Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 6, 2012

Paddling to Mineral Bottom

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:50 am
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We’ve been paddling for half hour. Wind is rising.
This stretch is so beautiful, it should be added to Canyonlands NP.

(Continued from Adrift on the Green River)

Well before dawn, Bill and I awoke to the earliest light; must’ve been just after five. High winds were expected and we wished to get as far as possible before they arrived with sustained 35-mph force and gusts to 50. That meant hopping into the duckies half hour before sunrise and heading downriver.

Eerily, in that canyon I could hear the swooshing of the air currents before I could feel them. It sounded like moving water, without rapids there; all I could infer was that the front was moving in and would be pushing us around. A large bend in the Green River carried me into the plucky up-river breezes that soon became far bigger than I’d hoped. The current barely moved fast enough to carry me downstream without my having to paddle forcefully. This is a far better workout than going to the gym; you know you won’t see your truck again if you don’t push hard and make headway. Motivation is not a problem.

A stop at the mouth of Hell Roaring Canyon revealed an exciting 19th-century inscription from the earliest fur trapper to pass this way. Denis Julien left his name on a number of rocks in the southwest; we know little about him. Still, I stood in the same spot he did, in the same month he did, 172 years later; all the wonders he saw, and the obstacles he overcame, filled my willing thoughts. No inflatable duckie, Clif bars, or Camelbak water carrier for him; Denis did it the hard way. Check out his boat to the right of his name.

Our bittersweet arrival at the Mineral Bottom boat launch signaled the end of a too-short river adventure. I can’t wait for the next one. In my dreams, 21 days floating the Grand Canyon…

June 3, 2012

Down the switchbacks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:59 am
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Green River. Red Duckie. Dawn.

“It’s safest if you drive switchbacks without a seatbelt on.” Bill’s instruction was so counter-intuitive that I shot him a glance that must have said, “Do you think I’m crazy?!?” We were perched at the top of a thousand vertical feet of winding dirt road taking us down to Mineral Bottom, where we’d leave a shuttle vehicle. I am not overly fond of driving on sandy gashes cut into a cliffside, but I’m willing to push my comfort zone in order to improve my 4WD skills have an adventure. The reasoning behind Bill’s statement was that if one had to exit one’s vehicle quickly (read: truck going over edge) it’s best to not be belted in. I sighed and unbuckled myself, shifted into 4 High, and followed the wildlife biologist’s truck down to the Green River boat launch.

Green River. Yellow Duckie. Moments after sunrise. Yes, it is as beautiful as it looks…

My long-awaited weekend was here; we’d be on the river for two days, surveying critical habitat for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. I was beyond excited. If there is one thing this Minnesotan misses in the desert, it’s being on water.

After unloading our gear down in Spring Canyon and inflating our two duckies for a dawn start, we crawled into the back of the pick-up to sleep. Nobody EVER uses this old track along the Green River and we knew we wouldn’t be in anybody’s way parked on the ‘road’ — boats, cooler, life jackets, dry bags, backpacks, water jugs, and truck.

Five minutes into my sleeping bag, I hear a new sound: CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP “WHOA.” “Easy.” Two of the grimiest cowboys I’ve ever seen were riding by the light of the quarter moon, their path now blocked.

~ To be continued ~

May 8, 2012

A different way to see a park

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:17 am
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He walked into the visitor center with a long white cane and his son at his side, heading for the 4′-by-8′ relief map of Canyonlands National Park. I ambled over to welcome them.

For the next ten minutes I had the privilege of seeing my park as a blind man does, and helping him see it as I do. We both came away richer.

Nerve endings in fingertips number 2500 per square centimeter, the most dense concentration in our body. Here: Green River, Hardscrabble Hill, White Rim Road all stand out on our exquisite relief map.

To answer his question “What’s the terrain like?” I guided his hand to the 43-square-mile mesa top that projects above all the surrounding canyons and had him feel its island-like quality. We spoke of pinyon-juniper pygmy forest, grassland, and gently undulating landscape laid down as ancient sand dunes. His fingertips explored the sheer cliffs that drop a thousand feet to the middle level of this district, where old uranium mining roads lure mountain-bikers and 4WD enthusiasts. I wondered what pictures were forming in his mind.

To his inquiry “Where does all the water go?” I asked him to feel for the lowest part of the map. He traced the Colorado River and Green River with his finger as they meandered lazily through thousands of millennia of sandstone deposits; I described where they meet in the center of Canyonlands for the rush to the Grand Canyon. My own hand passed along the waterways in wonderment.

Moving to another side of the table, the sensitive nerve endings in his fingertips discovered the incised canyons and rock spires of the Needles District as we talked about the people who inhabited that area eight centuries ago. Tales of Butch Cassidy and his outlaw gang hiding out from the law in the Maze District accompanied his exploring the labyrinthine canyons to the west.

On a nearby table, the ridged keratin spiraling away from the top of the bighorn sheep skull disclosed Canyonlands’ ecology. While he will not see this majestic mammal, he knows it’s here and might pick up hoof-fall on the talus slopes below our overlooks. Likewise, his cheeks will discern the tiny breezes that I ignore, sight being the sense that dominates. He’ll hear the vast miles of openness; he’ll know south by a sun-warmed face.

Satisfied with their orientation, son and father went forth to explore. I watched them go, deeply warmed by this duo’s anticipation of adventure and discovery in wild places, and by their refusal to let an impairment be an obstacle.


[N.B.: The thousands of images that came up when I googled “white cane,” or “white cane + wilderness,” were entirely urban. Leave a comment about pushing your own limits and what came of it.] 

October 4, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:39 pm
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Having just unloaded my life’s belongings into my new house, girlfriend Lauren and I headed to the canyon rim on a 3.6-mile hike. I was grateful for her help moving, as I was recovering from a viral illness and didn’t have all my strength back yet. No matter how minimalist one is, suitcases and boxes still get heavy.

In the 40 minutes it took to reach Murphy Point, we tackled a wide range of pertinent topics: grad school, love, job searches, personal idiosyncrasies, future dreams, and why men are the way they are. The last was the easiest.

Looking down a couple thousand feet from the mesa top at Island in the Sky District, Canyonlands NP

Of a sudden, without warning, we found ourselves standing at the precipice. A gouge in the earth stepped down a thousand feet to the handsome White Rim, then another thousand to the Green River. Two mountain ranges, the Abajos and the Henrys, presented themselves for our orientation and delight. Not a sound — and I mean not a single sound — distracted us.

In the effortless understanding between good friends, there was no need to talk. The magnificent vista commanded all our senses. Sprawled on the October-warmed rock for an extended time, Lauren eventually found simple/profound words to break the silence: “It’s calming.” Her summation confirmed the wellspring of peace that I felt last year at Canyonlands. Wide open spaces, horizons eighty miles rather than four miles off, big views… these calm the savage beast, the tumultuous mind, the searching heart.

I am glad to be back.

June 11, 2011

This penurious land

I just finished reading the riveting book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer. If you have any interest in polygamy’s or Mormonism’s history in America, and the very unique personalities that were the driving force for bringing plural marriage to the forefront, I adjure you to get a copy from your library. I won’t tell you how many wives Joseph Smith and Brigham Young took, but it’s w-a-a-a-y more than you think.

The quote he chose to open his final chapter gives eloquent voice to why I find Utah stunningly irresistible. I’m always on the lookout for descriptions that create for my readers both an intellectual and an emotional connection with this place, as many of you have not been here. The following passage — pregnant with detail and nuance — is best read slowly and at least twice in order to glean all of Wallace Stegner’s intended meaning:

“In the Plateau Country the eye is not merely invited but compelled to notice the large things. From any point of vantage the view is likely to be open not with the twelve- or fifteen-mile radius of the plains, but with a radius that is often fifty and sometimes even seventy-five miles — and that is a long way to look, especially if there is nothing human in sight. The villages are hidden in the canyons and under the cliffs; there is nothing visible but the torn and slashed and windworn beauty of the absolute wasteland. And the beauty is death. Where the grass and trees and bushes are stripped off and the world laid naked you can see the globe being torn down and rebuilt. You can see the death and prognosticate the birth of epochs. You can see the tiny clinging bits of debris that historical time has left. If you are a Mormon waiting for the trump of the Last Days while you labor in building the Kingdom, you can be excused for expecting that those Last Days will come any time now. The world is dead and disintegrating before your eyes.”

(from Wallace Stegner’s book, Mormon Country)

Kathryn prognosticating birth of epochs. Green River doing all the work.

My head nods in agreement; his words could not be more true. And then… and then… one begins to notice the small things. This week I saw my first Sego Lily of the season — Utah’s state flower, a masterpiece of gorgeous simplicity. And one recognizes that the world is NOT dead and disintegrating, but bursting with new life — albeit in a penuriously frugal way in this desert land. There is no abundance, nor even adequacy. Utah is a land of Just Barely. It does so much with so little.

Which is precisely why I am smitten by it.

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