Ranger Kathryn's Arches

December 30, 2011

Wilhite Trail, Canyonlands NP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:25 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Destination: Down There

We didn’t mind the 1200-foot descent on snow-covered switchbacks; our goal was to banish our winter lethargy and serve notice to our sluggishness. A sunny late-December day with highs around 40 degrees seemed to be a perfect invitation to a long hike.

Traipsing over the mesa-top through pinyon-juniper forest, Julia and I marveled. At everything. When you are a nature geek, you can’t help that. Shapes of pinyons, cloud formations, animal tracks in the snow, changes in rock layers, oddities of winter cacti — it’s what makes hiking better than, say, a StairMaster workout. Or just about anything.

4-yr-old ram, 6-8 yr old ram, 1.5-yr-old ewe

A couple of hours into the jaunt we reached a good turning-around place, but I wanted to see over the next crest before we headed back. My “Let’s just walk to the ridge” ushered in an unexpected surprise as we rounded a knoll and startled three desert bighorn sheep. Hoofs went flying, but as we had frozen in place and were not a threat to them, they stopped, turned, watched us with eagle eyes, and eventually returned to their grazing.

There is something indescribable about watching wildlife on their own turf. I feel honored to be allowed to share their place with them, to peer into their world, to study their behaviors and interactions. I learn to ask good questions about what they are eating, how old they are, what is their general state of health, where do they bed down to avoid being eaten by a mountain lion, etc. But mostly, I just bask in the delight of seeing these mysteries for myself instead of in the pages of a magazine or on a PBS special. It’s one of the consummate rewards of being a wilderness woman.


  1. More wonderful photos. I had to notice that you (I am guessing here..) made sure not to have footprints in the snow near your feet. So glad you are there and sharing your adventure with us.

    Comment by Jane Bennett Koch — December 30, 2011 @ 9:49 am | Reply

    • I’ll never forget my last boss’s description of human footprints in the wilderness as akin to “stains.” I try to tread lightly. You are right, Jane; I purposely avoided walking in the snow. I love the feeling of walking in an untrampled place and so try to offer others that luxury as well.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — December 30, 2011 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

  2. Wish I had been along.

    Comment by Deb — December 30, 2011 @ 11:10 am | Reply

    • Me too; me too.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — December 30, 2011 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks for posting such an awesome photo!

    Comment by midsummerman — December 30, 2011 @ 11:30 am | Reply

    • Wasn’t it nice of the sheep to line up like that?!?

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — December 30, 2011 @ 7:26 pm | Reply

  4. I presume your book will be titled, “Wilderness Woman” with the subtitle, ‘Life Along the Edges’.

    Comment by Leroque — December 30, 2011 @ 12:07 pm | Reply

    • Ah, yes, yes… Yes.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — January 11, 2012 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

  5. I made it all the way to the WR on Wilhite …. and also was startled by some bighorn! I heard the hooves and that was the only noise I’d heard in hours. Didn’t encounter anyone else on that trail.

    Comment by modapolis — January 11, 2012 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

    • I can’t wait to do the entire 13 miles or whatever it is. If I see bighorn next time, we’ll KNOW it is their place. Also, I did not know that from the bottom of the Wilhite switchbacks, if you know just where to look, you can pick out a certain Class II archeo site far above and across the canyon. What a lovely wild place that is! Nobody ever goes on Wilhite hardly ever never sometimes rarely.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — January 11, 2012 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

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