Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 13, 2012

Mother’s Day sun-up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:05 am
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Sun’s first rays strike the formations west of Green River Overlook.

When you want to see the sun rise in all its glory, you seek out a high place. Baby Half Dome, a knob of Navajo sandstone in the middle of the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, seemed perfect. I’d been up there for a sunset a couple of years ago and knew I could find my way to the top again. Once you know the combination to the service road gate, all it takes is perseverance, the ability to follow others’ footprints, and some scrambling moves on a couple of sketchy places.

The reward? Three hundred sixty degrees of stunning beauty. Complete and utter silence. Chiaroscuro lighting falling on the basins and river canyons below. A fresher, deeper realization of why I do what I do.

We moms think about our kids on Mother’s Day. I sent this photo via text to my four children as my friend and I stood way up there on top of my little spot. And, in celebration of my own mom, may I say: Mother, all that you have poured into me over the years has paid off in spades. You are beautiful, intelligent, wonderfully supportive, funny, a deeply-motivated lifelong learner, and a very classy lady. Happy Mother’s Day; I love you.

March 10, 2012

Sneak preview

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:41 am
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Sunrise from White Crack -- the most coveted campsite on the White Rim Road, for obvious reasons.

Two hundred fifteen photos and 130 sinuous miles later, our breathtaking 3-day backcountry trip is finished. Due to the imminent arrival of a very special guest — my daughter — I am taking a short hiatus from blogging. Here is a photo, however, that I hope conveys the essence of the wilderness protected by Canyonlands National Park. Every footstep I take in this place deepens my love of it, and my commitment to preserving it for future generations. Please enjoy; I hope this whets your appetite for upcoming posts that shall be published as soon as the dust settles.

January 2, 2012

There is reason to hope

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
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"Birthday Cake." Island in the Sky district, Canyonlands NP, Utah.

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning.”    — Lyndon Banes Johnson

I heave a sigh, wondering what legacy is being left to my children. As I hike, and read, and experience a life away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and find my soul nourished by solitude, I fear for the generations to come. I see children unaccustomed to the wilderness, needing to bring their soccer ball into the visitor center to kick around while their parents get a map. I beg visitors to turn off their cell phones while hiking. I talk with vast numbers of folks who see nothing wrong with feeding wildlife. I shrug apologetically and say, “That’s a lot to expect from a wilderness park!” when they ask why there isn’t a coffee shop on site.

And then… then my hope is re-ignited. Children come in sporting a collection of Junior Ranger badges from all over the country. Visitors stamp their park passport books with delight, proud of having traveled to so many places. Backpackers brave the elements, carrying a pared-down version of their earthly necessities to a place where they can be surrounded by loveliness. Older folks endure a bit of chilly weather and an extra mile or two on their feet in order to see startling beauty.

All in a day in the life of a ranger in an obscure desert park somewhere in southeastern Utah.

Hope springs eternal.

October 8, 2011

Four words that precede adventures

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:21 pm
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Descending into Shafer Canyon, a rainbow remnant illuminates the midground butte. We're following that 'road' down, down, down.

I wasn’t feeling like unpacking boxes; they were all in my bedroom and I could do it during the long dark evenings. One day remained before starting work in Canyonlands. As I was at the visitor center pondering what to do, colleague Bill walked in to start his day in the field. Have you any idea how many adventures begin with the words, “Want to come along?”

We spent the day tracking radio-collared bighorn sheep, trying to find fresh poop to pick up for DNA analysis. This current study is trying to determine connectivity among various populations of bighorns in the West, and collecting pellets that are newish and not yet rained on is the means to accomplish that.

Patience, grasshopper. The desert bighorn sheep is difficult to spot.

Soon we were following the short beeps on Bill’s receiver that indicated the presence of a collared animal nearby. Descending the hair-raising dramatic 4WD Shafer Trail switchbacks to get closer to the ewe — and then hiking up washes, across rocky ledges, through damp streambeds on foot — we tracked the beeps. Eventually it was narrowed down to one canyon, where we sat with binoculars. Spotting her was no longer optional, after all that effort.

…To Be Continued… (jump to next post)

August 16, 2010

Tapestry Arch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:41 pm
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Tapestry Arch, Arches NP

The air was still, the heat oppressive. It was my first day back in Arches NP after living and working on the cool of the 6000-foot mesa that comprises Island in the Sky, Canyonlands NP. I was sticky, sweaty, and ready to hike somewhere away from people.

It’s a mystery how I managed two seasons here without ever getting to Tapestry Arch. This lovely span is not on the park map, and visitors rarely find their way to it. PERFECT. Just my kind of hike. I would do trail monitoring — repair cairns, erase social trails, put up juniper log barriers to stop off-trail traffic.

The desert was as silent as I have ever heard it as I made my way to the shade underneath the arch and shed my sticky backpack. Water — that’s what my body craved. I sat in the cool of the massive rock beam overhead and drank a half liter, and then just sat and listened, and sat and thought, and sat and watched, and sat just to sit.

And, after a little while, a new sound began to make itself known in my ears. Putting two fingers to my wrist, I compared it to my pulse; it was a perfect match. It was my heartbeat. My heartbeat! The desert was so silent that I could now hear my own blood flowing through my veins.

Now THAT is quiet. Welcome to my desert world.

August 13, 2010

Bedtime on the mesa has never been so good

google image of a meteor

Headlamp on, hauling sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, and water bottle, I picked my way  through the tumbleweed out to the deserted basketball court nearby. Crawling into the nylon mummy, I held my breath. Not thirty seconds elapsed before the Perseids met me — larger than all life, silent, stunning, humbling.

Nothing obscured my view up here at 6000 feet — no trees, buildings, nearby towns, or even a single porch light. Meteors streaked across the vast expanse from every quadrant, toward every horizon, long-tailed and short, brilliant and barely-there. At the rate of several per minute, some made me gasp, others made me smile. I struggled against my sleepiness, not wanting to miss a single shooter on this astonishing night, but was eventually overtaken by slumber.

I dreamed of meteors.

Around 12:30 a.m. I awoke to dry crunching footsteps and a bobbing headlamp coming my way. Sitting up, I heard a familiar voice ask, “Who’s that?” It was Rob, my young Arches ranger buddy, who had come up to the Island in the Sky to visit friends and watch meteors away from Moab town. He made himself comfortable on the pavement and we spent the next 45 minutes sharing the sweetest fellowship imaginable, on topics that are much more appropriate for silent nights outdoors than for fluorescent-lit workrooms: hopes and dreams, significant life events, mentors, spiritual journeys. Celestial streaks punctuated our colloquy. All was well with the world.

Rob left to drive the 33 miles back to Moab, and I was again staring at the display that waxed and waned and startled and calmed. I roused myself often in the next four hours for multiple doses of the Perseids, and when the eastern sky began losing its darkness an hour before sunrise, I called it a night. Not just any night — the best night of my summer. The best Perseids of my life.

July 26, 2010

Mesa Arch: Showcasing my sister’s photographs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:19 am
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First rays of sun strike Mesa Arch. Look at that beautiful Navajo sandstone.

Mesa Arch sits precariously on a cliff wall, six hundred feet above Buck Canyon, facing due east. When the sun peeks over the La Sal Mountains, the first rays hit the red sandstone wall below the arch and bounce upward onto its underside. A fabulous deep copper color appears to emanate from within the very rock itself. How one could forget one’s camera when sunrise at Mesa Arch is on the agenda, I don’t know… but I did. Maybe it was because I was trying to wake up a few tired campers and get them moving at 0520. At any rate, my sister Becky took these photos. Some of them are her own compositions, and some she got by following around a Frenchman and shooting from his locations.

I must say, our favorite quote from that morning was his utterly sincere assessment of his younger California girlfriend, as he turned to snap her photo:  “Ah, she ees more beautiful zan zee arch…”

Gorgeous view of Monster (R) and Washer Woman Arch (L) in distance

This copper color lasts only a few minutes each morning. Arch dimensions -- about 50 by 15 feet.

June 29, 2010

We have to pretend

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 1:22 pm
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last ray of sunlight kisses a butte at Island in the Sky

Rangers are good at pretending. We are told that we have to address every single question as if it is the first time we’ve heard it; after all, it is probably the first time our visitor is asking it. By the twenty-seventh time you hear “I have only two hours, what can I see?,” it’s all you can do to smile and point at the road and say “Go forth.” Somehow we DO do a good job at presenting each visitor with our very best, kindest, most helpful assistance.

Yesterday at noon a particularly loquacious and self-referential photographer usurped an inordinate amount of my time. Not only did he demand to know the best places to shoot at precisely 6:00, 6:45, and 8:15 pm, but he then ‘enlightened’ me about the wasted midday hours that photographers must endure with nothing to do. I smiled warmly and nodded, [wondering how his wife endured him] — (no, that won’t do) — [hoping he would see fit to exit the visitor center soon] — (no, that’s not quite right, either) — (wait, I’ve got it!) — trying not to be judgmental. The concept of a vast wasteland of midday hours is not in my experience. I ought not judge him for not knowing what to do with those in-between times.

So, without further ado, here are my end-of-yesterday and beginning-of-today shots.

6:05 a.m., shortly after sunrise: Moon setting over promontory above Matheson Wetlands Preserve, Moab

Matheson Wetlands Preserve

early morning shadows up Kane Creek Canyon

Kane Creek Canyon

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