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Reader Participation Day: What Was Your Most Memorable Ranger-Led Experience in the National Parks This Year?


What was your most memorable ranger-led activity in the parks this year? Kurt Repanshek photo.

There are so many wonderful ranger-led activities in the National Park System -- from tours of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park and hikes through the rain forests of Olympic National Park to living history tours in Death Valley National Park -- that it can be hard to pick a favorite.

But that's what we want you to do.

Tell us what your most memorable ranger-led activity of the year has been so far and why. If you can identify the ranger, that would be even better, for it's always nice to hand out atta-boys.


The ranger-led boat tour of Yellowstone Lake that I took on August 25 was especially memorable, and for several reasons. August 25 is "Christmas in August" day at Yellowstone (and has been since 1959), so several employees, including the boat captain, were wearing Santa hats. Our ranger guide, Amber, did an excellent job -- one of the better narrations I've heard on a boat tour. We toured the northern side of the huge lake, and on the southern side lightning streaked the sky and thunder rolled across the water. We learned later that several forest fires had been started by that series of thunderstorms. Sadly, on that very afternoon the body of 59-year old hiker John Wallace, who was killed by a grizzly, lay undiscovered on Yellowstone's Mary Mountain Trail. 

Ranger Wolf at Manassas has the kind of voice and storytelling capability that makes you feel like you are in the heat of battle.  We visited in early summer.  As we stood on the ridge along one line of cannon, he pointed over the ridge to the treeline where another line of cannon stood.  Along with those over two-dozen cannon stood thousands of men firing rifles across that two-hundred yard no-man's land.  Ranger Wolf said that at any given moment there were perhaps over 300,000 pieces of lead zipping through the air and the flesh of men.  The scene, the smoke, and the screams all came to life.
I told him after the experience that the experience put him on the level of the Rangers who starred in the Ken Burns series - The National Parks: America's Best Idea.  I thought he was as well-spoken as Shelton Johnson.  That Ranger really made the show for me.  We went to Yosemite later that year after the show.  I was disappointed that we did not meet Ranger Shelton.

This is not exactly the kind of thing you're looking for, but I am very grateful to a Grand Canyon/South Rim ranger for reaffirming a decision I made. I didn't get his name, unfortunately.
Long story short, we have hiked below the rim in the Canyon for 20+ years, including several trips to Phantom Ranch. Over that time, we have gotten older and somewhat less robust. And our hike down to PR this year was very difficult. Once there, I decided that I am not going to do that hike again. We visit other parks and there are parks we haven't been to yet where we can hike. It was a firm decision.
However, at the visitor center after the hike up (which was much easier), I ended up talking to a ranger to whom I mentioned that I was not returning to Phantom Ranch. He said very gently, and I quote: "It's okay to decide not to return to Phantom Ranch." Now, I didn't need his "permission." But I thought it was very kind of him to reinforce my decision. There were practical reasons for him to do so, of course, chief among them being that the Park doesn't want its below-rim trails populated by hikers who are struggling and might need help. But still, I appreciated him making that statement, and that moment has stuck with me for many months now.

During our visit this summer to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, we attended several activities led by Gaelyn. She is a wonderful storyteller and truly loves what she does. At one of the campfire programs she told the story of Old Clay Man and Old Clay Woman and how they came to the Native Americans in the area that had been making baskets and showed them how to use clay to make pottery. At the end of the story we all got to use some clay to make our own bowls. After displaying them all, the clay was recycled for another time. My two sons put more effort into theirs than they normally would have done. My husband, who is not the least bit "crafty" made one too. It touched me that her story made such an impression on them.

For winter 2005 in Yosemite, I decided to attend a ranger-led walk on the subject of bears. It was unseasonably warm with a bit of rain and no snow in Yosemite Valley. I went to the visitor center first to ask about what I might try doing the next day, and when I asked about the bear walk in an hour, the ranger I talked to said that he was going to lead it.

It was a great walk too. I remember when the group spread out a little too much, our ranger joked that they needed to get closer together, since a lot of people wouldn't react too well to a government employee screaming. Later on he started opening up his pack, to reveal a bear paw and eventually a full bear skin. The kids in the group were absolutely entranced. He was charming and witty, with a lot of humor and a lot of good information.

I had no idea who he was at the time. I remember watching a video at Yosemite Lodge the previous night on winter in Yosemite. This same ranger was in that video, playing a clarinet. I think a few people have probably heard of him by now - Shelton Johnson.

Even before I read the comments above, I thought of my visit to Manassas outside of Washington D.C. I am not a war buff but I visit all these sites if they're in a National Parks.
The interpretive ranger made the battle come alive. Even more interesting is what happened to the site after the war.
The second was not a ranger but an Eastern National staff member at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. It's difficult to interpret a site when there's nothing there but Robin Davis did it well.
Danny Bernstein

Not exactly a ranger-led experience in the sense of a tour, but Canyonlands Ranger Nathaniel Clark and his colleague Sierra whose last name I never got deserve special recognition for the patience and knowledge they demonstrated while spending time helping me identify numerous plant species that I photographed at Canyonlands and Arches in May 2011. As a snap-shooter who doesn't have sense enough to take notes, I've always found it frustrating to return home and discover that I couldn't remember half the names of places and things in my pictures. Their help went a long way toward reducing that frustration, as well as making me look intelligent to my wife who works at a florist. I've long maintained that, as a group, the NPS rangers are the most knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, and courteous people one can meet. These two certainly fit that mold.

Since March I have been to 16 different national park sites all over the country and had a fantastic time.  However the single best Ranger experience I've had was clearly at Andersonville National Historic Site.  Our ranger did an hour long tour of the prison site that was outstanding.  The balance between pure facts and the stories that brought them to live was perfect.  He was never stumped by a question and was willing to discuss conflicting theories about the prison's history when it was called for.  Not only that but he hung around for my group to ask him questions after the tour was over.  It was a fantastic day; informational, emotional, and incredibly enlightening.  From someone who has seen most of the NPS Civil War Sites that day was an important piece in the puzzle of my understanding the war between the states.  And that ranger's tour was the highlight.  I wish I could tell you his name so that he gets the recognition he deserves and so that you too may sit at his feet at Andersonville Prison.

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