Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 15, 2013


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:54 pm
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Sandstone monolith, Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park

Sandstone monolith at dawn, Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park

“There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.”    – Ed Abbey

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.

October 13, 2012

Readers’ reptiles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:36 am
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If one spends enough time in nature, interesting photo opportunities are bound to present themselves. I’ve got a couple of nice sightings, graciously shared by readers, to share with you today.

“All you can eat” has new meaning. Likely a Plateau Lizard. (Photo credit: Alice Kao.)

Alice Kao was hiking to Double Arch (Arches NP) recently when she spotted this lizard attempting to swallow a grub. Due to the relative sizes of the two creatures, the lizard gagged on the grub and spit it back out once; finally it managed to swallow it. I honestly don’t know how the grub fit into the lizard’s digestive tract, or how soon it will be hungry again. I get really full just eating three sushi rolls.

Look at the beautiful markings on this Midget Faded Rattlesnake! (Photo credit: Diane Hagberg.)

Diane Hagberg, of Minneapolis, was hiking the Primitive Loop in Arches and was rattled at by our Midget Faded Rattlesnake. Giving the 18-inch-long snake a wide berth on the trail, she shot this photo with some trepidation. The Midget Faded, true to its character, shyly slipped away to hide under some rocks, but Diane has bragging rights and some vivid memories. I’ve seen only four rattlers in four seasons here; it’s typically nocturnal. Visitors are fortunate indeed when they glimpse this elusive reptile.

Click on images to enlarge for more detail. Thanks for sending the photos my way, Alice and Di!

September 16, 2012

Atop Owl Rock

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:03 pm
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The crack running up the center of Owl Rock is our route to the top.

Perched on a smallish rounded knob one hundred feet above the ground, my hard-won vantage point provided uncommon views of Arches National Park. The camera was down below; I hadn’t trusted myself to get it up the climb intact. I’d etch these sights in my brain instead of on a memory card.

This climb was my first desert tower — a free-standing sandstone spire rated 5.8+, not overly difficult. Craning my neck, I watched Ranger Bobby and Ranger Chris (both excellent climbers) glide up it without much struggle. Each paused at a few sketchy spots, figuring his next move; I knew I was in for an ascent that was at the edge of my ability. But that’s how I like it.

Bobby goes first, placing protective gear which will hold him in case of a fall.

When climbing is done well, it resembles someone dancing up a slab of rock with grace and poise and balance. When *I* was dragging myself up Owl, onlookers saw a desperate individual jamming her hands in any available crack while breathing rapidly and struggling to place a foot where it wouldn’t slip. My sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) freely dispensed adrenaline, elevating my pulse, dilating my pupils, drying my mouth of all spit.

Seventy feet up, bulbous outcroppings taunted me: “Let’s see you get past.” Gr-r-r-r. I refused to look down, couldn’t see my companions belaying me from above, and when the words “I can’t” formed on my lips, I recalled my dad’s translation of that as “I won’t.” OH YES I WILL JUST YOU WATCH, I said under my breath, and mentally willed myself to inch up the scary bulges one calculated move at a time.

Two-thirds of the way up, on the left edge, I’m rappelling from the summit. It’s really the only way down.

The summit was worth it, a reward that fewer than 0.1% of Arches visitors ever earn. An hour before sunset, surveying the glowing red kingdom, I forgot about the clawing, scraping, grunting pulls and pushes that had unceremoniously gotten me there. In the end, it doesn’t matter; nobody was grading me. My bruises will fade before my memories do. What’s important to me: I SAT ATOP OWL ROCK.

Leave a comment: what hard thing have you done that was so very worth it?


March 3, 2012

When the desert sun doesn’t shine

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:58 pm
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Clouds & blackbrush. North of La Sal Mountain Viewpoint, Arches National Park, Utah.

Winter yucca

Our training day for natural history took us out in the storm-ish morning. A front was passing through Arches National Park; the chill air didn’t bother us unless we stopped too long to listen to a talk about grasses, or amphibians, or water quality. I was taking photos as the light changed by the minute, trying to capture the day’s feel. No special lens, no special camera, just a very special mood courtesy of filtered clouds and mists. I hope you enjoy these shots from one of Arches’ loveliest locales, Courthouse Towers.

Three Gossips & Sheep Rock. Courthouse Towers, Arches NP.

January 29, 2012

A trek down Salt Wash

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:42 am
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Looking north up the lonely Salt Wash

I stepped onto the frozen surface tentatively, aware that the last creek crossing had four solid inches of ice to support me. Even though the water flowing underneath wasn’t deep, I sure didn’t want to break through and have miles to walk with cold wet feet. On my second step, the rather terrifying sound of loud cracks under my feet sent me lunging back to terra firma as fast as I could, to peals of laughter from my hiking buddy who had refused to go onto the ice until I did. Sometimes there’s a fine line between courageous and foolish.

Salt Wash lured me on my day off. It is part of Arches National Park’s backcountry, lacking a defined trail of any type, but able to be hiked by those undeterred by the need to bushwhack through plants and around obstacles. I was hoping to spy some mountain lion tracks, as it’s a location with running water and mule deer (the lions’ preferred meal). Alas, the only tracks we found were coyote and rodent. One common raven, one golden eagle soaring — and lots of tafoni, the honeycombed sandstone created by chemical weathering.

Still, a day in the wilderness is better than most days elsewhere.

tafoni: broken bits are fun to play with

October 2, 2011

Arches 249 signing off

I’ve grown quite attached to my NPS ‘family’ here at Arches National Park, and am especially fond of doing the Fiery Furnace tours a few times weekly, but the time has come to move up to the Canyonlands National Park mesa-top. I’m closing the Arches chapter tantalized by sweet memories of my summer at Island in the Sky District (Canyonlands) last year. There will be some notable changes in my routine as I gain the extra couple thousand feet of elevation tomorrow.

I foresee quietness. Sleeping under the stars. Freedom from train/semi sounds. Isolation — 45 minutes from anywhere. Fewer visitors. Fewer staff. Bigger sunsets. Autumn arriving sooner than down in the valley. Solitude. Lots of books getting read. And…

…lack of cell phone service. For better or worse, AT&T towers don’t operate up there. This may delightfully deepen my contemplative tendencies.

... for this one. How can I lose?!?

Trading this national park...

September 29, 2011

What?!? Feed the chipmunks?!?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:50 am
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I was at the stunningly beautiful Delicate Arch in civilian clothes on my day off, introducing visiting friends to this icon of the park and of Utah. A 60-ish man was eating a small packet of gummy fruits and a beggarly chipmunk heard the rattle of the wrapper and approached him.

-- google image --

“Please don’t give him any,” I pleaded. The reply was coupled with arrogance: “Oh, I already did.” I felt my fists clenching, which frightened me, and I decided it was time to breathe before saying something I would regret forever. I realized that this man had already made up his mind that a minute of his own entertainment was worth far more than big concepts like animal health, visitor safety, ecosystem balance. Even if he knew it carried a fine (which I’m sure he didn’t consider), there was no law enforcement ranger around to write a ticket.

I wasn’t in uniform. My badge is the only thing that carries weight; still, I couldn’t resist trying. “Human food is terrible for their diet. We wouldn’t want them to become lazily dependent on handouts of junk food.” He paused and then replied under his breath, “One of us wouldn’t.” I had to walk away. Really. Just get myself out of Ranger Mode and pretend to be a tourist, taking photos, enjoying the arch and the exquisite day.

September 11, 2011

Beauty moments

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:06 am
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Monolith at Courthouse Towers

My life in Utah’s national parks is marked by frequent moments when the beauty around me is so palpable, so physical, it nearly overwhelms. It can be biological, meteorological or astronomical: a collared lizard’s magical appearance, a sudden squall with subsequent rainbow, rocks set afire by the horizontal rays at day’s end, or the Milky Way dispersing my thoughts in its million billion stars. These fleeting glimpses are so powerful that they often stop me in my tracks. Being “in the moment” and giving myself to the experiencing of every nuance enlivens my soul and spirit and mind; it replenishes the deep well of passion that fuels my interpretation of this park for visitors. Everybody benefits.

Three Gossips & Sheep Rock glistening after a rain

A recent post-monsoon drive left me with these photos. (Click to enlarge.) The beauty moments were strung together one after the other after the other, and I was almost gasping for air…

What a rainbow!!!

September 7, 2011

Fiery Furnace… the saga continues

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:00 pm
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The Fiery Furnace. Rock formations are nearly 100 feet tall.

The 60-ish man with utter lack of balance and zero stamina was worrying me. Our hike goes along edges of precipices, up sandstone faces, down the same, across one gap three feet wide, over irregular rocks, through cracks. It is not for the faint of heart nor faint of balance. He was breathing hard at every stop and sitting down wherever possible. Several times I watched him nearly tip over just from the moves we had to make as we scrambled through the obstacles of the Fiery Furnace — a maze in Arches National Park that requires a permit or a ranger-led tour for exploration.

As we rounded a bend on a very exposed and somewhat slanty ledge, he stumbled and I gasped. The drop was 40 feet down onto rock and we might be doing a body recovery if a fall ever happened right there. Catching himself, he continued on; I, however, made a beeline toward him and quietly asked him to come up and hike right behind me. “No, no, I’m staying with my party,” was his ego-preserving answer. I shrugged and let it go, knowing that the worst dangers were finally behind us.

After some thought, I’ve decided that ‘no’ will not be an acceptable answer in the future. Yesterday one of my fellow rangers had a middle-aged woman trip and fall into a crack (30 feet deep, 2 feet wide) — but she got wedged at the top by one leg (think ‘the splits’) and was able to be retrieved with some pulling and yanking. Other than being scraped up and scared, she wasn’t hurt. It would have been disastrous had she fallen to the bottom.

So… this is the hike I lead three times weekly. With 25 people of all different ages and abilities, a complicated route, six or seven interpretive stops, a steady stream of questions, weather that regularly brings oncoming storms, all while keeping my eyes peeled for the rattlesnake that sometimes makes an appearance on the trail.


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