RANGER KEVIN: Roving & a whole lot more at Colo. Nat’l Monument
NOTES FROM AFIELD
Editor’s note: Kevin Hardy, fourth grade teacher at Broadway Elementary, was accepted into the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program at Colorado National Monument for six weeks this summer. “I have always loved the outdoors and had a dream of working at a national park/monument.” Each week, he will share his experience with Free Press readers.
I have been an acting ranger now for a week. I say acting, because after working with these professionals a few days, I know I’ll never be a true ranger in my short six weeks.
As with any new situation, I realize I will have to adapt to really immerse myself into this job. To beat the heat, usually I am hitting the trails before sunrise. This week, I was hiking during the afternoon in the heat of the day. For the past two years, my hiking companion has been a boarder collie named Misty. National Park Service areas don’t allow dogs on hiking trails. I quit Cub Scouts because the uniform itched and haven’t worn one since. This summer, I’m required to wear a uniform.
Yes, things will be different, but I know I’ll adapt. After all, as I look out at my surroundings, I’m reminded that Colorado National Monument is a land filled with adaptations. Take for example the collared lizard. Their vivid black and yellow collars make them the most recognizable reptile living here. They have developed long legs and toenails to help them hunt and dig in the sand, but being cold-blooded, these also help them cool off. Not able to regulate their temperature, they use Mother Nature by lifting as high off the ground as possible. With only their toenails touching, this extra inch or so allows air to circulate around their body cooling them down. I’ve seen them do this, and although they have a permanent grimace, I could swear a look of contentment seeps into their face.
Another animal that has adapted to our pinyon and juniper woodland is the pinyon jay. The ruckus call of these social birds can be heard as they fly from treetop to treetop. Most jays have feathers covering their nostrils, but not the pinyon jay. This adaptation allows it to reach into sap-laden cones to harvest its main diet, pinyon nuts, without fouling feathers that would lead to trouble breathing.
Take a magnifying glass on your next hike and stop to look at the twig-like branches of Utah Junipers and you will find miniature leaves. Through transpiration, all plants give off water as they take in carbon dioxide. Due to the structure of these leaves, junipers are able to conserve water.
One aspect of my job that won’t take a lot of adapting to is roving. In the dictionary roving means to roam or wander around. This makes it sound like one just aimlessly goes out and walks a trail. In reality, it is a lot more. The main purpose of roving is to be a presence out in the park and in so doing, help enhance the visitor’s experience.
Often it is just a “Hi, how ya doin’?” or answering questions about how to get somewhere. Other opportunities allow rovers to help visitors identify something. Then there are the interpretive interactions where the rover helps someone understand the “why” of something. Only a small number of visitors can actually make it to a ranger-led program, which when possible, I strongly suggest. Roving helps put the rangers in contact with a large number of visitors that are not only looking for fun, but to learn something about the area they are exploring.
My first week of roving was GREAT! One morning rove had me hiking the Liberty Cap/Corkscrew loop. Most importantly, I talked with 11 other hikers. But, there is another side of roving.
As I hiked the trail, a desert bighorn jumped out of a bush right next to me and bounded up the cliff wall. Later in the week on Old Gordon’s Trail, I was able to sit down next to a collared lizard. I know he didn’t run away because collareds are very territorial, but I like to think it was because he was competing in a beauty contest with the cactuses that are in bloom right now. Just a short walk down No Thoroughfare Canyon (before you even get to Devil’s Kitchen) will reveal a hillside covered with amazing blossoms. The only drawback to see these flowers opened fully is you have to walk in the heat of the day. I was roving at 2:30 and it was HOT!
On my first roving opportunity, when I was heading up the steep black rock of Liberty Cap Trail I wondered why I was doing this. But then the bighorn bounded up the cliff, I reached the top and heard the call of canyon wrens echoing off the red walls, and lastly I was allowed to listen to a hawk’s cry as I headed back down. Then I remembered why I do this —it is for the wonder that nature brings to me on walks like these.
Kevin Hardy has been a teacher with School District 51 for 27 years. Equaling his passion for education is his love of the outdoors. For more information about hiking in our area, contact him at email@example.com or follow his daily blog at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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