Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 19, 2010

This time, a ram

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:41 am
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Radio-collared Sheep #410, our quarry for the day. Pushed the zoom to 40x and look what I got!

#410, a six-year-old ram, was eluding us. There were beeps coming across the receiver on Tuesday as we spent the day criss-crossing the mesa tops looking for signals on Bill’s radio-collared bighorn sheep, but he couldn’t pin this one down. It gave confusing location clues, and if it were across the canyon we had no choice but to drive many miles on rocky ledgy roads AROUND the head of the canyon to try to get to the other side and pinpoint it. Then it would fall silent. No sheep sightings on Tuesday; we’d look again Wednesday.

Tracking bighorns isn’t easy, and it is time-intensive. They are excellent at hiding out, tucking under ledges where the line-of-sight signal won’t be picked up, meandering into another drainage. Ultimately, they’ll all get found, sometimes later rather than sooner.

We started Wednesday gazing through binoculars at a pictograph panel that Bill had found only because one of his sheep had bedded down right below it. While waiting for the collars to turn on (only eight hours per day of signal, to save battery power) we drove to another that my Prius would never be able to access — both of these from centuries or millennia B.C.  Rock art moves my soul; I sense a connection with whomever painted or pecked it. It is found everywhere down here.

The monsoons are excellent this year. Green is everywhere!

As we went from canyon rim to canyon rim, holding up the antenna and receiver and hoping to hear beeps, Bill spied a new arch in a remote section of BLM land. It was hardly taller than me, and maybe ten feet wide; we took pics and left it Unnamed.

Storm clouds were thickening to the south and west. Lightning is not your friend on any mesa, but least of all when carrying a lightning rod, so we hurried to find this ram. Bill finally homed in on it in a side drainage off of Spring Canyon, just as the electrical storm began in earnest. Back to the truck we hastened; at least we knew where he was. Wind, dust, and rain swirled all around us for the next hour.

The ultimate "Where's Waldo" is spotting a sheep in this habitat

As the remaining gruff rumbles of thunder moved off to the northeast, we took up positions on the cliff top with our binocs. It was now time to locate the needle in the haystack. Check this photograph of the boulder field. Now imagine it is your job to find a perfectly-camouflaged animal, sitting statue-like, not wanting to be sighted. Bill can do it — sometimes from just a horn poking out from behind a rock. I sure can’t. You can guess who sighted ram #410.

Good day, a good day. Ancient artwork, monsoon, subsequent waterfalls, a ram… and wilderness. A very good day.

I made it easy for you. I centered the ram. 10x zoom.

August 4, 2010

Indian Creek flash flood

See human for scale. Try to hear the roar.

Thundering beyond its banks in The Needles, Indian Creek plummeted over the waterfall beyond Hamburger Rock Campground. Chocolate water, by the tens of thousands of gallons, reminded me of liquid mud as it raced toward its inevitable meeting with the Colorado River downstream. Logs and branches floated past; the roar drowned out all other noise. I had just stepped away from a bank further upstream as an arc of sandy soil was undercut, slumping with a thick WHUMP into the churning waters. It had been raining much of the day, and the power of rapidly moving water made me feel very, very small.

Our roadway was cut off by a flash flood; there would be no camping in the backcountry tonight. Monsoons have been heavy and concentrated of late, and low-lying areas are inundated with little warning in this country, in this season.

I had come to The Needles district with Bill Sloan, wildlife biologist with the NPS, to track his radio-collared bighorn sheep. In his thirty years of intimate acquaintance with this district, he has not seen Indian Creek at this stage — ever. We would have to sleep in park housing instead of in our tents in the middle of absolute wilderness. Rats.

Looking upstream from Hwy 211 bridge over Indian Creek

Looking downstream from Hwy 211 bridge over Indian Creek

Sunset after the storm. The Needles district, Canyonlands NP.

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