Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 10, 2011

Picking up poop pellets

— Continued from previous post –

Oh, see how shiny and dark and plump these are? Still tacky enough to have sand stick to them? That means they are fresh. (Ovis canadensis)

Lots of things leave small dark pellets in the desert; rabbits and mule deer come to mind. Bill’s search, however, was for the leavings of Ovis canadensis — desert bighorn sheep. One could walk purposefully around in places they hang out and look for droppings, or one could find an individual and trail it until it defecated and then go pick up the necessary pellets. The latter is more reliable.

We had followed the radio-collared beeps as far as we could, and were in a canyon with semi-circular walls; the only place she could go is straight up. Pulling out our binocs, we settled onto the rock for some good elbows-on-knees scanning. “How high up should I be looking?” “Probably pretty low.” We each started on one edge.

Eight pellets go into the envelope.

I must say, it feels like looking for needles in haystacks. The sheep are the same color as their surroundings and it is only movement that gives them away to beginners. Bill could probably find them by their nostrils if they’re bedded down, but I need the whole animal, in motion. Which is what appeared in my field of vision after only five minutes of searching. NINE of them! Six ewes (led by Mrs Radio Collar) and three amusing lambs decorated the cliff.

No guardrails. No shoulders. Hundreds of feet straight down. (Shafer Trail, Canyonlands NP)

Our mission almost accomplished, Bill found and collected the necessary specimens and we made it back to the truck just as a cloudburst dampened everything, including the scary switchbacks ascending to the canyon rim.

Next time you are asked if you want to come along, try answering in the affirmative. I’m so glad I did.

Red-Spotted Toad (Bufo punctatus) found in a wash

Dinosaur bone! Embedded in sandstone on Shafer Trail.

April 11, 2011

Personal Locator Beacons

Fishing for a signal with the PLB receiver

We climbed the only high sand hill nearby and held the signal receiver up, hoping desperately to catch even the faintest audible or LED input as to where our lost person might be. Its antennae were silent. Was it a battery issue in the transmitter? Was the high wind and cubic tons of sand in the air distorting the signal? Or were we just too far away?

18 Search & Rescue trainees from the park service and the local county were practicing finding someone using a PLB — Personal Locator Beacon. The increasing popularity of these devices requires that we know how to conduct a search if a distress call comes. Instructions on my government-issued PLB say that it is my last resort only… not if night is falling and I’m scared, but if life or limb are threatened.

Not a bank robbery. Needed kerchiefs to keep sand out of nose/mouth.

Last year in Canyonlands NP one of these PLBs had 52 activations (!!!) in a short time span — surely suggesting a major emergency requiring heroic rescue efforts. It was nightfall and the location was down on the White Rim, 1000 steep feet and many 4WD miles below the mesa, where jeepers and mountain bikers can get away from it all. A helicopter was summoned and night vision technology was used to locate the man. His life-threatening “emergency”? Burned-out clutch on his motorcycle.

PLBs have become the “yuppie 911.” Rescuers who risk their lives and limbs are not amused.

Found a dinosaur bone at training! Click to enlarge.

Nothing tops the party hiking in the Grand Canyon who activated their beacon three (3) separate times in three days for such emergencies as “drinking water tasted funny,” “running low on water,” “heard a scary sound.” They were physically removed from the Canyon after the third abuse. Unnecessarily mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues should disqualify you from ever being allowed to own or carry a PLB.

Grand County, UT, charges $500 to rescue people. Arches National Park currently charges nothing. Do you think PLB abusers should be charged for their rescue, in any location? Should legitimate victims be charged? What deterrent can you think of to keep people from pushing the panic button for idiotic reasons?

Blog at WordPress.com.