Ranger Kathryn's Arches

June 23, 2010

Adventures on the White Rim Road

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:04 pm
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We get out to assess our next obstacle.

Recipe for current adventure:

  • 1 permit
  • 1  government Jeep
  • 4 trainees
  • 1 boss ranger
  • 3 days and 2 nights
  • gear, food, water
  • one 100-mile loop road in Canyonlands National Park

Instructions:  Add humor, crazy music, a slot canyon, remote Ancestral Puebloan ruins, lots of sunscreen, homemade muffins and oatmeal cookies, interpretive moments, acrophobia, old cowboy camps, gnats/mosquitos, chasms that threaten to swallow you, inexperienced 4WD drivers, a tent that got snatched by a gust of wind, nights of uncountable stars, and no end to astonishing views. Shake well over bumpy rock-strewn one-lane “road” that lies on a huge shelf halfway between the Island-in-the-Sky mesa top and the Green and Colorado Rivers.

The Monster & Washer Woman Arch -- from below

Welcome to my world. My Facebook status today says “KB finds it hard to stop smiling. Her gratitude list keeps growing and growing.” I am incredulous at the up-close-and-personal aspect of exploring a region of my park that was heretofore just a lovely photo from the overlooks a thousand feet above it. What appears to be a pleasant jaunt from those high viewpoints becomes a moment-by-moment intimate interaction with desert rock.

Large powerful machines have honestly never interested me; I’d rather enjoy quiet self-powered activities. This trip has changed my mind, however, and I now understand the allure. Jeeping can get one to places that would otherwise be inaccessible, across inhospitable terrain that would make long-distance hiking prohibitive. Used wisely, 4WD vehicles can enhance exploration without ruining a wilderness experience.

My favorite lizard of the southwest - Collared Lizard

“4 Low” is a gear to befriend on the White Rim. With 600 pounds of people, plus all the gear and water and provisions, our clearance was nowhere near the recommended 8 inches for this route. The first time I scraped bottom (due to inexperience) everyone piled out and the car magically lifted off the boulder I had straddled. We all learned from each other’s mistakes and became more accomplished drivers by the end. Going up and down steep rocky stretches was a piece of cake (albeit scary cake) in 4 Low. For me, it was those large rock ledges I disliked… and the rock piles previous drivers had stacked up in an effort to minimize the droppage. Ugh! Others disliked the steepness of the drop-off should one wander off the road bed. It was vertigo-inducing in places.

One can't describe the delight of ice-cold canteloupe cubes after a hot hike.

As our goal was to learn the route, the road, and the 20 campsites for which we issue permits, each day involved plenty of stopping and exploring along the way. In the evenings we’d roll into camp, set up our chairs in a circle, pull out the appetizers and relax while the assigned cooks prepared supper. Pretty sweet — AND we were on the clock. This is paid training.

As night fell we’d set up our individual tents. There was no way I was going to sequester myself inside a fabric cocoon in this vast wilderness, so I’d put my sleeping pad on the rock, snuggle into my sleeping bag, give Venus a nod and peer into the Milky Way. I looked around at the other four tents and their happy occupants and asked myself how far off the deep end I’ve gone, but I couldn’t come up with an answer except that Wildophilia obviously has me in its tight grip. Next thing you know, I might be applying for back-country ranger jobs…

This is how I sleep in the desert

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