Ranger Kathryn's Arches

November 11, 2011

Cataract Canyon 4: Side canyons

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 3: Doll’s House)

Like overgrown sinuous tendrils, countless side canyons empty into the Colorado. Some are prodigious, some are diminutive, but all — when wet — carry sediment and debris inexorably down, down, down. All have discoveries worth seeking. Here are five.

Limestone makes an appearance in these sandstone canyons. Abundant fossils — crinoids, sponge spicules, and more — indicate that this area was covered by a tropical shallow sea.

Beavertail Cactus, a pricklypear unique for its spinelessness, is usually found much farther south. This purplish color is real.

Flash-flood-carved slots in the rock contain white foreground boulders the size of couches. One can only imagine the power of the torrent that moved them there in Water Canyon.

Wet sand captures animal tracks. Raccoon here, but plenty of beaver, kit fox, and ungulates (hoofed mammals) as well.

Archeological sites abound, including many granaries for storage of crops. It never ceases to amaze me how the ancestral Puebloans positioned these structures for difficult access. Double-click on the photo to better see the door in the center.

We’re all discoverers, on some level; it’s what humans do. What do you explore?

—  Continued at this link

August 7, 2010

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

[Continued from yesterday]

Collared Lizard! Gorgeous! Click to see reptilian skin texture up close.

The rest of our day, in pursuit of a third sheep which we never find, is filled with ancillary discoveries that make up for the missed animal. A Black Widow web (one of many) catches my eye, messy-looking with stiff sticky threads. The widow is not in sight. A Collared Lizard, my favorite reptile ever, runs in front of us and strikes an extraordinary pose. Its yellowness assaults my eyes and we inch nearer to study it in detail. I pull out my camera and Bill suggests I approach it from the side so it can see me and not be startled. He seems to know everything about every creature out here, not to mention the local geology, botany, and meteorology. I wonder what it must be like to be so attuned to your small corner of the world that you know it inside and out, backward and forward. Actually, I marvel. I want to be wilderness-wise like that.

Similar to these granaries, which are in Canyonlands at Aztec Butte. (file photo)

At another stop, we pause on the high cliffs to view the mouth of Indian Creek where it meets the Colorado. Bill points out three ancestral Puebloan dwellings built into the side of the wall below us, and I study them through binoculars and marvel again. There are hundreds of archeological sites in Canyonlands; I’ve seen only a few. This must be remedied.

With an hour of daylight left, neither of us is in a mood to leave this place and find ourselves indoors. We strike out to the far end of an outcropping where we can sit and watch the day wind down. Not a sound reaches our ears but a distant hiss of a small waterfall, 1200 feet below and around a bend, and later one languorous canyon bird. Sitting in silence, gratitude wells up in both of us for the unexplainable gift of another day in a spectacular wilderness.

Alpenglow on the Wingate sandstone, three minutes before sunset

We’d better get back to the truck. I see a twinkle in Bill’s eyes as he asks, “Old route, or new route?” “What?!? You have routes you’ve not yet walked?” “Well, I may have, but I’ve forgotten. Old route, or new route?” “NEW!” We head off toward some white rock biscuits, way bigger than ourselves, wondering with the waning light if we’ll be stuck in the dark because of my choice. Gotta take risks. Gotta take chances. Gotta live on the edge.

It’s fully dark when the truck meets up with the stream bank that had the quicksand. We motor across the shallows without incident. Venus is in the western sky, and Bill stops the vehicle to mount the spotting telescope on his window. Mars, Saturn, and Mercury are all in close proximity to Venus tonight, and we study them in turn. The Milky Way arcs across the heavens, beckoning me to sleep beneath it. Thoreau’s words — the title of this post — reverberate in my jubilant soul.

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