Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 25, 2013

An eternal reminder to watch one’s words

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:36 pm
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“The Three Gossips” — Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park

gossip |ˈgäsəp| noun — casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.


These three 350-foot-tall sisters have been whispering to each other for many millennia; they’ve seen the whole gamut of visitors. If you get to Arches National Park, spend some time in the glorious Courthouse Towers neighborhood where it’s next to impossible to snap a bad photo.

April 17, 2013

The bighorn and I

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:04 pm
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[Note: this encounter occurred just hours before the Boston Marathon carnage. Draw your own conclusions about the importance of preserving wilderness in this increasingly violent world.]


The last ten feet of a steep slickrock ramp beckoned me upward, and I dug my boots in for the final push. Breaths were coming quickly as I hit the top, where flying pebbles and a furious clatter of hooves announced a startled ungulate. I froze in place.

A magnificent desert bighorn ram with fully curled horns bolted to a sandstone knoll twenty yards distant and turned to study me. Heart pounding, I lowered myself to a crouch.

He sniffed the air, locating molecules of my scent.* His solid muscular body remained tense, ready to scramble, as I attempted to appear even less threatening. I recalled being told that herbivores can be put at ease if you act herbivore-ish yourself, so I lowered my head in a quasi-grazing stance and avoided eye contact.

A good five minutes passed. We were breathing easier now; he seemed more relaxed and less jumpy. He sniffed again, licked his nose, and did something I never would have predicted: began walking haltingly toward me. Not for a second did he take his eyes off this curious green-clad flat-hatted creature as his curiosity drew him in for a closer look. In disbelief, I quickly scoped out an escape route should the need arise.

He and I soon came to a wordless understanding that we weren’t a threat to each other. Finding a small rock overhang twelve yards distant, he parked himself, still eyeing me, unperturbed by my camera work. I snapped photos and admired the physicality of this six- to eight-year-old ram.

A front hoof lifted, scraped the sandstone twice. Repeating with the other hoof, he folded his legs beneath himself and bedded down for a long stay. My senses, atrophied from living in a too-easy world, strained to catch details about him on this spring morning. Silence was interrupted only by the tic-ticking of falling graupel (snow beads) as the minutes slowly passed.

Tingly legs told me it was time to unbend, and bid him farewell; I had more miles to hike, more cairns to build, more trails to patrol. But now this day’s tasks would be colored by a vivid overlay of my chance encounter with a wild, elegant, handsome beast. All was well in my world.


*(Immediate regret: the single spritz of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue that I had applied hours earlier. What an affront to his senses.)

April 8, 2013

A good-looking neighbor

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:38 am
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Sun's final rays illuminate the sandstone of Dead Horse Point State Park, UT.

Sun’s final rays illuminate the sandstone of Dead Horse Point State Park, UT.

Only ten minutes of daylight remain, so we sprint from the car to the overlook with our cameras and our willingness to be impressed. Even so, the view into the canyon stops us in our tracks. There is no river vista quite as expansive as that at Dead Horse Point State Park, next-door-neighbor to Canyonlands. Eons of erosion have dismantled rock, grain by grain, leaving this tapestry of sandstone guarding the miniaturized Colorado River 2000 feet below.

April 3, 2013

There are places a Prius shouldn’t go

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:33 pm
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Olive, the mighty Prius, goes where no other Prius dares. She has only a few scars to show for it.

Not having a 4WD vehicle in the West can be annoying; I find myself coveting my sister’s FJ Cruiser all the time whenever I need to get somewhere rugged. But with good instructions from friends who have been around, Olive (99,000 miles and counting) continues to explore vistas that other Priuses won’t.

The first time she did this, I was camping in a remote BLM campground and had to cross a shallow stream four times to reach my site. As in, drive through the water, not go on a bridge. For seven days. Dozens of crossings. I found out Olive could handle that.

Last summer, I had her at 10,000 feet in the mountains when a couple on ATVs zipped by. Incredulous, they slammed on their brakes and got off to ask if they could photograph my Prius in a land of pickups. Olive happily posed, unaware that she was out of place or being secretly mocked.

Ilsa leans against the Secret Spire, San Juan County, UT. Differential erosion is the reason this sandstone piece stands alone.

Ilsa leans against the Secret Spire, Grand County, UT. Differential erosion is the reason this sandstone piece stands alone. Click to enlarge.

Last week, my daughter and I found ourselves on a narrow sandy jeep road atop a godforsaken mesa, in search of the Secret Spire. Side roads here are often unlabeled, and we weren’t exactly sure we were on the right one. Afraid to slow down and risk getting mired, I just kept going, and going, and going… and, yes, the Spire was worth it.

There’s one thing she’s attempted and backed away from: a debris-laden mudslide spanning the highway. I absolutely love my Prius, but you know what? That FJ Cruiser is looking sweeter all the time.


Leave a comment if you’ve taken your vehicle where it shouldn’t have gone.

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