A Lifelong Dream
I’ve wanted to be a ranger, well, my whole life. I grew up in a outdoorsy/camping family and when I was six, I tried to become a National Park “Junior Ranger.” The only requirement was that I, along with my parents, had to attend an evening campfire program at Yellowstone National Park, then I'd get my shiny Junior Ranger badge at the end. But alas, I was too sleepy and as hard as I tried to stay awake, I fell asleep halfway through, then my Dad carried me back to our campsite. So no, I never became a Junior Ranger.
Above: From 1983 through 1988, I spent my summers working in the beautiful San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado as a BLM ranger. I spent one summer in Silverton, two summers in the Powderhorn Wilderness Area, and three summers in Lake City. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
But during my first year in grad school, I applied for a program called the Student Conservation Association that matched up volunteers with public land agencies that needed help. I worked that summer as a ranger on a three-person trail crew with the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, then I went back to the San Juans for five more seasons as a "real" (i.e., paid) BLM ranger.
Boy, I thought I had the best job in the world because I was getting paid to do something I would’ve gladly done for free. I worked in an area much prettier and more interesting than any National Park I’ve been to – and I’ve been to over 200 of them, including Glacier, Yellowstone and Yosemite. But because it was BLM land and not a National Park, I didn’t have to deal with massive crowds of visitors. And since I was a BLM ranger and not a National Park ranger, I had a lot more freedom and independence, and if you know me at all, you know that I love independence.
After spending six seasons in the Lake City area, I left the BLM in 1988 to seek greener pastures and full-time employment in the private sector. But I often think back on the time I spent in the San Juan Mountains. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
Being back here in Lake City after working with the BLM 30 years ago, I thought I’d share a few (well, 232) photos of my BLM ranger days to give you an idea of what life is like as a ranger.
1983: Powderhorn Trail Crew
During the summer of 1983, I worked on a three-person trail crew, first for two weeks in the Black Canyon near Montrose and then, after the snow had melted in the high country, in the Powderhorn Primitive Area (now Powderhorn Wilderness Area). The YCC had built the Indian Creek trail in 1973 but the trails hadn’t been maintained since then. In fact, the three of us were the first BLM trail crew to ever work in the Powderhorn. My teammates, Ted and Julie, and I lived that summer at elevations of between 10,000 and 12,000 feet. It was a great – though considering the frequent thunderstorms, sometimes soggy – experience.
1983: 32 Photos
1984: Silverton Ranger
I came back the next year, in May, to work another summer with the BLM. I was still going to grad school at the University of Wisconsin (I'm a slow learner), so it worked out great. This time, though, I was stationed in Silverton, Colorado by myself. In fact, I was the BLM’s first ranger ever stationed in Silverton. I spent the summer patrolling the high country, with elevations ranging from 9,300’ at Silverton to nearly 13,000’. During the summer, eight BLM rangers on the Lake City side and I worked on a recreational survey and interviewed several thousand visitors, which was a lot of fun.
1984: 68 Photos
1985: Powderhorn Trail Crew / Wilderness Ranger
I went back into the Powderhorn Wilderness Area during the summer of 1985 to do trail and backcountry ranger work and I worked with two BLM rangers, Paul and Bobbie. Bobbie left halfway through the summer and Paul took off shortly afterwards to go back to college, so for the rest of the summer, I was the Powderhorn Wilderness Ranger and lived by myself in my tent, working on trails, cleaning campsites, and helping visitors. It was a good experience but also challenging, with the rainy weather and, especially, the solitude. I’d often go for days without seeing another person or any sign of civilization. Good thing I like being alone!
1985: 48 Photos
1986: Head Ranger, Lake City
I was stationed in Lake City during the summer of 1986 as the head BLM ranger and worked there from May until October. I loved working in Lake City and the areas around it and thought I was in heaven. A couple BLM rangers, Tom and Renea, helped me out that summer and we got a lot done but also had a lot of fun.
1986: 40 Photos
1987: Head Ranger, Lake City
A year later I was back in Lake City for another summer as the head BLM ranger. I supervised four other rangers, Laurie, Todd, Stuart and Bob, and even though we had a big crew that summer, we all got along really well. In fact, I ended up dating Laurie for the next eight years!
1987: 28 Photos
1988: Head Ranger, Lake City
At the beginning of the 1988 season, I told myself this would be my final summer with the BLM because I’d graduated from college a few years earlier and wanted to move on with my life and get a “real job.” The highlight of the summer was getting trained as a firefighter and fighting several fires around Colorado including, up to that time, the largest fire in Colorado history. After I decided not to come back to my seasonal job, wouldn't you know it, the next year the BLM turned the Lake City job into a full-time position. Oh well, six years with the BLM was enough for me, but it was a terrific experience.
1988: 16 Photos