Well, the most amazing first long volunteer gig is over. On June 1, I headed out of Canyonlands and back to SLC. I won’t say it was difficult to leave for I knew I was headed back to Maine but there was definitely a pang or two while I was packing and loading the truck.
The crew gave me a wonderful goodbye party with lots of homemade food and Scott’s homemade beer. I watched the sun set over a sea of pink penstemon wildflowers which filled the housing area at the end of May.
Jim had planned a birthday party for his sons Nick and Ian and Nick’s wife Julie. we had that on Sunday of that week. Monday we headed out for a cross-country roadtrip to get me back home. Having Jim along made it a vacation instead of a 2700 mile dash to Maine. We camped our way across the country with stops at Mesa Verde NP, state parks in Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky, two nights in Shenandoah NP and a stop in Vermont to load up on Cabot cheese. Mesa Verde was as stunning as I expected and warrants another visit with an extended stay, we spied four bears in Shenandoah in one day, and on the Cabot cheese? Well, you can never have enough of that!
Now back in Maine, I continue on house projects, garden projects and settling back in. Not sure what will occur next but I’m confident I will know it when I see it.
For now I won’t be blogging until I figure out next steps. However, the paper version of Eden Escapades continues with a Summer edition due out soon.
Yup, it’s been a bit since I wrote on the blog. Things have been a bit of a blur. One of our employees was involved in an accident on the White Rim road. Although he survived, he will have a long recovery. We regularly remind visitors that this isn’t Disney World although not in those words. No magical net will catch you. No feat of mechanical engineering will save you from a fall. Critters do bite and dehydration is real.
Our staff has been a bit strained and some have completed their assignments at CANY and moved to another position. New people have come on board with the typical ramp up time. But for all that has occurred this is still an amazing place. Some of the crew have been here several years and they provide a solid base of knowledge and lore! Oh the stories we tell!
I’ll be wrapping up here after Memorial Day. I was asked to stay on to help through the weekend. After I accepted I started to hear how crazy it is at that time. Hmmm… Reminds me of Tom Sawyer and that whitewashed fence!
For me, the visitor contact is a blast! In my career I’ve had internal customers, corporate customers, and retail customers. Having visitors is the best! People are here on vacation and want to have a good time. The grouches are few and far between and I remind myself they are tired from traveling. Having received sincere thank you’s and hugs make my day. The other day a visitor came back to tell me I had changed his life. Really? It was just a simple problem I solved. One of my co-workers asked if I just received a marriage proposal!!
My road trip east is planned and starting June 6th. Stopping at Mesa Verde and then across I-70. Two nights in Shenandoah NP for a break of nightly stops and then onto Maine. I can smell the ocean now.
5. Coyote crossing my path one morning.
4. Getting a campsite on Willow Flat here in CANY (which leads to the top 3)
3. Riding down the Shafer Trail into the canyon with Jim on our camping weekend
2. Climbing Whale Rock and noticing the seams of gold and pink rock where obvious dunes of different times settled
1. Sipping High West Rendezvous Rye whiskey with Jim at our campsite while watching the sunset over the Green River
We are fully staffed for our spring coverage, or at least as fully staffed as we will be. This week just flew by and we have expanded our VC hours to 6pm. Last week was “Fee Free” week at NPS sites so it was very busy. I got a kick out of seniors who still wanted to show their pass. I know I will when I get it in 268 days but who’s counting!
What a mix of visitors too! Folks visited from New Zealand, Italy, France, Ireland, UK, China and, of course, all across the US. Interesting happenings this week included a group of three twenty-somethings who intended to run the Syncline Loop trail. This is our most difficult trail even though it is only 8.3 miles. We rescue more people on this trail than any other due to the terrain. Fortunately Hunter and I were able to talk them out of it and gave them an alternative that was much safer.
It was fun to have people from Maine and as close to MDI as Mariaville which is just the other side of Ellsworth. We had a long chat about Acadia but I found I had to really think about the Acadia trails with so much Canyonlands in my head.
I did my first TOW (Table of Wonder) which is whatever we’d like it to be to share with visitors. I expanded on the skull theme I had used for Jr. Ranger Day showing raven, peregrine, great horned owl, mule deer and bighorn sheep skulls. I researched some facts on the sheep and deer to add to details I had already printed up for the birds.
Bighorn sheep numbered approximately 2,000,000 in the southwest when the first explorers came west. In 1964 when Canyonlands was established only 100 remained in this area. NPS worked to grow the herds and was so successful they were able to relocate some to Arches NP and Glen Canyon NRA to help expand the population. Today there are nearly 3,000 in Utah alone with 300+ in Canyonlands. Both the males and females grow horns but only the males’ curl broadly. The horns can weigh up to 30 pounds which is more than the rest of the bones in their body. Bighorn are rarely seen butI picked the right topic for my TOW. Two visitors stopped when they saw the skull. They had sighted three rams just outside the park and a ewe on the Shafer Trail just below the mesa.
Mule deer are a different story. They were rarely reported by early explorers and considered almost extinct around 1900. Then, in our infinite wisdom we began eradicating their natural predators such as the wolf. Their population skyrocketed with Utah now claiming over 300,000. They look like a white tail that we Easterners are so familiar with except their ears are very large like a mule. Hence their name. They also have an unusual gait when startled. It is called stotting. They jump with all four feet off the ground at the same time as if they are on springs. Still graceful but boing, boing, boing.
I also have to share that I had a validating experience this week. I don’t often need the validation but as I ease into retirement this was a priceless experience for me. I was on the VC patio with my very interesting TOW. There was a gent on his cell. I wasn’t eavesdropping but you couldn’t help overhear him. He had just arrived and was busily explaining to his boss why he was on vacation but no one really seemed to know he was going to be out. He’s a salesman and he was slinging his story about how he covers his customers even when he’s away, how hard he’s been working, how he doesn’t want to burden the other salesreps with his customers. It was a lengthy conversation that he clearly wasn’t winning. I thought… how nice that I am not in that situation. I looked out from the patio to my amazing office view over the canyon to the La Sal mountains on the horizon. Ah!
We’ve had some precip lately. I say precip because it’s been everything you might expect with rain, snow, sleet and hail. But, always something positive! The wildflowers are loving it.
Top 5 this week:
5. Learning more about bighorn sheep and mule deer
4. Appreciating my office view even more on that certain day
3. Watching wildflowers popping everywhere
2. Hiking Delicate Arch
1. The dozen red roses Jim gave me when I visited SLC
I know it looks like I skipped a week of updates but I was on the most phenomenal road trip and was nowhere close to electronics! So here’s the latest update and the most recent top 5!
There is a road at Canyonlands (CANY) called White Rim (WR). The mesa top of CANY is at 6,000′ elevation, the WR is 1,400′ below (approx 4,600 feet which is about the level of the SLC valley), and the Colorado and Green Rivers are another 700′ below the WR. So…2,000 feet between the mesa and the rivers. I know I mentioned this before but wanted you to have this fresh info.
The WR is 100 miles — 77 within the park and then 23 on BLM lands and back to the Visitor Center for the loop. It is 4WD and high clearance only. Think Jeep commercial! It’s the best image to give you.
Five of us made the trip–Michael (my supervisor and manager at CANY), three SCA’s Erica, Hunter, Stacey and me! We left last Tuesday the 14th (hence no blog update) and returned Thursday 16th. There really aren’t enough words for this experience. Wow, Jeepers, gorgeous, moving, wondrous all come to mind but they just don’t describe the area.
We all had assignments. Mine was camp host–make sure we are set up and taken down and fed appropriately. Gee, a natural for me. Michael said it was the best food on any trips he’s been on. Usually it’s canned soup! Nope, we had homemade cinnamon buns (Hunter) and chocolate cake (me), pasta with chicken, beef and bean burritos, juice and eggs for breakfast.
It was a learning expedition as much as a fun trip. We stopped at every campsite, toured various canyons and trails and watched to spot the overlooks above us in the park.
I’ve ended up doing eight straight days working because of the WR trip. Reminds me of my technology days! Michael has asked if I would stay on for another couple of weeks to get them past Memorial Day! Sure! What an office, what an experience, what an adventure!
We took many pictures but only a few of my own. I don’t have everyone’s consolidated yet but will update the site as soon as I can. Here’s a few below. And the top 5 this week…
5. Being able to go on the WR Trip – VIPs (Volunteers) don’t usually get the opportunity
4. The thrill of riding the switchbacks down 1,400 feet to the WR and then riding the road up and down and ultimately getting to the Green River.
3. Pushing myself to walk across “toadstools” – tall rock columns rising from the canyon floor. Several hundred feet between me and the bottom. This was at Fort Bottom Ruins.
2. The first morning waking before everyone to see the Big Dipper shining through the top vent of my tent. I got up and watched the dipper fade as the sun rose. Stunning in both directions.
1. This pic of a family of Junior Rangers – doesn’t get much cuter than this!
Is it possible that three weeks have already flown by? This opportunity is everything I could have imagined, hoped or dreamed. When I think that I’ve wondered what this would be like for the past 15 years, I must admit I thought there could be a letdown. You know how it goes…you think about something so long and set expectations and then, poof, not so much a match to the images you had. But, THIS, fulfills everything I imagined.
I spend half my day at the VC (visitor center) and half roving the park. In the VC it’s all about helping visitors choose where they want to go and helping them understand where they shouldn’t go.
Explaining the regulations for the White Rim Road (WR) is often a challenge…a road 1400′ below the 6000′ high mesa where the VC is located. The WR is like a Jeep commercial. Seventy-seven miles within the park boundaries and 23 miles across dirt and paved roads gives a 100 mile loop that takes 12-14 hours to complete. You descend steeply on switchbacks that boggle my mind and then crawl along over dirt and rocks in an amazing 4WD adventure. There is dispersed camping along the way and opportunities to hike another 700′ down to the Colorado or Green Rivers. Trips can be planned up to four months in advance and they are always booked! Everyone wants to go but not everyone can manage the road. If you need to be towed out, we estimate about $1,000!
I often try to discourage hikers from taking the Syncline Trail. This is our most challenging and deceptive trail. It circles the Upheaval Dome which is a geological oddity that could have been formed by a meteorite, salt dome, combination or aliens? No one is really sure except geologists know it’s not volcanic. Most of our rescues occur on this trail and once I offer that tidbit, I find those that shouldn’t be there understand.
Roving is a blast because I get to enjoy a hike or walk or gaze at an overlook while speaking with visitors. I love the questions especially from kids and I’m getting pretty good at giving them a partial answer and getting them to fill in the blanks. This is all part of interp (interpretation). It’s not what I think that’s important but what you think you are seeing or how it’s impacting you.
Come visit! I should be there through May and might have the opportunity to return in the fall.
My top 5 for this week:
5. Watching the critters… bunnies abound by housing, kangaroo rats cross my path on trails, birds are starting to show themselves more as the weather arrives and a rattlesnake was sunning itself on the roadway
4. Learning more about the trails from both reading and exploring – Lathrop is 13.6 round trip with a 1,400 elevation change but I can easily enjoy the first 5.5 miles along the mesa top to the rim
3. Sitting and watching sunset
2. Helping on a SAR (Search and Rescue) for a woman’s jacket the blew over Mesa Arch! Unfortunately her ID, credit cards, and plane info were in the jacket. Keeping her calm and helping her think through Plan B’s (get a credit card sent overnight, call home and have someone send you another ID, etc) was my role while LE (law enforcement) tried to locate the jacket and then determine if they could rappel to it.
1. Swearing in JR (Junior Rangers)! I love it! Very knowledgeable, fun to work with, and so serious about what they are doing. Although, I told one I might have to rethink giving him his badge when I asked him to tell me something older than him. His answer? The park ranger!
My second week has already flown by. Tue-Fri of last week were spent in all day training. There were about 30 of us with people from Arches, Canyonlands (I-Sky, Needles and The Maze) and Natural Bridges. The majority were first timers with several SCA’s coming in.
SCA (this is the government after all so everything must have acronyms) is Student Conservation Association. Students are introduced to the NPS. They learn from NPS and NPS learns from them. Approximately 12% of SCAs ultimately join NPS.
The knowledge of training presenters was impressive. Scientists in geology, archaeology, raptors and finance. And I couldn’t help but smile at the time that was dedicated to customer service. The woman who heads the Interpretive team has a background in hotel management.
Speaking of women, I’m thrilled to see the number of women in management in this area. From the superintendent for Arches and Canyonlands down two layers are women. Great to see that!
I spent the weekend on duty in the VC. Caught Easter sunrise at Mesa Arch and swore in a slew of Jr. Rangers. They are all so serious about it except for one who told me that hiking was a waste of energy. Talking to him, it’s clear he’s engineer bound. I don’t see him signing up through SCA!
5. Figuring out how I can get pictures through the NPS computer setup so I can post on the blog. Stay tuned.
4. Getting comfortable driving around Moab…found the library, post office and state liquor store.
3. An evening walk with Lori while she tested out new shoes and bunnies scampered everywhere we walked.
2. Knowing sunrise and sunset times from memory – I say and write them about 100 times a day.
1. Easter sunrise at Mesa Arch with many people but then a solo walk at White Rim Overlook!
Not a bad way to spend a work week. Looking out the VC window I see the canyon and the LaSal mountains beyond. Hikes or walks in the evening at my disposal. Sunset out the living room window from my house.
Had a blast helping in the VC and explaining to folks my favorite hikes…just like I would ask when I visit a park.
Top 5 this week:
5. Learning that you can get a pass to camp out on Murphy Point – only one spot allowed.
4. Making my first visit to Dead Horse Point enjoying a pot luck St. Pat’s dinner with the NPS & DH crews
3. Explaining to one gent that instead of $25 for this park entrance fee, he could spend $10 for a Senior Pass for the rest of his life and 1/2 off camping! Are you sure??? Yup!
2. Swearing in several Jr. Rangers and watching them beam when they get their badge.
What an absolute blast to review Jr. Ranger books with the little ones that come in. They complete various activities, we review and swear them in as Jr. Rangers. I gave out four badges today–one was to Luke who chatted nonstop about all the other badges he has collected. Smart as a whip.
Tonight I’m headed to Dead Horse Point with Robby and Kim of the Canyonlands staff for a St. Pat’s celebration with the Dead Horse Point crew. Catching sunset from there. I expect it will be fabulous as it’s crystal clear, blue skies and in the 50’s.
Greeted by a beautiful sunrise, blue skies and temps in high 30s. Shadowed Scott on a swing through Willow Flat CG to check for openings and pick up payment envelopes. Great interaction with visitors. There were 5 spots at 9:30a and they were gone before 11a.
Checked brochures at Mesa Arch and also envelopes at Shafer which leads onto White Rim.
Hoped to hike Lathrop section in the afternoon but VC was very busy. The crew was grateful I stayed. Might wander out there shortly.
WOW with a capital W O W! Day 1 was actually Tuesday but I was lacking technology to get this posted. I should be in good shape now thought.
Of course did paperwork in the morning but spent the rest of the day split between the visitor center (VC) and a hike. Beautiful blue skies again and in the 50’s.
Meeting everyone has been super. I shadowed Robby at the front desk yesterday. Very neat guy and not just because he likes pink flamingos. He’s the social director of the group and also a super wit. A potluck for everyone is held once the full crew is here. And, it’s Italian with a viewing of The Gawdfadah (as Robby pronounces it). Great timing…we are already discussing the menu!
Helped visitors with trail selection and camping options. Our campground, Willow Flat, fills very early but there are options on BLM land or other campgrounds outside the park. Hiked Murphy Point in the afternoon. Easy hike with astounding views and I learned, with a permit, one can camp there.