Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 20, 2010

Eye of the Whale, Part 2

Erosion art: where ceiling and floor meet at Eye of the Whale

Ninety minutes. That’s a long time to have an arch to myself in a national park that saw 997,000 visitors last year. I’m grateful for the isolation.

It is obvious that some young males (who else?!?) have butt-slid down the ‘cheek’ from the eye, but I’d rather not risk damaging myself. I go trekking down-fin to see if I can find a way to the back side. For one second I found myself wishing someone were there to show me the way. And then I heard, or sensed: “Go explore. You’ll find a path.” An ‘aha’ moment for me, who finds it easier to follow than to lead. With delight, I abandoned myself to finding a route around this humongous fin.

It wasn’t difficult, and success tasted sweet. After the requisite ‘eye’ photographs, I found a comfortable boulder and slipped my pack off. It was about 64, mostly sunny, and my shorts and t-shirt were perfect. I leaned into the warm rock and listened. Nothing. Not a single living thing. No wind, no cricket, no bird. I pulled out my book and devoured a few chapters, taking time out to watch a small lizard make his way around my feet.

Rustling leaves, or whispering, are about twenty decibels; quiet breathing is about ten. Threshold of hearing is at zero. If I held my breath, the ambient sound had to have been no more than a couple of dB. Straining to hear sound is a new experience for most people. For my daughter, who lives on a busy thoroughfare in a large city, it is absolutely foreign.

I savor the silence, drinking it in. I am thirsty for it. When the engine noise from a small plane penetrates my tranquility, I find the obtruder far more annoying than the last hundred planes I’ve heard.

O happy day! Got the knot perfect!

In the embrace of that enormous whale, I did it: I tied my first Double Fisherman’s knot, perfectly, Xs matching, knots nesting, without anybody’s help. Well, the tails could have been a smidge longer, but it was a thing of beauty, and Ed would be proud.

March 9, 2010

Listen to the silence: Devils Garden

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:40 am
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Fins in Devils Garden, 3/8/10

First, a troubling piece of grammatical quicksand: when I informed my boss that “Devils Garden” should have an apostrophe, he sighed and shook his head and announced that the NPS did away with that apostrophe long ago. I was appalled and distressed; this is a frightfully slippery slope. But, working for our federal government, hereinafter I shall spell it as it appears on all our maps.

Assigned duty: hike the Devils Garden trail and monitor for trouble spots. Interact with visitors. Be a park presence. Oh, and take camera…

Not volcanoes

A chilly Monday morning, 34 degrees, with slushy melty snow underfoot. Visitorship is minimal. I drive the 18 miles up to the north end of the park, taking time out to radio Law Enforcement with news of a wash-out of the asphalt at Mile 13 that is encroaching into the driving lane. They put cones up and will fill it ASAP; this spring has been significant for erosion problems.

There is but one other car in the huge parking area, and I know it is going to be a good morning. My destination is Double O Arch, the farthest north, 4.2 miles round trip. The clouds are again today at ground level. I hear only one muffled sound: an occasional raven croak.

Meltwater pool and snow chunk at base of sandstone cliff; note water color

The trail throws extra challenges at me this time of year. Rivulets have washed out segments of the convenient hard-packed snow that’s been mashed down by a thousand footprints. Squishy mud shows through in sun-kissed locations. Large pools have formed in basins, making passage difficult. I’m glad I’m wearing my most water-resistant boots.

I view Landscape Arch (300 ft) warily. It’s the longest in the world. That crack across its top has been there for eons, but it tells me that when that chunk drops out, the whole arch will go with it.

Landscape Arch close-up of crack

A new sound greets me; the noise of melting trickles is music minus the tonic scale. Not another human being is on my trail yet, and I count that a blessing. This little corner of Arches National Park is ALL MINE. My companions are the massive sandstone fins that stand like parallel slices of frozen red bread along my route. An hour of hiking brings me to my destination, and I pull out my Clif bar and water bottle as I settle my back against a dry wall. A wily chipmunk appears within 60 seconds, recognizing the sound of snack packaging being torn open.

Clif bar = my favorite trail snack

People do not recognize that silence is one of the resources the NPS protects. I relish the silence. One small songbird, whose voice I do not recognize, sings to me in my private alcove. I can feel my shoulders relaxing.

My snack alcove

It’s 11 a.m. and time to head back. I begin meeting today’s visitors; 100% of them want to stop and talk about the beauty of this park. The same theme appears, over and over, with every hiker I encounter: This Place Is Amazing. I adjure every last one of them to find a comfortable spot to sit down at Double O and listen — just listen. Let the beauty speak to them.

The last leg of Double O

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