Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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

May 8, 2013

Squall beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:38 pm
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Scheduled to give two outdoor geology programs this morning, I studied the clouds intently. My winter uniform was retrieved from the closet on this blustery May day that SHOULD be nearing 80 degrees but showed no promise of hitting mid-50s. Park visitors, God bless ’em, still come to ranger talks no matter the weather.

As I approached my assigned overlook, rain twelve miles off was descending in thick curtains, silently drenching the desert below. Precipitation gives a shimmery appearance that glistens in your heart as much as on the landforms, and I felt momentarily giddy to see my parched park drinking up the gift of water.

Shallow depressions in the sandstone gathered the droplets, half inch deep, two inches deep. These ephemeral potholes nurture all living things, from the tiniest of organisms to our largest predators. To see standing water is to receive soul-refreshment. Who doesn’t need that???

 

 

 

May 1, 2013

Grander skies do not exist

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:55 am
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“Down sank the great red sun, and in golden, glimmering vapors

Veiled the light of his face, like the Prophet descending from Sinai.”

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”
And a little later you added:
“You know– one loves the sunet, when one is so sad…”
“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”
But the little prince made no reply.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

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The display is breathtaking, every single evening. It is simultaneously mundane and miraculous, always beckoning me to the porch for the last few moments of each day. Apricot and periwinkle, magenta and tangerine, colors of life and delight and laughter, best shared with one you love.

[Colors have not been altered on any photo.]

April 25, 2013

An eternal reminder to watch one’s words

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:36 pm
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“The Three Gossips” — Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park

gossip |ˈgäsəp| noun — casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.

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These three 350-foot-tall sisters have been whispering to each other for many millennia; they’ve seen the whole gamut of visitors. If you get to Arches National Park, spend some time in the glorious Courthouse Towers neighborhood where it’s next to impossible to snap a bad photo.

June 4, 2012

Adrift on the Green River

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:07 am
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Utah’s Green River. Today: windless. Tomorrow: watch out.

(Continued from “Down the Switchbacks“)

The bow of my inflatable duckie circumscribed lazy spirals like a leaf in a creek; the panorama before me was new every few breaths. On my lap the paddle sat listlessly, waiting to be dipped into the river on rare occasion. I was on the water with our wildlife biologist looking for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (SWFL). Last night’s cowboys — who had dismounted, walked their weary horses through the obstacle course of our belongings, and disappeared into the moonlit night — were a gauzy memory.

Milkweed in full bloom. Photo by W Sloan.

The river’s rhythms now become my rhythms. My only task is to observe. At less than three miles per hour, everything is more visible: a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, new rockfall, a Great Blue Heron fishing stealthily, muskrat slicing the water, peregrine falcon circling overhead, old cottonwoods staking their claim on a bank, beaver chewing on willow. Huge cliffs of Wingate sandstone tower, guardians of the canyon: 600 feet of ancient sand, now lithified, silent, stunning. Breathing slows.

Lathered in sunscreen, senses heightened in the wilderness, I reclined in my boat to watch the world go by. When we approached appropriate habitat Bill played a recording of the SWFL song; males would respond to a perceived territorial threat by singing back. Seven times in two mornings on the river we heard it: fitz-bew! It was one of those simple pleasures in life that inserts itself into the heart, an unexpected gift, giving me hope for this species.

~ To Be Continued ~

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[Ecology note: According to the USGS, Empidonax traillii extimus populations declined during the 20th century, primarily because of habitat loss and modification from activities, such as dam construction and operation, groundwater pumping, water diversions, and flood control. It was placed on the endangered species list in 1995 and has only 280 known breeding sites. Critical habitat continues to shrink.]

Sunset from our campsite at the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon.
Green River meets Barrier Creek. Ranger Kathryn basks in joyful color.

June 3, 2012

Down the switchbacks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:59 am
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Green River. Red Duckie. Dawn.

“It’s safest if you drive switchbacks without a seatbelt on.” Bill’s instruction was so counter-intuitive that I shot him a glance that must have said, “Do you think I’m crazy?!?” We were perched at the top of a thousand vertical feet of winding dirt road taking us down to Mineral Bottom, where we’d leave a shuttle vehicle. I am not overly fond of driving on sandy gashes cut into a cliffside, but I’m willing to push my comfort zone in order to improve my 4WD skills have an adventure. The reasoning behind Bill’s statement was that if one had to exit one’s vehicle quickly (read: truck going over edge) it’s best to not be belted in. I sighed and unbuckled myself, shifted into 4 High, and followed the wildlife biologist’s truck down to the Green River boat launch.

Green River. Yellow Duckie. Moments after sunrise. Yes, it is as beautiful as it looks…

My long-awaited weekend was here; we’d be on the river for two days, surveying critical habitat for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. I was beyond excited. If there is one thing this Minnesotan misses in the desert, it’s being on water.

After unloading our gear down in Spring Canyon and inflating our two duckies for a dawn start, we crawled into the back of the pick-up to sleep. Nobody EVER uses this old track along the Green River and we knew we wouldn’t be in anybody’s way parked on the ‘road’ — boats, cooler, life jackets, dry bags, backpacks, water jugs, and truck.

Five minutes into my sleeping bag, I hear a new sound: CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP “WHOA.” “Easy.” Two of the grimiest cowboys I’ve ever seen were riding by the light of the quarter moon, their path now blocked.

~ To be continued ~

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.

April 5, 2012

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:06 pm
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Are not these some of the most soothing colors imaginable???
Lower seems a bit lighter than Upper.

Somewhat traumatized by my visit to Upper Antelope Canyon, I asked travel buddy Tara whether we ought to give Lower Antelope a look. Both of us were on the fence, but the scales tipped in favor of a tour as we wanted to give the area all the chances possible. Let’s face it: it’s deliciously beautiful. We figured we could put up with idiosyncrasies of most kinds.

Well. My humble opinion is that Lower AC is gorgeous in its own right, but is relegated to “country cousin” status when compared with glitzier Upper AC. Upper has those scrumptious midday light beams that draw photographers. Upper has fleets of gussied-up trucks shuttling tourists to and fro. Upper has guides in matching black T-shirts for ease of identification. Upper costs twice as much.

Both have sinuous curves that draw your eye along and invite your hands to reach out and touch the sandstone. Both have a space that feels other-worldly. Both take your breath away.

This is what a slot canyon looks like from the OUTSIDE. A narrow crack in the earth, unobtrusive... and beckoning. (See footprints leading in.)

Lower has a humble kiosk selling permits and tickets, with a guitar-playing guy behind the counter. As it was late in the day, only three of us were on the tour, and the remaining guide was an amiable Navajo youth in his mid-teens who took us in on foot. His specialty was pointing out images in the rock: there’s Bruce the Shark! see Darth Vader? look, a Transformer. His specialty was NOT in interpreting the canyon. He did tell me their belief that if you are too much in the canyon, you will lose your hearing, as the canyon represents the ear passage. I so wanted to know other facts about their culture, but he had no answers, not even what the canyon’s name was in Navajo, or whether the tribe considered this area different from the rest of their land.

<sigh>

We were glad we went, but found ourselves desperately wishing for a guide who could help us make emotional and intellectual connections with the site. I’m sure they exist.

Our cameras don’t lie; the slot in the earth is beautiful. If you go, go to both Upper and Lower.

April 2, 2012

Upper Antelope Canyon: don’t expect tranquility

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:24 pm
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The only time there was a gap between groups was twice when a light beam intervened.
Our guide drew a line in the sand and we didn't cross it until all photos were made.

Oh, my aching soul!

In my previous post, I shared my favorite photos of the slot canyon near Page, Arizona. In the interest of journalistic honesty, I would adjure you when you visit to forego any expectation of tranquility, and be prepared for lots and lots of people vying for the same shots you are.

Camera aimed toward the sky...

There was constant noise in the canyon, tour guides trying to keep their groups moving, giving instructions about where to snap the best pictures, or relating bits of information about flash floods. I was never jostled or pushed, but definitely felt herded along. Multiple groups from several tour companies occupy the same space; eight trucks (14 tourists each) shuttled customers for our 1130 tour.

And here is my dilemma: while this bustle and noise would not annoy 82% of the human race, it sucks the life out of me. I’m wired to need more quiet, less stimulation. I love to hike where I’m the only one on the trail, camp where nobody’s near me, live in a place away from noise and lights. Leaving Antelope Canyon, I felt drained instead of replenished.

What was missing was any sense of being in a location the Navajos consider sacred. I was looking for a modicum of reverence; I found myself desperately wishing for someone, anyone, to acknowledge this aspect. Perhaps commercial activity does not desecrate the canyon. Or perhaps offerings are made, or cleansing ceremonies performed, after hours.

Was it worth it? You bet. I crossed off another Bucket List item and experienced a very magical place. Sometimes you can’t do things on your own terms. When (not if) you go to Antelope Canyon, go with no expectations; you’ll enjoy it immensely and avoid disappointment. The stunning, incomparable, unique beauty deserves your visit.

(Note: if you’re wired at all like me, you might enjoy reading about the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity.)

The visual texture sends chills along my spine.

April 1, 2012

Upper Antelope Canyon: Beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:29 am
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Layers, colors, textures, light, shadow --
it all comes together in Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona. (11:46 am)

Hidden in a crack of the earth, deep in Navajo country, lies a slot canyon like no other. Millennia of floods and windblown sands have scoured a passageway 1/4 mile long, and up to 135 feet deep, that is in places barely wide enough for two people to pass. Light penetrates its depths at midday but leaves the sinuous chasm in shadows at all other times.

Navajos call this area "The Heart of the Canyon"

As far as the eye can see, sand defines this landscape. Antelope Canyon itself is made of lithified sand, sand with all the air pockets pressed out, sand cemented with calcium carbonate and pigmented with iron oxide, sand become rock after all these years. Its floor is deposited both by gentle floods that carry tons of sand into the slot, and by windstorms blowing it in from above.

Flash floods are common in canyon country, and are singularly responsible for shaping Antelope Canyon. Countless gallons of rushing sandy water enter the slot after a downpour anywhere in its watershed, impacting the walls at high velocity and dislodging new grains one by one. Every flash flood changes the canyon’s depth, taking out many feet of sand. In a never-ending cycle, new fill is restored with the next storm.

Humans are inexorably drawn to slot canyons. Their space is unlike any other I know, evoking  awe, dismantling hubris; one cannot enter without feeling small and vulnerable. I find them irresistible — except when there is recent or imminent rain. Antelope Canyon’s interior curves shout the power of erosion; its muted palette of desert colors whispers visual tranquility. Go visit this site.

A beam of light penetrates the narrow crack on the earth's surface at midday. Sand in the air defines its outline.

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