Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 16, 2013

Poison Spring Canyon: ‘Constrychnine’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:13 am
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When friends invite you to join them on a trip through slot canyons on a 9-mm rope, there is only one answer. Our resounding “Yes!” brought us to a remote area south of Hanksville, UT, where we set up camp in the desert, all alone but for lizards and ravens. The best adventures start with lizards and ravens.

Next morning at canyon’s edge, as we were gearing up for the first rappel, a loud long WHOOOOSH jerked our attention to the chasm. A pair of Peregrine Falcons was hunting for their next songbird meal, and one was in full stoop. The sound of that tucked-wing vertical dive (up to 200 mph) went to my core. This was a most auspicious start.

Hours of revelry ensued. Rappels of up to 190 feet, down-climbs through contorted squeezy slots, and obstacles like a huge pothole of water at the bottom of 120 feet of rope make Constrychnine a canyoneering delight.

Lest you think it is ALL fun and games, take note that every foot of descent must be re-gained in your exit from the canyon. When you’re tired. And it’s hot. And you are glad you did NOT know it was two hours and twenty minutes’ walk to get back to your camp and some cold drinks.

More pictures are coming, eventually, but with my molasses-like internet connection this is all I could upload for now. Enjoy!


P.S. Blog will be on hiatus for several weeks whilst I travel in the Canadian Rockies.


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.


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.

March 25, 2011

Bluejohn Canyon

Bluejohn Canyon, Main Fork. Walls are perhaps six stories.

The foggy 32-degree morning in The Maze district of Canyonlands NP started out crazily. An intoxicated reveler had driven over signs at the Ranger Station, ending up with two flat tires. Towing costs from Moab (three hours away): about $2000. Another party was lost on a back road. After this unusual flurry of activity settled down, ten of us workers hiked into neighboring Bluejohn Canyon to scope out rescue routes, find helicopter landing zones, and determine where radios work.

As this canyon has recently been made famous by the movie 127 Hours, increased visitation — often by the young and reckless — has brought  problems. There was a successful rescue here just last weekend, when a solo hiker got himself very stuck in a narrow section called The Squeeze. Another emergency the same day ended tragically with a fatality nearby, when a canyoneer’s rappel rope was too short and he fell to his death — leaving his brother trapped for six days on a ledge. This area is not for the inexperienced, the careless, or those with something to prove. One must come here with a deep respect for the desert, and humility of spirit as an antidote to cockiness.

Needed a flash at midday. Also need to re-learn some climbing techniques.

Avoiding the problematic Squeeze, our group entered the slot canyon from below and at midday found ourselves hiking in deep shade. Navajo sandstone walls shot up sixty or eighty feet or more (I’m awful at guessing distances) on both sides, leaving a small slit for light to penetrate. Flood debris told of powerful forces at work, with boulders and juniper logs wedged immovably a story or two above us.

I was utterly spent eight hours later when we got back to housing; after a mandatory shower, the couch was all mine. It was my first hard hike of the season and I realized with some trepidation that I have four more 6.5-mile days in a row ahead of me. It’s not the mileage as much as the 750 foot elevation change each day, with the “up” when I’m tired… but I take solace in the fact that I will turn into a Lean Mean Hiking Machine over the next weeks and months.

Please comment: What was your most dangerous outdoor experience?

April 6, 2010

In an unnamed slot canyon near Hanksville

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:22 pm
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Having exited the slot... walking downcanyon to climb out

Day off. Ed and I went south of Hanksville to a slot canyon which shall remain unnamed in order to protect it — oh, yes, that’s right, its name is, uhhh, MYSTERY CANYON. Yes. Olive conquered the miles of dirt-road access without a whimper.

Consternation. "HOW am I supposed to get over that edge and descend 100 ft?"

Finding the head of the canyon was difficult enough, but then we had to rappel down into it to start the day. The first rappel was 100 feet — that’s long — and then from the next edge… 175 feet. Folks, that is WAY more than I have ever rappelled, and let’s just call it 17 stories of trepidation.

I was always the first one down the rope, and after we threw it over the edge we could never see the bottom of the climbing rope to know if indeed it reached all the way down. Sometimes the wall is slanty, sometimes the canyon is sinuous, but we rely on information (“beta”) from those who have done it before in order to know our rope lengths. The first one down is admonished never to rappel off the end of the rope accidentally. That would be me. I heeded the admonition.

Ed climbed over; I crawled under. Two huge boulders chocked.

Having no way to bring you into a constricted slot canyon, and finding myself mute in the serpentine beauty of it all, I have nothing to offer but a few photos that clearly do NOT do it justice. It is impossible to express the depth and lack of sunlight penetration and organic scoured walls. I was in awe for the entire several hours we were inside. It was a profoundly satisfying day of exploration and discovery.

Bottom of slot, 3 pm. Ed coils the rope.

March 26, 2010

Little Wild Horse Canyon, almost

Little Wild Horse Canyon, near Goblin Valley State Park, UT

No rain within 50 miles. That’s the requirement for entering slot canyons, which are deeper than they are wide, and are formed by violent running water in sandstone or limestone. Little Wild Horse Canyon, 90 minutes west, was our destination.

The trailhead is disturbingly popular, with half a dozen vehicles already there. Rats; I like the illusion (since I can’t have the reality) of having a place to ourselves. We sign in at the register so that they’ll know we were there if a flash flood carries our bodies into the next county.

I won’t go into the details of the “almost” in the title, except to say that we missed a right-hand turn and ended up in left-hand Bell Canyon instead of the slot we wanted. It was miles before we figured out our error, so we backtracked a short way into Little Wild Horse with the few minutes we had remaining. It was mesmerizing, mysterious, beautiful.

Utah has more slot canyons than anywhere in the U.S., due to its climate and geology; I think there are a few discovery trips I need to go on.

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