Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 28, 2012

Impressions from ancient days

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:36 pm
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Eight toes in one picture.

Antiquity is a tantalizing thing; Jurassic antiquity is one of the more alluring, especially if you’re standing on a spot where dinosaurs once patrolled the land.

High in the La Sal Mountains, above 8200 feet, lies a trackway of these old creatures. Past a jerry-rigged stick-and-wire gate keeping cows out, the path meanders through oak scrubland to an open area of flat rock. The instant I set foot upon it, my brain shouted YOU HAVE SEEN ROCK LIKE THIS BEFORE AND IT CONTAINED DINO TRACKS. And, sure enough, a minute more brought me to the impressions.

They were large. VERY large. Bearing water from recent rains, the tracks crossed each other, great beast-feet striding in various directions. Putting my shoe next to one of them, I couldn’t help but speculate about its height… two or three Kathryns tall? What color was its skin? Did it make a snuffling noise as it walked? How did it hold its tail? Did others scatter ahead of it? Were there bigger ones than these? Were babies unutterably cute? What plants surrounded the Jurassic travelers in this locale? What kind of dinosaurs made the prints???

My hand span is 8 inches, pinky to thumb.

Not having any answers for my set of curious questions, I pressed my nose against the trunk of a stately Ponderosa pine, inhaled its unmistakable vanilla scent, and recalled how much I love the West. Every new day of this wondrous life brims with things to explore and discover; I am blessed, so very blessed.


June 10, 2012

Mt Peale: 12,721

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:16 am
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Mt Peale: TALL. Ranger Kathryn: SMALL.
All I could think was, “I’m headed up THERE?!?!”

The highest peak in any range beckons to be summited, and Mt Peale in the La Sal Mountains is no exception. Standing watch over Moab, currently 99 degrees hot, it holds the promise of adventure — and pleasant temperatures. Ranger Chris and I head up the winding Forest Service road to camp at 10,000 feet, where my Prius seems out of place as we pass nothing but ATVs and 4WD vehicles. The eyes on the aspens watch the hybrid car, puzzled, as she demurely navigates a shallow stream crossing.

“Medicine Lakes,” the trailhead area, is a complete misnomer to this Minnesotan. Shallow puddles of water teeming with invertebrates are not lakes. That said, it IS scenic, and the alpine-y feeling of the place envelops us. We’re in a different ecosystem, a place of fresh wonder. Every flower is new.

Chris has climbed a number of fourteeners, but I already know from summiting South Mountain (11,798’) that high altitudes are tough on my lungs. Finding myself energized by the thought of pushing myself to try something I’ve not yet done, I thoughtfully ponder the worst that could happen. It can’t be that bad. Yes, I think I can do this.

Crackling campfire and deep conversation give way to restless sleep in which I dream of not being able to catch my breath. Was it the altitude, or could it have had anything to do with someone so dashingly handsome sleeping respectfully a foot away from me?

~ to be continued ~

May 15, 2011

Ungulate down

What a way to dieWhat an agonizing death. Its left antler pinned between two aspen trees, the mule deer pulled and pushed and rubbed and yanked… until it died of thirst or was ravaged by a mountain lion. The skull of this ten-point buck told the horrifying story in minute detail.

Perhaps it had been trying to rub the velvet off its antlers; somehow it wedged that multi-spiked antler between the large aspen and the medium one and, no matter its strength or wits, could not extricate itself. Large rub marks on the big tree suggest a monumental effort. The vertebrae and ribs scattered downslope tell the outcome.

For the full photo documentary, go to this Facebook album.

May 8, 2011

South Mountain Saturday

Mt Tukuhnikivatz -- 11,760 feet -- second-tallest in the La Sals

Five distinct paws of bear on this trunk.

At 8,000 feet in the La Sal Mountains, I felt as if I’d been abruptly transported to Far-Far-Away-Land. We could have been a thousand miles from the desert, instead of twenty-five, as I hiked with my colleague in secret locations he’s walked for decades. My Minnesota roots were evoked; my heart leaped at things that felt familiar.

Bear tracks in the snowpack, perfect claw imprints and all. Tiny wildflowers — spring beauty, lupine, marsh marigold — pushing up through the snowmelt. Vernal run-off turning small streams into mighty erosive forces. Fallen logs on which to cross the freezing torrent. Elk tracks in mud and snow, hinting at mass and strength. Birdsong quite unlike that which I hear in the desert. The unique comforting smell of an aspen grove. Glacial erratics. A Northern Goshawk patrolling her thick conifer forest. Flag iris showing just their first two leaves. A fun-to-make snow angel. Birch trees with bear claw marks raking their bark. Pocket gopher eskers criss-crossing the trail. Post-holing through snowdrifts up to your thighs.

All this in 65 degrees while Moab roasted at 86. A more perfect day off is not to be found.

Want more photos? Look in this Facebook album:


Leave a comment: Where do you go to experience something completely different from your everyday life?

May 6, 2011

Eyed by two Red-tails

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:59 pm
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Red-tailed Hawk (google image)

“Keeeeeeeer!”  The Red-tailed Hawk’s descending cry pierced my marrow and made my neck hairs stand on end. A gorgeous female and male circled directly above me, and I didn’t even need my binoculars to see their heads peering (glaring?) downward at us as we tried to sneak up the sandy wash. We froze and waited for them to move on, but I knew we were in their sights.

We had seen the female with nesting material in her beak twice in the previous 45 minutes; they like to adorn the existing nests with fresh greenery. This pair had co-opted a stick nest occupied last year by Great Horned Owls, and she was now adding her own personal touches to it. I had the privilege of watching her fly directly into the cliff hole with the branchlet, so I knew that had to be her address.

Trying to locate nesting hawks is a hit-and-miss proposition. Timing is everything, and patience is everything else. The red-tails are incubating this month, with hatches coming soon, so you have to be in the right place at the right time. It’s difficult to find a vantage point high enough to see into the nest cavity, but far enough away not to disturb them. I feel like a raptor spy.

This is one happy wildlife intern. Snow-capped La Sal Mtns in background, adding to happiness.

You know, the day couldn’t have been much finer. Sue and I never saw another human being, but a Scott’s Oriole sang to us at lunch and posed at the top of a near juniper. Pinyon Jays, the local avian gossips, followed our every move. Pieces of the finest chert, flakes discarded in the making of stone points, lay everywhere — as if to distract our eyes from the sky-gazing task. And the pair of Red-tails filling my binocular lenses? That’s what I get up for in the mornings.

April 7, 2011

Breeding Bird Census #1

Kathryn listens for birdsong at dawn, with the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop

0445 came early. My eyes opened to see the green numbers on the alarm clock, and I pushed myself to a sitting position. Rubbed the sleep from my eyes, threw on uniform and fleece layers, ate my Cheerios and strawberries, drank tea, grabbed my full pack and a flashlight, and headed down the pitch-black road to meet my boss at the truck.

We had to be at the census plot 30 minutes before sunrise, and it’s about a 40-minute drive to get there; that makes these census days start very, very early. As we watched the La Sal Mountains become silhouetted by the pre-dawn light behind them, we knew that NOBODY in a cubicle in corporate America would be having a better day than ours.

Sol's first rays hit the Entrada sandstone fins of Devils Garden. Photo by Tricia.

Mission: to discover what breeding birds inhabit our census plot near Devils (sic) Garden. (Excuse the digression, but I think it’s a government plot to rid the English language of apostrophes!)

Forty-five pinflags mark a grid, with 100 meters separating each. My task is to walk the entire circuit once a week for ten weeks, clipboard in hand, stopping three minutes at each flag. Any bird I see or hear must be coded onto the data sheet according to its behavior and sex, if known. The entire census will take me one day weekly to gather data and record it on species maps. Sighting clusters will indicate that birds are nesting in the plot; if I always see a pair of Juniper Titmice at G3, for example, there’s got to be a nest nearby.

This is going to be one of my much-loved tasks this season. A day spent in the shadow of mighty Entrada sandstone fins, with all senses heightened to take in every bird I can find, and nobody intruding on my solitude…

Today’s photos taken by Tricia, nature photographer extraordinaire. I left my camera at home on purpose so I could concentrate on birds.

March 27, 2011

The theatre of nature

On the Ides of March, Barrier Creek is still frozen solid in the shade. It's nearly 70 degrees and I'm in shorts and tank top -- for one day only.

Rolling over in my sleep, my cheek hit the cold pillowcase. I pulled the ten-degree sleeping bag more tightly around my head and burrowed deeper into its coziness. Light from the setting full moon was peeking around the curtain edges, though, telling me that it was a good time to get up and make tea.

I keep the matches next to my bed so I can light the propane lantern without exiting my bag. That accomplished, I could now see my breath, so pulled on the nearest fleece and slipped out of my cocoon of warmth. The glorious luminescence flooded in as I pushed the curtains aside. I’d like to say I ran to the door to get an entire panorama of a 5:47 a.m. moonlit desert, but it was only two steps away.

A milky bluish glow illuminated every knoll, sand dune, nook and cranny. Venus was a brilliant dot above the eastern horizon, and Ursa Major oriented me to true north. The vain queen Cassiopeia looked regal on her throne. In a pre-pre-dawn aura of light, the outline of the La Sal Mountains shimmered to the east.

For the first time in many days, it was perfectly calm. Shivering involuntarily in the 28-degree chill, I realized that my comfort-based mindset is slowly relaxing its grip on me. Since my job was to hike the canyon every day regardless of how bad the conditions were, I adjusted my expectations and did what I came to do.

“Discomfort is the price of admission to the theatre of nature.” — Tom Brown, Jr.

Describe a time you sacrificed your comfort in order to truly experience nature. Was it worth it?

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