Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 7, 2012

Of pistols and lithics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:52 am
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Our treasure map

 

The hastily-scrawled diagram pointed us in the general direction of Bartlett Wash, but we had no backcountry map of the dirt roads. Nor did many of these roads have signage. Out here in the west, most directions utilize features like cattle guards, fence lines, washes, rock formations, et cetera. Today: “Go to the turnoff by the group camp, go about a mile, follow the right fork, and a few miles in there will be a cattle guard with a road right after it. Park at at the turnout by the gate. Follow the fence line to some slickrock. Wander to your heart’s content.” Really. That was it.

Two friends and I were up for the challenge. It was the loveliest imaginable spring day in the desert.

Agile flocks of silvery horned larks adorned the scrublands in which we hiked, and an uncommon Bewick’s Wren sang to us from a low shrub. Dark-eyed Juncos flitted in loose groups from juniper to juniper; a dozen Mountain Bluebirds flashed azure. Atop a lone tree a handsome Loggerhead Shrike posed. Tilting low over the grasslands with its diagnostic white rump displayed, a Northern Harrier hunted for rodents. Overhead, a pair of Common Ravens croaked at us as we followed cow tracks to avoid further damage to the fragile soil crust.

Buried in the sands was this gem. Click to enlarge.

“Hey, what’s this?” Jason exclaimed. We found ourselves in the middle of a large cowboy camp, with rusted tin cans, broken dishes, tobacco tins, cookware, and even an intact glass vase. The more we looked, the more we found. A piece of odd metal was poking out of the sand and he dug up a half of a lady’s pistol — what may have been an ornament that would be stitched onto a saddle bag. I don’t think pistol barrels are built in halves, but I could be wrong.

Anne and Jason are bracketing the lithic scatter at their feet.

After a thorough exploration of this early-20th-century outpost’s remnants, we moseyed east. Within three minutes, our fearless leader stopped suddenly and let out a low whistle. “What in the world–??” He had just stumbled upon a scatter of the largest lithic pieces I’ve seen in Utah, flakes knapped from a parent stone to create tools. How these are all sitting perfectly on the soil surface after 800 years or so, I have no idea, but… there they were. To pick them up and touch them, and replace them lovingly after oohing and ahhing at their beauty, connects me with those who went before. We began discussing what made this exact place so special for bands of travelers many centuries apart: in a shallow dip, with some wind protection, nearby grasslands, perhaps a water supply, towered over by proud buttes of red sandstone. It was a good, good place.

Will you look at this unfinished tool Anne found??? Click to enlarge and see evidence of having been worked at edges.

You know, we never found the destination sketched on our crude map. Treasures, it seems, are often discovered in “wrong” places.

Who wouldn't want to camp, knap, or herd cattle around here?

January 4, 2012

Quadrantids!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:58 am
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0430: the silence swallowed everything in the gulf of night. Uncountable points of light populated the black hemisphere overhead. Once, or twice, or three times in a minute, a white streak pulled my attention to that sector; some were so beautiful they made me smile, lying cozily on my driveway.

Meteor showers are too good to sleep through up here on the mesa, where ambient light is non-existent. My wool long johns and ten-degree sleeping bag kept me toasty through 53 of the sparkling gifts before sleep tried to overtake me. I felt like a toddler on Christmas Eve, though, fearing that if I closed my eyes I would surely miss the finest, brightest, sparkliest fireball of the night.

That would have been #15. A flame streaked slowly across the southern sky, so deliberately that I strained to hear the fabric of the night being torn as an arc of light was traced on blackness. I held my breath; its tail fizzled out like fireworks fading slowly, leaving an aura of sparkles on my retina. A lifespan of one or two seconds — ephemeral beauty, just for those who will watch. Glorious.

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