Ranger Kathryn's Arches

January 20, 2012

Druid Arch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:09 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Druid Arch, one of Canyonlands' largest. Its main opening measures 85' x 20'.

Something is amiss. All the leafless plants tell me it’s winter; the sunlight is pale and wan, telling me it’s winter; I’m on the calendar’s first page, which tells me it’s winter. But — hiking in shorts? 55 degrees? Maybe we’ll call this “the winter that wasn’t.”

Only one set of new prints disturbs the sandy wash; I’m almost alone on this 10.8-mile backcountry trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. Just the way I like it. Heading south from the Elephant Hill trailhead, lots of coyote scat, two dark-eyed juncos, one spider, two ravens and nine mule deer complement six hours of silent refreshment. The prize: my first-ever look at a massive eroded fin of Cedar Mesa sandstone that guards the head of Elephant Canyon.

I have no words for Druid Arch; it’s a good thing a Utah author does. In her book, Desert Quartet, Terry Tempest Williams describes her initial impression of it:

Red Rock. Blue sky. This arch is structured metamorphosis. Once a finlike tower, it has been perforated by a massive cave-in, responsible now for the keyholes where wind enters and turns. What has been opened, removed, eroded away, is as compelling to me as what remains. Druid Arch — inorganic matter — rock rising from the desert floor as a creation of time, weathered, broken, and beautiful.

Having gone as far as I could up-canyon, I lounge only somewhat uncomfortably on cold rock to eat an energy bar and chug a half liter of water. Above me the towering arch is chiseled, alluring, indomitable.

Some call this formation “Utah’s Stonehenge,” but we all know which one existed first.

Which is why it is called the "Needles District." One hikes past these spires to reach Druid.

January 5, 2012

Gooseberry Trail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:26 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

White Rim, canyon edge at far left, is our destination on this steep hike. It's a glorious and unseasonable 45 degrees.

Glancing back at the cliff top from which I had just descended, I shook my head. 1400 feet of elevation loss in 2.7 miles of trail is, well, steep. The perpetual steps and switchbacks that had brought us through five rock layers would feel more like a perpetual StairMaster on our way out of the canyon. This, however, was no ordinary jaunt; my boss and I needed something by which to remember the first day of 2012.

Not to be done in icy conditions.

I had never done this treacherous trail before; summer heat makes it more of a cruel slog than a breathtaking hike. Winter provides sweet respite if you don’t mind a little snow and ice underfoot. In one section the trail narrows to just over a boot-width along a few feet of ledgy slickrock, talus slope on the right, comforting wall on the left. Although I don’t send a lot of visitors this way, I personally like the challenge. I like edges.

As with many of our trails, the rewards come at the end. Having passed through the Kayenta, Wingate, Chinle, and Moenkopi, we find ourselves standing at the edge of yet another abyss. Beneath our boots are massive chunks of bright sandstone — the White Rim layer.

Silence, in one large gulp, swallows all distractions. What is left but to look outward, and inward?

I am 5-1/2 feet tall, for scale. The White Rim blocks are massive.

December 30, 2011

Wilhite Trail, Canyonlands NP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:25 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Destination: Down There

We didn’t mind the 1200-foot descent on snow-covered switchbacks; our goal was to banish our winter lethargy and serve notice to our sluggishness. A sunny late-December day with highs around 40 degrees seemed to be a perfect invitation to a long hike.

Traipsing over the mesa-top through pinyon-juniper forest, Julia and I marveled. At everything. When you are a nature geek, you can’t help that. Shapes of pinyons, cloud formations, animal tracks in the snow, changes in rock layers, oddities of winter cacti — it’s what makes hiking better than, say, a StairMaster workout. Or just about anything.

4-yr-old ram, 6-8 yr old ram, 1.5-yr-old ewe

A couple of hours into the jaunt we reached a good turning-around place, but I wanted to see over the next crest before we headed back. My “Let’s just walk to the ridge” ushered in an unexpected surprise as we rounded a knoll and startled three desert bighorn sheep. Hoofs went flying, but as we had frozen in place and were not a threat to them, they stopped, turned, watched us with eagle eyes, and eventually returned to their grazing.

There is something indescribable about watching wildlife on their own turf. I feel honored to be allowed to share their place with them, to peer into their world, to study their behaviors and interactions. I learn to ask good questions about what they are eating, how old they are, what is their general state of health, where do they bed down to avoid being eaten by a mountain lion, etc. But mostly, I just bask in the delight of seeing these mysteries for myself instead of in the pages of a magazine or on a PBS special. It’s one of the consummate rewards of being a wilderness woman.

December 28, 2011

Fisher Towers: “The Titan”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:19 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A 900-foot pillar juts from the earth north of here. This rock, near the small burg of Castle Valley, is allegedly the largest free-standing tower in the United States. Impressive in its Cutler sandstone glory, it was the place I escaped to last year when I had a distressing situation that I was trying to process. I needed to go hike. I needed big rock formations to remind me that I’m not in control of every detail of life, much as I like to think that would be a useful thing. Hiking to The Titan did my body and soul good.

The Titan in afternoon springtime light. Fisher Towers, Castle Valley, UT

Such monoliths lure climbers like flames lure moths. It’s a “because it is there and must be conquered” thing, fueled usually by testosterone and a need for adventure. The November 1962 National Geographic magazine chronicles the dramatic first ascent of The Titan by three Colorado climbers; if you don’t have old stacks of those yellow-framed periodicals in your basement or garage, you can just enjoy my photographs.

If you’re lacking an impressive rock pillar in your area, you can find a substitute. A knoll, a rise, a viewing deck from a skyscraper, the high point in your particular county or township section — just pick a destination and go to it. Get a new perspective with your eyes; it may bring new perspective to your mind or soul.

« Previous Page

Blog at WordPress.com.