Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 1, 2016

Your GPS may kill you

Filed under: wilderness life — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:31 pm
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You can’t get there from here!

The caller’s words were succinct: “We don’t know where we are, but our car is scraping bottom and it’s getting dark and we need help.”

Two 20-something women from a faraway state, driving a woefully inadequate Honda Pilot, were deeply embedded in our wilderness and knew only that they had gotten there “because that’s the way our GPS told us to go.” It wasn’t possible to assist them until morning. “You mean…” the caller faltered, “…we have to be out here all night by ourselves?”

Yes. You do. And it will earn you bragging rights back in Iowa.

These two women were in good health, and had water and food. About to taste their first back-country ‘camping,’ they slept in their car; coordinates from their iPhone provided the only way to find them, because they didn’t have a map. They were fortunate to have been able to climb up a high knoll to get a shred of cell signal.

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Where outlaws hid successfully. It’s called “The Maze” for very good reason.

 

The next visitors led astray by blindly following their GPS were driving a low-clearance rental mini-van and spoke no English. The group of seven intended to drive 45 minutes to visit the gentlest district of Canyonlands, but their device brought them a half-day’s drive to the wild and remote Maze district. We got them turned around just before a huge thunderstorm would have trapped them and their 2WD vehicle.

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My friends Cowboy Steve and Diablo  say: “Always carry a suitable map.”

The latest episode was the most dangerous. A lone visitor typed in “Canyonlands” and the GPS took her, in a small Ford Fiesta, deep into the interior. She was stuck in sand with no shovel, no food. It was our hottest month and she ended up walking 20 miles back to the ranger station for help; with little water, she was compelled to drink her own urine to survive the trek. She could have died trusting her GPS.

Incidents like this are rapidly increasing in frequency; our large warning signs saying ‘GPS ALERT’ go unread. The common thread is that paper maps are absent, and drivers assume that their GPS must be correct even when all evidence repudiates that.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having — and knowing how to read — good maps. DO NOT rely on devices. Too much is at stake in wilderness navigation.

Has your GPS has ever led you into trouble? Leave a comment!

June 10, 2014

Respect: optional?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:40 am
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IMG_3116With a warm smile and friendly greeting, I welcomed the vehicle full of young people to Canyonlands. As I leaned out the kiosk window to collect their $10 entrance fee, the acrimonious diatribe began. Abbreviated version: “You mean I have to pay to get into public land? Doesn’t it belong to all of us? I already paid at Arches, you mean I have to pay AGAIN? Is there free camping? What service are you providing? You don’t NEED services in a national park; just let people in to enjoy the land.” I listened and acknowledged their concerns, then began to calmly explain, but they did not want to hear it; their minds were made up. “This is ridiculous — we’re turning around.”

The splenetic young man in the next truck, same party, fairly spat out his words at me: “Standing here collecting $10 is NOT  a service.” He squealed his tires as he drove off to follow his buddies.

The 20-somethings’ selfishness and rancor threw me. Something tells me they didn’t grow up seeing gratitude modeled, or respect, and it isn’t easy to learn these character qualities as adults.

Who provides clean toilets and toilet paper, prints maps, empties trash, plows roads, erases graffiti, installs water faucets for their safety? Who rescues them when they get lost or their car runs out of gas? Who maintains the trails they want to walk on, erects radio repeaters for communications, or takes their mounds of empty bottles to the recycling center 35 miles away? Who creates and installs signs so they can find their way in this wilderness? Who drives the 6,000-gallon water trucks up from Moab? Next time they need any of these things, perhaps the national park entrance fee would seem a reasonable exchange.

Yesterday a man let his two dogs out of his car just as I arrived at an overlook, and they took off running. “Sir? Your dogs are welcome here, but they must be on leashes.” “ANTI-ANIMAL,” he vented, as he whistled for his pets to return. When they got to his side, he loudly told the canines, “NOT YOUR FRIEND.” I took a deep breath to say something but chose to walk the other direction instead of getting tangled up in this miasma of emotion and strong opinion.

Most of my conversations with visitors are delightful, but ones like these drain my joy. I’m a Minnesotan, for crying out loud, and just want people to get along, be happy, and play by the rules. Four cars after the one that opened this post, an elderly Georgia gentleman with a long soft drawl showed me his senior pass, then said, “Do me a favor?” “Sure.” “You have a real wonderful day.” And off he drove.

And I did, by choice.

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Leave a comment about some brief interaction you’ve had that startled you.

 

 

May 2, 2014

In this treacherous terrain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:50 pm
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Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Upheaval Dome area is full of cliffs, as seen from this overflight photo I took last week.

Walking two by two in the pitch-black, by starlight and headlamp, we repeatedly called the name of someone we’d never met. An elderly man had wandered away from his RV two hours before sunset without jacket, water, or food. Temperatures are still getting down below freezing each night; he wouldn’t survive until morning if we failed to find him.

Our three “hasty teams” of park rangers got to the trailhead first and began searching in the most likely places — along the steep, cliff-edged Syncline trail — while awaiting search-and-rescue personnel from over an hour away. I’d walked this perilous stretch many times, always in daylight. The new moon afforded no luxury of shadows, and our thin arc of headlamp light gave barely a hint of the chasm a few yards away. Our radios worked only intermittently in these canyons. My imaginative hiking partner presumed a hungry mountain lion lurked nearby, while I was more concerned about our nocturnal rattlesnakes.

I had returned from a long run just before the knock on my door requesting searchers, and was tired, but someone’s life was on the line. As I sat down on a rock ledge to dig in my pack for a chocolate soy milk box, the thup-thup of the arriving helicopter brought encouragement: sixty thousand lumens of light! The K-9 unit, 34 searchers from two counties, and an ambulance crew were already on scene. It was now a race against the clock.

Finding a solo male boot track in a wet sandy wash, we radioed it in. They already had found excellent prints and were on the man’s trail, so we went to the highest exposed point of rock to relieve the very chilled radio relay team. Our job was now to monitor radio traffic and pass messages to and from those without coverage in lower canyons.

High on Upheaval Dome, Emma and I turned off our headlamps and watched the helicopter make pass after pass along the ridge line, shining its spotlight in an area of interest. The pilot’s impressive skills awed us as he hovered over one spot, searching, searching. The radio crackled with news that a person was hunkered down on all fours, not moving; ground rescuers plotted the pilot’s GPS coordinates and soon reached a very cold and disoriented subject. Six hours in, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. It would be several more hours before all personnel were cleared from the scene.

Sleep was fitful. An hour after sunrise, I was opening the visitor center and welcoming our first guests. “Your park seems rather quiet,” one said. With a heart overflowing with gratitude, I could only murmur, “We prefer it that way.”

 

 

 

 

October 15, 2013

Anonymous rangers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:43 am
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Arches National Park, "The Three Gossips"

Arches National Park, “The Three Gossips”

I’m imagining, with a smile, what would happen if we sat all our legislators down with tea and scones while they watched this three-and-a-half minute video. Go get your cup of something hot and click on this link:

Anonymous rangers

October 10, 2013

Trespass and vandalism: civil disobedience, or misplaced frustration?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:14 am
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Things are quickly going from “okay” to “not okay” in our parks, and it isn’t because of the animals. My friend/colleague in California offers a ranger’s-eye view —

Meanwhile in Death Valley National Park, the tally so far stands at:

– 6 padlocks cut
– 7 closure signs removed
– 3 locks picked
– 2 deadbolts vandalized beyond repair
– 2 piles of poo outside locked restrooms
– 2 big-ass boulders moved aside for a vehicle to drive off-road around a locked gate
– And an unaccountable number of traffic cones and sandwich boards tossed aside or run over by a vehicle

Thank you for vandalizing! Please come again!

Multiply this by more than 400 park units. People intent on getting into a forbidden place rarely stop to consider the consequences of their actions. I fully understand the public’s anger at being locked out of public lands, and their ideological ‘solution’ of trespass, but the repercussions contain unforeseen outcomes. Resource destruction is guaranteed; there is no one to clean and stock bathrooms, monitor trails, protect priceless rock art or other cultural treasures, staff visitor centers, empty trash bins, stop graffiti-ists. Emergency help will be far away. Damage repairs and resource restoration could take years — yes, years. And, not at all subtly, the Park Service ends up being portrayed as the enemy against whom desperate measures must be employed.

Storm clouds rolling in at Canyonlands -- and in every other NPS unit.

Storm clouds rolling in at Canyonlands — and in every other NPS unit.

It’s our elected officials in Washington, remember???

Chills went up my spine when I read that an elected county commissioner in southeast Utah disclosed plans for “peacefully removing barricades” to Lake Powell and other federal areas, stating that “local sheriffs are in on the plan, too.” He states, “This is not anarchy. This is government doing what government does which is look after the health and welfare and safety of their citizens.” And I sit in disbelief, wondering how barricades ordered put up by one government can be taken down by another, claiming they are a health and safety issue. Health and safety issues would be exacerbated, not alleviated, by having no bathrooms, maps, and helpful personnel nearby. No — let’s call it what it is: an economic hardship, and a difficult one. Removing a few barricades might feel productive, but it is an inferior solution. We need answers from the top, from those who don’t appear to be listening right now.

No matter what the media says, we’re not trying to “make things as difficult as possible.” My Death Valley counterpart, a law enforcement ranger, was told the exact opposite: be as low-key and accommodating as possible. It is not our goal to stir up trouble, no matter whose political agenda that might help, and I am issuing a plea: DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR FRUSTRATION ON THE NPS. Please avoid using inflammatory language like “gestapo” and “Nazi.” I am feeling the same sense of helplessness as you are. Writing an email or making a phone call to your representative in Washington may feel like banging your head against a locked door, but DO IT — every day! And, if you’re contemplating civil disobedience, read this brilliant link first — “Do Visitors Really Need to be Shut Out of National Parks During the Government Shutdown?”: http://www.parkadvocate.org/qa-do-visitors-really-need-to-be-shut-out-of-national-parks-during-the-government-shutdown/

October 4, 2013

The park is eerily quiet

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:31 am
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Would you like to be greeted by this sight as you enter a national park?

Would you like to be greeted by this sight as you enter a national park? It’s what the entrance to Canyonlands looks like.

Birds, cottontails, lizards — the regular cast of characters inhabits Canyonlands National Park this morning. What is missing, however, are human sounds. Normally I hear the distant hum of traffic entering before sunrise to catch the famous photo at Mesa Arch, but today… nothing. No tires on our pavement, no feet on our trails. Absolutely silent.

“That’s the way a wilderness park should be,” some may say. NO. These national treasures, these places of wonder, belong to the American people and this particular one has welcomed people for 49 years. Keeping travelers out of them is morally wrong. We’re punishing innocent people over political ideologies.

We park rangers don't know what to do with ourselves during a shutdown. We're not even allowed to hike in our own park.

We park rangers don’t know what to do with ourselves during a shutdown. We’re not even allowed to hike in our own park.

It’s not about my unpaid furlough; that may sting, but I’ll manage. Visitors have planned for months, have come from around the country and around the world to see our national parks, and they encounter barricades, gates, locked visitor centers. This land is called “public” for a reason, and refusing access is senseless.

Tuesday at 8 a.m. sharp, seven staff members gathered to close down the park. It was a somber morning of changing the message on our phones, filling out our payroll online, notifying campground occupants that they would need to leave, laminating and putting up sad signs, cleaning out the refrigerator, emptying all safes, making final deposits.

C’mon, Congress. Lay down your differences. There is no excuse for this.

May 15, 2013

Stirred

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:54 pm
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Sandstone monolith, Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park

Sandstone monolith at dawn, Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park

“There are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.”    – Ed Abbey

March 28, 2013

The desert in winter: a good place to visit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:57 am
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Last traces of mesa-top snow melted in early March. La Sal Mountains 35 miles distant will retain their snowy caps into June.

Desert landscapes benefit from having contrast; Utah’s beauty is at its peak in the seasons where red is tempered by something else. In springtime, small flower blossoms accomplish that. Autumn brings golden cottonwoods, lighting riparian zones afire. Winter, however, earns the prize: white snow breaking up vast expanses of sandstone, looking for all the world like a layer of frosting on sedimentary cake.

Winter also reveals easy-to-read clues of wildlife activity. Tracks are far simpler to follow and identify in fresh snow, leaving my mind to imagine what that scurry was all about, or who ate whom, or who lives where.

This winter’s long stretch of bitter cold (continuous weeks below zero — an anomaly for southern Utah) left a new sensation underfoot when I returned. Our soil was broken up and fluffed by frost action, and it felt as if I were walking on sifted flour instead of packed desert sand.

Do consider visiting your national parks in the off season. It has become my favorite time to explore new places.

May 25, 2012

Last moments of eclipse

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:00 pm
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The basins of Canyonlands National Park from the Green River Overlook. Sunset.

Evening’s magical light had waned once, returned to normal, and was now fading fast. Shadows crept into the canyons, stealthily chasing remaining light from them; White Rim Sandstone steadfastly held its glow. My heart was overwhelmed at the grandeur. I pinched myself, again, at the unspeakable privilege of working in this national park. My joy is complete.

March 17, 2012

A one-photo summation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:03 am
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Entrada sandstone, bare feet, Joe.

Caught between a rock (needing to do catch-up blogging) and a hard place (writing a formal interpretive talk to be delivered imminently), I will for now put up one simple picture of Thursday’s hike. We saw perhaps a thousand lithics and explored to our heart’s content.  If ever one photo captured the afternoon, this is it.

What emotions does it evoke? Leave a comment, please.

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