Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 21, 2012

Sleeping in odd places

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:04 am
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Lay out your sleeping bags a few feet from a canyon edge. Wake up to this pre-dawn view, with bats and chipmunks for company.

Sometimes I get the urge to just go sleep in the wild. Doesn’t really matter where, as long as it’s somewhere “out there” where I won’t see anything man-made. Campgrounds are too civilized, too ‘safe,’ too peopled. I want to be away from it all, stretched out full-length on the earth. I want crickets to sing me to sleep; I want the breeze to kiss my face while I dream.

Here’s how it happens: I grab a sleeping pad and bag, a water bottle, a headlamp, a Clif Bar, and (optionally) a friend, and go find myself an Adventure Sleep Spot. Experiencing the Milky Way for my ceiling, with shooting stars puncturing holes in the night, is a treat that far outweighs any discomfort or inconvenience. Waking in an unusual place often elicits an involuntary chuckle at finding myself not in a bed, not in a house.

After my first season in Utah, Wildophilia gripped me. I appear to have the progressive variety of this condition; surely a normal person wouldn’t be looking at all the high rock formations in this park and wondering what it would be like to wake up on top of them. Or… would she?


May 7, 2011

In which Kathryn ends up in the wrong valley

I took a girlfriend hiking, someone who hadn’t been up to Hidden Valley before. We had heard through some informal sources that there were some ancestral ruins there, but knew only very approximately where they might allegedly be hiding. Julia’s an anthropology major, and we’re both crazy about ancient cultural things, so we elected adventure over predictability. We were going to try to find some “old stuff,” and following established trails wasn’t going to cut it.

Did kangaroos ever live in Utah?!? (Hidden Valley petroglyph)

Exiting the main path at what looked like an appropriate sandy wash, we began to head upward for a bird’s-eye view. Surely a granary or a kiva would be more visible from a higher vantage point. We crested the rocky ridge and followed it along, as I told her that “that huge wall of Entrada sandstone over there is covered with petroglyphs for us to study.” Yes. It was. Only there are multiple huge walls of Entrada sandstone that look similar, and I was pointing to the wrong one. Off we went.

Thus commenced an off-trail adventure following game trails and gut instincts until we found a way to scramble over one cliff wall and into the correct valley. Please don’t laugh; this is my life. After successfully accessing Hidden Valley at last, we celebrated with Clif bars under a juniper tree, a good chuckle, and a most thorough exploration of every detail of the marvelous petroglyphs. Never did find a structure, but isn’t the joy in the journey instead of at the destination?

March 9, 2010

Listen to the silence: Devils Garden

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:40 am
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Fins in Devils Garden, 3/8/10

First, a troubling piece of grammatical quicksand: when I informed my boss that “Devils Garden” should have an apostrophe, he sighed and shook his head and announced that the NPS did away with that apostrophe long ago. I was appalled and distressed; this is a frightfully slippery slope. But, working for our federal government, hereinafter I shall spell it as it appears on all our maps.

Assigned duty: hike the Devils Garden trail and monitor for trouble spots. Interact with visitors. Be a park presence. Oh, and take camera…

Not volcanoes

A chilly Monday morning, 34 degrees, with slushy melty snow underfoot. Visitorship is minimal. I drive the 18 miles up to the north end of the park, taking time out to radio Law Enforcement with news of a wash-out of the asphalt at Mile 13 that is encroaching into the driving lane. They put cones up and will fill it ASAP; this spring has been significant for erosion problems.

There is but one other car in the huge parking area, and I know it is going to be a good morning. My destination is Double O Arch, the farthest north, 4.2 miles round trip. The clouds are again today at ground level. I hear only one muffled sound: an occasional raven croak.

Meltwater pool and snow chunk at base of sandstone cliff; note water color

The trail throws extra challenges at me this time of year. Rivulets have washed out segments of the convenient hard-packed snow that’s been mashed down by a thousand footprints. Squishy mud shows through in sun-kissed locations. Large pools have formed in basins, making passage difficult. I’m glad I’m wearing my most water-resistant boots.

I view Landscape Arch (300 ft) warily. It’s the longest in the world. That crack across its top has been there for eons, but it tells me that when that chunk drops out, the whole arch will go with it.

Landscape Arch close-up of crack

A new sound greets me; the noise of melting trickles is music minus the tonic scale. Not another human being is on my trail yet, and I count that a blessing. This little corner of Arches National Park is ALL MINE. My companions are the massive sandstone fins that stand like parallel slices of frozen red bread along my route. An hour of hiking brings me to my destination, and I pull out my Clif bar and water bottle as I settle my back against a dry wall. A wily chipmunk appears within 60 seconds, recognizing the sound of snack packaging being torn open.

Clif bar = my favorite trail snack

People do not recognize that silence is one of the resources the NPS protects. I relish the silence. One small songbird, whose voice I do not recognize, sings to me in my private alcove. I can feel my shoulders relaxing.

My snack alcove

It’s 11 a.m. and time to head back. I begin meeting today’s visitors; 100% of them want to stop and talk about the beauty of this park. The same theme appears, over and over, with every hiker I encounter: This Place Is Amazing. I adjure every last one of them to find a comfortable spot to sit down at Double O and listen — just listen. Let the beauty speak to them.

The last leg of Double O


Leave a comment: How are you impacted by beauty or silence?

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