Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 19, 2014

Back in the (blog) saddle again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:05 am
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Mesa and clouds

Faithful readers: please forgive my lapse. I’ve been silent for nearly six months, causing some to wonder if I’m still blogging, or even alive. Today I begin composing anew — SEASON SIX! — while continuing my search for adventures to fuel my writing and banish writer’s block.

It becomes more challenging to have a ‘beginner’s mind’ (shoshin*) in a place that’s become so familiar and so known. Sharing with all of you helps me accomplish that. My intent, as always, is to invite you along as I encounter Great and Marvelous Things as a seasonal ranger in Canyonlands National Park.

The high desert of the southwest is my playground and work station, and I love to pique your curiosity and whet your interest. Backlogged winter adventures and off-duty exploits are fair game for blog posts, and I delight in answering questions from my readers about national parks, deserts, wilderness, my job, why I perpetually have bad hair days, anything at all. I’ve enjoyed meeting some of you here at the park and I appreciate every person who takes time to read my thoughts.

While it is still painfully slow to load photos with wilderness internet speeds, I hope to add albums from time to time. Let me know in the comments what you’d like to see in this blog, and I will incorporate those into upcoming posts. How many of you are on Instagram? I believe I can get that going, too.

The photo above was taken from the base of our Shafer Trail, the old mining switchbacks that took uranium hunters down into our canyons in the ’40s and ’50s.

Thank you for your patience, my friends. Glad to be back!

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*having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

October 10, 2011

Picking up poop pellets

— Continued from previous post –

Oh, see how shiny and dark and plump these are? Still tacky enough to have sand stick to them? That means they are fresh. (Ovis canadensis)

Lots of things leave small dark pellets in the desert; rabbits and mule deer come to mind. Bill’s search, however, was for the leavings of Ovis canadensis — desert bighorn sheep. One could walk purposefully around in places they hang out and look for droppings, or one could find an individual and trail it until it defecated and then go pick up the necessary pellets. The latter is more reliable.

We had followed the radio-collared beeps as far as we could, and were in a canyon with semi-circular walls; the only place she could go is straight up. Pulling out our binocs, we settled onto the rock for some good elbows-on-knees scanning. “How high up should I be looking?” “Probably pretty low.” We each started on one edge.

Eight pellets go into the envelope.

I must say, it feels like looking for needles in haystacks. The sheep are the same color as their surroundings and it is only movement that gives them away to beginners. Bill could probably find them by their nostrils if they’re bedded down, but I need the whole animal, in motion. Which is what appeared in my field of vision after only five minutes of searching. NINE of them! Six ewes (led by Mrs Radio Collar) and three amusing lambs decorated the cliff.

No guardrails. No shoulders. Hundreds of feet straight down. (Shafer Trail, Canyonlands NP)

Our mission almost accomplished, Bill found and collected the necessary specimens and we made it back to the truck just as a cloudburst dampened everything, including the scary switchbacks ascending to the canyon rim.

Next time you are asked if you want to come along, try answering in the affirmative. I’m so glad I did.

Red-Spotted Toad (Bufo punctatus) found in a wash

Dinosaur bone! Embedded in sandstone on Shafer Trail.

October 8, 2011

Four words that precede adventures

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:21 pm
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Descending into Shafer Canyon, a rainbow remnant illuminates the midground butte. We're following that 'road' down, down, down.

I wasn’t feeling like unpacking boxes; they were all in my bedroom and I could do it during the long dark evenings. One day remained before starting work in Canyonlands. As I was at the visitor center pondering what to do, colleague Bill walked in to start his day in the field. Have you any idea how many adventures begin with the words, “Want to come along?”

We spent the day tracking radio-collared bighorn sheep, trying to find fresh poop to pick up for DNA analysis. This current study is trying to determine connectivity among various populations of bighorns in the West, and collecting pellets that are newish and not yet rained on is the means to accomplish that.

Patience, grasshopper. The desert bighorn sheep is difficult to spot.

Soon we were following the short beeps on Bill’s receiver that indicated the presence of a collared animal nearby. Descending the hair-raising dramatic 4WD Shafer Trail switchbacks to get closer to the ewe — and then hiking up washes, across rocky ledges, through damp streambeds on foot — we tracked the beeps. Eventually it was narrowed down to one canyon, where we sat with binoculars. Spotting her was no longer optional, after all that effort.

…To Be Continued… (jump to next post)

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