Ranger Kathryn's Arches

November 12, 2011

Cataract Canyon 5: Rapids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:10 am
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(Continued from Cataract Canyon 4: Side canyons)

There comes a point, a portal of sorts, at which Things Change in this canyon. Upstream the water glides smoothly, losing just one foot of elevation per mile, random eddies stirring the placid surface, an occasional rockfall creating a riffle or two, submerged sandbars here and there. By law, life jackets can be with you instead of on you. How silly. That water was 52 degrees.

Somewhere by a large left turn in the river Ranger Kyler cut the motor, allowing me to hear my first whitewater. It was while drifting there that we had the requisite Safety Talk, in which I learned — among many important things — that if for any reason I found myself in the water, I had a window of 3-5 seconds in which to swim aggressively back to the boat. That number sounded unrealistically small to me, but I nodded and pictured myself in life jacket, five layers of clothing, heavy boots, being dragged by the current, and doing the crawl for all I was worth. Not good.

I scout the upcoming rapids from the shore. The boatman must thread a few needles in Cataract Canyon's whitewater. The passenger's job is to keep her camera dry.

The water had a new sound now that our gradient was sixteen (16!) feet/mile. Rounding the bend, the channel narrowed; 9000 cubic ft/sec of silty brown water danced over and around obstacles. Kyler has navigated this canyon at many different flows; this is low water and lots of exposed rocks and logs littered the river. A J-rig, however, is designed for just this application; it is maneuverable and quick, and inflatable pontoons can lessen an impact.

And so we went. Rapids are named for various disasters that occurred in them; we have Brown Betty (where said boat was lost), Capsize Rapid, Ben Hurt, and Mile-Long Rapid (an uninterrupted succession, quite fun). Running rapids gets your pulse going and your senses sharpened. The potential for danger is always there. And it would increase downriver as we came to the Big Drops.

— Continued at this link

August 28, 2011

Fiery Furnace debut

The two dozen visitors began gathering nearly 30 minutes ahead of time, anxious to undertake their long-awaited ranger-led tour of the rock maze. Many had held tickets for weeks or months; all had read in a guidebook that this was the biggest “must-do” in all of Arches National Park. Some were unsure of their ability, which they expressed simply as “we’re older than we used to be.” I knew what they meant.

There is profound joy in having found your niche. Keep looking if you're not there yet!

Trained to look for problems before they start, I immediately noticed one young woman wearing Chaco sandals for the strenuous trek instead of the normal boots/hikers. She had been instructed NOT to wear them but chose otherwise. A German family walked up with their children, the youngest of whom was four. Our tour website clearly says six is the minimum. “Oh, he is a good hiker,” were their famous last words. (Not.)

I had spent the 30-minute drive to the trailhead mentally preparing for these scenarios; if there is nothing I can do about a situation, I choose not to waste precious energy on it. In my most confident ranger voice the safety talk was delivered, my theme was introduced, and within minutes we were off down the hill toward the sandstone fins. The most apprehensive ones had been placed right behind me.

Emerging from the Furnace three hours later, we were all awestruck. The visitors were smitten by the stunning beauty of the rocks; I was shaking my head at the power of Story to engage people’s minds and hearts in learning about their world. In two miles and seven interpretive stops, they eagerly drank in tales of juniper trees, rock layers, and tiny pothole critters. They had no idea this was my inaugural tour.  They had no idea my theme was elusive and often in seminal form. They had no idea I forgot my all-important transitions in some places, and glossed over important points in others. They had no idea I was re-working my topics in my head, searching for more effective ways to communicate while I was also searching for shady locales for our talks and passing a heavy four-year-old through cracks in the rocks.

Is it not reward enough just to reach the end and know that you have given your best — even if it is a ‘dress rehearsal’ of sorts? Then how doubly sweet when Apprehensive Couple returned to the visitor center afterward to talk to my boss and tell her what an incredible time they had just had.

Shhhhh — don’t tell anyone: I have the best job in the world.

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