Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 22, 2014

Just another 1440 minutes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:45 pm
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MUST. GET. INTO. WILDERNESS.

Come along with me for a recent 24-hour period, and see how I “do” a day off of work… and, as always, click on any photo to enlarge it.

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Having found our BLM camp spot on the canyon rim away from it all, Chris builds a fire to chase away the evening chill. In spite of the calendar page saying May, evening temps often dip into the 40s or 30s here in the high desert. Our humble spaghetti supper warms us, and we forgive a mouse intruder who runs across the stove seeking leftovers.

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At precisely the time indicated by NOAA, the Full Flower Moon rises just south of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. I wordlessly press my hand into Chris’s as I am again overcome by a sense of my own smallness in this crushingly beautiful universe.

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We roll out our sleeping bags on the sandstone and burrow deeply into them; the Flower Moon will shine on us all night long as it arcs from east to west. A single cricket is the only sound in all the bright darkness.

Pre-dawn brings first birdsong, and we settle for oatmeal with cranberries and walnuts since I forgot the tea and coffee. Shafer Canyon glows with low-angle spears of light; White-throated Swifts take to the skies. A beautiful spring day is in store.

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We follow directions in an 18-year-old guidebook to a remote location north of Arches NP and bushwhack into a deep wash, finally dropping into a narrow canyon where we’re mesmerized by the abundant wildflowers — Silvery Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemmon, Pale Evening Primrose.

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Biological Soil Crust (aka “Cryptobiotic Soil”), its top 3 mm filled with living organisms, has stabilized and nourished this area for centuries. (Please do not walk on it. Ever.)

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Further upcanyon, big rains five days earlier have created the inevitable patch of jiggly quicksand. My guy’s foot is swallowed up to his ankle. We make a run for firmer sand, laughing.

As the towering canyon walls close in, allowing just a body’s width to pass through, Chris freezes and motions me to halt. To our left, on a boulder in a side crack, a downy youngster rests in the noon sun. Her ear tufts are a species give-away: Great Horned Owl, probably around eight weeks old, probably told by her parents to stay put while they nap. She is surprisingly non-plussed by our presence. We shoot pics and sneak away, not wanting to encounter the talons of a watchful adult.

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The canyon dead-ends in a dramatic slot.

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When we pass Miss Owlet (I surmise female due to her large size) on our return trip, she is napping. The fifteen feet between us seems immaterial; a very wild animal is sharing the same spot as I am, and the moment is powerful.

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Extricating ourselves from the wash, we’re led by the map to Boca Arch a few miles away…

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…and then on to Caves Spring, where ancestral Puebloans sheltered nine centuries ago.

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To close our day in the backcountry, we come upon a century-old miner’s cabin made of railroad ties still standing in the desert.

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I LOVE EXPLORING. My heart is utterly joyful when I’m discovering new things, savoring each revelation, as present as I can possibly be, using every sense to learn more about this soul-stretching world in which we live.

Now I want to know: where is an exhilarating place YOU have explored?

 

May 6, 2014

A moment’s beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:42 am
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Spring rainstorm, Candlestick Tower

Spring rains, Candlestick Tower

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”     – John Muir

May 2, 2014

In this treacherous terrain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:50 pm
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Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Walking two by two in the pitch-black, by starlight and headlamp, we repeatedly called the name of someone we’d never met. An elderly man had wandered away from his RV two hours before sunset without jacket, water, or food. Temperatures are still getting down below freezing each night; he wouldn’t survive until morning if we failed to find him.

Our three “hasty teams” of park rangers got to the trailhead first and began searching in the most likely places — along the steep, cliff-edged Syncline trail — while awaiting search-and-rescue personnel from over an hour away. I’d walked this perilous stretch many times, always in daylight. The new moon afforded no luxury of shadows, and our thin arc of headlamp light gave barely a hint of the chasm a few yards away. Our radios worked only intermittently in these canyons. My imaginative hiking partner presumed a hungry mountain lion lurked nearby, while I was more concerned about our nocturnal rattlesnakes.

I had returned from a long run just before the knock on my door requesting searchers, and was tired, but someone’s life was on the line. As I sat down on a rock ledge to dig in my pack for a chocolate soy milk box, the thup-thup of the arriving helicopter brought encouragement: sixty thousand lumens of light! The K-9 unit, 34 searchers from two counties, and an ambulance crew were already on scene. It was now a race against the clock.

Finding a solo male boot track in a wet sandy wash, we radioed it in. They already had found excellent prints and were on the man’s trail, so we went to the highest exposed point of rock to relieve the very chilled radio relay team. Our job was now to monitor radio traffic and pass messages to and from those without coverage in lower canyons.

High on Upheaval Dome, Emma and I turned off our headlamps and watched the helicopter make pass after pass along the ridge line, shining its spotlight in an area of interest. The pilot’s impressive skills awed us as he hovered over one spot, searching, searching. The radio crackled with news that a person was hunkered down on all fours, not moving; ground rescuers plotted the pilot’s GPS coordinates and soon reached a very cold and disoriented subject. Six hours in, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. It would be several more hours before all personnel were cleared from the scene.

Sleep was fitful. An hour after sunrise, I was opening the visitor center and welcoming our first guests. “Your park seems rather quiet,” one said. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, I could only murmur, “We prefer it that way.”

 

 

 

 

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