You are here

Death Valley Looking to Electronic Rangers to Raise Money, Lure Younger Generations


Death Valley NP officials hope "GPS Rangers," such as this one with a Civil War image, will lure younger generations to their park, and generate a revenue stream along the way. BarZ Adventures photo.

Did you hear about the "electronic rangers" you can now rent in Death Valley National Park? For $15 a day these gadgets, which you place on your rig's dashboard, will give you a guided tour of the park. Park officials hope these devices, among other things, will generate a new revenue stream for Death Valley.

Manufactured by BarZ Adventures, these devices use GPS coordinates to trigger a video commentary of the immediate area. Already the devices have been deployed at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi, Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah, and reportedly are on their way to Shenandoah National Park, if they're not already there.

Death Valley spokesman Terry Baldino told the AFP wire service that along with using the devices to entice younger generations to Death Valley, officials view the daily rentals as one way to boost revenues.

David Blacker, executive director of the Death Valley Natural History Association, had this to say about the GPS Rangers:

“In our attempt to keep Death Valley National Park relevant as we move into the 21st century we must embrace new technologies to help us with our educational and interpretive mission. This partnership with the National Park Service and Bar Z Adventures is our first step in doing this.”

Is the relevance of our national parks dangling on the future of where technology takes us? There's no doubt that advancements in technology play a key role in our lives, and can help deliver stirring interpretive programs in the parks. But first the younger generations have to want to go to the parks, and I question whether the prospect of listening to a GPS Ranger will be enough to persuade Susie and Johnny to beg their parents to take them to Death Valley or Shenandoah or Vicksburg.

Another question to ponder is whether it's a good thing to automate the national parks, to replace walking, talking interpretive rangers with electronics?

This summer I had the opportunity to join a ranger-led tour of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. The ranger, Larry Gore, captivated an audience of roughly 20 with a natural history discussion of the rain forest. Young and old were listening intently to his talk, laughing at his jokes, and watching as he used visual aids -- puppets of salmon and banana slugs -- to explain the cycles of life in the Hoh.

Ranger Gore also clearly answered questions that arose.

Will the GPS Ranger be able to duplicate such an interpretive program?


For $15 a day these gadgets, which you place on your rig's dashboard, will give you a guided tour of the park.

Finally a way to visit a national park without having to get out of my car!

These sound like the 21st century of those audio tapes you used to be able to buy or rent to describe places motorists were passing.

Claire @

So now they can hire an illegal alien to collect your money and hand out these gizmos to the techno-starved masses. For me, our National Parks will always be the place to get away from places like this blogosphere, the computer on my desk at work, my telephone, and my kids' video games. I love it when the cell phone doesn't work. Pretty soon they'll have to install pay-per-nuke microwave ovens in the campsites so they can "connect" with that younger generation that doesn't know how to cook over an open flame.

But seriously, like the grocery aisle with all the toys and candy on display, this is yet another one of those things designed to drive a wedge between kids and their parents. Aww, come on Dad, please please please can we get a palm-ranger!? And if they don't get it, the sullen faces, the sour attitudes, and another ruined vacation. Watch all the parents cave in to the pop culture fad-of-the-week once again. Why even leave home?

It's not like Death Valley was offering guided road tours with a ranger in the first place. These gadgets are just replacing the cassette tapes you could buy at the visitors center in the olden days. Before that you had the written road logs (which required the use of mathematics in determining how far you had traveled using your odometer). These GPS gadgets are just an old idea using modern satellite technology.

Has anyone actually listened to one of these Bar Z Adventure tapes? As Homer Simpson would say "Booooooorrring!" Talk about turning the younger generation OFF. I'd be real surprised if very many people fork over real dough to make use of these tapes.

I see the day coming very soon, because I'm involved in helping to develop it, where you will be able to get this same kind of tour through an XM or Sirius satellite radio subscription, not only for national parks but also major cities and scenic regions like the Wine Country or Big Sur coast in California. It is also being developed for Onstar and other onboard navigation systems that will be installed in the cars of the future.

The truth is none of this will ever replace a real live ranger who can point his finger at something many miles in the distance, answer your question in two different ways or make you realize something that only he or she can convey at that particular moment in the time-space continuum. The public knows this, I just wonder sometimes how much the folks in WASO do?

They wouldn't happen to have some pizza and a drive-thru liquor store handy too, would they? I hope these devises are nice enough to inform you where the restrooms are.......

this site and it's following has a strong anti-technology bias. whether or not YOU go to the parks to escape technology isn't relevant to the public at large.

that said, i imagine that the reality is that managers are looking for ways to combat declining funding.

this probably includes ways to get educational messaging out to visitors, including podcasts, volunteers and all the other evils of technology. nothing better than a ranger giving a canned slideshow at an overly smokey campfire! (/sarcasm.)

i don't consider that a deliberate choice of downsizing, just a way to cope with bloated admin salaries with their automatic raises and lack of performance based continuation of employment combined with diminished funds for field staffing.

but i think beamis is right, they are boring and will never replace a well trained live ranger, the ones who aren't misanthropic and are patient and can identify with city folks after living at a park for a long time... you know, the ones who WANT to work interp and aren't all bitter about actually talking to people, like the backcountry ranger desk folks at zion... so bitter!

I would disagree that this site has a "strong anti-technology bias." If that were the case, this site wouldn't exist. The fact that it does exist speaks to our embrace of technology, as does the fact that we're entwining podcasts and videocasts with the typed word.

However, the editors' concern regarding technology such as the GPS Ranger is that it might be used to replace the "well-trained, live ranger."

Technology can be a wonderful tool for interpretation, for simplifying processes, for search and rescue and so many other endeavors. But I shudder to think of a day when campfire talks become virtual and your ranger-led hike requires a hand-held GPS Ranger. That day will not mark an advancement in interpretation, but rather a step backward.

While not trying to suck-up to the editors, indeed the overriding tone is NOT to be confused with an anti-technology idealism in the least. The sarcasm from this corner, at least, was directed toward the bias against the slothism (?) of the general public as a whole, not the devise in general. The entire premise of the national parks was to enable the public to have the opportunity to view an unspoiled environment, while never to be confused with a "walk in the park". The problem with interpretation via pod-casts, GPS, etc. is that it lends too much toward individual misinterpretation and listening without observing. One can stand at various overlooks at Bryce, Zion, Vermillion Cliffs and Grand Canyon for instance, and listen to a broadcast presentation highlighting the various strata of rock layers and formations, and at the same time COMPLETELY misidentify said landmarks visually, leaving a completely inaccurate view of the geology and topography which has just been presented to you. There has yet to be a suitable substitute invented for actually venturing into these environs and experiencing, up-close and personal, the full of the dimensions of the thickness of the redwall layer, the expanse and variety of the Navajo sandstone, the height of Zoroaster.......especially since in nature, nothing occurs in black and white. I've seen too many tourists who mistakenly leave these parks with the idea that colored rock layers reflect the sole component of various strata, without realizing that the majority of these divisions are the result of blending through multiple hues due to leeching of mineral components in the layers above, and are not the result of clear-cut definitions. It's not as though every few million years, the colors change just to satisfy the visual ability of the human eye. And ranger-lead interpretation is MOST helpful in accurately depicting these subtle changes, short of actually reading a book on the local geology.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide