Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 9, 2011

Wind Scorpion 2

This photo of a wind scorpion comes from an exterminator's website.

What the heck is a wind scorpion?!? Sorry to disappoint, but they aren’t scorpions at all. They are in the class Arachnida — spiders, ticks, mites, and true scorpions. Sometimes they’re called “sun spiders,” and in the Middle East “camel spiders” because of their humped profile. Their jaws can reach up to a third of their body length. As Mark Moffett describes graphically in his July 2004 National Geographic article: “Wielding those jaws like a combination pincer and knife, they chew their victims into pulp with a sawing motion. Then they exude an enzyme that liquifies the  flesh, which they suck into their stomachs.” Mm-m-m-m!

Apparently a wind scorpion will take on lizards, snakes, small birds, rodents. They weigh up to two ounces (!) and have leg spans up to five inches. Fearless, they are equipped with jaws larger in proportion to its body size than almost any other animal on Earth. Their sex lives are pretty vicious and dangerous, often with the male ending up as a meal. The July 2004 issue of National Geographic has a lively article if you want nightmare-inducing close-up photos of these fascinating creatures, or you can look here if you dare.

While the wind scorpion has been designated the official arachnid of the war in Iraq, here in Utah I am sure I’ve walked right by them numerous times. Because they are nocturnal and I am not, I never get to see them even though they and I occupy the same habitat. That makes me a little sad, since I would like to meet one… from a distance.

May 30, 2010

Pioneering a route

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Bagging the rope after a rappel. This handsome canyon provided much-needed shade for the task. We rappelled down the black-and-tan wall.

“To boldlly go where no man has gone before” — (cue dramatic music) —  that line from the opening to Star Trek always made my spine tingle. That’s what I get for a lifetime of reading National Geographic. To this day, going on an ‘Explore’ to a new place ranks right up there with the finest of adventures. It’s great if I have never been there before, but even greater if NOBODY has been there before. Or at least the illusion of nobody.

Ed and I assembled two heavy packs, with ropes and extra equipment because we didn’t know what we might need to get down or up. The day was hot, and we got a late start, but we hiked up a canyon near Moab and then began our ascent up the walls. Ed picked his way like a mountain goat, and I lagged behind a little as I was unaccustomed to carrying that much extra weight. I would later be grateful, however, for every ounce of water I was toting.

Up a steep wash, around several exposed sketchy ledges, up a fairly vertical crack (I tied a bowline around my waist and Ed belayed me for that ascent), over a buttocks-shaped mesa top (I thought Kiester Corners was a nice name for it), and to the edge — and we were standing hundreds of feet above the Colorado. Getting down was to be the more adventurous element. When you rappel into unknown territory, you always have to leave some means of return in case for some reason you can’t get down further. Maybe your rope is too short, or you have to rappel into a cage of tigers, I don’t know. But you always need an escape route. That’s the dicey part. You leave the previous rope in place while assessing the next descent.

Steep climb up the canyon walls -- I look like a grasshopper

Pictures are worth many thousands of words, so enjoy the photo collection of our as-yet-unnamed trip to a new destination. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Rope fixed in place (bolted into rock) permanently by base jumpers. This is scary exposed stuff.

Ed free-climbed up this vertical section and will throw me a rope. It's pretty straight up.

Sometimes you need hands on one wall, feet on the other. Opposition is your friend.

First rappel -- you just don't know what's down there.

Maybe it's giant ground sloths waiting for me.

Second rappel: 60 ft?

The prickly pear are finally in bloom!

April 27, 2010

Hidden Valley, above Moab

Exploring is a favorite pastime. When I was young, I read in National Geographic about people who found ancient structures smothered under the Peruvian jungle; I fantasized about being there assisting scores of machete-wielding workers hacking the centuries of vines off of the pyramids, terraces or dwellings. How exquisite would that be?!?

OK, so my ‘reality’ version of that is going small-scale exploring. I’m privileged to have a local friend who knows all manner of obscure places to go verbing — (hiking, canyoneering, climbing, swimming, eating, etc) — and who is more than willing to share his inside knowledge. Ed asked what I wanted to do: high or low? dry or wet? sun or shade? and when I answered “high and rocky” he knew right where to take me after work.

Hidden Valley does not appear until you’ve climbed for 45 minutes or so up one of the enormous walls that hugs Moab. En route, however, there is some dynamite rock scrambling that gets you onto the top of a sketchy tower overlooking the entire Moab valley. There is no way I could/would have topped it without an experienced guide handy to explain how to scale it, and to spot me as I did it.

The handholds (nice clefts in the rock) were stout, but I kept thinking that they looked like a nice place for a Black Widow to hang out. (FYI: I’d take ten scorpion stings before a BW bite. Nasty neurotoxin.) Ed asked at several junctures how I was doing with this undertaking as I found myself challenged at a few points on the short steep ascent; some folks are fearful around heights, or when finding themselves on steep rock walls being held up only by their own body. Me? I was energized. This was really fun. Pushing myself to see if I can do it — yeah, my knees got scraped up, but we’re not deducting style points.

The reward was worth it. That’s the triumphant photo from yesterday’s 200th blog entry. Here are a few more to fill in the gaps.

Destination: highest tower in the distance directly above me. Ed's name for it is "The Nursemaid."

Ed sizes up our ascent. What route would YOU choose?!? (I couldn't see a likely one.)

Yes, it's very vertical, with a roof. Handholds and footholds are key.

Sweet view of La Sal Mountains and entire Moab valley from top. Exhilaration!

The first Scarlet Gilia is (are?) blooming!

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