Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 26, 2011

The ‘wild’ in ‘wilderness’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:53 pm
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After hiking quite a few miles Wednesday in remote Lost Spring Canyon, we three were hot and tired. Our truck was a welcome sight, with soft seats, air conditioning, and the ability to finally be off our feet. Working our way out of the wilderness on the 4WD road was our final obstacle before getting onto paved highways to home. Both of my co-workers had been on a long strenuous rescue the night before, and we were all feeling bushed. And then the magic began.

And then we came upon hundreds of these Large-Valve Dock in bloom

Just to the left of our truck a pronghorn bounded. We oohed and ahhhed at its beauty; not many large mammals get seen in Arches, so this was fun. Two minutes later we topped a rise and three (3) golden eagles flushed up from what must have been a communal feast near the road. Huge, majestic, glorious birds — we nearly fell over each other getting out of the truck fast enough to get binocs focused on them and study them for a few minutes. One eagle is great; two is “wow.” Three is awfully rare.

And then, two minutes later, the largest badger I’ve ever seen scurried for its life away from the truck as we passed. Our collective response? We hooted for joy at the plethora of wildlife. And this was after seeing Cooper’s Hawks and juvenile Red-tailed Hawks down in the canyon.

What a sweet, sweet job I have. Did I mention that I love it?

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September 20, 2010

Lost Spring Canyon, Part 2

Entrada sandstone erodes into handsome formations in Lost Spring Canyon

The lizard that made these tracks was either hyper or happy or chasing something

Can’t remember the last time I hiked for ten hours — maybe my thirteenth summer, into or out of the Grand Canyon. Seven hours now describes a long day on foot for me, but after Wednesday’s eight-hour warm-up I was ready to push myself on Thursday. We were heading back into the far northeastern reaches of Arches NP backcountry, accessible only by 4WD or backpacking. [Note to self in future: main drainage system south of Fish Seep Draw.]

8 a.m. — The morning light and refreshing temps around 60 made the early parts of the day easy. We’d find a tributary to this drainage system we were exploring, follow the sandy wash up as far as it would let us, and find ourselves constantly surprised by what we found. Over and under and through willows, downed junipers or cottonwoods, spider webs, rabbitbrush, flash flood debris — we walked until we were stopped by an obstacle. Perhaps it would be a massive boulder fall that blocked our path, although a few beckoned us to scramble over. A patch of quicksand with my curiosity-led footprints in it stopped us once. A vertical pour-off can halt your forward progress in a hurry if it’s not climb-able. Thickets of poison ivy, thriving in the moist wash bottom, can spell the end.

This slot canyon has very textural walls. Gorgeous.

My favorite impasse, however, was the small slot canyons we found. Sandstone does fascinating things under the pressure of running water, which is possibly the most powerful force on the planet. The water will find any area of weakness and begin scouring, and grain-on-grain erosion relentlessly wears away the exposed layers. Arid regions such as Utah have little soil to absorb the rainfall, so run-off is violent and rapid. The canyons that result can be breathtaking, narrow, and dark.

6 p.m. — I was starting to get tired. All told, we roved 18 hours in two days through Lost Spring Canyon. Found several arches we didn’t know were there, and two majestic alcoves eroded over a hundred millennia. I was hoping to spy some pictographs or petroglyphs, but instead found other fascinations. Bobcat tracks. Spring flowers re-blooming. Lizard trails. Hanging gardens. Patches of green grass, which, since I haven’t seen green grass since leaving Minnesota, compelled me to throw myself down upon it and lie there gazing upward through the cottonwood leaves tinged with yellow.

No other human beings; this was a gift. I accepted it with gratitude, painfully aware of how few weeks I have remaining here.

September 18, 2010

Lost Spring Canyon, Part 1

Beautiful and seldom-visited Covert Arch

For eight hours we had hiked up and down washes in the Lost Spring Canyon area — real estate not in the original Arches NP, but added in 1998 for its scenic value. Bill was evaluating habitat for Mexican Spotted Owls, necessary before deciding on things like rock climbing management plans. We looked for roosting areas, white-washed cliff walls, owl pellets, rodent bone graveyards. Along the way we also found lithic scatters, annoying invasive plant species, and Desert Spiny Lizards.

How can the sunflowers still be blooming?!?!?

The beauty of it was in hiking for an entire day and not seeing another party out there. In a national park that will likely see a million visitors this year for the first time, that is not an easy assignment.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,” wrote Edward Abbey. I agree. It is when I am out in the middle of nowhere that I feel most fully alive. Cliff walls, animal tracks, and visual textures invite me to use my senses and intellect to categorize and compare. Identifying lizards, plants, and rock layers exercises my mind while the hiking exercises my body. Taking scores of photographs helps me remember the places I walked, as well as challenging my eyes to see things differently.

This patch of quicksand prevented us from getting up-wash to explore further

Behind it all, however, is an acute awareness of the power of the desert to command respect. Heat and intense sunlight sap one’s strength. Water intake has to be nearly constant. Being vigilant about potential dangers — plants, animals, environment — is mandatory. Stepping over the spider web instead of walking through it is a wise choice when in Black Widow territory. Choosing long pants in the 94-degree heat is more intelligent when invasive pokey Russian Thistle clog the paths. (Why we continue to romanticize the “tumbleweed” is unknown to me. The cowboys didn’t know how out of control they would soon get.)

If the sun does this to mud, what is it doing to my skin?

I can hear some of you thinking that you’d rather just stay in the comfort of your own home. I respect that. While wilderness wandering is not everyone’s cup of tea, I certainly am glad that visionary people forever preserved large chunks of it for us all to enjoy. Long live our national parks!

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