Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 7, 2011

Fiery Furnace… the saga continues

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:00 pm
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The Fiery Furnace. Rock formations are nearly 100 feet tall.

The 60-ish man with utter lack of balance and zero stamina was worrying me. Our hike goes along edges of precipices, up sandstone faces, down the same, across one gap three feet wide, over irregular rocks, through cracks. It is not for the faint of heart nor faint of balance. He was breathing hard at every stop and sitting down wherever possible. Several times I watched him nearly tip over just from the moves we had to make as we scrambled through the obstacles of the Fiery Furnace — a maze in Arches National Park that requires a permit or a ranger-led tour for exploration.

As we rounded a bend on a very exposed and somewhat slanty ledge, he stumbled and I gasped. The drop was 40 feet down onto rock and we might be doing a body recovery if a fall ever happened right there. Catching himself, he continued on; I, however, made a beeline toward him and quietly asked him to come up and hike right behind me. “No, no, I’m staying with my party,” was his ego-preserving answer. I shrugged and let it go, knowing that the worst dangers were finally behind us.

After some thought, I’ve decided that ‘no’ will not be an acceptable answer in the future. Yesterday one of my fellow rangers had a middle-aged woman trip and fall into a crack (30 feet deep, 2 feet wide) — but she got wedged at the top by one leg (think ‘the splits’) and was able to be retrieved with some pulling and yanking. Other than being scraped up and scared, she wasn’t hurt. It would have been disastrous had she fallen to the bottom.

So… this is the hike I lead three times weekly. With 25 people of all different ages and abilities, a complicated route, six or seven interpretive stops, a steady stream of questions, weather that regularly brings oncoming storms, all while keeping my eyes peeled for the rattlesnake that sometimes makes an appearance on the trail.


August 28, 2011

Fiery Furnace debut

The two dozen visitors began gathering nearly 30 minutes ahead of time, anxious to undertake their long-awaited ranger-led tour of the rock maze. Many had held tickets for weeks or months; all had read in a guidebook that this was the biggest “must-do” in all of Arches National Park. Some were unsure of their ability, which they expressed simply as “we’re older than we used to be.” I knew what they meant.

There is profound joy in having found your niche. Keep looking if you're not there yet!

Trained to look for problems before they start, I immediately noticed one young woman wearing Chaco sandals for the strenuous trek instead of the normal boots/hikers. She had been instructed NOT to wear them but chose otherwise. A German family walked up with their children, the youngest of whom was four. Our tour website clearly says six is the minimum. “Oh, he is a good hiker,” were their famous last words. (Not.)

I had spent the 30-minute drive to the trailhead mentally preparing for these scenarios; if there is nothing I can do about a situation, I choose not to waste precious energy on it. In my most confident ranger voice the safety talk was delivered, my theme was introduced, and within minutes we were off down the hill toward the sandstone fins. The most apprehensive ones had been placed right behind me.

Emerging from the Furnace three hours later, we were all awestruck. The visitors were smitten by the stunning beauty of the rocks; I was shaking my head at the power of Story to engage people’s minds and hearts in learning about their world. In two miles and seven interpretive stops, they eagerly drank in tales of juniper trees, rock layers, and tiny pothole critters. They had no idea this was my inaugural tour.  They had no idea my theme was elusive and often in seminal form. They had no idea I forgot my all-important transitions in some places, and glossed over important points in others. They had no idea I was re-working my topics in my head, searching for more effective ways to communicate while I was also searching for shady locales for our talks and passing a heavy four-year-old through cracks in the rocks.

Is it not reward enough just to reach the end and know that you have given your best — even if it is a ‘dress rehearsal’ of sorts? Then how doubly sweet when Apprehensive Couple returned to the visitor center afterward to talk to my boss and tell her what an incredible time they had just had.

Shhhhh — don’t tell anyone: I have the best job in the world.

August 24, 2011

If only it would write itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:16 pm
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I wander, notebook in hand, stopping at logical gathering places along this wilderness route. The physical space has a story to tell at each one, and it is my job to listen, look, turn things over in my heart, and discover what is compelling about that very spot. Scribbling ideas and thoughts, jotting down observations of organisms and landforms, the words begin to coalesce into phrases and then into sentences. An interpretive talk assumes a rudimentary shape in my mind.

The Fiery Furnace formations dwarf brother John. Best not to try to find your way through this labyrinth without a guide.

I am in the throes of preparing for my very first ranger-led tour through the “Fiery Furnace” of Arches NP. This rocky labyrinth has neither maps nor trails, and GPS signals do not penetrate the depth of its sandstone fins. Dead-end canyons abound; it is a maze. Every Park Guide must memorize the twisty two-mile route and write an engaging and educational talk to deliver to the 25 tourists who will accompany him/her on this three-hour walk. In just a matter of days, I will step up to my first group of eager visitors, bravely putting on my “I’ve been doing this forever” face, looking confident and polished.

I really won’t be. It will take a while before I catch the rhythm of the tour, adopting the speed of the least-able of my group, asking the cocky ones to please be less awesome, carefully choosing words for international visitors whose grasp of English is tenuous, finding emergency bathroom sites for embarrassed folk, assisting the acrophobic along exposed ledges, urging photographers not to be left behind… all while delivering an impassioned program about the exquisite resource through which we’re hiking.

I’ve got a lot of creative work to do. I’ll be back in a few days.

September 28, 2010

Fiery Furnace fall fuels full-on (f)rescue

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:10 am
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Wheeling the litter along the rock ledges

I was in the Visitor Center when a radio transmission came in from the head law enforcement ranger. She needed helpers on a litter carry-out from the Fiery Furnace, where a portly 66-year-old man had injured his ankle while on the ranger tour. In the maze-like Furnace, the more helpers the merrier; it’s rough, difficult, challenging terrain that often requires lowering of a litter via ropes over edges. It’s also a labyrinth in which people get lost.

Fitting fifteen people and a litter through a narrow crack in the sandstone is tricky

The litter isn’t more than two feet wide at the shoulders, but the patient was located in the most distant area of the route and we’d have to squeeze through several cracks in the Entrada sandstone fins in order to get to him and carry him out. Not overly difficult with a light empty litter; another story entirely with an aging uncomfortable injured man on board.

Fifteen (15) park workers took part in this rescue. It took a few hours. The patient wasn’t hurt badly but he could not walk. In thin or bouldery places we had to pass the litter forward with carriers peeling off the back and scurrying to the front to receive the next hand-off. This was not easy. Nor was it easy to carry him through places which had 5-inch widths for feet and about 18 at shoulder height.

The Furnace is a place of extreme handsomeness

My mind flashed back fifteen months to my very first day ever in uniform at Arches, when a man fell from Turret Arch and needed a helicopter to pick him up and take him to Colorado to repair his broken femur. Sunday’s incident was my last day at Arches 2010 — a fitting bookend to my first rescue event.

The injured man will remember this day long after his sprained ankle is healed. For us rangers it was just another day on the job. Part of the (unwritten) Ranger Code includes always being ready to help when needed, and I am glad I was able to be part of a resourceful team that solved problems handily. My uniform sure needs a washing, however, and my boots some more polish…

August 18, 2010

Overcast delight

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:19 am
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Within the Fiery Furnace at Arches NP

In a sunny desert environment, morning overcast is a welcomed contrast. Cloud cover keeps the temperature from rising too quickly, and also provides some additional photographic interest. I was accompanying Ranger Joel on his Fiery Furnace tour and he became positively gleeful in anticipation of remotely-possible waterfalls within the Furnace, should rainclouds park over us and drop their contents. While that scenario never developed, I did enjoy the new lighting; I hope you do, too.

"Clock Tower" -- perpetually stuck at 2:49

Ham Rock, Windows Section

The Organ; Courthouse Towers, Arches NP

Fiery Furnace, Arches NP

July 14, 2010

Snippets from family fun days

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:54 pm
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Evan finds a perch high up in the Fiery Furnace

Slot canyons, sandstone ledges, swimming holes only the locals know — we’re making a good deal of fun for ourselves while my five Minnesota visitors are here. We’re not paying attention to the fact that Moab’s high temps all this week are hovering around 102 degrees. It’s a dry heat, right?

It's okay; I promise they're safe.

Niece Kailey and a friend, at the local swimming hole

Sister Becky at Little Wild Horse (slot canyon)

Evan & Marta atop a Navajo sandstone knoll at sunset

At age 19, I guess your knees can take this impact...

March 31, 2010

Climbing Assessment #1

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:48 pm
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Nate and Kathryn at Lomatium Rappel #1

Deep in the Fiery Furnace, climbers and canyoneers have devised routes over the years. Arches National Park has never had an official policy governing these activities, and suddenly one is wanted by a higher-up. Two of the employees who are gathering data for this assessment were heading up into the Furnace today, and took me along for practice with ropes and rappels.

This rope has to be anchored around the large boulder

We were all gratified to see that, other than some rope rubs and grooves at the edges of rappels, there does not appear to be significant resource damage from these activities. What interested me most, however, was that my colleagues — one climber and one canyoneer — had difficulty agreeing on what should be and shouldn’t be permitted in the park. Personal biases are strong forces, and it’s my guess that many policies in place are tainted with these biases. Fortunately, the new policy-makers’ intentions include trying to AVOID bias; several mechanisms are in place to assist with that.

While we’re talking about biases, mine is that the 75 individual permits we’ll allow each day in the Furnace is FAR too high a number. The footprints off-path and through fragile environments caused far more damage than the rope rubs. Rangers who are struggling to give tours on those sold-out 75-permit days report that people are tripping over each other among the fins. That number, apparently, was pulled out of a hat instead of being evidence-based. I would love to see that number slashed to 25; let’s protect that resource, and its rare species!

And yet… (pause) … is 25 evidence-based?!? It’s a number I pulled out of my head. More data is needed.

March 21, 2010

Of deer mice, car keys, and carry-outs

Some days you don’t want to do over.

I opened the Visitor Center and was busy putting money in the till, raising the flag, writing the weather report on the whiteboard… and, out of the corner of my eye, saw a mouse run for cover behind a cardboard box.

We have plenty of mice. They can carry hantavirus (serious) and are not welcome. I walked over to said cardboard box, up against a wall, and kicked it VERY HARD.

Deer mouse bleeds from nose and twitches, but is still alive. Not having latex gloves and bleach solution (necessary to kill hantavirus), I leave it there and continue opening the Visitor Center. It is disposed of (i.e., killed and put out into the food chain) by Joel, just arriving for duty.

My day, and Joel’s day, go downhill from there. I could not find my car keys when I finished my field shift at a viewpoint, and had to radio to the Vis Center to bring me the spare set of car keys for the government vehicle. The entire county can hear my plea. After re-searching every nook and cranny, I find the keys in my SHIRT POCKET (I never put them there) and radio the VC to cancel the previous call. I am embarrassed.

Meanwhile, housemate Joel’s remote ‘Fiery Furnace’ tour is 80% finished when a participant seriously injures her ankle. Unknown whether broken or sprained, a SAR (Search And Rescue) happens and a dozen people help with a litter carry-out. Housemate Lauren is one of the rescuers.

We wind down our day with Lebanese food for dinner — Chef Joel makes falafel and tabouli and all the good stuff.

I hope we do not start out with a mouse tomorrow.

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