Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 11, 2012

Strange things happen in national parks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:23 pm
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From our “Inside NPS” Morning Report today:

Blue Ridge Parkway 
Two Suffer Hallucinogenic Mushroom Overdoses
On the evening of March 31st, rangers were dispatched to the Craggy Gardens picnic area in response to a 911 call concerning a probable drug overdose. Upon arrival, they found a man and woman parked in a vehicle, both exhibiting an altered mental status. They said that they’d ingested psilocybin mushrooms, with the woman adding that she was dead and had no pulse. Rangers and EMS personnel began an assessment and noted that the woman was suffering from periodic convulsive events. At one point, she jumped from the stretcher, climbed into the rear seat of a patrol car, exited again, dropped to the ground, and experienced another convulsion. She was eventually placed in an ambulance, where she was transported to a hospital for treatment and evaluation. During the transport, she continually asked if she was alive or dead and if what was happening was real. Rangers remained at the hospital until she returned to a coherent state. Both the man and woman were issued violation notices for using a controlled substance. The driver was released to the custody of his father. The 911 call actually originated from the couple, who were concerned that they were already dead.

"It's too hot in Canyonlands for Bigfoot, and too dry for mushrooms to grow. Once, however, a visitor vehemently insisted that ravens did not exist in North America and that all our ravens
HAD TO BE crows."


An equally entertaining submission from last month described a “guide” who had taken 31 people on a multi-day search for Bigfoot — inside a national park. The expedition fees ($300-500 per person) more than covered his measly $525 fine for guiding without a permit. They did not find a Sasquatch.


January 6, 2012

archeological sites and why they fascinate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:04 am
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Relishing being at an ancestral Puebloan archeological site

It’s as if you’re there, or they’re here — whoever ‘they’ are. You see their finger smears and prints in the construction mortar. You can superimpose your hand over their painted handprints, invoking wonder. You find things they left behind that were important to them — tools, foodstuffs, art, clothing, structures. Last year: a molar on an alcove floor, a scrap of yucca sandal, a black human hair in the ancient doorway mud, a dessicated squash stem, a metate (grinding stone), a stone tool found in the wash. These were the people, the families, the predecessors, who walked the Colorado Plateau eight or ten centuries ago. How can I help but feel that their lives are inextricably entwined with mine? Archeological sites are my favorite places.

January 5, 2012

Gooseberry Trail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:26 am
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White Rim, canyon edge at far left, is our destination on this steep hike. It's a glorious and unseasonable 45 degrees.

Glancing back at the cliff top from which I had just descended, I shook my head. 1400 feet of elevation loss in 2.7 miles of trail is, well, steep. The perpetual steps and switchbacks that had brought us through five rock layers would feel more like a perpetual StairMaster on our way out of the canyon. This, however, was no ordinary jaunt; my boss and I needed something by which to remember the first day of 2012.

Not to be done in icy conditions.

I had never done this treacherous trail before; summer heat makes it more of a cruel slog than a breathtaking hike. Winter provides sweet respite if you don’t mind a little snow and ice underfoot. In one section the trail narrows to just over a boot-width along a few feet of ledgy slickrock, talus slope on the right, comforting wall on the left. Although I don’t send a lot of visitors this way, I personally like the challenge. I like edges.

As with many of our trails, the rewards come at the end. Having passed through the Kayenta, Wingate, Chinle, and Moenkopi, we find ourselves standing at the edge of yet another abyss. Beneath our boots are massive chunks of bright sandstone — the White Rim layer.

Silence, in one large gulp, swallows all distractions. What is left but to look outward, and inward?

I am 5-1/2 feet tall, for scale. The White Rim blocks are massive.

August 5, 2010

Desert Bighorn telemetry

Bill Sloan with his ever-present antenna

“There she is.” The yellow receiver spat out different types of static, but a regular beep now punctuated the fuzziness. Radio-collared bighorn sheep #538 was nearby; her VHF frequency was being picked up and she had to be within a line of sight. Walking intently across the rocky slopes, stopping on high points from time to time to hold up his antenna and listen, Bill related to me from memory her past movements, preferred territory, and reproductive history. Within the hour he had tracked her to a ledgy outcropping where our binoculars revealed she was with her lamb and five other animals — a healthy group for Canyonlands NP. Making ourselves comfortable on the rock, we spent another hour watching and documenting behaviors and interactions.

Desert bighorn ram (courtesy Google images)

Grateful to be in the remotest areas of the park, I was even more grateful to be there with a guide who has roamed these canyons and drainages for so many decades that he could do it blindfolded. Bill Sloan, wildlife biologist, designed this telemetry system nearly thirty years ago and has been refining and improving it ever since. He calls himself “the most blessed man on earth,” and rightly so; his work takes him to inarguably the most beautiful, rugged, wild places in the west. From Arizona to Montana, California to Colorado, he is THE bighorn sheep expert.

Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard -- my second-favorite lizard. Beautiful!

A solitary man, Bill spends his days following sheep and peregrine falcons through tracts of land that few other humans have experienced. He walks lightly, intentionally, respectfully across the desert, aware of every nuance of the natural world. Each plant I asked about, he knew by name. The mysteries of rock layers were explained to me as he traced the meanderings of whichever creek lay beneath us. When a Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard appeared, he froze, as did I; we earned ten precious minutes with this skittish creature, and as Bill described leopard lizards’ ways to me he earned my unflagging respect as one who knows his world and its occupants.

There are wonderful benefits to his lifestyle. Never having had a TV or a cell phone, Bill reads voraciously, quotes Thoreau passionately. Eschewing a bed in favor of sleeping on the ground, he favors a minimalist’s existence and the finer delicacies of canned tuna, yesterday’s brown rice, or a fresh cabbage. He can tell you what the weather is going to do, how to locate the nearest waterfall, and where to find a collection of planets in tonight’s sky. The cohesiveness of his lifestyle is endearing, and I get the feeling that he and John Muir, were John alive, would be inseparable friends.

Half the adventure is just getting to the sheep habitat

We observe the sheep, watching the ewes nurse their lambs; the group finds a shady spot and settles down for an afternoon nap. I lie back on the sandstone, thinking that sheep are very smart. Seven minutes later, refreshed, I’m back on binocular duty.

Large clouds are beginning to gather over the Abajo Mountains to the south, as the earth’s surface heats up. The National Weather Service issued an unusual multi-day flash flood watch instead of an afternoon-only one, so we stay alert. Occasional rumbles of thunder remind us of our vulnerability. We hop in the truck and follow the remnants of uranium mining roads from the early 50s across the canyon country.

Bill’s sense of direction is uncanny, and he needs no map to navigate the hundreds of miles of unmarked backcountry two-tracks. He’d like a visual on another ewe, so we head toward where she was last seen in March. At each high point, Bill holds his antenna up and scans the frequencies for a signal. Nothing. She could be down behind a ridge, or even just below us, but we can’t pick her up unless her collar is in a line of sight.

The sun is sinking as we walk out to a point and plop down to watch the sky color itself yellow, gold, bronze, orange, bittersweet, and finally the deep red of a smithy’s furnace. Canyon bats erratically swoop, rise, and dip, scooping insects into their mouths from their wing or tail membranes. A lone cricket begins to chirp.

I’m caked with sweat and sunscreen, hungry, tired, stinky… and deliriously happy. I can’t imagine a place I’d rather be. Wilderness feels like home to me.

Too beautiful for words

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