Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 21, 2012

Sleeping in odd places

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:04 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

Lay out your sleeping bags a few feet from a canyon edge. Wake up to this pre-dawn view, with bats and chipmunks for company.

Sometimes I get the urge to just go sleep in the wild. Doesn’t really matter where, as long as it’s somewhere “out there” where I won’t see anything man-made. Campgrounds are too civilized, too ‘safe,’ too peopled. I want to be away from it all, stretched out full-length on the earth. I want crickets to sing me to sleep; I want the breeze to kiss my face while I dream.

Here’s how it happens: I grab a sleeping pad and bag, a water bottle, a headlamp, a Clif Bar, and (optionally) a friend, and go find myself an Adventure Sleep Spot. Experiencing the Milky Way for my ceiling, with shooting stars puncturing holes in the night, is a treat that far outweighs any discomfort or inconvenience. Waking in an unusual place often elicits an involuntary chuckle at finding myself not in a bed, not in a house.

After my first season in Utah, Wildophilia gripped me. I appear to have the progressive variety of this condition; surely a normal person wouldn’t be looking at all the high rock formations in this park and wondering what it would be like to wake up on top of them. Or… would she?

 

Advertisements

September 9, 2012

Backlit sunrise goblins

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:44 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

Moments after sunrise, eroded sandstone figures resembling chess pieces stand guard on a mesa in Utah.

Death of a goblin. For scale, Chris.

In the 1920s, cowboys searching for their cattle happened upon a few secluded valleys sheltering thousands of sandstone goblins. This small tract of land in the middle of nowhere in southeastern Utah was first photographed in 1949, and the public became enamored of its lumpy beauty.

Differential erosion sculpted the fantastical shapes that inhabit Goblin Valley State Park. If you’re on your way to anywhere nearby, enjoy the delight of roaming among the mushroom-shaped pinnacles — which look their finest in low-angle light.

Goblin Valley, just as the sun first kisses it.

 

September 3, 2012

Imagination: ignited!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:49 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

What ARE those depressions in the rock?!? Click to enlarge.

Hiking alone always lights up new areas inside my brain. In a backcountry area of the park recommended to me by a law enforcement ranger, finding my own way across pathless sandstone, I was keenly aware that I was the only human out this way. I had what I needed: water, Clif bar, hat, radio, spare battery, whistle — no need for a map since I was following the edge of a giant hole in the earth.

This is an area beyond Upheaval Dome, which is a geologic enigma in itself — crazily jumbled layers of rock in an otherwise-orderly sedimentary landscape. I can’t even tell which layers of rock I’m hiking in out here, since the deformation that took places eons ago turned it all inside out. I found myself descending a slickrock slope alongside what looked for all the world like tracks in ancient sand or mud. DINOSAUR TRACKS, my mind screamed. No. It couldn’t be. Yes, it sure looks like it. Arrgghh, it’s in the wrong layer of rock. What kind of rock IS this, anyway? Wait. Chemical weathering. It’s just erosion. No, erosion doesn’t happen in left-right-left-right sequences. Gosh, it looks like a pair of them, whatever they were… going for a walk together. Sweet! No. Too deep. But… maybe…

Finding dinosaur tracks would be a Very Cool Event. Wary that I was wanting that badly enough to distort my objectivity, I took some photos and headed back to the visitor center. One permanent ranger was skeptical, reminding me that no tracks could have survived the forces that made a two-mile-wide crater. Another permanent ranger had a sparkle in his eye and whispered, “I think I’ve heard that there ARE dino tracks out that way.” Which is just the way I must leave it. I’ll probably never know. Mystery is very, very good.

Feel free to double-click on the photo to enlarge it, and tell me what YOU think caused these sequences of holes. (This means you, Sawyer!)

 

August 31, 2012

A geologic symphony

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:39 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Christopher Layer playing the great highland pipes at Grand View Point.

There I was at the Farmers’ Market in Moab, representing the National Park Service at a booth. Along came a musician, an artist-in-residence type, and BAM before you knew it a plan had arisen for him to provide live music for my geology talk the next week.

Music is a wondrous metaphor. It serves well when words fall short. It connects both halves of the brain, helps build relationships in our minds, strengthens our understanding. Crossing language barriers, it stirs emotion and is a powerful tool in the work of interpretation.

Ranger Kathryn, all ears, listening to bagpipe interpretation of geologic processes.

But… musical geology??? YES. Great composers have written about magnificent formations (Grofe’, Grand Canyon Suite) or mountains (Mussorgsky, Night on Bald Mountain) or an entire solar system (Holst, The Planets). Surely Canyonlands National Park could provide the inspiration for improvised interludes of flute and bagpipe and Uilleann pipe music between the movements of my own geologic symphony.

Improv keeps you on your toes and opens you to new ideas. The playlist that I use in my regular geology talk is comprised of classical music excerpts; this day it was whatever the musician was moved to play. I’ll let you try to imagine what lithification (process of turning sediment to rock) might sound like on the pipes.

Thanks, Christopher Layer, for moving me out of my comfort zone and bringing your creativity to my Sunday ranger talk!

August 5, 2012

Angel’s Landing, Zion NP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:10 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

 

Four-fifths of the way up to the 1488-foot Angel’s Landing summit.
White vehicle on canyon floor is the public shuttle bus.

Every once in a while, the need for new scenery grows large and a three-day weekend affords a chance for an exotic getaway. Chris and I decided to head to Cedar Breaks National Monument, in the southwest corner of Utah, to explore a place new to us both. A month of daily rain contributed to a mudslide on our last road, however, requiring a route change; Zion National Park was an excellent fallback.

The switchbacks that take you up, up, interminably up to Angel’s Landing.

If there is one iconic hike for which Zion is known, it’s the two-hour ascent to Angel’s Landing: up 21 tight switchbacks called “Walter’s Wiggles,” past the acrophobic dozens waiting on the safe side of the iron-chained portion of the route, then a perilous scramble along a skinny ridge that resembles the plates on a stegosaurus. Dizzying drop-offs on both sides (1200′ and 800′) plunge to the canyon floor in sheer verticality. Six fatalities have happened on this trail since 2004, which may be why there seems to be much more protective chain in place than the last time I hiked it in 1996.

One works hard to earn the summit and its incomparable views of the entire Zion Canyon. The sweet flute-like song of a Canyon Wren will often lure you up the path, parts of which (Refrigerator Canyon) are pleasantly shaded in the morning hours.

Summit views, incredibly beautiful, reward intrepid hikers who reach the final landing. 

Angels indeed might touch the earth here, but today it was an assortment of sweaty happy individuals who kindly took each other’s photo and beat a hasty retreat before approaching monsoons got any closer. This hike is one of the most famous in the entire national park system; I hope you’ll leave a comment if you have any first-hand memories of it.

 

July 18, 2012

Feeding the wildlife?!? Really?!?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:42 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This BRONZE raven pair is getting “fed” a macadamia nut — a spoof by Ranger Kathryn.

There are some things that really irk park rangers — typically encompassing behaviors that everyone knows are inappropriate, yet which continue to happen. Graffiti comes to mind as an intentional destructive act that disrupts natural beauty and creates extra work for the rangers who must remove it. Its perpetrators do not stop to think of the lasting damage as they carve their initials (or, for lunacy bonus points, their full name) into a tree trunk or rock face. Graffiti bothers me on a visceral level because it so rudely invades my wilderness experience.

Today, however, we’re going for something more subtle — more excusable, according to its practitioners. It involves human food given to vertebrate recipients. Guilt-assuaging deceptive thoughts like “It won’t hurt a thing,” “I hate wasting food,” “Just this once,” “He looks hungry,” “It’s only a photo op,” or “It’s the kind of food he’d eat in nature” pave the way down this slippery slope.

I doubt I’ll talk any readers out of feeding wildlife. It seems that many people feel entitled to give a squirrel a nut, or toss a french fry to a seagull. PLEASE DON’T. Here’s why:

1. It’s illegal in many places (and all national parks/monuments) to feed wildlife.

2. Wild animals have specialized diets and can die from the wrong foods.

3. Feeding causes wildlife to lose their natural fear of humans. (Rangers at the Grand Canyon say the constantly-fed squirrels are their most dangerous wildlife.)

4. Providing an artificial food source can cause adults to produce large families which the natural food supply can’t support.

5. You always risk injury when you do not keep a respectful distance from animals who may misinterpret your actions.

6. Feeding changes behavior patterns. (Opportunists become lazy.)

I’ve an idea what you can do instead: create natural habitat that invites animals to live closer to you. Plant trees or shrubs for cover. Set out a birdbath. Add butterfly- or hummingbird-attracting flowers to your garden. And keep a pair of binoculars near the window; wildlife is best observed on their own terms.

===============

[Note: outside the Arches NP visitor center you can photograph yourself with lifelike bronze bighorn sheep ram/ewe/lamb, bronze ravens, and bronze lizards. Fun for the entire family!]

===============

Thanks to ‘Wildlife Care of Ventura County’ for some of the ideas listed above.

July 11, 2012

Keet Seel 6: the walk out

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Early morning light reflects my hiking partners in Tsegi Canyon.
Our steady gait will get us to the finish of our Keet Seel adventure by noon.

Pre-dawn rustlings in camp signaled everyone’s eagerness to hit the trail before the sun warmed things up. Feet wiggled into boots. Bagels with peanut butter satisfied stomachs, fueling another 8.5 mile hike before climbing the switchbacks out of the canyon. We’re traveling lighter now: less food, less water, more joy. (Joy, you must know, subtracts weight from backpacks.) Tired hips and shoulders and feet from yesterday were doing fine after a night of so-called ‘rest.’ We set out southward.

As each mile marker came into sight and faded behind us, our packs became simply an extension of ourselves, tightly strapped to our able bodies; at some point I ceased noticing mine. Several waterfalls burbled, singing to us of the millennium of habitation here. Two ravens overhead, mated for life, reminded me of the power of relationship. Algae-covered rocks spoke of the perennial stream’s life-giving presence. Before we knew it, the base of the switchbacks and my two liters of cached water appeared. We forced ourselves to drink, knowing what lay ahead.

Like rabbits scurrying from shrub to shrub, we hastened from one spot of shade to the next during our thousand-foot ascent. And then we were out. Done. Celebrating the completion of a much-dreamed-of adventure to explore a long-absent culture in another state. Learning, in the process, what we’re made of, and why we undertake such crazy things: for the sheer delight of discovery, connection, exploration.

Good-bye, Keet Seel. Your walls, streets, pottery, and art will always resound in my soul.

June 27, 2012

Keet Seel 5: a sleepless night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Having thoroughly explored the ruin with Ranger Bill, our awe and wonder were at a peak. The slow trudge back to the campground allowed us to compare notes; impacts on us were profound. Exhausted by what we’d done, humbled by what we’d seen, rest and food and sleep were all we wanted. I vaguely remember quinoa and yummy sauce, raw veggies, lots of water to rehydrate, and crawling into our sleeping bags just after sunset in anticipation of a pre-dawn hike out.

I couldn’t sleep. Sleep is for darkness. My mind was churning with the history of these people, the artifacts they left behind, the stories surrounding every room block and metate and pottery shard. Late that night as the moon began to rise, my body eventually came to terms with the lumpy soil beneath me and the open sky above me, and I dozed lightly on my tarp until after midnight.

Google image of Mexican Spotted Owl, same species as hooted at me in Tsegi Canyon.

Hoo-hoo, hoooo. My eyes flew open. A crow-sized bird sailed silently over me, his silhouette visible against the stars. Hoo-hoo, hoooo. Again. Strong, resonant. I knew what this was — an owl I’ve been hoping to see for three years. A threatened species, with only 2100 individuals remaining in the United States. And here, in this remote canyon in Arizona, a lone Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) woke me up to give me the delight of hearing its voice. I was beside myself with joy.

June 21, 2012

Keet Seel 3: real people

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(continued from Keet Seel 2: arrival at the ruin)

An everyday cooking vessel sits silently in the ruin.

In every direction, my eyes land on evidence of the ancestral Puebloans’ occupancy — at times so fresh, so present, that it is as if these people just picked up and left recently.

Ancient corn cobs fill the stone depressions that may have served as part of the grinding process.

Ancient shrunken corn cobs fill stone depressions which were likely used for knocking the kernels off to be ground; I can see the womenfolk hard at their task with metates and manos. A shapely vessel adorns the top of one wall, recovered in pieces and cemented back together; I can see girls filling it with water. Down in the kiva, fiber loom anchors are attached to the floor; I hear the men gathered there, weaving blankets, talking about their latest hunting escapades.

Hollow pottery handle from a dipper or ladle adds intrigue.

A broken dipper handle, hollow, hallowed, sits upon a pile of stones; thirsty children drink from the spring. And, in one darkened room block, our camera flash reveals distinct painted handprints on the wall — intimate touch of its residents 750 years ago. Rough-hewn beam ends, ceiling timbers shaped by stone ax, project from rock walls. Pottery shards everywhere speak of the artistry and aesthetics of this culture.

 ~~ to be continued ~~

Every shard reflects the artistry of its maker. They covered the ground underfoot.

One can see the ax marks on this beam. Dendrochronologists can tell in what year it was felled by comparing it to known tree ring patterns.

Black and yellow paint highlight hands of the original residents. The yellow pigment was blown through a straw-like reed to make the negative print.

June 19, 2012

Keet Seel 2: arrival at the ruin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:08 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The ruin is so intact that I have no difficulty imagining its occupants in their daily lives. Just look at that beautiful street!

(continued from Keet Seel 1: the trek begins)

The ability to sense when you’re getting close to your destination helps when you’re bone-weary, which we three were. Ascending the final hill to the primitive campground, we found an open site and dropped our packs. Ground-cloths were spread and late lunch happened. The lure of horizontality couldn’t be overcome; we rested under the oaks in sight of our prize — Keet Seel Ruin.

If you’ve never seen a huge sandstone alcove, it’s difficult to comprehend the feel of the space. Organic, protective, curvaceous, smooth, empty, inviting — the ancestral people felt its attraction. When one of these magnificent spaces is filled from end to end with a village, my heart and mind are electrified with connection.

Polychrome pottery fragments — such lovely colors are mixed in among more common black-on-white shards.

Approaching the ruin with quietness and respect, we met Bill, a park ranger of Navajo descent. He guides only five people at a time through the 13th-century cliff dwelling, after the approach past thousands of breathtaking pottery shards and a climb up a five-story ladder. “Broken pottery scattered around” is Keet Seel’s rough translation in Navajo. I gasped at the quantity and size of the pieces and scrambled up to enter the ruin.

The ladder is not for the faint of heart. Ancestral people used less sturdy ladders, and sometimes moki steps (footholds and handholds) carved into the rock.

A masonry retaining wall running the length of the alcove presents a strong visual boundary; behind and upon it the people laid out three streets. Streets! Places of commerce, greeting, gathering, moving about, exchanging conversations — I’d never seen such streets in a ruin before. This, however, is no ordinary ruin.

~~ to be continued ~~

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.