From 1983 to 1988, this was my patrol area in
the San Juan Mountains of southwestern
Colorado. This 100-square mile area
is, without a doubt, the prettiest place in the U.S.
Top of the World
summer when I was a little kid, my Dad would load our whole family -- including my Mom,
my three brothers and my sister -- into our red Dodge station wagon. For
the next month or two, our family would travel around the West camping in
National Parks, cooking over a two-burner Coleman gas stove and having a great
time. I loved everything about it: the traveling, the National
Parks, and, especially, the camping. From those early trips, I decided
that someday I wanted to be a ranger. I finally got my chance
as a college student in 1983 when I landed a summer ranger job with the Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) in southwestern Colorado.
had tried applying as a ranger in 1982 directly with the National Park Service but without any
luck, so the next year I applied with the
Student Conservation Association (S.C.A.),
a really terrific non-profit outfit that matches up volunteers with land agencies like the
Service that need rangers. That May, just before college
ended, I got a call
from a fellow named Jay Boren with the BLM in a place
called Montrose, Colorado. I'd never heard of Montrose, I didn't know much
about the BLM, but Jay seemed like a pretty friendly "good ol' boy," so I
signed onto a three-person trail crew for that summer as a volunteer.
Once again, here's
John Denver (hey, I like John Denver, o.k.?). This is Rocky
Mountain High, a song dear to my heart.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
I figured that I'd work there for maybe one season and then go on to
something else. After spending a summer in Colorado, though, I loved
it so much that I applied for a paid ranger job for the next summer in
nearby Silverton, which I got. That second summer was also a blast
-- and I couldn't believe they were paying me to do something I'd gladly
do for free. The year after that, I became the head BLM ranger in
the San Juan Mountains, stationed in the cute little alpine town of Lake
City, Colorado. Altogether, I worked with the BLM for six summers,
from 1983 through 1988, and during that time, I supervised several ranger
crews and dealt with bears, mountain lions, feisty elk, and about a
did I stay? Only because it's probably the most
beautiful place in the U.S., with lots of snow-capped 14,000-foot peaks and
rolling meadows of grassy tundra. There are also lots of old mines and
rusting relics from the 1800s, making it a fascinating place to poke around, especially for a history buff like me. To top it off, the little town of
Lake City, where I was stationed for three summers, is one of the most special
places I've ever seen. I've had jobs that paid more or that were
"more important" but none that were as fun or satisfying as being a ranger in the Colorado
No, the area isn't as "glamorous" as a National Park, but
in many ways, it was better. The San Juan Mountains are just as
spectacular as the more famous Rocky Mountain National Park, up near
Denver, but because this area isn't a National Park, it draws only about
one-twentieth the number of visitors. This area was almost made into
a National Park back in the 1960s, but the Park Service rejected it
because of all the abandoned mining claims scattered throughout the
mountains. Frankly, though, I thought the mines were interesting to
poke around in, and, considering the freedom I had, I was really glad that
the area was never made into a National Park.
The BLM logo on the side of my Dodge Ram.
six seasons, though, I figured it was time to move on to a more stable position
(and one that lasted longer than half a year), so after leaving
Colorado, I moved west to Oregon in search of a "real" job. After spending some time in Eugene as a peon
planner, I landed my current position
with Parsons Brinckerhoff in Portland. Yeah, it paid a lot more than a
ranger, but there were many times when, working in my office in Portland and
dressed in my fancy slacks and nice tie, I looked out the window at the rainy
streets below and wished I was back in Colorado again, building trails or
patrolling the high country in my Dodge pickup. As luck would have it, the
year after I left Colorado, the BLM made the Head Ranger job in Lake City
a permanent, full-time position (doh!). Ah, well...
Most people don't realize it,
but the Bureau of Land Management is the single largest land agency in the U.S.
It's hard to imagine, but this little-known and little-funded agency manages
almost as much land as the better-known National Park Service and the U.S. Forest
Service put together. Most BLM lands aren't that scenic, though -- think Nevada or
southern Idaho and you'll get the idea.
This particular area of
southwestern Colorado, though, is probably the most spectacular BLM land in the
lower 48 states and contains the only 14,000-foot peaks under BLM administration
outside of Alaska (lucky me).
The BLM is often maligned, especially by environmentalists... which is
interesting, because I consider myself to be an environmentalist and, while I
sometimes disagree with BLM policies, I have nothing
but good things to say about the BLM folks that I worked with in the Gunnison
office. In fact, as a graduate student at the University of
Wisconsin, I wrote my Master's thesis on the history of the BLM in
Anyway, the six years that I spent in the San Juan Mountains were a blast,
and I go back to Colorado every so often to visit. Whenever I drive
into Lake City, I feel like I'm coming back home again. On another
page, I've posted pictures from my recent visit to Lake City, but before I
get to that, I've
posted some photos below to show you what it's like to be a ranger in the Rocky
Mountains -- the best job I ever had.
Life as a Ranger (1983 - 1988)
Above left: The BLM's 1983 trail crew
in Gunnison (L to R:
Ted, Julie, myself). I don't know whatever happened to Ted, but I'm still good friends with
Julie (see News:
Above center: Oooh, what rippling muscles! Here's Ranger Del trying to smash a rock in the
trail. The rock won.
Above right: Lunchtime in the Powderhorn Primitive Area (now
known as the Powderhorn Wilderness Area). That's
the appropriately-named Cannibal
Plateau in the distance where Alferd Packer had a "tasty meal" back in the
1870s. Yes, he
spelled his name "Alferd," not "Alfred."
Above left: This was one of my "smaller"
Only 103 pounds.
Above center: Lower Powderhorn Lake, our home for 3 months.
Above right: Julie, our trail boss.
Above left: I was stationed in Silverton
the next summer. Old mining
gear, including this boiler from the 1870s, is scattered everywhere.
Above center: Sunset over the peaceful Animas Valley at 12,000 feet.
Above right: Lake Como and the beautiful Poughkeepsie Gulch.
Yes, I actually got PAID to work here!
Above left: Border collies, used by
sheepherders, are an occupational hazard for this job. This friendly
fellow refused to get off my sign -- he wanted to be petted.
Above center: Another day, another Bronco: Here's Ranger Del pulling out
yet another stuck vehicle.
Above right: On patrol above Silverton.
Above left: An old boiler from the 1880s in Mineral Point. The miners piled rocks beside their boilers in case of
Above center: Obviously these roads were built for mules, not for
Above right: Part of "The Gang" in 1984: L to R,
me, Matt, Andy, and John.
Above left: My friend, Katy, huddled
in my trailer in Silverton.
Above center: The Silverton train before its daily trip down to Durango.
This train's been running between Silverton and Durango for over 100 years and
was featured in the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
Above right: Putting up a sign in Poughkeepsie Gulch.
Above left: Old mining equipment in Maggie Gulch.
Above center: In the winter when the snow is piled high, hungry marmots like to eat my signs.
Above right: And in the summer, hungry bears looking for food like to squash my
tent. I sewed up my tent, but it still has odd-colored stains from the Kool-Aid powder
that he scattered around... right before it rained!
Above left: A
bulldozer owned by my nemesis, Gordon Smith. Gordon liked to harass
rangers and build roads illegally into wilderness areas. Last I heard, he was serving time in a
federal prison for assault (seriously).
Above center: Gordon also liked to carve up our "Road Closed"
signs. Notice how he torched the word "OPEN" into this metal
Above right: But despite all the problems with marmots, bears,
Kool-Aid, and Gordon Smith, Ranger Del keeps
the exciting (?) conclusion of this photo essay, see July
4, 2002 (Life as a Ranger, Part 2)
4, 2002 (Life as a Ranger, Part 2)
1, 2002 (Looking Glass Rock, Utah)
June 25, 2002
(Lassen Volcanic National Park, California)
18, 2002 -- Part 2 (Port Orford, Oregon)
18, 2002 -- Part 1 (Port Orford, Oregon)
22, 2002 (Bellingham, Washington)
7, 2002 (Sydney, Australia)
4, 2002 (Coffs Harbour, Australia)
1, 2002 (Hervey Bay, Australia)
28, 2002 (Airlie Beach, Australia)
25, 2002 (Port Douglas, Australia)
16, 2002 (Winton, Australia)
13, 2002 (Alice Springs, Australia)
11, 2002 (Ayers Rock, Australia)
8, 2002 (Coober Pedy, Australia)
5, 2002 (Port Augusta, Australia)
1, 2002 -- Part 2 (Robe, Australia)
1, 2002 -- Part 1 (Robe, Australia)
18, 2002 (Bega, Australia)
7, 2002 (Auckland, New Zealand)
2, 2002 -- Part 2 (Taupo, New Zealand)
2, 2002 -- Part 1 (Taupo, New Zealand)
25, 2002 (Hokitika, New Zealand)
20, 2002 (Geraldine, New Zealand)
16, 2002 (Te Anau, New Zealand)
12, 2002 -- Part 2 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
12, 2002 -- Part 1 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 2 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 1 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
24, 2001 (Wellington, New Zealand)
20, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
16, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
10, 2001 (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
3, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
3, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
18, 2001 -- Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
18, 2001 (Watertown South Dakota)
17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)