Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 30, 2011

Things that make me smile

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:54 pm
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A visual post is what I have to offer today… a collection of things that can turn an ordinary moment into one of delight. Happy things. [All photos taken June 2011.]

Parallel objects

Amphibians of all kinds


Pet insects

Natural objects shaped like a heart

June 29, 2011

Out of the blue: the “X event”

How many times in your life do you come to a fork that is life-changing? Where everything is measured by “before X” or “after X”? It doesn’t happen often. A family death, your or your parents’ divorce, first-time parenthood, a big financial gain/loss, or a major medical diagnosis qualify as “life-changing.”

I had an “X event” a few weeks ago. On the other end of my phone a doctor was informing me that I had Type 2 diabetes.

Maybe there was some mistake; maybe he was looking at another patient’s lab results. There is no way my blood glucose level could be 199. Not me. I exercise a LOT, eat wisely, don’t have a sweet tooth, have zero extra fat, and am in general in fabulous health. This news DID, however, make sense of my odd symptoms [polyuria, polydipsia, extreme fatigue], but it sounded surreal as the words fell on my ears.

The farmers' market sold me this Swiss Chard. I'm learning to prepare it, as it is part of my diet as an aspiring vegan.

And for days afterward.

And still.

What do you mean, I can’t eat whatever I want? I want mint chocolate chip ice cream. What do you mean, I’m at a way higher risk of heart disease? My blood pressure’s always been 110/60 and cholesterol normal. What do you mean, I have to take this pill for the rest of my life? I never take pills.

It felt like a cruel joke.

Everything was out of sorts — physically, mentally, emotionally. After a week or so I had a day where I shook my fist in God’s face and told him in no uncertain terms that I was pretty angry about the whole deal. His response? The most loving tender embrace, with whispered assurances that he knew what I was going through and would never abandon me to walk through it alone. My heart melted.

I’m on a new adventure. Reading, changing my diet, learning how my body responds to a new med, calibrating my activity level to how I’m feeling. It’s not good, not bad, just different. I’ll be fine. Really. Now, if only I could get that Swiss Chard to taste good…

June 28, 2011

Death by talons

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:02 pm
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With the mercury heading toward 102 degrees, an early start was called for; time to head down Courthouse Wash to find Cooper’s Hawk nests. They should have babies by now.

A mass of feathers are all that remains of a Cooper's Hawk that has been in this nest for many years. Double-click it.

Nest 1D didn’t look occupied, so I set up my spotting scope for a better view. On further examination, it was NOT empty. Feathers were scattered around… and a foot. And what appeared to be the top of a head. Pretty much a violent crime scene, right here in our national parks. The length of the feathers told me it had to be an adult bird, and the colors were right for a Cooper’s Hawk.

I radioed my boss to notify her of my find, knowing she’d want to investigate for herself since the nest was quite accessible. Soon Tricia and I were scouring the nearby side canyon to see if we could find any sign of the only predator that would attack an adult Cooper’s Hawk on its nest. No Great Horned Owl nest, or even a single pellet, was found, although one has been documented a couple miles downstream. We assumed one had dismembered the Cooper’s and carried the meaty parts to feed its own young.

And that’s all I have to say today. Nature can be grisly.

June 26, 2011

Heron brutality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:18 pm
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Great Blue Heron chicks -- from Google images

I was trying to count the small feathered mounds in the Great Blue Heron nest. They had hatched less than two weeks earlier, and we wanted to know whether there were two or three babies. My chance came when mother heron flew in with fish for them; the chicks became frenzied, and three round forms began jostling for position, squawking, and moving about. It was then that I glimpsed a pint-sized runt, chick #4, desperately trying to hold her own.

It’s a liability to hatch last, as an egg is laid (and hatched) every two days and you’re that much smaller than each of your nest-mates. 2.3 chicks per pair is our average this year, so four is a full house. The runt always, always, always gets pecked — often to death — by its siblings.

I watched in horror as the chicks fought over the regurgitated fish in the nest, violently driving the runt away with their sharp beaks. The biggest one was going at it so hard I worried that the baby might be decapitated in the fight. Instead, she backed off from the feed and draped her little head and neck over the side of the nest and just lay down. I could read her thought balloon: “Stay away from the fray. Better to be hungry than bleeding.”

I don’t expect her to be there in Nest 14 when I return next week.

June 25, 2011

Nest 108B has baby Red-tails!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:03 pm
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See the live cottonwood branches that were gathered for nest adornment? And two healthy babies in the corner! Enlarge with a click...

Our raking group’s lunch under the shade of a large pedestal of sandstone was interrupted as a Red-tailed hawk appeared in the area, vocalizing insistently. We finished our meal (ruing the lack of anything icy in the 90-degree heat) and Sue and I were promptly dispatched to investigate. Being near the site of a documented nest with babies, a hatchling head count was warranted.

As we snuck (oh, how I’ve wanted to mis-use the past tense of sneak!) across the ridge tops, the keen-eyed pair of adults began to circle and complain. Their plaintive descending ‘keeeeeeer’ call became more frequent. I could count their pinions with my bare eyes, they flew so close. Sue and I made our last descent to position ourselves above the nest across a wash from it, and our binoculars rewarded us with a direct view. Hastily setting up our spotting scope under the watchful eyes (and ire) of the parent birds, we found the most beautifully-adorned stick nest I’ve ever seen, and two robust young hawks crouching in the ledge corner.

Bonus photo: We think we found an ancestral Puebloan pizza oven inside the owl alcove. Tricia explores the opening, wishing for a flashlight...

We took pictures and immediately high-tailed it out of there, as the adults were quite upset at our presence and were expending precious energy trying to get rid of us.

It is with great delight that I post my first photograph of hatchlings!

June 24, 2011

Raking out footprints

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:16 pm
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Ah, the beautiful La Sals. It's raking time!

Footprints in the backcountry frustrate. Usually the print-maker has shown no understanding of how to tread lightly, especially in the desert where our fragile ‘biological soil crust’ is necessary to hold everything together and must not be trodden upon. Off-trail footprints invite others to explore the same route, almost like a magnet; we prefer footprints stay in the front-country.

One place where prints have become noticeably pronounced is near an alcove where an owl nest is located exactly at an ancient archeological site. It is highly doubtful that oblivious hikers knew anything about either of those (nest or site), as neither is known to the public. The footprints persist, however. Our team needed to do something about that.

When you study raptors, you get to do detective work concerning prey. Bones, feathers, fur... near old owl's nest.

Mix five people, five rakes, a cloudless hot morning, gorgeous mountain views, annoying gnats, many liters of drinking water, and a 5-mile round-trip hike. Voila! No more footprints!

June 23, 2011

Having completed 100 days

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:04 pm
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Me on Day #100. No product in hair.

My mid-March Utah welcome consisted of snow, ice, meltwater, white-blanketed La Sal Mountains, and a mid-weight winter coat. Today, the first full day of summer, I spent eight hours in the field with temps in the upper 90s. Went through three liters of drinking water, a tablespoon of SPF 50 and about fifteen squirts of herbal bug spray to repel gnats. What a difference 100 days makes.

One hundred days of experiencing wilderness, encountering raptors up close, surviving sandstorms, learning new skill sets, pondering Mormon culture, losing and then finding my way, letting my hair grow into curly ringlets, working through roommate stuff, contra dancing until my head spins, facing unforeseen health issues, wondering about my future employment, going backpacking for the first time, keeping my wits about me, achingly missing my children, laughing in the face of gale force winds, wondering about love, embracing a diet of plant-based foods, and admiring the fine group of co-workers with whom I share this park.

I’ll come home a different person.

Leave a comment: What life experiences have changed you deeply?



June 21, 2011

Tricia. Boss.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:39 pm
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She spots raptors from a half mile away. Loves maps. Looks dashing in the green and gray. Is on the local Search & Rescue team. Is passionate about her work and her world. Rock climbs. Sends text messages as rapidly as her teen-aged daughter. Eats from her big garden all season long. Writes policy for the park’s Climbing Management Plan. Has mastered the art of self-expression using earrings. Is unafraid of speaking out against injustice or unfairness. Identifies every plant by its Latin name. Might weigh 100 pounds (with her pack on) but is unafraid of folks twice her size. Knows when to use they’re, their, there. Sings (only a little out of tune) with or without background music. Is convinced that preparedness is next to godliness. Has an outrageously funny sense of humor. And, as her crowning achievement, imaginatively supervises folks like me.

Meet Tricia, my boss.

[BTW, she is single. I will personally screen all potential suitors.]

June 20, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:59 pm
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It's sprinkling up near Tapestry Arch

It rained here yesterday, about o.13 inch. When I had gone outside and felt the air sticking to me, I checked the humidity: 34%. About two to three times normal. Here’s a photo of me in a rain jacket just to prove we have precipitation in the desert.

Wallace Stegner, a most memorable Western writer, describes the effects of our lack of moisture:

“Aridity, more than anything else, gives the Western landscape its character. It is aridity that gives the air its special dry clarity; aridity that puts brilliance in the light and polishes and enlarges the stars; aridity that leads the grasses to evolve as bunches rather than as turf; aridity that exposes the pigmentation of the raw earth and limits, almost eliminates, the color of chlorophyl; aridity that erodes the earth in cliffs and badlands rather than in softened and vegetated slopes.”

Everything around me is formed by water, or preserved by its lack. I apologize to my Minnesota friends who are right now getting many days of drenching… but I love our 300 days of sunshine a year.

June 19, 2011

Backpack around the world!

I met an amazing and inspiring family on a canyoneering trip, who two years ago undertook the journey of a lifetime. If you were offered the following scenario, would you take it? Or would you run the other direction?

Pack everything you need for one year into a backpack; you have to be able to carry your own belongings. Hop on your first plane and fly across the Atlantic with your immediate family (40-something parents, 11-y.o. girl, 9-y.o. boy). Explore Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. Wear a pedometer every single day so you can do the math to figure out how many steps it takes to circum-ambulate the globe. No agenda, just key trans-oceanic flights booked. Blog about your journey. Bond with your family, since you can’t ever get away from them. Be un-schooled for a year. Come home 51 weeks and 32 countries later, changed for life.

I was captivated by their bold dream as well as the obvious results. What 11-year-old boy can speak articulately about his adventures in cities I’ve not heard of? What pre-teen girl can explain that today’s outmoded educational format in America is an artifact of the Industrial Revolution? What parents are willing to sacrifice a year’s income (attorney and teacher) to accomplish their goals for growing deeply as a family?

Thanks, Dan and Lisa and Molly and Theo. You’ve challenged me to expand my own horizons, grasp for bigger dreams, and think outside the box. I’m ever grateful.

Anybody have a backpack for sale?

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