Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 15, 2013

Anonymous rangers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:43 am
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Arches National Park, "The Three Gossips"

Arches National Park, “The Three Gossips”

I’m imagining, with a smile, what would happen if we sat all our legislators down with tea and scones while they watched this three-and-a-half minute video. Go get your cup of something hot and click on this link:

Anonymous rangers

August 21, 2013

Why I love the desert, in five sentences and seven photos

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:26 pm
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“Looking out over the pure sweep of seamless desert, I am surprised to realize that the easy landscapes stifle me—closed walls of forests, ceilings of boughs, neat-trimmed lawns, and ruffled curtains of trees hide the soft horizons. I prefer the absences and the big empties, where the wind ricochets from sand grain to mountain. I prefer the crystalline dryness and an unadulterated sky strewn from horizon to horizon with stars. I prefer the raw edges and the unfinished hems of the desert landscape. Desert is where I want to be when there are no more questions to ask.”             — Ann Zwinger, Mysterious Lands.


Today’s photos were from a 24-hour escape to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park where Chris and I camped, climbed, and explored a side canyon whose dinosaur tracks remained unrevealed but whose many petroglyphs enthralled us. I share them with the hope that you will glimpse the beauty of this area for yourself and make plans to visit if you are able. But beware; the bulldog grip this place exerts on your heart is irreversible.


May 29, 2013

Quick trip down Shafer Trail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:13 am
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The switchbacks that gain the most attention in Canyonlands National Park are the old livestock-path-turned-4WD-road called the Shafer Trail. Dropping over 1000 feet in just a few miles, it carries visitors away from the popular mesa-top viewpoints and crowds. When our friends arrived with a 4×4 truck that enabled us to explore one of the more remote parts of the park for an afternoon, we decided that getting off the beaten path is ALWAYS a good thing.

March 28, 2013

The desert in winter: a good place to visit

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:57 am
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Last traces of mesa-top snow melted in early March. La Sal Mountains 35 miles distant will retain their snowy caps into June.

Desert landscapes benefit from having contrast; Utah’s beauty is at its peak in the seasons where red is tempered by something else. In springtime, small flower blossoms accomplish that. Autumn brings golden cottonwoods, lighting riparian zones afire. Winter, however, earns the prize: white snow breaking up vast expanses of sandstone, looking for all the world like a layer of frosting on sedimentary cake.

Winter also reveals easy-to-read clues of wildlife activity. Tracks are far simpler to follow and identify in fresh snow, leaving my mind to imagine what that scurry was all about, or who ate whom, or who lives where.

This winter’s long stretch of bitter cold (continuous weeks below zero — an anomaly for southern Utah) left a new sensation underfoot when I returned. Our soil was broken up and fluffed by frost action, and it felt as if I were walking on sifted flour instead of packed desert sand.

Do consider visiting your national parks in the off season. It has become my favorite time to explore new places.

March 13, 2013

Again, it begins

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:16 am
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Clouds linger in the canyons after winter's last gasp.

Clouds linger in the canyons after winter’s last gasp at Island in the Sky district..

Spring is marching forth with unbridled energy as I return to Utah to begin my fifth season as a ranger in Canyonlands National Park. Winter’s remains are draped over the land; pockets of snow cower on the north sides of blackbrush and juniper, knowing their demise is imminent. The strengthening desert sun leaves no option.

Driving up and over the high knoll which conceals the massive sandstone chasms, knowing what spectacular view lies just ahead, I inhale deeply… but nothing in all the earth prepares me for the beauty that unfolds southward.

Words from a Mary Oliver poem rise in my soul, reverberating like harmonics after a deep gong has been rung —

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

Joy, joy — I am back where I belong.

September 16, 2012

Atop Owl Rock

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:03 pm
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The crack running up the center of Owl Rock is our route to the top.

Perched on a smallish rounded knob one hundred feet above the ground, my hard-won vantage point provided uncommon views of Arches National Park. The camera was down below; I hadn’t trusted myself to get it up the climb intact. I’d etch these sights in my brain instead of on a memory card.

This climb was my first desert tower — a free-standing sandstone spire rated 5.8+, not overly difficult. Craning my neck, I watched Ranger Bobby and Ranger Chris (both excellent climbers) glide up it without much struggle. Each paused at a few sketchy spots, figuring his next move; I knew I was in for an ascent that was at the edge of my ability. But that’s how I like it.

Bobby goes first, placing protective gear which will hold him in case of a fall.

When climbing is done well, it resembles someone dancing up a slab of rock with grace and poise and balance. When *I* was dragging myself up Owl, onlookers saw a desperate individual jamming her hands in any available crack while breathing rapidly and struggling to place a foot where it wouldn’t slip. My sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’) freely dispensed adrenaline, elevating my pulse, dilating my pupils, drying my mouth of all spit.

Seventy feet up, bulbous outcroppings taunted me: “Let’s see you get past.” Gr-r-r-r. I refused to look down, couldn’t see my companions belaying me from above, and when the words “I can’t” formed on my lips, I recalled my dad’s translation of that as “I won’t.” OH YES I WILL JUST YOU WATCH, I said under my breath, and mentally willed myself to inch up the scary bulges one calculated move at a time.

Two-thirds of the way up, on the left edge, I’m rappelling from the summit. It’s really the only way down.

The summit was worth it, a reward that fewer than 0.1% of Arches visitors ever earn. An hour before sunset, surveying the glowing red kingdom, I forgot about the clawing, scraping, grunting pulls and pushes that had unceremoniously gotten me there. In the end, it doesn’t matter; nobody was grading me. My bruises will fade before my memories do. What’s important to me: I SAT ATOP OWL ROCK.

Leave a comment: what hard thing have you done that was so very worth it?


September 13, 2012

Packrats? Not my favorite.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
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Gloved up and ready to remove packrat nesting material from my car’s engine.

Scritch scritch scritch.

The unmistakable rodent sound came from within my car’s engine, audible as I sat watching my umpteenth sunset from the front porch. I heard it again, sighed, wandered over to pop the hood open, and found what I least wanted to see: nesting material, freshly-harvested greenery, piled behind one headlight. Poop pellets confirmed that it was indeed Neotoma albigula, our local packrat.

Last season, a co-worker spent $1200 repairing her rodent-gnawed vehicle. Twelve hundred dollars! I had no mothballs or peppermint oil (two alleged deterrents), so I did something rash: set a mousetrap under the car. Baited it with the only thing I had, which was Biscoff spread. Caught me a 13″ (nose to tail) half-pounder. I apologize if that sounds un-rangerish, I really do. Normally I live and let live. But not when my car is at stake, and this critter had already staked its claim.

Ants, feasting. Bypass this photo if you are squeamish about dead things. I made it small on purpose.

Hantavirus is the other concern. Several deaths have happened recently from this rodent-transmitted disease at Yosemite National Park, and in the NPS we don’t take safety issues lightly. All rodent clean-up involves latex gloves, bleach water, and (if necessary) mask to prevent inhaling the virus.

I’ve returned the carcass of the packrat to the back yard, ensuring that the circle of life continues. It’ll make good food for some raven.

Have you been the victim of any rodent damage? Leave a comment.


September 9, 2012

Backlit sunrise goblins

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:44 am
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Moments after sunrise, eroded sandstone figures resembling chess pieces stand guard on a mesa in Utah.

Death of a goblin. For scale, Chris.

In the 1920s, cowboys searching for their cattle happened upon a few secluded valleys sheltering thousands of sandstone goblins. This small tract of land in the middle of nowhere in southeastern Utah was first photographed in 1949, and the public became enamored of its lumpy beauty.

Differential erosion sculpted the fantastical shapes that inhabit Goblin Valley State Park. If you’re on your way to anywhere nearby, enjoy the delight of roaming among the mushroom-shaped pinnacles — which look their finest in low-angle light.

Goblin Valley, just as the sun first kisses it.


August 5, 2012

Angel’s Landing, Zion NP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:10 pm
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Four-fifths of the way up to the 1488-foot Angel’s Landing summit.
White vehicle on canyon floor is the public shuttle bus.

Every once in a while, the need for new scenery grows large and a three-day weekend affords a chance for an exotic getaway. Chris and I decided to head to Cedar Breaks National Monument, in the southwest corner of Utah, to explore a place new to us both. A month of daily rain contributed to a mudslide on our last road, however, requiring a route change; Zion National Park was an excellent fallback.

The switchbacks that take you up, up, interminably up to Angel’s Landing.

If there is one iconic hike for which Zion is known, it’s the two-hour ascent to Angel’s Landing: up 21 tight switchbacks called “Walter’s Wiggles,” past the acrophobic dozens waiting on the safe side of the iron-chained portion of the route, then a perilous scramble along a skinny ridge that resembles the plates on a stegosaurus. Dizzying drop-offs on both sides (1200′ and 800′) plunge to the canyon floor in sheer verticality. Six fatalities have happened on this trail since 2004, which may be why there seems to be much more protective chain in place than the last time I hiked it in 1996.

One works hard to earn the summit and its incomparable views of the entire Zion Canyon. The sweet flute-like song of a Canyon Wren will often lure you up the path, parts of which (Refrigerator Canyon) are pleasantly shaded in the morning hours.

Summit views, incredibly beautiful, reward intrepid hikers who reach the final landing. 

Angels indeed might touch the earth here, but today it was an assortment of sweaty happy individuals who kindly took each other’s photo and beat a hasty retreat before approaching monsoons got any closer. This hike is one of the most famous in the entire national park system; I hope you’ll leave a comment if you have any first-hand memories of it.


July 30, 2012

Clouds on the mesa

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:43 pm
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One hour before sunset in late July. Gray’s Pasture, Island in the Sky, Canyonlands NP, Utah.

MONSOON. The word conjures up images of driving sheets of heavy rain pummeling a coastal village, causing widespread flooding and general misery. Here in southern Utah, however, monsoons take a different approach. July, August, September are our months when thunderclouds can kick up, lightning arrives to make mesa-top living more interesting (and dangerous), and the clouds drape themselves in our skies like no other season of the year. We rangers love monsoon season.


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