Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 1, 2016

Your GPS may kill you

Filed under: wilderness life — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:31 pm
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You can’t get there from here!

The caller’s words were succinct: “We don’t know where we are, but our car is scraping bottom and it’s getting dark and we need help.”

Two 20-something women from a faraway state, driving a woefully inadequate Honda Pilot, were deeply embedded in our wilderness and knew only that they had gotten there “because that’s the way our GPS told us to go.” It wasn’t possible to assist them until morning. “You mean…” the caller faltered, “…we have to be out here all night by ourselves?”

Yes. You do. And it will earn you bragging rights back in Iowa.

These two women were in good health, and had water and food. About to taste their first back-country ‘camping,’ they slept in their car; coordinates from their iPhone provided the only way to find them, because they didn’t have a map. They were fortunate to have been able to climb up a high knoll to get a shred of cell signal.

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Where outlaws hid successfully. It’s called “The Maze” for very good reason.

 

The next visitors led astray by blindly following their GPS were driving a low-clearance rental mini-van and spoke no English. The group of seven intended to drive 45 minutes to visit the gentlest district of Canyonlands, but their device brought them a half-day’s drive to the wild and remote Maze district. We got them turned around just before a huge thunderstorm would have trapped them and their 2WD vehicle.

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My friends Cowboy Steve and Diablo  say: “Always carry a suitable map.”

The latest episode was the most dangerous. A lone visitor typed in “Canyonlands” and the GPS took her, in a small Ford Fiesta, deep into the interior. She was stuck in sand with no shovel, no food. It was our hottest month and she ended up walking 20 miles back to the ranger station for help; with little water, she was compelled to drink her own urine to survive the trek. She could have died trusting her GPS.

Incidents like this are rapidly increasing in frequency; our large warning signs saying ‘GPS ALERT’ go unread. The common thread is that paper maps are absent, and drivers assume that their GPS must be correct even when all evidence repudiates that.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having — and knowing how to read — good maps. DO NOT rely on devices. Too much is at stake in wilderness navigation.

Has your GPS has ever led you into trouble? Leave a comment!

July 21, 2016

Dragging the roads

Filed under: wilderness life,wildlife — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:05 am
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Typical sight on your last 46 miles to the Hans Flat ranger station. The road in this photo is in good shape. The cow always stands her ground.

Dirt roads are a portal to wilderness. [See: 12 reasons I prefer dirt roads.] They are not always comfortable to drive on, as maintaining them is nobody’s first priority. It doesn’t take long for major washboarding to occur; if you drive too many miles of badly corrugated roads it can truly steal your joy.

Enter the IGD — Improvised Grading Device — a shining example of Park Service resourcefulness. It’s an old cattle guard removed a decade ago during a road improvement project, tricked out with a salvaged cut-down grader blade welded on, extra weights added. We attach it at an angle with two chains to the maintenance pick-up, and pull it at <10 mph over the rough roads. With enough passes, the stutterbumps are reduced to mere ripples or deliciously smooth flat sections. It’s satisfying work, because the “before” and “after” are resoundingly different.

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Re-purposed modified cattle guard smoothes the roads — unless you catch a rock in the grate.

Added bonus: working at these slow speeds, we find and collect what folks are tossing out their windows. Latest haul was five beer cans (loser: Coors Light), a Smirnoff and a Dasani and two beer bottles, Cheetos bag, rifle shell, a rusty 1-gallon gas can (1960s) and an empty cologne bottle.

I’ll leave it to my readers to invent a story about the cheap cologne found with the rifle shell in a BLM fire ring. (Leave a comment!) What’s inarguable is that alcohol appears to be the drink of choice. Maybe it’s the washboarding… or maybe it’s the other critters that share the road with you.

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None-too-happy Midget Faded Rattlesnake on the road into the Maze.

May 8, 2016

Water = Life

Filed under: wilderness life — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:33 am
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Shallow potholes may be the only water source for backpackers — until they dry up

When I say “desert,” you may picture an arid inhospitable place with fewer than 10 inches of rain annually. That describes much of southern Utah, and shapes our daily life in ways small and large.

Water conservation measures here are pretty serious business. By the time it arrives in 6000-gallon trucks from Moab, 130 miles away, the cost is about $1200 per truckload, or 20 cents per gallon. A 30,000-gallon underground tank stores it safely while we plan how to use each valuable cupful. Every apartment is metered carefully to detect leaks, and we know where the shut-off valve is.

We let our clothes get good and dirty before laundering them. Embrace a little body odor. Shampoo hair once a week. Collect and use rainwater because it’s free, albeit rare. Don’t flush unless you must. Never wash a vehicle. When you turn on the shower for your ultra-short and infrequent ‘navy shower,’ put a bucket under the faucet to collect the not-yet-hot water, which you then use for another purpose. Dishwashing/rinsing becomes an art, equivalent to a Prius owner striving to hyper-mile. Use your soapy dishwashing water (or shower water) to flush the toilet.

If a storm knocks out our electrical system, there’s the pioneer route for back-up: a hand pump. The hand pump is also the place where all staff would meet in an emergency. Don’t miss the symbolism; in the desert, water IS life.

This is different from my Minnesota life where water is plentiful in those 10,000 lakes. How about where you live? What conservation measures do you practice?

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Every time I turn on my faucet, I give thanks for this driver

May 3, 2016

Contrast: it makes life richer

Filed under: wilderness life — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:18 am
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The seventh wave of storms approaches our campsite at Doll House in the Maze

I lead a double life, of sorts. In Minnesota where home and family are, I live comfortably. That adverb did not apply on our five-day Jeep patrol, battered by Pacific storms that left us wet and shivering, with ice caking our tent several mornings. Contrast is a good thing. Contrast makes us grateful.

Today I might have eaten smoked salmon on non-GMO crackers. Instead, the can of Bush’s Best Baked Beans heated on the cookstove paired nicely with the can of Spam.

Today I might have slept in my 2000-square-foot home. Instead, my 35 square feet of tent kept me dry and snug despite the wind, rain, and just-above-freezing temperatures.

Today I might have stayed dry by foregoing hiking. Instead, I got repeatedly pelted by rain and ice pellets — and got to see a full rainbow spanning the Colorado River, miles from anyone, after taking refuge in a shallow alcove near ancient ruins.

Today, I might have encountered angry short-tempered people stressed by perceived inconveniences of life. Instead, we met tired backpackers carrying all that they needed, humbly grateful for a current weather forecast and a fill of their water bottles.

Today, I might have heard cars, barking dogs, radio. Instead, a peregrine falcon’s unsettled cry alerted us to its presence, our only neighbor for miles and miles.

Today, I might have been looking in my (too-large) closet and wondering what to wear. Instead, I took off the rain-soaked work pants and laid them in the Jeep hoping they’d be dry in the morning. Woolen long johns, a tad damp, kept me warm as I slept. You can have the rest of the closet.

Today, in my other life, I might have used a flush toilet like most Americans. Instead, I dug a 6” cathole under a juniper, left a little organic fertilizer, and packed out the toilet paper to ‘leave no trace.’ Easy.

Today, I might have used a thermostat to regulate ambient temperature. Instead, I took off and put on four different layers to ensure my comfort in rapidly-changing conditions.

Today, I might have been connecting with my friends via email and Facebook. Instead, I hiked nine glorious miles with my beloved, through places that expand our souls.

Tonight, I might be falling asleep on my custom-made queen-sized mattress with Egyptian cotton sheets. Instead, I’m floating an inch above the earth on my Therma-rest, tucked into a down sleeping bag, listening to a canyon wren bidding mortals goodnight.

And life is very, very good.

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Doll House — in a window of good weather

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