Ranger Kathryn's Arches

January 20, 2012

Druid Arch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:09 pm
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Druid Arch, one of Canyonlands' largest. Its main opening measures 85' x 20'.

Something is amiss. All the leafless plants tell me it’s winter; the sunlight is pale and wan, telling me it’s winter; I’m on the calendar’s first page, which tells me it’s winter. But — hiking in shorts? 55 degrees? Maybe we’ll call this “the winter that wasn’t.”

Only one set of new prints disturbs the sandy wash; I’m almost alone on this 10.8-mile backcountry trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands NP. Just the way I like it. Heading south from the Elephant Hill trailhead, lots of coyote scat, two dark-eyed juncos, one spider, two ravens and nine mule deer complement six hours of silent refreshment. The prize: my first-ever look at a massive eroded fin of Cedar Mesa sandstone that guards the head of Elephant Canyon.

I have no words for Druid Arch; it’s a good thing a Utah author does. In her book, Desert Quartet, Terry Tempest Williams describes her initial impression of it:

Red Rock. Blue sky. This arch is structured metamorphosis. Once a finlike tower, it has been perforated by a massive cave-in, responsible now for the keyholes where wind enters and turns. What has been opened, removed, eroded away, is as compelling to me as what remains. Druid Arch — inorganic matter — rock rising from the desert floor as a creation of time, weathered, broken, and beautiful.

Having gone as far as I could up-canyon, I lounge only somewhat uncomfortably on cold rock to eat an energy bar and chug a half liter of water. Above me the towering arch is chiseled, alluring, indomitable.

Some call this formation “Utah’s Stonehenge,” but we all know which one existed first.

Which is why it is called the "Needles District." One hikes past these spires to reach Druid.

March 26, 2011

The purpose of solitude

Definitely solitudinous. Canyonlands NP, Needles district, three minutes before sunset

I get back to my trailer before 5 pm daily — kick my boots off, fix a bite of supper, read a little, get comfortable… and know that I have five or six hours until bedtime. This is when all my practice living alone comes in handy. I do NOT need to be entertained… but these evenings can get long. It’s an invitation to welcome solitude and look for the gifts it can bring.

“In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me — naked, vulnerable, weak, broken — nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness…”  (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)

Sunrise at Arches NP -- just me and this gorgeous pinnacle.

Out here in the stillness, looking inward comes much more readily. Soberingly, I find myself face to face with a person I don’t always enjoy being with. She can be selfish, lazy, judgmental, and egotistical… for starters. It is far easier to look at her positives — joyful, passionate, curious, ebullient. Solitude helps me come to a more balanced and accurate understanding of who I am… and then look toward who I want to become.

Nouwen describes “the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition.” Daily, restlessly, I try to convince myself that I’m much more ______ [insert any positive adjective here: wise, virtuous, kind, etc] than I really am. Gratefully, piece by piece, solitude dismantles that illusion.

Do you embrace, or avoid, solitude? Why?

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