RANGER KEVIN: Seeing the Monument in a new way
NOTES FROM AFIELD
When thinking of park service employees, most think of rangers they come in contact with on interpretive walks or fireside chats. Like a small city though, it takes many hands to make our visits memorable. Justifiable so, while admiring the scenery, people don’t think about how trash cans gets emptied, or picture the crew that hand-placed stone stairs on a trail, but these employees working behind the scenes help make our visits unforgettable. I gained a better understanding of this when I joined a crew of workers battling invasive weeds.
I avidly avoid this job at home, so I wondered what my day with the weed abatement crew would bring. At 7:30 a.m. Carol, another Teacher-Ranger-Teacher, and I met Molly, Shane and a group of 10 Western Colorado Conservation Corps workers. The WCCC serve youth ages 16-25 by providing them work, training, education and life skills. They had been pulling weeds for the past three weeks. We learned from Molly that most of the weed trouble on the Monument occurs in the canyons and washes and that we would be working a wash that emptied into Upper Ute Canyon.
The first half of the day was spent exploring the wash as we walked to the fence line separating the Monument from BLM land. As we walked, Molly, Shane and the WCCC kids gave Carol and myself a quick course on the type of weeds we would be pulling on our way back. Although not adept, I quickly began to recognize our targets; three different mustard plants, mullen and sweet clover. Although I did a fair share of pulling, I mostly carried a bag and made my way to individuals whose hands were full.
During the day Molly talked about working this area in the past and spending endless hours pulling sweet clover. She also discussed the different ways they fight invasive plants and possible future tactics. Although we still filled six large trash bags with weeds, her work is paying off. On this trip we found only a trace of sweet clover.
I always thought once you entered the park service you worked your way up to becoming that traditional “ranger,” but I’ve learned that paleontologists, archeologists, maintenance, trail builders and even weed pullers are passionate about what they do and in preserving our national heritage.
Pulling weeds allowed me to see country I had never seen and opened my eyes to a different aspect of this land I thought I knew. Edward Abbey wrote, “A man on foot, on horseback, or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” After this week, I can attest to this and here are two hike/bike trips that might help others see this country in ways they haven’t.
For road bikers, instead of your typical ride, drive 8 miles from the west entrance to Monument Canyon trailhead and lock up your bike. Then drive the 10 miles back down to lower Monument Canyon trailhead.
This hike is one of the many treasures found in the National Park Service. For the next six miles you will see the majestic monuments for which the park is known. These formations are amazing, but the solitude one finds from Independence to the upper trailhead is life changing. Surrounded by pinyon and juniper and looking up at the wingate walls, you will feel completely separated from civilization.
At the upper trailhead, break out your riding shoes, partake in a snack and hop on your bike for the mostly downhill ride to your car.
Mountain bikers can load up their bike in the early morning hours, then drive up Little Park Road to Upper No Thoroughfare Canyon trailhead. Once there, chain your bike to a suitable tree. Hop back into the car and drive down to Devil’s Kitchen parking lot. From here, you will have an eight and a half mile hike back to your bike through No Thoroughfare Canyon. Although the middle three miles are primitive, thanks to the hard working trail crew, two of the major climbs now have well-developed terraced steps.
Your adventure continues when you reach your bike. Four miles down Little Park Road you will reach the trailhead for Ribbon Trail. This is a true slickrock ride straight downhill and it’s a blast.
After three quick miles turn onto Andy’s Loop. This trail will take you to the Lunch Loop Trail System located just off Monument Road. Ride the road for the last couple miles to your car. These trails are listed as very difficult, so gauge your ability before setting out. Later in the evening, after telling your friends about your epic day, I’m sure they will offer to purchase your refreshments.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his daily blog at email@example.com.
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