Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 4, 2012

Adrift on the Green River

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:07 am
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Utah’s Green River. Today: windless. Tomorrow: watch out.

(Continued from “Down the Switchbacks“)

The bow of my inflatable duckie circumscribed lazy spirals like a leaf in a creek; the panorama before me was new every few breaths. On my lap the paddle sat listlessly, waiting to be dipped into the river on rare occasion. I was on the water with our wildlife biologist looking for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (SWFL). Last night’s cowboys — who had dismounted, walked their weary horses through the obstacle course of our belongings, and disappeared into the moonlit night — were a gauzy memory.

Milkweed in full bloom. Photo by W Sloan.

The river’s rhythms now become my rhythms. My only task is to observe. At less than three miles per hour, everything is more visible: a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, new rockfall, a Great Blue Heron fishing stealthily, muskrat slicing the water, peregrine falcon circling overhead, old cottonwoods staking their claim on a bank, beaver chewing on willow. Huge cliffs of Wingate sandstone tower, guardians of the canyon: 600 feet of ancient sand, now lithified, silent, stunning. Breathing slows.

Lathered in sunscreen, senses heightened in the wilderness, I reclined in my boat to watch the world go by. When we approached appropriate habitat Bill played a recording of the SWFL song; males would respond to a perceived territorial threat by singing back. Seven times in two mornings on the river we heard it: fitz-bew! It was one of those simple pleasures in life that inserts itself into the heart, an unexpected gift, giving me hope for this species.

~ To Be Continued ~

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[Ecology note: According to the USGS, Empidonax traillii extimus populations declined during the 20th century, primarily because of habitat loss and modification from activities, such as dam construction and operation, groundwater pumping, water diversions, and flood control. It was placed on the endangered species list in 1995 and has only 280 known breeding sites. Critical habitat continues to shrink.]

Sunset from our campsite at the mouth of Horseshoe Canyon.
Green River meets Barrier Creek. Ranger Kathryn basks in joyful color.

February 22, 2012

A scarce commodity indeed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:02 am
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Every time I turn on a faucet, I thank the driver of this truck

What is one thing, even more important than the absent Starbucks and gas stations about which visitors ask, that is missing from our mesa top? One thing that, by its lack, explains almost everything about our habitat? One thing that is singularly responsible for this national park looking the way it does?

Hint: it arrives from the sky, but more conveniently in 6,000-gallon trucks. It is stored in two 30,000-gallon buried fiberglass tanks up on the hill behind our housing. It is also currently going missing, to the tune of 900 gallons a day unexplainably disappearing, leaving our maintenance crew checking every valve and meter on the premises. We don’t see any obvious leaks, but our water is not where it should be.

I appreciate the man who delivers this life-giving elixir. Seven times in two days, this water truck has made the 35-mile gradual climb from Moab (4000 ft) to Island in the Sky (6000 ft). That’s some expensive water we drink, flush, wash with, bathe in.

The raven I saw yesterday, drinking from a pothole puddle of melted snow, doesn’t know about our scarcity.

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