Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 17, 2010

Fringe Benefits

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:37 am
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"The Three Penguins" -- Out my front door in Arches National Park

Edward Abbey, a curmudgeonly park ranger here in the 1950s, was assigned to watch over the entire national monument. In the long stints between visitors he jotted the thoughts that would become Desert Solitaire, the book that is responsible for my love of all things desert. He said:

“I like my job. The pay is generous; I might even say munificent: $1.95 per hour, earned or not, backed solidly by the world’s most powerful Air Force, biggest national debt, and grossest national product. The fringe benefits are priceless: clean air to breathe (after the spring sandstorms); stillness, solitude and space; an unobstructed view every day and every night of sun, sky, stars, clouds, mountains, moon, cliffrock and canyons; a sense of time enough to let thought and feeling range from here to the end of the world and back; the discovery of something intimate — though impossible to name — in the remote.”

Amen to that.

March 6, 2010

Preparing a guided walk

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:01 am
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Park Avenue, looking north from canyon bottom

“Conducted activities,” they are called. It’s when a ranger gets some quality interaction with visitors, rather than merely telling them where the bathrooms are and to please drink plenty of water. My first conducted activity is to be a guided walk, and I was asked to choose my location.

Easy.

Handsome east wall of Park Avenue

Park Avenue has been my favorite spot in the park ever since my first day here last June. It is the only major visitor spot I would call “intimate.” Is that a stretch in your mind, to think that a 3/4-mile-long canyon with massive sandstone walls and an arch hiding at either end could be called intimate?

I’ve walked that stretch three times in the past week, looking for clues, illustrations, specimens, and insights. Slowly, deliberately, intentionally, I’ve made myself see things that I hiked right by before. That juniper tree that must be 500 years old… the biological soil crust growing near the trail… the seven-foot arch standing six inches from a cliff wall… the rivulets of water that have eroded the ledgy lower layers… and the massive, aloof, Easter-Island-ish face hidden high in the Entrada sandstone. Queen Nefertiti watches solemnly from the other wall, while the realistic formation called The Popsicle taunts hikers in the hot months.

I want that canyon to tell its story while I merely turn the pages for the visitors.

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