Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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

August 21, 2013

Why I love the desert, in five sentences and seven photos

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:26 pm
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“Looking out over the pure sweep of seamless desert, I am surprised to realize that the easy landscapes stifle me—closed walls of forests, ceilings of boughs, neat-trimmed lawns, and ruffled curtains of trees hide the soft horizons. I prefer the absences and the big empties, where the wind ricochets from sand grain to mountain. I prefer the crystalline dryness and an unadulterated sky strewn from horizon to horizon with stars. I prefer the raw edges and the unfinished hems of the desert landscape. Desert is where I want to be when there are no more questions to ask.”             — Ann Zwinger, Mysterious Lands.

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Today’s photos were from a 24-hour escape to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park where Chris and I camped, climbed, and explored a side canyon whose dinosaur tracks remained unrevealed but whose many petroglyphs enthralled us. I share them with the hope that you will glimpse the beauty of this area for yourself and make plans to visit if you are able. But beware; the bulldog grip this place exerts on your heart is irreversible.

 

June 10, 2013

Full-on summer, no respite

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:51 pm
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Summer’s oven has been turned on; it reached 96 degrees today. Temperatures won’t cool until fall here in Canyonlands. My geology talk was delivered in that intense unimpeded brilliance and blazing glare that defines our park until the summer rains bring some respite in July.

Taking TWO ice-filled water bottles in my pack is the way to survive the 2.5 hours at the overlook. That air-conditioned government car taking me back to the visitor center is a much-anticipated cocoon of refreshment.

Those who aren’t cut out for the mostly-oppressive heat don’t last in this harsh environment. While I may not enjoy baking/melting inside my polyester-and-wool uniform, it’s all about attitude. When you sport that cool hat that keeps the sun off your face, that hat that makes visitors’ faces light up as they hail you with “Hey, Ranger!”, you can put up with a lot of discomfort.

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Note: today’s skies don’t resemble the above photo. That was an unusual formation last month that caught my eye. Blue and cloudless is the norm in our 300 sunny days per year.

March 7, 2012

Of pistols and lithics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
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Our treasure map

 

The hastily-scrawled diagram pointed us in the general direction of Bartlett Wash, but we had no backcountry map of the dirt roads. Nor did many of these roads have signage. Out here in the west, most directions utilize features like cattle guards, fence lines, washes, rock formations, et cetera. Today: “Go to the turnoff by the group camp, go about a mile, follow the right fork, and a few miles in there will be a cattle guard with a road right after it. Park at at the turnout by the gate. Follow the fence line to some slickrock. Wander to your heart’s content.” Really. That was it.

Two friends and I were up for the challenge. It was the loveliest imaginable spring day in the desert.

Agile flocks of silvery horned larks adorned the scrublands in which we hiked, and an uncommon Bewick’s Wren sang to us from a low shrub. Dark-eyed Juncos flitted in loose groups from juniper to juniper; a dozen Mountain Bluebirds flashed azure. Atop a lone tree a handsome Loggerhead Shrike posed. Tilting low over the grasslands with its diagnostic white rump displayed, a Northern Harrier hunted for rodents. Overhead, a pair of Common Ravens croaked at us as we followed cow tracks to avoid further damage to the fragile soil crust.

Buried in the sands was this gem. Click to enlarge.

“Hey, what’s this?” Jason exclaimed. We found ourselves in the middle of a large cowboy camp, with rusted tin cans, broken dishes, tobacco tins, cookware, and even an intact glass vase. The more we looked, the more we found. A piece of odd metal was poking out of the sand and he dug up a half of a lady’s pistol — what may have been an ornament that would be stitched onto a saddle bag. I don’t think pistol barrels are built in halves, but I could be wrong.

Anne and Jason are bracketing the lithic scatter at their feet.

After a thorough exploration of this early-20th-century outpost’s remnants, we moseyed east. Within three minutes, our fearless leader stopped suddenly and let out a low whistle. “What in the world–??” He had just stumbled upon a scatter of the largest lithic pieces I’ve seen in Utah, flakes knapped from a parent stone to create tools. How these are all sitting perfectly on the soil surface after 800 years or so, I have no idea, but… there they were. To pick them up and touch them, and replace them lovingly after oohing and ahhing at their beauty, connects me with those who went before. We began discussing what made this exact place so special for bands of travelers many centuries apart: in a shallow dip, with some wind protection, nearby grasslands, perhaps a water supply, towered over by proud buttes of red sandstone. It was a good, good place.

Will you look at this unfinished tool Anne found??? Click to enlarge and see evidence of having been worked at edges.

You know, we never found the destination sketched on our crude map. Treasures, it seems, are often discovered in “wrong” places.

Who wouldn't want to camp, knap, or herd cattle around here?

February 22, 2012

A scarce commodity indeed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:02 am
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Every time I turn on a faucet, I thank the driver of this truck

What is one thing, even more important than the absent Starbucks and gas stations about which visitors ask, that is missing from our mesa top? One thing that, by its lack, explains almost everything about our habitat? One thing that is singularly responsible for this national park looking the way it does?

Hint: it arrives from the sky, but more conveniently in 6,000-gallon trucks. It is stored in two 30,000-gallon buried fiberglass tanks up on the hill behind our housing. It is also currently going missing, to the tune of 900 gallons a day unexplainably disappearing, leaving our maintenance crew checking every valve and meter on the premises. We don’t see any obvious leaks, but our water is not where it should be.

I appreciate the man who delivers this life-giving elixir. Seven times in two days, this water truck has made the 35-mile gradual climb from Moab (4000 ft) to Island in the Sky (6000 ft). That’s some expensive water we drink, flush, wash with, bathe in.

The raven I saw yesterday, drinking from a pothole puddle of melted snow, doesn’t know about our scarcity.

February 10, 2012

I, Kathryn … [Post #500]

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:53 pm
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Junction Butte & Ranger Kathryn under wintry clouds. (photo: Steve Colegate)

Celebrating my 50,000th lifetime blog view last week, I can’t think of a more effective way to communicate what I do and why I do it except to post this photo that a visitor from Australia recently took of me.

One needs to walk only one mile from the Grand View Point parking lot to reach this expansive agoraphobic vista. The clouds set up exquisite lighting, and the fresh snowfall created contrast. It is exquisitely suited to my five hundredth blog post. This is not just my job: it is who I am.

January 9, 2012

Early exploration of southeast Utah

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:40 pm
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Rainstorm, Needles District, Canyonlands NP, Utah. May 20, 2011. "Worthless and impracticable region."

It was 1859 — two years before the Civil War. The official maps of the United States were utterly blank in much of Utah, with the word ‘UNKNOWN’ penned largely across these latitudes. An expedition led by Captain John Macomb was scouting the region for a wagon route from New Mexico, looking earnestly for the supposed confluence of two great rivers. “I cannot conceive of a more worthless and impracticable region than the one we now found ourselves in,” he noted, thwarted in his attempt to find that critical map point.

Oh, John.

This “worthless and impracticable region” is now Canyonlands National Park. It holds me prisoner with its myriad delights.

I suspect Captain Macomb was discouraged, and morale among his men at a new low. Trying to imagine the 19th-century challenges of exploring this unforgiving land is difficult for me. In the 21st century, we have everything to make such journeys safer and easier: accurate maps, down sleeping bags, coolers, Vibram-soled boots, 4WD vehicles, satellite radios, freeze-dried foods, synthetic fibers, sunscreen, GPS, water filtration, helicopters for rescues.

I bet that expedition 153 years ago would have given anything for cold beer at the end of the day. The desert has a way of sucking the life out of everything that breathes; it is merciless and pitiless in its opposition to comfort and complacency. My highest respect and admiration go to its early explorers.

September 17, 2010

Rattlesnake 1, Frenchman -15

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:42 pm
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I had not been back from the wilderness for even an hour this morning when the radio started to crackle. Soon I heard an ambulance racing up into the park, lights and sirens ablaze. A tour bus full of French visitors had stopped at Balanced Rock, one of our least dangerous and most innocuous locations. One unfortunate 63-year-old had stepped off the sidewalk by about fifteen feet to click a photo, and was bitten in the ankle by a rattlesnake. He was already having difficulty talking and had a pulse of 150. The local hospital couldn’t help him much, as antivenin is available only if one knows exactly which species inflicted the bite*, so he was helicoptered to Grand Junction, Colorado. I expect he’ll be in the hospital for a week or ten days and then have a long, slow convalescence. Kind of ruins his American vacation.

Was it one of our shy Midget Faded Rattlesnakes? They are nocturnal, except that sometimes the males are out scouting for new territory this time of year and perhaps one was just there to get stepped on. Or, perhaps it was an atypical species of rattler (not our small shy one) that was just passing through. It makes treating the victim difficult.

You don’t want to mess with our Midget Faded. Shy, yes; benign, no. Their neurotoxin is one of the most potent of rattlesnake venoms. The typical effect of a bite from a Crotalus species is similar to most viper bites with massive edema (swelling) and tissue destruction. I hope the man from France recovers fully and quickly.

This is only the second known venomous snakebite in our national park, but the maps around here are filled with place names like “Rattlesnake Canyon.” I guess if you come to Utah, you’re taking a risk…

*(see comment #3 below)

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