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.

June 3, 2012

Down the switchbacks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:59 am
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Green River. Red Duckie. Dawn.

“It’s safest if you drive switchbacks without a seatbelt on.” Bill’s instruction was so counter-intuitive that I shot him a glance that must have said, “Do you think I’m crazy?!?” We were perched at the top of a thousand vertical feet of winding dirt road taking us down to Mineral Bottom, where we’d leave a shuttle vehicle. I am not overly fond of driving on sandy gashes cut into a cliffside, but I’m willing to push my comfort zone in order to improve my 4WD skills have an adventure. The reasoning behind Bill’s statement was that if one had to exit one’s vehicle quickly (read: truck going over edge) it’s best to not be belted in. I sighed and unbuckled myself, shifted into 4 High, and followed the wildlife biologist’s truck down to the Green River boat launch.

Green River. Yellow Duckie. Moments after sunrise. Yes, it is as beautiful as it looks…

My long-awaited weekend was here; we’d be on the river for two days, surveying critical habitat for the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. I was beyond excited. If there is one thing this Minnesotan misses in the desert, it’s being on water.

After unloading our gear down in Spring Canyon and inflating our two duckies for a dawn start, we crawled into the back of the pick-up to sleep. Nobody EVER uses this old track along the Green River and we knew we wouldn’t be in anybody’s way parked on the ‘road’ — boats, cooler, life jackets, dry bags, backpacks, water jugs, and truck.

Five minutes into my sleeping bag, I hear a new sound: CLIP CLOP CLIP CLOP “WHOA.” “Easy.” Two of the grimiest cowboys I’ve ever seen were riding by the light of the quarter moon, their path now blocked.

~ To be continued ~

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