Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 17, 2010

Penury and profusion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:30 am
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Claret Cup Cactus -- my all-time favorite bloom in the desert

May is a splendid month in southeast Utah. Temperatures are usually moderate, spring winds are beginning to abate, and new life abounds. For the plant world, this brief season utilizes the remaining moisture from the winter’s snowmelt, adds the intermittent spring rains, and astounds us mortals with a blast of color and creativity. Changes happen day by day, hour by hour, and even minute by minute. Each species does whatever it must to ensure its continuity.

Lomatium species

I saw my first blooms in late March; the inconspicuous Lomatium species didn’t seem to mind the lingering snowdrifts, but caught me off guard when I stumbled upon them in my off-trail hikes. April brought small bits of color, like the diminutive yellow Newberry’s Twinpod tucked into a protected crack in the rock, or the purple milkvetch along the roadside. One had to be looking, or it was easy to miss.

And then May. The botanical universe decides this is its one and only chance, and it pulls out all the stops. You name a color; it’s here. Flora I’ve never seen become my companions on daily hikes.

Indian Paintbrush

Olfactory delights surround. Aromas of cliff-rose and evening primrose fill the air currents, and if I put my nose in their blooms I breathe and breathe and don’t want to return to normal air ever again. I miss my Minnesota lilacs greatly, but realize that cliff-rose and primrose are fragrant and exquisite trade-offs.

Dwarf Lupine (full grown -- 3"-4")

Visual feasts assail — although that verb is far too strong.  “Ambush” might be more accurate. An overflowing English garden might assail, or the rose gardens by the lakes in Minneapolis, or the conservatory in Como Park. Here, one small vibrant mound of Indian Paintbrush carries incredible visual weight. A single bloom stalk of handsome yucca or purple lupine gratifies. In the vastness and remoteness of an arid desert, little is much. This penuriousness adds layers of delight as one walks among the rock and dirt and sand, and encounters one perfect plant with only three blooms. Survival is the theme.

Exquisite designs need designers, and it is not possible for me to view what I do each day — flora, fauna, scoured canyons, flaming sunsets — without acknowledging the Designer/Creator whose mind conceived it all and whose word spoke it into being. I am grateful, so grateful, to experience the generosity of heaven through all my senses.

July 12, 2009

La Sal Mountains & Oowah Lake

rainstorm in the La Sals
rainstorm in the La Sals

Triple digits — time to get out of Dodge and beat the heat.  The La Sal Mountains (Spanish for ‘salt’) are only 45 min east of Arches, and the highest peaks reach 12,000 feet.  There are a couple of National Forest campgrounds nestled in there so Jess (a Wisconsin girl) and I throw our gear into her car and exit Moab. We have both been in the desert for a month now.  We are about to find out some interesting things about that.

The La Sals are a type of mountain called laccoliths, which simply means they were formed from igneous goo pushing up from underneath that never cracked the crust.  Kind of like a pimple on the earth’s surface.  We have three ranges of laccoliths that I can see simulataneously, so there is definitely something about the geology here that is different.

aspens high in the mountains

aspens high in the mountains

As we head south and east of town, we begin our ascent.  These pimples are fairly abrupt at their edges, and the flora becomes noticeably different as we rise.  It’s raining up there (makes its own clouds), and the air is cooler.  It smells really fresh.  We turn off the AC and roll all windows down.  Climb, climb.  Larger trees!  Trees with real leaves!  Deciduous trees!  Climb, climb.  Wildflowers in bloom!  Lupines!  Indian paintbrush!  Higher over the switchbacks, onto a dirt road.  Aspens!!  Huge aspens!!  Oh, my — a robin!  Listen!!  Northern birdsong!!  Wood thrush!  Warblers!  Tweets and chirps I can recognize!!  Conifers, sweet conifers, everywhere!

We looked at each other and simultaneously chimed, “We’re home!” and then laughed out loud. Neither of us had realized how “other” this desert home has been to us, until we found ourselves back on Terra Familiaris.

chicken on a stick, slathered with BBQ

chicken on a stick with BBQ

As we built our supper fire to cook our chicken breasts (which we had to saw up and spear onto sticks, so it looked like calamari), we talked about the missings we had for the north woods.  When we put the tent up, we could push the tent stakes right into the earth without pounding with a rock.  When we walked around, our feet felt padded by the earth instead of landing on hard stone with each step.  A babbling brook coursed down-mountain behind our site — so very north-woods-like.

cave woman cooking

cave woman cooking

Anything is better with BBQ sauce on it, so we took our best-we-could-do chicken breasts and slathered them with red stuff and ate them right off the sticks.  We felt like cave women.

And then we walked up to Oowah Lake.  I stifled a laugh.  It wouldn’t even pass for a small pond in MN, but someone got the bright idea to make an earthen dike along the creek, back it up, stock it with small rainbow hatchlings, call it a lake, and charge $5 to camp there.  It is, well, nice, unless you’re comparing it with northern MN lakes.

Warner "Lake" in the

Warner, a second "lake" in the La Sals (ahem... I could walk around it in eight minutes)

I will now admit to the tiniest twinge of homesickness when I experienced the La Sal Mountain ecosystem.  As long as MN was a distant memory, the desert’s mysterious beauty captivated me.  When the familiar birdsong and earthy smells struck my ears and nose, however, I realized that there is plenty to miss back home.

Still, my home is here right now, and I am very pleased to be here.  I find contentment and joy in each day.  The desert is a harsh taskmaster and I am learning tons from dwelling in it.  I marvel at the survivalist abilities of local flora and fauna.  I marvel that I can go out in the 100-degree day and drink lots and lots of water and walk and work and still survive.  Appetites are rather suppressed in the heat, so I drink a lot but don’t eat as much as I do in MN.  I am probably losing a few pounds, and my skin is browner than it has been in a while, but this is the Way of the Desert.

I really AM a tree-hugger

I really AM a tree-hugger

flora with fauna

flora with fauna

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