Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 16, 2016

Stairway to heaven

Filed under: Hikes — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:46 pm
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Only the first step or two were tentative.

 

We stared at the steps before us, Melanie and I did, a bit unsure of our next move. Shot Canyon is steep-walled Cedar Mesa sandstone; there is no other entry. Basque herdsmen in the 1890s constructed a way for their sheep to access water in the canyon bottom, and these (*cough*) stairs are still in use.

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Above Shot Canyon on a perfect September day

120 years ago some guy stacked a base layer of rocks on slanty sandstone, and then layered step after step upward. Hikers gingerly (not knowing the lifespan of a sheep stairway) descend the narrow steps, cross the bare area, land on the slab rocks atop the log, and descend further to the second, less-sketchy, stairway below. All this while five hours’ difficult drive from the nearest human being, should anything go wrong.

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Ranger Kathryn in her beloved Maze District of Canyonlands Nat’l Park

Can you see the happy park ranger* smiling to be out in the wilderness? She is happy because at 0124 that morning, under a nearly-full moon, a rare Spotted Owl hooted her awake. And she is happy because she’s ready to go down some clever steps and explore a place she’s never seen before. It doesn’t get much better than this!

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Where was the last dangerous staircase you used? How did you feel? Leave a comment, please!

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*Disguised as a volunteer this season, as you can see by my hat.

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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 29, 2016

Secret fear from a rainy tent

Filed under: protecting wilderness — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:41 am
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Not cougar, not rattlesnake, not venomous spider. Nothing physical.

In this social-media-saturated age, the fear that keeps me awake at night is that we have lost the ability to protect fragile places.

I have seen the carnage that comes from over-sharing. I have seen places of beauty advertised so heavily that they are loved to death, exceeding their carrying capacity and creating problems that have no answer.

And in this blog I face a similar dilemma. I go to stunning places and want to share them with you, but… I have seen irresponsible people posting GPS coordinates of classified locations [i.e., too fragile for public visitation; in need of highest protection] such as pristine archaeological sites. To what end, I don’t know. “I went here, and you can, too” may be their Facebook legacy.

I recently hiked to a remote Class 3 (i.e., classified) pictograph panel that was painted several thousand years ago. For 99.996% of its existence, only a small group of people knew its location, and those who did respected and revered it. Then someone posted directions and waypoints on a website, and in short order this formerly-perfect Barrier Canyon Style panel received its first graffiti. This is heartbreaking. It isn’t possible to reverse the impacts of human visitation.  You can’t put the genie back in the lamp.

I love the Maze. I can’t get enough of its beauty/ruggedness/wildness/un-impactedness. But if I write about secrets of this place, or wax eloquent about its magic, or even simply post lovely photos that light a spark… I fear that I am contributing to the problems that are inevitable in our over-crowded, harried, adventure-seeking, post-it-on-the-interwebs-or-it-didn’t-happen society.

I can’t think of a solution. What are we to do??? The Comments section below awaits your input.

 

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

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 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 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!

 

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