I am sure you are sick of hearing about my summer at Bryce Canyon way back when, if so move on, this post is going to be chock full of nostalgia, high-jinx, and misadventure of a 20 year old know it all.
I arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park sometime around early June of 1994. Upon arrival I was ordered to dig the tunnel through the 8 foot deep and 20 foot long of snow blocking the entrance to the lodge. As the lone shoveler under the judging eyes of my superiors, my disdain for the park service officials had officially begun.
My questioning of the state government of Utah, and government in general, begun shortly thereafter. Digging through ice and snow to make an entrance into the park lodge took me almost sun up to sun down. After I completed the first entrance to the lodge for the summer season I decided I had earned a drink. As a 20 year old with a fake ID and an overwhelming sense of confidence, I made friends with the lodge's only bartender. Interesting. Utah hates to sell liquor to anyone, yet she was one of the first employees waiting upon the opening of the lodge, to my benefit. I disappeared behind the bar for a much deserved whisky warm up. After pouring a generous, but again, well deserved drink, I was admonished by the bartender for pouring 2 drinks at once. As it turns out, Utah alcohol law is so bent that mixed drinks don't really exist and all beer is 3.2 beer. So my appropriation of booze was sure to go noticed. I paid the piper and no one got hurt.
Living at Bryce was where it all began for me. Sure, I had been west before. My parents, thought it was a good idea to let me, along with three of my friends, take an Amtrak out to New Mexico from Chicago, and back over a week, unsupervised, at age 14 . I am now convinced they were hoping we wouldn't return…But venturing out west, on my own, entirely in charge, this time was different.
This trip was so different. I had to chart my own course and site my own camps. Find my own food, fuel and fun. And the latter proved to be the easiest quarry.
I occupied my free time volunteering for the park service, as a environmental biology major I had just enough talent to get me a spot on the Utah Prairie Dog Project. The dogs were endangered back then and we mapped, tracked, and counted the shit out of those prairie dogs. I am proud to say that this visit to Bryce showed me that the hard work paid off. Utah Prairie Dogs are no longer endangered. But they are still delicious….joke.
I made friends that summer with a couple of different individuals who I still think about today. One was a law dog and the other was a thieving local. The law dog would turn out to be the cooler of the two, much to my dismay.
The local worked with me during the evenings in the kitchen. My paying job was cooking in the lodge for the tourists. Local dude was an unscrupulous waiter and overall shifty individual, which usually is a deal breaker for me. But this guy, once I told him that I was a climber and had ropes, shoes, and gear asked me if I wanted to see some wonders. Being a curious guy I agreed.
We repelled into some Indian caves with remains of pottery artifacts that were not intact and of no value to him. He did tell me of the whereabouts of a giant golden cross that the Spanish had taken from South American Indians during their conquests and pillages. This legendary cross was too heavy to get over the southern Utah mountains and was left in a hidden cave. I may know the exact location of the cave, but I need a helicopter to get there. The waiter, as it turns out, was a thief of petty Indian artifacts that he would brag about to me. I told him that he was one of the worst Americans I had ever met. He would laugh in that big Panguitch Utah way and now I wish I had turned him in to the law dog.
The law dog, NPS ranger, was my guiding light while exploring the American West in earnest for my first time. I don't remember his name or rank but he was an older dude. Since I was 20 at the time that puts the ranger squarely in the 40-45 range. He led me to Capitol Reef (then monument area) NP, Mesa Verde, Zion, Arches and many other sites I would have missed had he not made me aware. He also made me aware of one of the other interesting sites in the campgrounds that I had not been aware of. Girls. Since I lived in the dorms in the park, I had no need to visit the campgrounds. My friends, when they visited, stayed with me, in my room or we headed deep into the back country. It was epic.
But when ranger “Ron” asked me one busy summer weekend if I had any plans and my response was, "counting prairie dogs” he said “well you can make that fun”. My interest was piqued. He extolled his plan about a sure fire way to meet girls in Bryce Canyon Park. “take your mountain bike and a full backpack and ride from the dorm to the campground and work up a sweat.” his advice continued, “this is a holiday weekend, the campgrounds are sure to be full” going into further instruction, “ride your bike around the campground, look for a group of cute girls, avoid the single girls, your approach will seem creepy”. Upon finding a fun group of females. “tell them you rode from Zion to work on the prairie dog project, and was hoping to get a campsite but they were all taken by the time you got there and could you just camp on the edge of their site?” He assured me good time would be had by all and memories would be made. He was right.
Bryce hasn't changed a bit. Still the little corner of wild land thats its been since I was here. Hoodoos dominate, big ponderosas overwhelm the olfactory, and the moonlight is like none other. Zion was amazing too. We are making friends ouT here, similar souls, traveling full time like us. We are happy.