Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 3, 2012

Imagination: ignited!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:49 am
Tags: , , , , , ,


What ARE those depressions in the rock?!? Click to enlarge.

Hiking alone always lights up new areas inside my brain. In a backcountry area of the park recommended to me by a law enforcement ranger, finding my own way across pathless sandstone, I was keenly aware that I was the only human out this way. I had what I needed: water, Clif bar, hat, radio, spare battery, whistle — no need for a map since I was following the edge of a giant hole in the earth.

This is an area beyond Upheaval Dome, which is a geologic enigma in itself — crazily jumbled layers of rock in an otherwise-orderly sedimentary landscape. I can’t even tell which layers of rock I’m hiking in out here, since the deformation that took places eons ago turned it all inside out. I found myself descending a slickrock slope alongside what looked for all the world like tracks in ancient sand or mud. DINOSAUR TRACKS, my mind screamed. No. It couldn’t be. Yes, it sure looks like it. Arrgghh, it’s in the wrong layer of rock. What kind of rock IS this, anyway? Wait. Chemical weathering. It’s just erosion. No, erosion doesn’t happen in left-right-left-right sequences. Gosh, it looks like a pair of them, whatever they were… going for a walk together. Sweet! No. Too deep. But… maybe…

Finding dinosaur tracks would be a Very Cool Event. Wary that I was wanting that badly enough to distort my objectivity, I took some photos and headed back to the visitor center. One permanent ranger was skeptical, reminding me that no tracks could have survived the forces that made a two-mile-wide crater. Another permanent ranger had a sparkle in his eye and whispered, “I think I’ve heard that there ARE dino tracks out that way.” Which is just the way I must leave it. I’ll probably never know. Mystery is very, very good.

Feel free to double-click on the photo to enlarge it, and tell me what YOU think caused these sequences of holes. (This means you, Sawyer!)



  1. Hi Kathryn, yes, they look what you expect ‘old’ dino tracks to look like, and maybe they are, but maybe some scientists dug some holes for their explorations.
    Found this: “In 1993, Eugene Shoemaker and Ken Herkenhoff found shatter cones within the sandstone of Upheaval Dome.” on http://www.meteorite.com/impact/upheaval.htm
    Those 2 scientists are mentioned on other websites as well.
    Almost finished packing: tomorrow to San Francisco, then Yosemite, Zion (climb Angels Landing, as you suggested) and Escalante area !!!
    Thanks for your always wonderful stories,
    Fan #60, Klaas (Germany)

    Comment by Klaas Wijchman — September 3, 2012 @ 9:04 am | Reply

    • Safe travels to you, Klaas! Your itinerary sounds quite wonderful. Enjoy those very special national parks and keep your eyes open for wonders and mysteries.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 7, 2012 @ 9:06 am | Reply

  2. Looks like solution pockets, maybe it was a pre-deformation bedding plane thats gotten jumbled around?

    Comment by midsummerman — September 3, 2012 @ 10:06 am | Reply

    • That’s probably it. But for something jumbled, it’s awfully linear…

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 7, 2012 @ 8:11 am | Reply

  3. It may be coincidental, but the left hand series appears to have ‘toe’ prints in more than one pocket.
    (I love mysteries too)

    Comment by leroque — September 3, 2012 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

  4. WOW soooo cool, sure looks like there could be toe prints in them, repeating in each. I love anything dinosaur! Were you on the trail that goes around the north side of upheaval dome?

    Comment by superdave0002 — September 3, 2012 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

    • No, headed around the south rim all the way to the end where it drops off into Upheaval Wash. Absolutely beautiful.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 4, 2012 @ 7:10 am | Reply

  5. There are similar pockets in the Galena Layer of Ordovician
    Limestone. Softer materials were embedded in the sedimentary
    layer as it formed and were weathered out on exposure.

    Comment by Gary Russell — September 4, 2012 @ 6:57 am | Reply

    • Of course, Gary, that is the most likely explanation. It’s just not quite as cool as DINO TRACKS. Just for the record, I think solution pockets are way cool, too, and have many photographs of them. I also like saying the word “tafoni.” Thanks for the Ordovician info!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 4, 2012 @ 7:08 am | Reply

  6. I was just at Arches National Park over th Labor Day Weekend.My family hiked the primitive difficult trail. We saw a midget faded rattlesnake right in the middle of the trail. It almost was stepped on due to its small size about 18 inches long. It was beautiful and we took a awesome photo of it. Very exciting but very glad not to get bitten!

    Comment by diane hagberg — September 4, 2012 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

    • You are so fortunate, Diane, to have seen that snake! Most people never get a glimpse because they’re shy and (usually) nocturnal. Might I see your photo? (It could even find a place on a future blog post if you’re willing. Tell me whom to credit.) Email: kathryn_burke@nps.gov

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 7, 2012 @ 8:51 am | Reply

      • I would love to send the picture. I took the picture. I was so excited to see the snake since I think I would have possibly stepped on it. My husband was walking about a minute ahead of me and must have just missed it, thank goodness.What a beautiful snake, though I admit I’m scared of them. I was shaking when I took the picture! Thank you for responding to my email, I am very excited about it. I hope you can use the picture.I took it on Sunday,Sept.3, 2012. I live in Minneapolis,Minnesota. I loved Arches National Park, it was truly amazing and beautiful! Sincerely, Diane Hagberg

        Comment by diane hagberg — September 7, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    • AAggggh! I have snake envy. I kept a Timber Rattler in my classroom for 12 years and
      lectured on the species for 9 plus seasons as a St. Park Ranger. I never saw one in the
      wild. Many park visitors got to see one on their first visit and I was on the trails every day.

      Comment by Gary Russell — September 7, 2012 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  7. Yes this was my first visit to Arches and was so excited to see the midge faded rattler who apparently is very shy!

    Comment by diane hagberg — September 7, 2012 @ 10:18 am | Reply

  8. Kathryn,
    These are not dino tracks. Way back when, when this was still a soft muddy area, the catfish that did not escape had to burrow down into the mud.
    As the mud dried even more, the air bubbles left depressions when they rose to the surface and popped. Of course, over time, erosion made these depressions deeper and added things to make the mind wander, like what may look like toe/claw marks.
    To prove this theory, all you have to do is dig down deep to find the catfish fossils.

    Comment by Bro. Mike — September 9, 2012 @ 6:40 am | Reply

    • I KNEW that an alternative hypothesis would arise that would be airtight. THANKS, Mike! I’ll take my hammer and pick out there next time!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 9, 2012 @ 7:11 am | Reply

  9. So cool! I was just at upheaval this morning, didn’t see the tracks tho. Really enjoying your blog as spent 4 days in Arches andl looking at petroglyphs along Kane creek. Love that you also enjoy hiking alone too, as I rarely see another solo woman but I get so much more out of it that I wonder why more women don’t do it. Congrats on climbing Owl. Ranger Karen was great answering all my questions yesterday. Hope to meet you next season!

    Comment by Dyane — December 8, 2012 @ 10:59 pm | Reply

  10. I can’t identify them but I can say with confidence that they are NOT aura cavities: http://www.flickr.com/photos/listorama/2621178303/ .

    Comment by Dave Beedon — February 15, 2013 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  11. Kathryn,

    Your image on September 3, 2012 is fascinating. For the past several years I’ve been researching impact craters and how Hertzian fractures seem to bounce around in them. I suspect these are related if they are on or around Upheaval Dome. Do you have a close GPS location? Klaas, above, mentioned Eugene Shoemaker and Ken Herkenhoff and their discovery of shattercones. I suspect these are related. Here is the site with a comparison of Hertzian fractures in glass and Upheaval Dome and other impact craters should you be interested. http://www.dowdresearch.org/CraterComparisons.html

    James Byous
    A.T. Dowd Research
    Savannah, GA

    Comment by James Byous — April 12, 2013 @ 5:21 pm | Reply

    • REALLY interesting images — thank you for sending! I don’t have GPS coordinates but can do one of two things: try to find it on Google Earth, or head out there with a GPS and find it again and mark it. If map coordinates would assist you, I’m glad to send those along, too.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — April 13, 2013 @ 11:57 am | Reply

      • Hi Kathryn, if you make a picture using your iPhone, what you’ve already done a couple of times, then you have GPS coordinates as well. They’re in the Exif part of your JPG photo.
        A program like IrfanView shows your photo, press E (for Exif, I guess) and your see your Exif info, together with the question to show the location in GoogleEarth.
        Hope this helps, Klaas

        Comment by Klaas Wijchman — April 14, 2013 @ 6:38 am

      • Klaas, this is brilliant. Those particular photos were taken with my Canon, but I can go out there again some evening after work and repeat them with my iPhone. Thanks so much for the idea!

        Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — April 14, 2013 @ 6:51 am

      • Hello Kathryn,

        as a matter of fact, this was the first picture where I noticed that you did not use your Canon, but an iPhone 🙂
        It is img_1093.jpg (the photo on top of this page), coordinates 109 56.35 W, 38 26.08 N, taken on 21 Aug. 2012.
        GoogleEarth shows that you were almost on the West side of Upheaval Dome, so except for enjoying the place again, no need to go there !
        Have a fantastic time, Klaas (Germany)

        Comment by Klaas Wijchman — April 14, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

      • Ooooooohhhhh my. Klaas. Oh. My. I shall forward these coordinates to the scientist who is studying shatter cones. THANK YOU!!! Kathryn

        Comment by Kathryn Colestock-Burke — April 14, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

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