Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 16, 2013

Poison Spring Canyon: ‘Constrychnine’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:13 am
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When friends invite you to join them on a trip through slot canyons on a 9-mm rope, there is only one answer. Our resounding “Yes!” brought us to a remote area south of Hanksville, UT, where we set up camp in the desert, all alone but for lizards and ravens. The best adventures start with lizards and ravens.

Next morning at canyon’s edge, as we were gearing up for the first rappel, a loud long WHOOOOSH jerked our attention to the chasm. A pair of Peregrine Falcons was hunting for their next songbird meal, and one was in full stoop. The sound of that tucked-wing vertical dive (up to 200 mph) went to my core. This was a most auspicious start.

Hours of revelry ensued. Rappels of up to 190 feet, down-climbs through contorted squeezy slots, and obstacles like a huge pothole of water at the bottom of 120 feet of rope make Constrychnine a canyoneering delight.

Lest you think it is ALL fun and games, take note that every foot of descent must be re-gained in your exit from the canyon. When you’re tired. And it’s hot. And you are glad you did NOT know it was two hours and twenty minutes’ walk to get back to your camp and some cold drinks.

More pictures are coming, eventually, but with my molasses-like internet connection this is all I could upload for now. Enjoy!


P.S. Blog will be on hiatus for several weeks whilst I travel in the Canadian Rockies.


February 25, 2012

Geology rocks!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:39 am
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Airport Tower reigns over the canyon landscape of Island in the Sky district. Two thousand feet of elevation separate the mesa top from the Colorado River, which carved the basin in this photo.

Repeatedly, visitors to Canyonlands National Park make exclamations like “This is an amazing place!” or “There is nothing like it!” or “It has captured my heart!” I say the very same things, and I work/live here for that reason. People’s descriptions tend toward the hyperbolic because words are inadequate; “I’ve never seen anything like it” is the closest many can come to truth.

Visitors are captivated by our remarkable fauna, like the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) or the collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris). Visitors appreciate the resilient plants, adapted to harsh conditions that would wipe out most species; the fragility of the ecosystem boggles the mind. But what really strikes people with unspeakable awe — what really steals their heart — are the canyons, cliffs, and cake-layers of rock, with a backdrop of snow-capped laccolithic mountain ranges.

In a word, the geology.

Forget what you may have experienced in GEOL 101 in college, where a boring lecturer showed Ektachrome slides of lumpy things that all looked vaguely similar, accompanied by black-and-white stratigraphic columns with many zeroes down the timeline on the side. No. Just come and stand at Grand View Point for fifteen minutes. Let your eyes trace the intricate carvings through seven — SEVEN! — different sedimentary layers. Geology is storytelling at its best. Geology wows. Geology is what brings travelers back, over and over and over.

I’m just beginning to prepare my 30-minute formal geology talk, to be given at aforementioned Grand View Point, and I think it will dare to offer a comparison between rock layers and movements in a symphony. Stay tuned.

August 6, 2010

Peregrine, sheep, orography

Peregrine falcon -- file photo

A silent shadow passed over our heads and we both instinctively looked up. “Peregrine,” Bill announced, and our binoculars were lifted in unison to view the resplendent falcon that had just soared above us. We watched in awe as the bird spiraled upward slowly, slowly, until it was a thousand feet directly overhead — ready  to “stoop,” or drop on unsuspecting prey at 200 mph. It must not have seen anything worthy, as it drifted at great height to the north and soon disappeared. This bird was almost extirpated in the middle 20th century due to DDT toxicity, but has made a remarkable comeback. We are grateful that Canyonlands NP has a healthy number of breeding pairs, which Bill has been monitoring for decades.

Our stream crossing this morning had some quicksand spots, which were skillfully avoided. Sheep #938 is now our target; she is extremely wary and spooks easily. Bill’s antenna is silent. He can tell me exactly where he last saw her in March as well as last year, and mentions that she has never had a lamb with her. He’d like a visual on her today.

Away we go, bouncing in the government truck over rocks and across washes, to the next promontory. We’ll reward ourselves with a tasty, crunchy wedge of fresh cabbage each if we find her; we’ve already eaten half a bag of peanut M&Ms and that hasn’t helped the effort.

By now, each of the three mountain ranges surrounding Canyonlands is amassing its own cloud bank. [Orographic lifting — very cool!] Today’s skies are showy, playful, and variegated; it feels as if something may be brewing, but for now it looks benign. Bill’s antenna, however, picks up lightning crackles from far distances, so we know we have to stay on task and find that ewe.

file photo of bighorn ewe

Our efforts are finally rewarded at a stop further down the canyon. Crystal-clear beeps come in on her frequency, and even I can tell that she must be very near. As I reach for my binoculars to start scanning, two shapes move left in the canyon just in front of us. “There she is!” I happily announced, a little too loudly. The pair startles and takes off. Oh dear. I must learn to be silent in the tracking business. I apologize profusely to Bill, who shrugs it off, and we go hiking in the general direction of the animals’ flight.

We find them over the next ridge, which I choose to approach quietly and cautiously, and position ourselves on a couple of rocks to observe them for as long as they’ll allow. Their white muzzles jump out from a distance; Bill knows them so well, he can identify each by sight just by field markings. (To me, a newbie, all sheep look alike.) Sadly, no lamb is with #938. Maybe she is as wary of rams as she is of humans.

[To be continued…]

March 31, 2010

Lithic scatters, bones, biscuitroot, and aerie

knapped flakes found within a few feet of each other

Here’s your new vocabulary for the day; see if you can use it in conversation.

LITHIC SCATTER: a surface scatter of cultural artifacts and debris that consists entirely of lithic (i.e., stone) tools and chipped stone debris. This is a common prehistoric site type that is contrasted to a cultural material scatter, which contains other or additional artifact types such as pottery or bone artifacts.

As Tricia and I hiked out to locate a Great Horned Owl’s nest near Delicate Arch, we had to veer from established paths. I’d say four of our six miles were off trail, and what a treasure hunt THAT was. Staying off the biological soil crust (formerly ‘cryptobiotic soil’) was tricky, but it took us along the slickrock edges and down sandy washes. I felt as if I were on a scavenger hunt; Tricia’s experienced eyes found all manner of remarkable items.

1. The sharp thin razor-edged flakes from knapped chert were lying ALL OVER in certain places. I picked them up and marveled at the people who made them, and then returned them to their spots despite wanting to keep a couple for souvenirs.

Part of the food web

2. The area below the owl alcove that we found (with about 5 gallons of whitewash blanketing the rocks) was strewn with regurgitated owl pellets and bones of small rodents and young rabbits. I hooted, “Who’s awake? Me, too…” to no avail. We’ll have to go back early in the morning to hoot again.

Canyonlands biscuitroot


3. The Canyonlands biscuitroot is blooming!!! This species of concern grows ONLY at the base of fins of Entrada sandstone. Such a narrow niche allows it to be found in only two counties in the world. It is a precious and protected plant.

We concluded our day scoping out what a recent visitor directed us to: a possible Peregrine Falcon aerie at the north end of the park. This will be closely monitored for nesting activity in the coming weeks.

Two threatened species in a day. Happy.

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