Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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.

April 5, 2011

Heart check

I was walking up Winter Camp Wash with another volunteer to look for old and new raptor nests. This is a drainage system below the most famous arch of all, and I had never seen Delicate Arch from this angle before. Camera ever ready, I tried to get all artsy-fartsy and blur the arch while focusing on the foreground plants, but I didn’t quite have the know-how to compose it properly. Still, it was fun.

This was one of those mornings when I pinched myself. “I get to do what? Hike into remote corners of this park and look for birds? Be immersed in nature? Perform data collection that will improve wildlife policies? Hear the peregrine falcon’s cry? Peer through good binoculars? Feel the sun and breezes on my face as I am surrounded by gorgeous red rocks? Watch Great Blue Herons in love?”

Springtime: my favorite season. Its cyclical representation of new beginnings brings hope and joy. When I see Red-tailed Hawks courting, or Great Blue Herons choosing their rookery spot together, a small twinge of wistfulness creeps in as I recall what it was like to share life with someone who adored me and would bring me my heart’s equivalent of the perfect twig for my nest. It’s healthy that I acknowledge the tiniest molecule of melancholy before I count the fathomless blessings of my very happy life.

You know, if love is not on the scene, I’ll take the second-best thing: dark chocolate.

March 23, 2011

State Line, 4:22 pm, March 13

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:36 pm
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What's the opposite of "elevated"?

The billboard says it all — displaying the most iconic of the state’s sandstone formations, Delicate Arch, which is on every Utah license plate. I am promised that my life will be “elevated” if I hang around Utah for a time. I guess I’ll try that… even though I wasn’t “depressed” in Minnesota.

September 29, 2010

Tough crowd of sunset photographers

My mind was still processing the rescue of the previous three hours, so I journeyed to my next assigned location and ambled slowly along the path to Delicate Arch. Sunset was a couple hours away. Visitors were going and coming, happy, hauling cameras and tripods, joking among themselves, pleased to be hiking to the most iconic of Arches’ arches. Inside I was cringing, knowing what a bossy and vocal crowd the sunset photographers are at The Arch.

Why does nobody shoot a side view of Delicate? Look at this fat leg of gorgeousness.

Arch etiquette is, for the most part, unwritten. There is one sign at the visitor center that suggests how to avoid being an ‘Arch Hog’ — i.e., occupy any arch space briefly, only for the time it takes to snap a photo, and exit quickly so others can photograph the formation. This common courtesy prevents hostilities from building in frustrated photographers.

However, the “Me under Delicate Arch” photo is everyone’s goal, and these desires often conflict with the masses’ wishes. I’ve learned to stay away from Delicate at sundown because it is a circus of boorish shutterbugs. With about 120 folks up there, tonight was no different. Even though sunset was still fifteen minutes away, any time an individual began walking toward the base of the arch, thirty or forty people would start booing or whistling. The person got the message and retreated.

I realized once again why I love wilderness, which humbles you but never shames you or bosses you around. Hiking down into the bowl beneath the arch, I decided to get shots from angles I’d not tried before. I even got a “back side of the arch” shot (large one above) before the mob became too angry, although my ranger uniform may have provided a modicum of immunity.

I’ll find my lovely end-of-day shots elsewhere from now on. Hope you enjoy these.

July 31, 2010

Rescue at Delicate Arch Viewpoint

It was my one day as Visiting Ranger, where Arches and Canyonlands swap a staff member for a shift. I was down near the century-old log cabin at Wolfe Ranch, answering visitor questions, trying not to think of the 92-degree heat. One family had already staggered down from the blazing hot Delicate Arch trail (3 mi round trip) asking where the nearest water was; when I answered that it was only to be found at each end of the park road, miles distant, their looks told me to give them mine. I did. They drank half of my liter. I tried valiantly not to scold them for hiking without water at the peak of summer heat, but managed to squeeze in a safety message for the future, for the man in the black — yes, BLACK! — T-shirt.

Minutes later, as I was picking up garbage and wondering why I hadn’t brought TWO liters with me, I glimpsed a frantic woman running up the trail toward me, waving her hands. “Help! Need help! There has been a serious accident up at the viewpoint and a man fell down a ravine and has blood everywhere, and a head injury. Please! Right away!” I calmed her down, and gave her what little I had left of my own water, and asked her to repeat what she knew. I couldn’t picture the place she was trying to describe; she was agitated, and I needed more information to radio to law enforcement.

Soon I was on my way to the site, which was only a mile by road and then a 10-minute hike. Other rangers were much farther away. I whispered a prayer for God-empowered wisdom, grabbed my nearly-empty water bottle, radio, and first aid kit, and sprinted up the steep trail.

A 14-yr-old boy had begun running down a 45-degree talus slope strewn with jagged chert rocks the size of melons; losing his footing, he tumbled head over heels a good 20 or 30 feet before coming to rest against more rocks. The trail of blood told the story. The 4.5″ gash on his forehead, macerated right ear, and shoulder hematoma confirmed that he had bounced from sharp rock to sharp rock. His family was with him, shading him, giving him sips of water, and several Good Samaritans were holding pressure on his bloody head wounds with their own T-shirts. When they saw me I heard a collective sigh of relief go up: Help was here at last.

I knelt down and asked the boy his name. “James,” he whispered. Good; he knew that much. “What happened?” I asked, as I looked him over for signs of trauma besides all the cuts and abrasions. “I don’t know. Where am I?” “You’re in Arches National Park. You took a bad fall. Help is on its way, James.” I established radio contact with law enforcement and described the situation, requesting a litter carry-out team. An ambulance would be called immediately, after the assessment I gave, but they were 35 minutes away.

The poor kid was starting to go into shock. I made him as comfortable as I possibly could, gave him some sips of ice water, and constantly reassured him that he would be okay and an ambulance would be here soon. His pulse was 100, indicating blood loss and shockiness. I opened my first aid kit and found a pair of latex gloves to don, and did a more thorough head-to-toe check for other injuries. Grateful to find him basically intact, we waited in the blistering heat. I didn’t even notice my own thirst.

You can picture the rest of the story. Litter team arrives, puts boy on backboard. Ambulance crew arrives, checks pupils and blood pressure, confirms serious head injury; we wheel the litter 1/4 mile down the rocky bumpy steps to the rig which whisks him away to the hospital for stitches, x-rays, and close monitoring. I am offered chilled PowerAde by a fellow ranger, which tasted to me like the nectar of the gods. I was exceedingly thirsty and didn’t realize it until the icy coldness hit my tongue.

Remarkable things happened in this incident. First, no ranger has been scheduled to be in that area for a very long time, and there I was today, a former nurse, for just one hour. Second, while nobody’s cell phone could dial 911, there were people at the scene who had just come from where I was. When I asked the witness how she had found me, she replied, “The Lord must have arranged circumstances because everyone I met on the trail as I was running down had a new piece of information that led me to you.” Third, my boss had handed me a backpack as I was leaving, and said out loud, “Let’s get you a first aid kit to go in here.” Mine was back in my home park that day.

Days like this one keep life interesting. I’m grateful I was in the right place to help James. I give thanks for every small circumstance through which God displayed his watchfulness. I appreciate the helpfulness of total strangers and of teammates. And I’ll never quite look at orange PowerAde the same again.

May 16, 2010

Desert textures

Barren lands have much to offer in the realm of visual textures, if one is open to discovering them. Let’s have a look at the fascinating surface qualities and tactile treasure of southeast Utah. All these photos were taken within the last week; click to enlarge.

Handsome jutting layers found in Little Wild Horse Canyon

Iron concretions on the False Kiva trail. Some consideration has been given to whether they are dinosaur eggs.

Incised petroglyph on sandstone. Maybe 9" across, 0.25" deep. Spirals indicate migration.

Mud-biscuits (my term) under a shaded overhang. Drying layers exhibit aesthetic curling edges.

Tafoni (honeycombed holes in sandstone) line both sides of Little Wild Horse.

Some tafoni invite occupancy... especially if climbing is required.

Weathered roots from dead junipers are exceedingly textural.

Deeply cut canyons at the White Rim layer, Island in the Sky

The thin left "knee" of Delicate Arch inspired its name

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