Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 24, 2011

Raking out footprints

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:16 pm
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Ah, the beautiful La Sals. It's raking time!

Footprints in the backcountry frustrate. Usually the print-maker has shown no understanding of how to tread lightly, especially in the desert where our fragile ‘biological soil crust’ is necessary to hold everything together and must not be trodden upon. Off-trail footprints invite others to explore the same route, almost like a magnet; we prefer footprints stay in the front-country.

One place where prints have become noticeably pronounced is near an alcove where an owl nest is located exactly at an ancient archeological site. It is highly doubtful that oblivious hikers knew anything about either of those (nest or site), as neither is known to the public. The footprints persist, however. Our team needed to do something about that.

When you study raptors, you get to do detective work concerning prey. Bones, feathers, fur... near old owl's nest.

Mix five people, five rakes, a cloudless hot morning, gorgeous mountain views, annoying gnats, many liters of drinking water, and a 5-mile round-trip hike. Voila! No more footprints!

April 1, 2011

Predominantly right-brained

Yesterday my heart was in my throat. Tricia and I were out in the boondocks monitoring nests and she asked me how I would find my way back to the truck without a GPS. I waved in a general southerly direction and said, “It feels as if it is that-a-way, but I don’t recall how we came or over what terrain we traversed.” With a sinking feeling, I realized that “that-a-way” is utterly inadequate. My very poor memory did not register many landmarks on our way in, so trying to remember them in reverse to get out was not going to work too well.

Welcome to my brain.

Tricia wisely had me take the lead and try to work my way the mile and a half (as the raven flies) back to our truck. There are all manner of washes, ridges, seams, ravines, etc., so nothing in the desert is ever in a straight line… like a GPS shows. One also cannot walk in a straight line because of the fragile biological soil crust which must be avoided.

Let’s say that it took a collaborative effort to get us back to the truck, even though I was in front. You may ask anyone who has ever driven or hiked with me: I need explicit directions, always, to anywhere. Navigation is NOT my forte’. Navigation skills happen in the left brain, and I live in my right brain. For a fleeting moment in the backcountry, I asked myself whether my boss had hired the right person for this job; I was THAT stressed out about my lack of skills.

Perhaps this is what it feels like to have a learning disability — “Everybody else can do it, so why can’t I?!?” Has that ever been your experience, in any area?

March 29, 2011

OOCZ — Out Of Comfort Zone

The GPS unit in my hand did not make sense. Why couldn’t the satellites point me in the right direction? Yes, I may be 94 feet from the next destination, but which way should I go?!? I heaved a sigh and followed Tricia, whose familiarity with our bird census plot put her at a distinct advantage. I was secretly hoping I’d catch on quickly. So was she.

Flagging the study plot for the breeding bird census

Welcome to my first day on the job. Baptism by fire may be a good way to learn a new skill, but it is exhausting. Our day was spent flagging a large plot of land within which our weekly bird census will take place. The waypoints for each flag were in my GPS, but our job was to put the small colorful pin flags in place so that I can come out to it during the census days and look and listen for birds in a recordable, orderly fashion. We got halfway done with the flags by the day’s end and I realized that my memory banks were overloaded with trying to remember how to get from point B-6 to point B-5 without trampling the biological soil crust or heading up the wrong wash.

Orange ribbon on twigs is better than a trail of bread crumbs. Thanks, Tricia.

I relished being in the backcountry, in the desert, in the spring air. I disliked the feeling of struggling with technology. Tricia is patiently teaching me route-finding and basic “how not to get lost” skills, but I can tell that they come naturally to her and she may not realize how differently my brain works. Still, as we navigate she is tying colorful plastic ribbons on juniper branches along the routes in order to keep me going in the right direction. This allows me to breathe more easily.

I’m having flashbacks to the first day of third grade. I was at a brand new school and turned the wrong way at an intersection walking home; as I walked and walked and walked, things looked less and less familiar. It got scarier and scarier that September day long ago, but I figured it out, and got home an hour late. Mom was wondering what was taking so long. I was just glad to have that terror behind me.

My ultimate mortification this season would be to radio Arches Patrol and report that I had no idea where I was.

Have you ever been lost and scared?

April 28, 2010

Of pirate flags and interpretive moments

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:34 am
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Jolly Roger flies over the housing complex

Park rangers can be quirky. Take the three of us living in House 6, for example. There is a pirate flag flying in our side yard, the climbing rope hanging from the front yard tree, and a growing rock collection beginning to take over our living quarters.

Rangers are always looking for “interpretive moments.” After watching on a training video that there are not one but four (4) types of biological soil crust correlating to aridity of environment, Ranger Victoria looked at me and asked, “How can we interpret that?” In other words, “So what?” or “How can we help visitors decide to care about this stuff?” That is always a ranger’s bottom line.

We’ve collectively decided that our highest goal as interpreters would be to create emotional connections with this park so strong that our visitors are reduced to tears. Or, as Joel is fond of saying, that their heads explode.

March 31, 2010

Lithic scatters, bones, biscuitroot, and aerie

knapped flakes found within a few feet of each other

Here’s your new vocabulary for the day; see if you can use it in conversation.

LITHIC SCATTER: a surface scatter of cultural artifacts and debris that consists entirely of lithic (i.e., stone) tools and chipped stone debris. This is a common prehistoric site type that is contrasted to a cultural material scatter, which contains other or additional artifact types such as pottery or bone artifacts.

As Tricia and I hiked out to locate a Great Horned Owl’s nest near Delicate Arch, we had to veer from established paths. I’d say four of our six miles were off trail, and what a treasure hunt THAT was. Staying off the biological soil crust (formerly ‘cryptobiotic soil’) was tricky, but it took us along the slickrock edges and down sandy washes. I felt as if I were on a scavenger hunt; Tricia’s experienced eyes found all manner of remarkable items.

1. The sharp thin razor-edged flakes from knapped chert were lying ALL OVER in certain places. I picked them up and marveled at the people who made them, and then returned them to their spots despite wanting to keep a couple for souvenirs.

Part of the food web

2. The area below the owl alcove that we found (with about 5 gallons of whitewash blanketing the rocks) was strewn with regurgitated owl pellets and bones of small rodents and young rabbits. I hooted, “Who’s awake? Me, too…” to no avail. We’ll have to go back early in the morning to hoot again.

Canyonlands biscuitroot


3. The Canyonlands biscuitroot is blooming!!! This species of concern grows ONLY at the base of fins of Entrada sandstone. Such a narrow niche allows it to be found in only two counties in the world. It is a precious and protected plant.

We concluded our day scoping out what a recent visitor directed us to: a possible Peregrine Falcon aerie at the north end of the park. This will be closely monitored for nesting activity in the coming weeks.

Two threatened species in a day. Happy.

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