Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 30, 2012

Motley crew, and oh how I love ’em

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:41 am
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Exquisite spring 2012 ISKY crew:
Bobby, Melanie, Nathaniel, Sierra, Chris, Towns,
Kathryn, Allie, Emily, Gretchen, Mariana. Missing: Julia

You know you’re in the right place when tales of “other parks’ personnel issues” come your way, and you instantly realize you work with some of the finest people on earth. Perhaps that is hyperbole. Perhaps that is not. I lean toward the latter.

As we gathered for telescope training it became apparent that this was one of the few times when almost every one of our staff was in the same place at the same time. This mandatory sunset group photo captures our physical resemblances, but of course it’s what’s on the inside that makes our interpretive team so special.

One plays the guitar so lyrically that it slows my respirations. One’s claim to fame revolves around sewing and cooking, her repertoire being wide and deep. One has a notable gift for making every guest interaction pure joy for the visitor while thoroughly enjoying it herself. One has a heart so kind, so willing to help, that you never feel you’re imposing when you ask him for assistance. One is so Jedi-skillful with interpretation theory and techniques that she can make ANY moment an interpretive delight for us as her knitting needles create masterpieces. One brings her dance-major ‘big energy’ to every aspect of her job, being the pacesetter for us all; and yes, a staff flash mob is being choreographed. One tenacious young man is on a quest to figure out what to do with life, and we’re all enjoying cheering him on. One, the Keeper of Backcountry Lore, regularly models “interpretive haiku writing” in meeting minutes or road-closure emails. One has been a professional bakery chef, creating and sharing edible objects of beauty that match her inner radiance. One adds happiness to even the toughest day with her smile that never stops, and deep dark eyes that twinkle all the time. One intrepid one has walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, solo, inspiring us with her spunk.

WHAT A CREW. Every last one of them enriches my life immensely by being who they are and bringing their very best to the table. When ‘co-worker’ and ‘neighbor’ and ‘friend’ describe the same dozen people without exception, it makes living up here in the wilderness a very sweet prospect. I am blessed.

April 25, 2012

Free! Bestseller!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:47 pm
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“Hi there! In honor of World Book Night, I’m giving away free novels. Are you interested in reading?”

This usually got puzzled stares, but I repeated that a dozen and a half times as I strolled around Moab with my armload of bestselling novels. The older the person was, the more skeptically they looked at me, and the more I read on their faces something like “Nothing is free. I know you are part of a cult and this is just a hook.”  Soon I realized that I had to hold the book up and point to the words NATIONAL BESTSELLER on the front cover in order to allay their fears.  No; this was a bona fide unconditional giveaway.

Major publishers from around the world donated money to underwrite this second-annual event. The idea is simple: take book lovers willing to donate their time, and publishers willing to print and donate good books, match them up, and create a book give-away with no strings attached. BRILLIANT.

I signed up online to become a book Giver, and selected my favorite novel from among the thirty choices. Twenty copies of Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River were sent to my local bookstore for me; I picked them up and schemed how to get them into the hands of light or non-readers. Where would you look for these folk? Not at the library or the sushi bar. I tried the laundromat.

The first man accepted my book, delighted, and exclaimed “You’re a wonderful lady!” I assured him the book would be a good read, and crossed the street to McDonald’s. Three men waiting in line all accepted books from me after the requisite explanations, along with the instruction to pass it along to someone else when they were done with it.

I went to the city park to see who might need a book. A guy at a picnic table gladly took one, as did a couple walking their rat terriers.

Strolling Main Street, a nurse excitedly took one, saying she couldn’t wait to read it and knew exactly who would get it after her.

A cashier at the gas station looked thrilled to be offered one. I think it’s been eons since she’s gotten anything free.

My favorite of all: an old pick-up truck with two women sitting in it eating sandwiches. The rolled-down windows beckoned me and I strolled up with my last books, inviting them to be recipients of a bestselling novel. The driver looked away and said, “I don’t read well. It’s been so long. But I’d like to read…” Smiling earnestly, I set a book on the door frame. “Ma’am, this book is perfect for you. Try the first chapter. Take it slowly, just a few pages at a time. I think the story will catch you up, and you’ll be surprised at how it draws you in. Soon you’ll be halfway through, and then done. And then… give it away, okay?” She looked intently at me, wanting to believe that what I said was true. And then she took the book, with a half smile on her face. Her passenger reached over and asked if she might have one.

It was incredibly rewarding to just GIVE AWAY BOOKS with no ulterior motive. I headed home, my box empty, heart full of joy.

April 20, 2012

Oh, Emily D!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:44 pm
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"Yellow she affords only scantly and selectly..." (see text)
February sunset from my front porch in Canyonlands National Park
Note extravagant use of scarlet (see text)

“A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us.”                                                                    
–       (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


A library book from the “D” poetry shelf is now my constant companion. I don’t know what it is: her unexpected word usage? Her metaphors that make me blink, and think? Her courageous unconventional style? Her profound nature observation? Emily Dickinson‘s skilfulness with the English language, with conveying deep thoughts in few words, has stolen my breath away.

Her mind startles me. The “Belle of Amherst” uses words like an artisan uses tools. Brace yourself for the two arresting similes in this short poem:


Nature rarer uses yellow  / Than another hue; / Saves she all of that for sunsets, — / Prodigal of blue,

Spending scarlet like a woman, / Yellow she affords / Only scantly and selectly, / like a lover’s words.  

                                                                                                                                                                                         Oh my. Oh my. In a mere eight lines of verse, the color yellow has just been elevated from mundane to sublime. Suddenly I have an appetite for more — more of whatever she has written. Nature? Life? Love? Eternity? I’ll devour it all.

Please, go to your local library. Find a book of poems by anybody. Anthologies, selected poems, favorites, doesn’t matter. Carry it around with you and read it on your lunch hour for a week. Find one that resonates deep in your soul. Read it to someone on the bus. Perhaps the mail carrier or FedEx deliverer would like some verse, or your boss or your cubicle-mate. Phone a friend and read a poem aloud. It’s delightfully Bohemian if you add brie, a bottle of wine and a guitar, collecting a few friends to share their favorites one evening; you’ll all be richer for the effort. Do it.


(Brought to you by the entirely fictitious Council for the Promotion of Ranger Literacy. Next post returns us to our regularly-scheduled programming.)

April 16, 2012

Old tent, old memories

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:16 am
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1964 VW Microbus and our 8-man tent took us to every adventure we had as children.

Thinking back over my childhood, the gifts my parents gave their children were good ones: mandatory Saturday chores, a one-hour limit on TV, eating what was put on our plates, having to apologize when we were unkind. One that is more easily overlooked, though, was Mom’s sacrifice of going on camping trips when she would have preferred comfort. She never let on that cooking for eight on a Coleman stove was not fun or easy, or that sleeping in a musty blue canvas tent on blow-up air mattresses was anything less than delightful. We children, of course, thought these were the best adventures imaginable.

Dad and Mom made a good pair. Dad created every itinerary and saw to it that all our equipment was in working order. He and my brothers always loaded the car. Mom was mistress of the kitchen and of each person’s “stuff.” She knew where the pancake griddle, raisins, or Dramamine resided. And, no matter how young, each child was responsible for his or her own sleeping bag and air mattress.

To this day, six out of six of us kids love camping. My brothers find winter camping (in Minnesota!) delightful. One sister just finished nine days camping in Oman, experiencing marvels never to be forgotten, and the other sister camps whenever she can. Me? I live and work in the wilderness and can’t imagine life without my little REI tent.

And for Beatrice, the long-suffering? All our trips laid the groundwork for Mom to see the wonders of travel — inspiring adventures which have enriched my parents’ lives through eight decades. Their passports sport over one hundred country stamps. While most were visited without a tent, I gratefully tip my flat hat to that old blue one that started it all.

April 11, 2012

Strange things happen in national parks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:23 pm
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From our “Inside NPS” Morning Report today:

Blue Ridge Parkway 
Two Suffer Hallucinogenic Mushroom Overdoses
On the evening of March 31st, rangers were dispatched to the Craggy Gardens picnic area in response to a 911 call concerning a probable drug overdose. Upon arrival, they found a man and woman parked in a vehicle, both exhibiting an altered mental status. They said that they’d ingested psilocybin mushrooms, with the woman adding that she was dead and had no pulse. Rangers and EMS personnel began an assessment and noted that the woman was suffering from periodic convulsive events. At one point, she jumped from the stretcher, climbed into the rear seat of a patrol car, exited again, dropped to the ground, and experienced another convulsion. She was eventually placed in an ambulance, where she was transported to a hospital for treatment and evaluation. During the transport, she continually asked if she was alive or dead and if what was happening was real. Rangers remained at the hospital until she returned to a coherent state. Both the man and woman were issued violation notices for using a controlled substance. The driver was released to the custody of his father. The 911 call actually originated from the couple, who were concerned that they were already dead.

"It's too hot in Canyonlands for Bigfoot, and too dry for mushrooms to grow. Once, however, a visitor vehemently insisted that ravens did not exist in North America and that all our ravens
HAD TO BE crows."


An equally entertaining submission from last month described a “guide” who had taken 31 people on a multi-day search for Bigfoot — inside a national park. The expedition fees ($300-500 per person) more than covered his measly $525 fine for guiding without a permit. They did not find a Sasquatch.


April 10, 2012

Horseshoe Bend

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:19 am
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South of the Glen Canyon Dam a few miles, this meander in the Colorado River bends back on itself in a dramatic display of erosion's effects.

The canaigre is blooming!
(Other names for it: dock, wild rhubarb)

Near Page, Arizona, the Colorado River makes a huge bowknot bend. From an overlook on the mesa top, one can appreciate the force of moving water over eons of time, scouring the canyon walls. Some day it will cut through that peninsula of rock.

I had no wide-angle lens, sadly, but I think you get the gist of this view. River: 3200 feet. Overlook: 4200 feet. Easy half-mile trail from parking area.

April 7, 2012

Navajo National Monument

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:26 am
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The alcoves in this deep canyon hold ancient villages. Douglas Fir and aspen populate the shaded areas -- not your typical Arizona desert trees.

Tucked away in deep canyons in the northern Arizona desert, ruined villages of ancestral Puebloans lie vacated — but not empty. After all the hubbub of our day in Antelope Canyon, Tara and I wanted to find a place to lay our heads that was quiet and restful.  Ninety minutes’ drive brought us at sunset to a small jewel of a National Monument that filled the bill. Delightedly, we found that there was no entrance fee for this lovely place.

The campground occupies a pinyoned knoll — all quiet and, much to our surprise, also free. The tent went up in minutes. Leaving the rain fly off ensured that we’d see lots of stars from our 7300-foot perch. After a cup of mint tea, we burrowed into our sleeping bags and studied all our park literature by headlamp before drifting off. I dreamed of kivas and potshards.

Friday dawned cool and clear and full of promise. The park brochure described FREE (!!!) ranger-led half-day tours to the Betatakin ruins, an exciting offer to two archaeology-oriented visitors with tons of questions. Alas… full staffing begins May 27 this year, and tours won’t be available until then. (Chapter 133 of “Budget issues create disappointment.”)

To take the sting away, we perused every incredible artifact in the visitor center’s displays and worked with the ranger to plan our return for the 17-mile overnight backpacking hike to Keet Seel. This best-preserved ruin requires permits (20/day maximum); a ranger actually lives out at the ruin site for a week straight in order to conduct guided visits. MY KIND OF TRIP.

Three short overlook hikes whetted our appetites for what will come. The ancestral people built stunning masonry villages in picturesque alcoves, which shall be thoroughly explored under our own power this summer.

April 5, 2012

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:06 pm
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Are not these some of the most soothing colors imaginable???
Lower seems a bit lighter than Upper.

Somewhat traumatized by my visit to Upper Antelope Canyon, I asked travel buddy Tara whether we ought to give Lower Antelope a look. Both of us were on the fence, but the scales tipped in favor of a tour as we wanted to give the area all the chances possible. Let’s face it: it’s deliciously beautiful. We figured we could put up with idiosyncrasies of most kinds.

Well. My humble opinion is that Lower AC is gorgeous in its own right, but is relegated to “country cousin” status when compared with glitzier Upper AC. Upper has those scrumptious midday light beams that draw photographers. Upper has fleets of gussied-up trucks shuttling tourists to and fro. Upper has guides in matching black T-shirts for ease of identification. Upper costs twice as much.

Both have sinuous curves that draw your eye along and invite your hands to reach out and touch the sandstone. Both have a space that feels other-worldly. Both take your breath away.

This is what a slot canyon looks like from the OUTSIDE. A narrow crack in the earth, unobtrusive... and beckoning. (See footprints leading in.)

Lower has a humble kiosk selling permits and tickets, with a guitar-playing guy behind the counter. As it was late in the day, only three of us were on the tour, and the remaining guide was an amiable Navajo youth in his mid-teens who took us in on foot. His specialty was pointing out images in the rock: there’s Bruce the Shark! see Darth Vader? look, a Transformer. His specialty was NOT in interpreting the canyon. He did tell me their belief that if you are too much in the canyon, you will lose your hearing, as the canyon represents the ear passage. I so wanted to know other facts about their culture, but he had no answers, not even what the canyon’s name was in Navajo, or whether the tribe considered this area different from the rest of their land.


We were glad we went, but found ourselves desperately wishing for a guide who could help us make emotional and intellectual connections with the site. I’m sure they exist.

Our cameras don’t lie; the slot in the earth is beautiful. If you go, go to both Upper and Lower.

April 2, 2012

Upper Antelope Canyon: don’t expect tranquility

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:24 pm
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The only time there was a gap between groups was twice when a light beam intervened.
Our guide drew a line in the sand and we didn't cross it until all photos were made.

Oh, my aching soul!

In my previous post, I shared my favorite photos of the slot canyon near Page, Arizona. In the interest of journalistic honesty, I would adjure you when you visit to forego any expectation of tranquility, and be prepared for lots and lots of people vying for the same shots you are.

Camera aimed toward the sky...

There was constant noise in the canyon, tour guides trying to keep their groups moving, giving instructions about where to snap the best pictures, or relating bits of information about flash floods. I was never jostled or pushed, but definitely felt herded along. Multiple groups from several tour companies occupy the same space; eight trucks (14 tourists each) shuttled customers for our 1130 tour.

And here is my dilemma: while this bustle and noise would not annoy 82% of the human race, it sucks the life out of me. I’m wired to need more quiet, less stimulation. I love to hike where I’m the only one on the trail, camp where nobody’s near me, live in a place away from noise and lights. Leaving Antelope Canyon, I felt drained instead of replenished.

What was missing was any sense of being in a location the Navajos consider sacred. I was looking for a modicum of reverence; I found myself desperately wishing for someone, anyone, to acknowledge this aspect. Perhaps commercial activity does not desecrate the canyon. Or perhaps offerings are made, or cleansing ceremonies performed, after hours.

Was it worth it? You bet. I crossed off another Bucket List item and experienced a very magical place. Sometimes you can’t do things on your own terms. When (not if) you go to Antelope Canyon, go with no expectations; you’ll enjoy it immensely and avoid disappointment. The stunning, incomparable, unique beauty deserves your visit.

(Note: if you’re wired at all like me, you might enjoy reading about the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity.)

The visual texture sends chills along my spine.

April 1, 2012

Upper Antelope Canyon: Beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:29 am
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Layers, colors, textures, light, shadow --
it all comes together in Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona. (11:46 am)

Hidden in a crack of the earth, deep in Navajo country, lies a slot canyon like no other. Millennia of floods and windblown sands have scoured a passageway 1/4 mile long, and up to 135 feet deep, that is in places barely wide enough for two people to pass. Light penetrates its depths at midday but leaves the sinuous chasm in shadows at all other times.

Navajos call this area "The Heart of the Canyon"

As far as the eye can see, sand defines this landscape. Antelope Canyon itself is made of lithified sand, sand with all the air pockets pressed out, sand cemented with calcium carbonate and pigmented with iron oxide, sand become rock after all these years. Its floor is deposited both by gentle floods that carry tons of sand into the slot, and by windstorms blowing it in from above.

Flash floods are common in canyon country, and are singularly responsible for shaping Antelope Canyon. Countless gallons of rushing sandy water enter the slot after a downpour anywhere in its watershed, impacting the walls at high velocity and dislodging new grains one by one. Every flash flood changes the canyon’s depth, taking out many feet of sand. In a never-ending cycle, new fill is restored with the next storm.

Humans are inexorably drawn to slot canyons. Their space is unlike any other I know, evoking  awe, dismantling hubris; one cannot enter without feeling small and vulnerable. I find them irresistible — except when there is recent or imminent rain. Antelope Canyon’s interior curves shout the power of erosion; its muted palette of desert colors whispers visual tranquility. Go visit this site.

A beam of light penetrates the narrow crack on the earth's surface at midday. Sand in the air defines its outline.

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