Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 16, 2011

Eagle Park, Part 1

The old stick nest was in a large hollow in the sandstone fin. Its shape was vaguely bowl-like, and there was whitewash everywhere, but it didn’t look as if it had had recent occupants. We’d hiked a couple of rugged miles off trail to reach it, on the most perfect of spring days — sunny, 60 degrees, 4 mph wind. Conditions were as flawless as they can get in the Utah desert, and to top it off we were in Eagle Park.

Russian Thistle -- "tumbleweed" -- is an invasive species that is the bane of our existence here. Each one has hundreds of thorns. I always wear long pants.

Let me paint a picture of this far northwest corner of Arches. Nobody goes to Eagle Park. There are no trails, and only one little-traveled dirt road passes through Salt Valley. It is deceptively plain-looking from that road, contrasting starkly with the bold and eye-catching formations for which Arches National Park is famous. There is little to demand your attention — until you get past two ridges and a tumbleweed-choked wash. And then…

… you’re in another world. The striking sandstone fins from Devils Garden reach their northern terminus here, and valleys and vistas open before you. Silence pervades everything. How last year’s intern had ever discovered this nest is a complete mystery, as it is about as far off the beaten path as any in the park. My job this year is to visit as many of the previously-documented raptor nests as I can, to evaluate each for current condition and activity. I’m living my dream.

to be continued in Eagle Park, Part 2 

September 18, 2010

Lost Spring Canyon, Part 1

Beautiful and seldom-visited Covert Arch

For eight hours we had hiked up and down washes in the Lost Spring Canyon area — real estate not in the original Arches NP, but added in 1998 for its scenic value. Bill was evaluating habitat for Mexican Spotted Owls, necessary before deciding on things like rock climbing management plans. We looked for roosting areas, white-washed cliff walls, owl pellets, rodent bone graveyards. Along the way we also found lithic scatters, annoying invasive plant species, and Desert Spiny Lizards.

How can the sunflowers still be blooming?!?!?

The beauty of it was in hiking for an entire day and not seeing another party out there. In a national park that will likely see a million visitors this year for the first time, that is not an easy assignment.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit,” wrote Edward Abbey. I agree. It is when I am out in the middle of nowhere that I feel most fully alive. Cliff walls, animal tracks, and visual textures invite me to use my senses and intellect to categorize and compare. Identifying lizards, plants, and rock layers exercises my mind while the hiking exercises my body. Taking scores of photographs helps me remember the places I walked, as well as challenging my eyes to see things differently.

This patch of quicksand prevented us from getting up-wash to explore further

Behind it all, however, is an acute awareness of the power of the desert to command respect. Heat and intense sunlight sap one’s strength. Water intake has to be nearly constant. Being vigilant about potential dangers — plants, animals, environment — is mandatory. Stepping over the spider web instead of walking through it is a wise choice when in Black Widow territory. Choosing long pants in the 94-degree heat is more intelligent when invasive pokey Russian Thistle clog the paths. (Why we continue to romanticize the “tumbleweed” is unknown to me. The cowboys didn’t know how out of control they would soon get.)

If the sun does this to mud, what is it doing to my skin?

I can hear some of you thinking that you’d rather just stay in the comfort of your own home. I respect that. While wilderness wandering is not everyone’s cup of tea, I certainly am glad that visionary people forever preserved large chunks of it for us all to enjoy. Long live our national parks!

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