Ranger Kathryn's Arches

January 18, 2015

Wishing I had more than five senses…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:58 am
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Morning steam rises from Crested Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin.

Morning steam rises from Crested Pool in the Upper Geyser Basin.

My eyes scan the geyser basin, pondering the vapors being belched from somewhere deep below. In winter the steam is abundant, clinging to trees and boardwalks, coating animals and plants in ice, making trails slippery. The mists move down-valley on the back of invisible currents, obscuring and revealing. A billowing plume rises over every thermal feature.

Grotte Geyser, belching dragon's breath.

Grotto Geyser, belching… dragon’s breath?

My ears sharpen, picking up odd sounds that seem out of context. The small geyser bubbling between eruptions sounds just like a pot of eggs boiling rapidly on the stove. I hear Beehive, a dramatic cone geyser, before I see her, roaring like a firehose at full blast, sending spray 175 feet in the air for minutes at a time. I ski pass Grotto Geyser, with multiple cave-like openings, Middle-Earth-like; some frightful leviathan occupies its depths, whump-whumping as it thrashes. Ga-WHOOMP goes its tail, which is probably not a tail but a reservoir of super-heated water remaining under great pressure. At least that’s what my brain tells me; my neck hairs know differently.

My nose, accustomed to the pure clear air here, catches whiffs of “rotten egg” smell at some pools. Underground deposits of sulfur are plentiful, acidifying some thermal features, helping create mudpots.

Ski right by the famous Morning Glory Pool if you like.

Ski to the famous Morning Glory Pool if you like.

My face tingles in the crisp air as I ski, and when a steam cloud envelops me on the boardwalk I can feel the temperature jump for a few seconds. It is no wonder the bison hang around these warm spots in winter.

Taste? A tiny feast — fresh snowflakes on my tongue!

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If you could add a sixth sense to enhance your enjoyment of the natural world, what would it be? 

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May 22, 2014

Just another 1440 minutes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:45 pm
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MUST. GET. INTO. WILDERNESS.

Come along with me for a recent 24-hour period, and see how I “do” a day off of work… and, as always, click on any photo to enlarge it.

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Having found our BLM camp spot on the canyon rim away from it all, Chris builds a fire to chase away the evening chill. In spite of the calendar page saying May, evening temps often dip into the 40s or 30s here in the high desert. Our humble spaghetti supper warms us, and we forgive a mouse intruder who runs across the stove seeking leftovers.

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At precisely the time indicated by NOAA, the Full Flower Moon rises just south of the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. I wordlessly press my hand into Chris’s as I am again overcome by a sense of my own smallness in this crushingly beautiful universe.

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We roll out our sleeping bags on the sandstone and burrow deeply into them; the Flower Moon will shine on us all night long as it arcs from east to west. A single cricket is the only sound in all the bright darkness.

Pre-dawn brings first birdsong, and we settle for oatmeal with cranberries and walnuts since I forgot the tea and coffee. Shafer Canyon glows with low-angle spears of light; White-throated Swifts take to the skies. A beautiful spring day is in store.

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We follow directions in an 18-year-old guidebook to a remote location north of Arches NP and bushwhack into a deep wash, finally dropping into a narrow canyon where we’re mesmerized by the abundant wildflowers — Silvery Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemmon, Pale Evening Primrose.

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Biological Soil Crust (aka “Cryptobiotic Soil”), its top 3 mm filled with living organisms, has stabilized and nourished this area for centuries. (Please do not walk on it. Ever.)

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Further upcanyon, big rains five days earlier have created the inevitable patch of jiggly quicksand. My guy’s foot is swallowed up to his ankle. We make a run for firmer sand, laughing.

As the towering canyon walls close in, allowing just a body’s width to pass through, Chris freezes and motions me to halt. To our left, on a boulder in a side crack, a downy youngster rests in the noon sun. Her ear tufts are a species give-away: Great Horned Owl, probably around eight weeks old, probably told by her parents to stay put while they nap. She is surprisingly non-plussed by our presence. We shoot pics and sneak away, not wanting to encounter the talons of a watchful adult.

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The canyon dead-ends in a dramatic slot.

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When we pass Miss Owlet (I surmise female due to her large size) on our return trip, she is napping. The fifteen feet between us seems immaterial; a very wild animal is sharing the same spot as I am, and the moment is powerful.

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Extricating ourselves from the wash, we’re led by the map to Boca Arch a few miles away…

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…and then on to Caves Spring, where ancestral Puebloans sheltered nine centuries ago.

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To close our day in the backcountry, we come upon a century-old miner’s cabin made of railroad ties still standing in the desert.

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I LOVE EXPLORING. My heart is utterly joyful when I’m discovering new things, savoring each revelation, as present as I can possibly be, using every sense to learn more about this soul-stretching world in which we live.

Now I want to know: where is an exhilarating place YOU have explored?

 

April 3, 2013

There are places a Prius shouldn’t go

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:33 pm
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Olive, the mighty Prius, goes where no other Prius dares. She has only a few scars to show for it.

Not having a 4WD vehicle in the West can be annoying; I find myself coveting my sister’s FJ Cruiser all the time whenever I need to get somewhere rugged. But with good instructions from friends who have been around, Olive (99,000 miles and counting) continues to explore vistas that other Priuses won’t.

The first time she did this, I was camping in a remote BLM campground and had to cross a shallow stream four times to reach my site. As in, drive through the water, not go on a bridge. For seven days. Dozens of crossings. I found out Olive could handle that.

Last summer, I had her at 10,000 feet in the mountains when a couple on ATVs zipped by. Incredulous, they slammed on their brakes and got off to ask if they could photograph my Prius in a land of pickups. Olive happily posed, unaware that she was out of place or being secretly mocked.

Ilsa leans against the Secret Spire, San Juan County, UT. Differential erosion is the reason this sandstone piece stands alone.

Ilsa leans against the Secret Spire, Grand County, UT. Differential erosion is the reason this sandstone piece stands alone. Click to enlarge.

Last week, my daughter and I found ourselves on a narrow sandy jeep road atop a godforsaken mesa, in search of the Secret Spire. Side roads here are often unlabeled, and we weren’t exactly sure we were on the right one. Afraid to slow down and risk getting mired, I just kept going, and going, and going… and, yes, the Spire was worth it.

There’s one thing she’s attempted and backed away from: a debris-laden mudslide spanning the highway. I absolutely love my Prius, but you know what? That FJ Cruiser is looking sweeter all the time.

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Leave a comment if you’ve taken your vehicle where it shouldn’t have gone.

September 28, 2012

Impressions from ancient days

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:36 pm
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Eight toes in one picture.

Antiquity is a tantalizing thing; Jurassic antiquity is one of the more alluring, especially if you’re standing on a spot where dinosaurs once patrolled the land.

High in the La Sal Mountains, above 8200 feet, lies a trackway of these old creatures. Past a jerry-rigged stick-and-wire gate keeping cows out, the path meanders through oak scrubland to an open area of flat rock. The instant I set foot upon it, my brain shouted YOU HAVE SEEN ROCK LIKE THIS BEFORE AND IT CONTAINED DINO TRACKS. And, sure enough, a minute more brought me to the impressions.

They were large. VERY large. Bearing water from recent rains, the tracks crossed each other, great beast-feet striding in various directions. Putting my shoe next to one of them, I couldn’t help but speculate about its height… two or three Kathryns tall? What color was its skin? Did it make a snuffling noise as it walked? How did it hold its tail? Did others scatter ahead of it? Were there bigger ones than these? Were babies unutterably cute? What plants surrounded the Jurassic travelers in this locale? What kind of dinosaurs made the prints???

My hand span is 8 inches, pinky to thumb.

Not having any answers for my set of curious questions, I pressed my nose against the trunk of a stately Ponderosa pine, inhaled its unmistakable vanilla scent, and recalled how much I love the West. Every new day of this wondrous life brims with things to explore and discover; I am blessed, so very blessed.

 

February 3, 2012

Jay Canyon 1: Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:46 am
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Sinuous canyons lead to exciting discoveries. Grand County, Utah.

The snow was stopping, so we layered up and drove south of town along the Colorado River. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse: Tara was taking me to a ruin site she had visited, promising me a granary photo op as my reward.

Feathered spies — pinyon jays — laughed overhead, flashes of bright blue enlivening the otherwise muted desert palette. They are the town criers, alerting the world to our presence. We don’t mind. Nobody else is out here today.

We made our way up ledges, around cliffs, across the mesa bench and up sandy washes until we arrived at an alcove whose neighborhood was graced with an abundance of large trees and huge dead trunks. In our habitat, this is an indicator of reliable water supply; two major pour-offs and a seep/hanging garden corroborated this hunch. One majestic cottonwood, a species found only where its feet can be perennially wet, stood as undeniable confirmation.

Up, up we climbed. My heart beats faster, and my senses get sharper, approaching a ruin site; it is always more than meets the eye. A small thickly-mortared granary was perched prominently on a van-sized boulder.  Letting my imagination go where it would, it went, predictably, to the people who had built this structure perhaps 800 years ago.

I drew near with awe and curiosity and delight.

~~ To be continued ~~ at this post

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.

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