Ranger Kathryn's Arches

February 16, 2012

Weather report through the eyes of an interpretive ranger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:00 am
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Morning inversion -- clouds surging up from Shafer Canyon, 8:15 a.m.

On the park radio channel each morning at 0930, after the daily weather report, the various districts in the area broadcast their weather information from the past 24 hours. This allows us to better direct visitors in their travels, as well as inform any staff working in the backcountry. You can imagine that normally it is a very businesslike script passing over the airwaves.

Yesterday I just couldn’t help myself. The breathtaking cloud inversion was begging for an interpretive shout-out. When it was my turn on the radio, I would normally have begun, “Good morning from the Island in the Sky. Yesterday’s high was…”   But there was nothing normal about what I was seeing outside my visitor center, so this is what all the districts (and headquarters!) heard: “Good morning from the Island in the Sky, where clouds are surging from the canyon depths and shrouding the mesa top in wispy splendor. Yesterday’s high was 45, low was 29…”

I felt like such a rebel. As far as I know, I didn’t get in trouble.

One other time I took a chance and reported in all seriousness that the forecast was brought to you by the adverbs ‘mostly’ and ‘partly,’ after which I read the three days of mostly sunny and partly cloudy NOAA forecast word for word as I usually do. I felt that that was grammatically interpretive and not too far out of line. My co-worker admitted he didn’t know those words were adverbs. I felt doubly useful.

Radio dispatchers abhor flippant or too-casual usage, so I am very careful. But just look at the accompanying photo and tell me that you wouldn’t have done the same.

January 31, 2012

Entrusted with weather data collection

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:32 pm
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Part of our humble weather station at Island in the Sky District

Every morning as I reach work, I peek into the eight-inch canister behind the visitor center. If any precipitation has fallen in the preceding 24 hours, it is measured exactly. Multiple measurements are taken in winter: new snow depth (measured on a white board swept clean daily), standing depth (measured on a stick secured in the ground), and new snow in the canister melted and measured to the nearest hundredth of an inch. Our digital temperature recording device marks highs and lows of the previous day. We note the hours during which weather events happened, any related observations (e.g., “snow squall with thunder clap,” or “wind blew tents down”), and oddities like hail or fog. Part of our morning procedures includes logging on to the National Weather Service data collection site and putting all our numbers safely into their system. I hope that gives meteorologists something interesting to study when storms are utterly absent.

This post was unnervingly monochromatic, requiring the addition of a recent sunset photo from my front door.

I must say that my favorite hand-written observation in the weather book last year was on October 25: “screaming double rainbow 4:37 pm.” Take that, National Weather Service!

January 26, 2012

2.3″ new snow alters the landscape

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:05 pm
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Pinyon atop Shafer Canyon

The local landscape was transformed from desert red to crystalline white while I dreamed. Several hours of snow the preceding evening blanketed the junipers, the sandstone, the pricklypear; alabaster paths beckoned me, trackless, unmarred, as I walked to work. Clouds — a novelty in our annual 300 days of sun — hung low, scraping the buttes, dangling wispy hems into the canyons. Casting a magical spell on visitors and staff alike, light played on opposing cliffs as the sun’s shafts punched openings in the glowering sky. What a day; what a glorious day.

April 2, 2010

Neck Springs Trail

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:42 am
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Shafer Point Overlook, Canyonlands NP

A mutual day off for my daughter and me, so we planned to hike the 5.8-mile Neck Springs Trail. As soon as I arrived at Canyonlands NP (6000 ft elevation) it began snowing — surely an April Fool’s joke. It was nearly 40 degrees, though, so we just waited an hour and layered ourselves up and headed out.

All manner of transport...

Other than the two bikers on large-wheeled unicycles we passed at the trailhead, we saw only two other people in our nearly three hours on trail. Such a gift.

springs, 4/1/10, Canyonlands

The deeply-carved canyons put me at a loss for words. I could never tire of seeing them. This is good, since I will be working up there for ten weeks this summer!

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


Leave a comment: How are you impacted by beauty or silence?

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