Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 27, 2012

Keet Seel 5: a sleepless night

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

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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