Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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.


Doll House — in a window of good weather


April 24, 2016

Groceries: far, far away

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:51 pm





Grocery store is just around the corner, I think…

The cooler with ice packs is loaded into the vehicle, along with every shopping bag we own. We remember to grab the all-important List. Others’ requests are dutifully collected as well, because anyone’s pantry may be thin before the calendar says it’s time to go to town — especially in stormy weather when the road may become impassable.

Our first grocery bill was $299. The second one was $427. Add 18 gallons of gas to get us to and from the grocery store; it can be expensive living in the middle of nowhere.

Rice and beans can be stockpiled and don’t go bad. We keep staples on hand and don’t mind eating the same things over and over. A bruised avocado and Jell-O Jigglers are tasty for breakfast! Pistachios and salsa for lunch! Spam and grapefruit* for supper! One gets creative, in a pinch.

[*Note  to Hormel Corporation: I may have inadvertently discovered your next flavor for Spam. Yummm!]

April 22, 2016

Plethora of photos

Filed under: photo albums — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:56 am
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I want you to see where I live: the wonder, the beauty, the mystery.

April 21, 2016

A point

Filed under: cultural finds — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:50 pm
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A projectile point made of red chert, also called jasper

Eyes focused a few feet in front of him as he hiked, Chris abruptly knelt down in the wide sandy wash and muttered, “Oh, yeah. Finally.” His intent stare was fixed on a sharp red piece of chert, and when I got to his side he reached to pick up his find. He’s been on the lookout for projectile points for years.

This sweet little arrowhead was dwarfed by his finger. The fine workmanship showed off the skill of its maker, who expertly used an antler to press away tiny flakes along each edge until it was the shape and sharpness desired. It was missing its stem or its notches, used to fasten it to the shaft, but it was alluring in its imperfection.

Three photos later, he bid farewell to the point and flipped it back into the wash for a future person to find. “Catch and release,” I call it; you find a treasure, admire it, and let it go. Keep the photos, not the point, as a souvenir.

This area is a place where the Ancestral Puebloans would have spent considerable time; a nearby spring would supply their water needs, and flint-like chert was available to knap. Much of this “lithic scatter” has been flushed into the wash — a subtle reminder of their presence here 700, maybe 1200, years ago.

Thank you, ancient point-maker. Your survival tool made our hearts sing!

April 20, 2016

Outside for 103 hours

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:47 am
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Hands are chapped, face is dry, fingernails dirty and chipped. Haven’t donned clean clothes  for five days — too cold, and I’m wearing every layer I own — and my poor hair hasn’t seen a brush. I’m not exactly presentable.

But I am very, very happy.

I am out in untamed places where I see few others, where all sound except the wind (and an occasional wren) is conspicuously absent, where clouds are studied for important clues, where my body is toughened by exposure to elements, where a frozen water bottle means I’m exploring new comfort zones, where adventures await around every sandstone outcrop.

This week, here in Utah, I’ve stumbled upon ancient slab-lined hearths that cooked Indian Ricegrass when the pyramids at Giza were still young-ish. I’ve sat with pictographs likely painted while King David ruled in Jerusalem. I’ve hiked miles down washes that have echoed with the steps of people for many, many millennia.

And I am very, very happy.


[Thank you for your understanding and patience concerning photos. It is far too data-intensive to get them on my blog unless I’m near WiFi, which is infrequent. I will make up for it by posting a photo album when I am in town.]

April 13, 2016

Not for the faint of heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:59 pm
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Piñon, Rain, Sandstone




Looking north from my back porch, canyon vistas gouge the landscape for a hundred miles. From a nearby point, five mountain ranges can be spied. In my wilderness hamlet at this moment, exactly six neighbors are within hollering distance.

The Maze District is not for wimps. Tomorrow, four of us head into the backcountry (where no fires are allowed) for a five-day Jeep patrol…just as a storm system rolls in and brings rain and near-freezing temperatures.

A memo in the Ranger Station states unequivocally that Canyonlands National Park was created with the intention “to manage the Maze District as a rugged, wild area with remoteness and self-reliance the principal elements of the visitor experience.”  Which means: unlike other parks, in which geysers or 19th-century forts or mangrove swamps are the centerpiece of the visitor’s stay, the raison d’etre of the Maze is to allow intrepid travelers to experience isolation and to rely on their own resourcefulness to get in, recreate, and get out in one piece. There is no Ahwahnee Hotel here.

Some national park visitors relish the chance to get far away from everyone and everything, and the Maze was established for that small subset. Let’s make sure we’re clear: unless you plan well in advance, obtain a camping permit, own or rent a 4-wheel drive vehicle, carry extra gallons of gas, at least one spare tire (if not two), a high lift jack, topographic maps/GPS, and water and food to last you days beyond when you think you’ll exit… you should find a different park to visit.

Does the prospect of self-reliance and self-rescue invigorate you, or trouble you? Leave a comment, please ~

April 8, 2016

Living in the Maze

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:42 am


Five-hole arch

Ranger life in the Maze is a different creature altogether, and I get many questions about it. Here are the most common ones; please ask if you have more.
Where do you sleep? ~ There are eight apartments with the usual amenities found in civilization, like heat and running water and toilets. And beds!
Is there electricity? ~ With 300 sunny days per year, a large photo-voltaic array has replaced the former diesel generator; it still exists for back-up. We are very frugal with our electric use.
How far to the nearest pavement? ~ 46 washboarded road miles, about 90 minutes. If you’re a raven, you could fly directly to the pavement in 24 miles.
Do you have telephone and TV? ~ Weak Verizon signals penetrate into parts of the park. No TV. Extensive movie collection of curious genres, in DVD and VHS. Funky solar-powered land line (party line) in apartments and ranger station.
How long do people live there? ~ We’re here for three months. The ‘old-timers’ have joyfully been here for 26 and 30 years.
Does the Post Office deliver mail? UPS, FedEx? ~ No. We pick it up at the PO in Green River, two hours (82 mi) away. Packages go to Moab for pick-up there, three hours away.
Are you being punished by the park service, sentenced to isolation? ~ On the contrary — pinching ourselves at the privilege of being here.
What do you do after work? ~ Read. Explore. Strum guitar. Think. Stare at the 100-mile view. Run. Bike. Play cards or board games or horseshoes. Hook up the player and watch a movie. Occasional potlucks with karaoke. Write. Read more. Photograph. Fantasize about sushi.
You’re in a desert. Where do you get water? ~ This deserves an entire post in itself. Wait for it.
What happens if someone gets hurt? ~ It’s a three-hour drive to Moab’s hospital, hours more if you’re in the backcountry. Chris and I recently took a ten-day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course, enabling us to render immediate assistance. There are other WFRs here and a former EMT. Life-threatening situations are evacuated by helicopter.
Do you get lonely? ~ No! Extroverts might struggle with the lack of stimulation and slow pace of life, but it’s an introvert’s paradise and a balm for our souls.

Please add your own questions in the Comments section and I’ll answer them next time I have internet!

April 7, 2016

Ovis canadensis welcomes us

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:52 pm

We had just put the vehicle into 4WD for the descent into Shafer Canyon when Chris announced, “This would be a good place to see bighorn sheep.” I’ve learned to be attentive to his musings; they are usually spot-on. My eyes began scanning the cliff sides and talus slopes, safe places to browse.

Around the next switchback, there she was –settled on her belly by the roadside, soaking up the early eastern light, intently chewing her cud.

We expected to encounter ravens and lizards, not a rare mammal, on our first day back. Oh, Utah — you make my heart quiver with joy!

April 1, 2016

Season the eighth

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:22 am
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Beginning today, I am going deeper into the wilderness than I have been before. The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park beckons — one of the most remote locations in the West.

The challenge of isolation will take getting used to; it is hours of 4WD to anywhere, including grocery store, post office, and health care. The internet is grimace-worthy and cell service spotty on good days. We will be OUT THERE, figuratively and literally.

This adventure drips with newness and beauty, two things that stir excitement in my soul. I will not be able to blog often (see previous paragraph) but I will use my occasional returns to civilization to post glimpses of the harsh desert wilds that have captured my heart.

Let the season begin!


February 3, 2015

Twelve-geyser day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:43 pm
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Beehive Geyser, west wind, rainbow

Beehive Geyser, west wind, rainbow

A typical Yellowstone visitor might see one, two, or even three geysers erupt during their visit; this was to be an epic day for me. It began with a humble goal of observing Grand Geyser in action, a spectacular fountain-style spouter that erupts every 5.5 to 7 hours. I knew its approximate eruption time from the previous day, so I skied out in what I thought might be its window of opportunity.

And there is where I had the extreme good fortune to run into some folks from GOSA — Geyser Observation and Study Association. These amateur geothermal junkies hang around the park with two-way radios, documenting every possible detail about each eruption they see. They update a website in real time, as well as calling the visitor center. And they love to share their passion with bystanders.

If I had known I’d be waiting 85 chilly minutes for Grand, I might have changed my mind. But in those 85 minutes I learned a lot from the GOSA geyser-gazers.

Old Faithful, sunrise

Old Faithful, sunrise

Penta Geyser (#1) and Tardy Geyser (#2) were erupting nearby when I arrived, and soon they were reporting others. “Churn Geyser, 10:22, one-zero-two-two, Churn Geyser.” I hadn’t even been aware of what was behind me, but there was Churn (#3), bursting forth. Sound and steam tip them off to eruptions. “Bulger Geyser, 10:40, major eruption.” (#4.) Now I’m skiing back and forth among the spouters, standing at each for a few minutes to watch the show. In between the other events, I get a lesson on reading the subtle signals that Grand is getting ready. “You see that pool at its base? It needs to fill up another inch or two. And Grand goes only when Turban is erupting behind it, which happens in 20-minute cycles.”

Soon I hear him radio in: “Grand pool is full. Grand pool is full.” The other observer climbs up on a bench and announces, “Waves on Grand. I see waves.” Their excitement is palpable. It’s about to happen. Well, Turban had a delay, and the pool level dropped, and GOSA-guy explained that when that happens, Grand is usually reluctant 20 minutes later so perhaps we should hope for the 40-minute-away cycle. I made a mental note that geysers are complicated.

A huge steam cloud rose from across the Firehole River. “Castle Geyser, start, 10:55,” he radioed. I skied over to Castle (#5) and got there in time to see the end of its minor eruption. Glorious stuff. Skied back to Grand. “West Triplet, 11:14.” (#6.) This bubbler is on the same mound as Grand so I asked whether it might be an indicator. “Sometimes yes, sometimes no; depends…” came the reply. Geysers are complicated, I thought, as I watched hot water flow beneath the boardwalk.

And then, at the 40-minute mark, everything started happening at once. Percolator Geyser (#7) started percolating right in front of me, waves became visible on the very full pool, and then one vigorous introductory BLOOP released the pressure-valve and Grand (#8) flung boiling water 125 feet into the air with furious intent. Turban (#9) went off behind it, and Vent (#10) started shooting sideways next to it. It was geyser overload, five at once, a ten-minute show like no other.

Even the cappuccino depicts erupting geysers.

Even my cappuccino inadvertently depicts an erupting geyser.

I will admit that I squealed involuntarily with delight.

As I skied back to the visitor center wondering how my day could have been so exquisite, Beehive Geyser (#11) sent up its huge noisy once-a-day jet, and Old Faithful (#12) burst into the sky one more time for me. I felt a tear of gratitude roll down my cheek, fall to the ground. A lovely thought came: in about five centuries, that teardrop may be recycled as geyser water. I wonder who will be at Yellowstone then?


Geyser photo credits: Ranger Chris Dyas

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