Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 28, 2010

Riparian habitat? Not here.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:27 am
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Mancos shale forms the inhospitable lower elevations of Book Cliffs, southeastern Utah

Mancos Shale forms the inhospitable lower elevations of Book Cliffs, southeastern Utah

Job description: evaluate every wash system in a half million acres of public land, looking for suitable habitat for an endangered species. Translation: get paid to hike and make notes. I tagged along this weekend with Bill, our park service wildlife biologist, as he is looking for any place that the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher might be able to breed. We started in the Book Cliffs, inhospitable-looking outcrops of Mancos Shale north of Arches National Park.

Getting paid to hike is a sweeeeeet way to spend your days… especially if it is in wilderness and you never see another human being. This day we would walk about 8 miles round trip up Crescent Wash, noting that the 1987 USGS maps mentioned springs in two or three places. Upon arriving at said “springs,” all that remained were a few scattered tamarisk trees — huge water-users, invasive species. Bone-dry sand. Not a drop of water anywhere. Tamarisks half-dead. Habitat? You’ve got to be kidding. For rattlesnakes, sure, but not flycatchers.

Crescent Wash -- representative of many local drainages. Not a single drop of water unless it has rained recently.

Hiking in hot parched washes in Utah in August might not be on top of just anyone’s list of Fun Activities, but I enjoy it. It’s just me and the natural world — without any buffer, any distractions. I sense my thirst, feel my muscles working, savor the few shady overhangs where a water break happens. I study the plants and soils around me for clues about local history; flash flood evidence is everywhere in this particular drainage. There is quite a story to tell, if only I can develop the skills to decipher it. I think I need more time in the wilderness.

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