Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 5, 2010

Sleeping on the basketball court

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:15 pm
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Pre-dawn illumination of cumulus clouds above my basketball court

Literally, I am sleeping on the basketball court. Twenty yards from my front door lies a concrete pad with a hoop and backboard. With my Therm-a-Rest (inflatable sleeping pad) and sleeping bag, it is every bit as comfortable as a bed… but the surroundings are orders of magnitude better than any bedroom.

Snuggling in at night, the last glow of the horizon fades from view as innumerable stars appear. I need a star chart, as constellations I never noticed are now my ceiling. Satellites orbit. Once in a great while a plane flies over, six miles above. Shooting stars beckon me to keep watching even when my eyelids are growing heavy; per friend Carrie’s instructions, I make sure to count at least three every night before sleep overtakes.

Kathryn's and Ilsa's sleeping bags; K's first night, I's last night in Canyonlands

And the sounds! The nothingness! The utter absence of human-generated noise! Crickets, crickets, an occasional bird chirp, and more crickets. At 4:30 a.m., one solitary peent from a Common Nighthawk intrudes on my sleep, and then all falls quiet again. The eastern horizon is perceptibly lighter than the rest of the sky, as Desert Bats continue their insect-eating missions with flits and darts that make me smile. Only a few gnats have managed to bite me this night; a gentle breeze has kissed my face for most of it, keeping the majority at bay. I lie watching the colors intensify imperceptibly, grateful for the the most gorgeous bedroom in San Juan County, or maybe all of Utah, or the universe.

If the sunrise sets the tone for the day, I shall have some spectacular days ahead of me.

The thought of sleeping under acoustic ceiling tile instead of a canopy of infinite stars is depressing, to say the least. I fear this is symptomatic of my falling further and further into advanced Wildophilia, about which I wrote at the end of last summer https://arches.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/no-cure-for-wildophilia/ and for which there is no known cure. I’m savoring every speck of wilderness.

April 11, 2010

Private planetarium show

As the sun was about to set, Ranger Joe drove up, out of uniform, and waved me over to his car. He had led our large group hike through the ruins, and he knew that we were rangers from Arches. Rolling down his window, he explained that he had talked our campground host (a former astronomy professor) into giving us a private viewing of Chaco’s night skies. We were speechless and grateful. It would make that long cold interval between sunset (7:46 pm) and bedtime more bearable.

Steve the Astronomer met us at the small observatory that had been donated to the park. It had the cool dome that revolves on a track, and a monster-ish 25″ telescope with tracking. Two workers from Zion NP were leaving the next day, and they joined us for a look into heretofore-unseen-by-us marvels of the spring sky in the southwest.

We saw planets. Saturn’s rings were edge-on, and various moons circled it; it looked like a glow-in-the-dark decal one would put on a child’s bedroom ceiling. Mars was a bright blob. We saw the cool M81 and M82 galaxies. We saw a few shooting stars while waiting to look at other things, and Pleiades and the Beehive Cluster through binoculars. My favorite, however, was the Orion Nebula; the uppermost ‘star’ in his dagger is a sight to behold! Gases exploding out in all directions — oh, I was riveted, and the others almost had to urge me down from the stepladder so they could get their turns.

We returned to our camp feeling like the tiniest specks. Very cold specks. And then we remembered that we were in a park with one of the notable archeoastronomy sites in the southwest: a pecked petroglyph spiral on a rock wall atop Fajada Butte, with three large rocks placed to direct daggers of light upon the spiral on the solstices and equinoxes. Look at these google images and be amazed. There is a long, long history of celestial study here.

http://www.elcamino.edu/faculty/eatherton/images/sundagger_detail.jpg http://www.cpluhna.nau.edu/images/fajada_win_solstice.jpg


P.S. Astronomy Picture of the Day makes a good home page.     http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/

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