment. Each week when I commute up here for my two consecutive work days, you’ll know where to find my sleeping bag.

Unsure of nearest internet connection in new digs, so it may be some days off blog. Thank you all for your continued readership, which means a lot to me.

August 13, 2010

Bedtime on the mesa has never been so good

google image of a meteor

Headlamp on, hauling sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, and water bottle, I picked my way  through the tumbleweed out to the deserted basketball court nearby. Crawling into the nylon mummy, I held my breath. Not thirty seconds elapsed before the Perseids met me — larger than all life, silent, stunning, humbling.

Nothing obscured my view up here at 6000 feet — no trees, buildings, nearby towns, or even a single porch light. Meteors streaked across the vast expanse from every quadrant, toward every horizon, long-tailed and short, brilliant and barely-there. At the rate of several per minute, some made me gasp, others made me smile. I struggled against my sleepiness, not wanting to miss a single shooter on this astonishing night, but was eventually overtaken by slumber.

I dreamed of meteors.

Around 12:30 a.m. I awoke to dry crunching footsteps and a bobbing headlamp coming my way. Sitting up, I heard a familiar voice ask, “Who’s that?” It was Rob, my young Arches ranger buddy, who had come up to the Island in the Sky to visit friends and watch meteors away from Moab town. He made himself comfortable on the pavement and we spent the next 45 minutes sharing the sweetest fellowship imaginable, on topics that are much more appropriate for silent nights outdoors than for fluorescent-lit workrooms: hopes and dreams, significant life events, mentors, spiritual journeys. Celestial streaks punctuated our colloquy. All was well with the world.

Rob left to drive the 33 miles back to Moab, and I was again staring at the display that waxed and waned and startled and calmed. I roused myself often in the next four hours for multiple doses of the Perseids, and when the eastern sky began losing its darkness an hour before sunrise, I called it a night. Not just any night — the best night of my summer. The best Perseids of my life.

August 12, 2010

Clouds of Wednesday

Living up on a mesa, I have a very big sky to admire. Its constant newness refreshes me; it’s almost as if I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what’s on the sky menu each day. Summertime brings a dose of unpredictability with its unsettled weather patterns (i.e., monsoons) — and handsome clouds. Enjoy this one-minute-before-sunrise shot, taken from a moving car at 50 mph.

While you’re at it, ponder the metaphor. What clouds are on your horizon? Do they have a silver (or gold) lining? Can you find beauty in the midst of disappointment? Are you grateful, truly grateful, for cloudy episodes in your life? Comment if you’d like.

6:33 a.m.

August 11, 2010

Peekaboo Springs, Needles: packed with surprises

Kathryn and shield pictographs at Peekaboo Springs

Sunflowers gone wild... tens of thousands of them

…or is it LIFE, packed with surprises? Every day is such an adventure. It’s an adventure to wake up and be breathing.

As three of us undertook a ten-mile hike in the gorgeous summer weather, we were not prepared for the audacity of the day’s gifts to us. It’s as if the Giver of all good gifts delighted to open his hand and unleash nonstop beauty and joy, just for us. Endless fields of sunflowers welcomed us to the parkland, an oddity in any other August. A Collared Lizard (my favorite reptile, remember?) startled us at the beginning of the hike, and a Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard (second fave) at the end. Cumulus clouds shadowed us, keeping the heat down and providing much-needed shade intervals as well as photographic interest. Most of the hike was high on the exposed sandstone benches, giving birds’-eye views of the canyons and washes, with stunning vistas across miles of national parkland. Vast stone walls were pierced by clefts and openings that gave sneak previews into upcoming canyons. A powerful panel of pictographs awaited us at the 5-mile far point, infusing wonder and intrigue as we pondered the inhabitants who painted them 800 and 3000 years ago. As we started back, we stumbled upon an area of ancient granaries, finding seven (7!) structures in one little neighborhood. To top it off, a majestic golden eagle posed for photographs as we drove out of the park. I could hardly take it all in; it is securely in my top five favorite hikes of all time. I must go back, in another season. I may take with me those who have eyes with which to see and savor the beauty; I may journey alone with my grateful heart.

Collared Lizard studying me

My hand... another's hand. Eight centuries apart.

Kathryn & Mariana hike the Needles.

This sentinel stands watch over the pictographs

Peek-a-boo!

A granary for crop storage -- sadly, some oaf "helped" rebuild the top

Useful 12-rung ladder, courtesy of NPS

Rocks have such beauty.

August 10, 2010

When makers of signs need grammar lessons

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:56 am
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TWO punctuation errors!It hurts. It just hurts. Wouldn’t sign makers be required to get their punctuation checked?!?

Who among you out there can find the two mistakes in this sign in the deep backcountry? (Click on photo to enlarge it.) Answer in the Comments section without reading others’ comments, and we’ll see how you do.

August 9, 2010

The Case of the Capricious Keys

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:29 pm
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View of Buck Canyon from the staging area

Rangers Kevin and Sharon looking for just the right rappel route

A family of five showed up at the Visitor Center desk with their video camera and proceeded to play a clip for Ranger Julia and me. In it, their two 13-year-old sons were sitting happily on top of Mesa Arch, smiling for Dad behind the camera, when the one with the car keys dangling off his finger (no — do NOT ask why) suddenly looks down as the set of keys drops 200 feet into the canyon. The facial expressions are priceless.

Ranger Sharon starts her rappel

Another family gave them a ride six miles back to the Visitor Center, where Ranger Sharon (an expert climber with the law enforcement division) assembled equipment to rappel down and look for the car keys. It was a slow afternoon and we had enough help, so the law enforcement supervisor allowed me to come along and watch, and help carry heavy gear, as they built anchors and set up a belay station to lower Sharon down the cliff. It was, she said with a twinkle in her eye, “a cruel case of Ranger fetch.”

Sharon follows the canyon wall to the site of the dropped keys

The entire operation was completed in about two hours’ time. Getting her back UP the sheer cliff was the trickiest part, as specialized ascending equipment and techniques needed to be utilized, but it all went without a hitch and the keys were fortunately found within minutes of her bushwhacking to the cliff base and looking in the greenery.

The grateful family dropped a 50-euro note into the donation box in the Visitor Center on their way out of the park. We’ll keep it there to encourage others to donate, but we hope for no more key-recovery operations anytime soon. And Fabian won’t be entrusted with car keys for quite some time, I suspect.

August 8, 2010

(if that video link didn’t work…)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:23 am

I didn’t quite get it right the first time. Even though I’ve fixed it now, “subscribers” will get only the original version with the broken link. For the fun video, go to

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/quicksand.htm

Quicksand: A primer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:14 am
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Standing on the "road." Tomorrow's quicksand area is one giant step behind me, currently flooded.

Hopping out of the truck at the NO VEHICLES signpost, we inspected the cut bank sculpted by the recent flash floods. In ordinary conditions this was a regular 4WD vehicle crossing, so we walked toward the water’s edge on the packed wet sand. Six steps were normal; on the seventh, the sand rippled and vibrated, like shaken Jell-O jigglers; our boots sank several inches, and we beat a hasty retreat. The sand looked exactly the same in both places.

Should there be quicksand warning signs here at Indian Creek? Naw. Use your common sense.

This was my first encounter with quicksand. I am guilty of having the same misconceptions about quicksand as you may have, so today’s post is an attempt to clear this up.

Quicksand is really not any special kind of sand; it is actually a condition, super-saturation, that is happening to a patch of sand. There is an insistent flow of water beneath the surface that agitates the grains of sand, lifting them apart. Each grain of sand is surrounded by a thin film of water, and as they lose friction with each other the solid mass breaks asunder. The water is not strong enough, however, to completely disperse the sand and the resultant soupy pool therefore can look like solid ground.

Here Bill mentions that he would rather not sink up to the axles in quicksand.

At rest, quicksand thickens with time, but it remains very sensitive to small variations in stress. At higher stresses, quicksand liquefies very quickly, and the higher the stress the more fluid it becomes. This causes a trapped body to sink when it starts to move.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, quicksand has a density of about 2 grams per milliliter; human density is only about 1 gram per milliliter. It is impossible for a person in quicksand to be drawn completely under. You would descend about up to your waist, but you’d go no further.

Here is a delightfully entertaining 3-minute video clip from the Discovery Channel, in which Bear Grylls shows us how to escape from Colorado River quicksand near Moab. (How appropriate!) Enjoy it — and stay away from jiggly sand!

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