Tag Archives: iron ranger

Willow Flat Campground


When we were planning our visit to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, The Lady of the House suggested we spend a night in the Park’s Willow Flat Campground. Sunset at the Green River Overlook was a big deal, as was sunrise at Mesa Arch. Camping in the Park would make it easier for us to get to the viewing points at the appropriate times. Also, living in a major metropolitan area means The Lady doesn’t get nearly enough dark sky. The International Dark-Sky Association named Canyonlands an International Dark-Sky Park, so she wanted to camp there to get a good look at the stars in the heavens.

During early April when we visited Canyonlands, campsites were not reserveable. We were on a strictly first come, first served basis, so we wanted to get there early to improve our chances of getting a site.

When we rolled into the Park, no one was staffing the admissions booth, so The Lady said she’d have to go inside the visitor center to show her Southeast Utah Group Annual Pass. As we went past the admissions booth, we were dismayed to see a large wooden sign declaring the campground was full. We’d woken early and emerged from the van into a frosty morning to eat a quick breakfast and get on the road. Could the campground really be full this early in the day? The Lady said she’d double check on the campground’s status when she went inside to show her pass.

I stayed outside to check the transmission fluid level in my van. The Lady returned to the parking lot triumphant. There was space in the campground! The woman in the visitor center said they never removed the sign that said the campground was full, but that morning they’d received no report that all of the campsites were occupied.

(Excuse me, but what’s the point of a sign that’s supposed to report the status of a changeable situation but is never removed?)

The Lady and I hopped into the van and drove directly to Willow Flat Campground. We pulled in and saw a site that seemed unoccupied. We certainly saw no personal belongings anywhere on the site. There was a piece of yellow paper clipped to the sign pole in front of the site. Upon examining the yellow paper, we found written on it that day’s date. It appeared that the folks who’d stayed on the site the night before were scheduled to check out that morning and had in fact already left. Score! We had our site!

I pulled the van onto the flat asphalt parking pad. We got out of the van and looked around. Was there a camp host we should see? Should we look for a self-pay envelope and an iron ranger?

Across the paved road that ran through the campground, an elderly couple was bustling around on their campsite. They seemed to be packing up, so I supposed they could tell me the process to go through to pay for a campsite.

Hello! I called out to them, or perhaps I said, Excuse me, as I walked into the street and approached their site. Is there a camp host here? I asked once I had their attention.

A what? they both asked, not quite in unison.

I thought the problem was one of hearing, so I repeated, A camp host? a bit louder.

A what? they both asked again in utter confusion.

A camp host, I said once again, then added, the person you pay for your campsite.

You pay with an envelope, the old man said, pointing. He and the woman continued to look at me as if I were a very strange person using an obviously fabricated term to confuse them. How was it possible they’d never encountered the term “camp host”? Was this their first camping trip? Obviously, not every campground has a camp host, but these people seemed unaware of the very concept. However, they had answered my question about where to pay, so I thanked them and moved on.

The Lady and I walked in the direction the old man had pointed and found self-pay envelopes and the iron ranger.

Our campsite in Willow Flat Campground

The camping fee was $15, as expected from what we’d read online. For our money we got clean pit toilets with toilet paper, trash cans, a flat space to park the van, a fire ring, and a picnic table under a shade structure. The grounds of the campground were very clean and well-maintained.

When The Lady and I read the information boards near the iron ranger, we learned about the procedure for disposing of grey water. We were either supposed to strain all food out of wash water, then sprinkle the de-fooded water on the road or dispose of nonstrained water by pouring it into one of the pit toilets. I’d never heard of this sort of cleanup, but I suspect it’s to keep wild animals away from campers.  I suppose even the smallest food particles on the ground attracts critters, so this is a way to keep the campground unappealing to unwanted visitors.

After dinner, The Lady and I went to the Green River Overlook to watch the sun set. Unfortunately, the sunset was a non-event, but we were still glad to have our spot at Willow Flat. We were in the van soon after dark, early to bed with plans to rise early for sunrise at Mesa Arch.


 I took all the photos in this post.



It was the morning of the first day of training for my seasonal job. About a dozen of us workers sat in the small conference room of a shabby Best Western, learning the ins and outs of our jobs on the mountain.

We were wrapping up from a short break when The Big Boss Man said for all to hear, Blaize, it’s a picture of your van!

He was looking at his phone, so I thought a visitor had posted on some review site a photo that included my van. The real story was much more complicated than that.

The message my boss received came from the Forest Service. A visitor to the trail had taken a photo of my van in the parking lot and sent the photo with a message to someone in the Forest Service, but whether the message went to some national email address or directly to someone local, I have no idea.

This is the iron ranger The Man and I were accused of robbing.

This is the (paraphrased) story the visitor told in the message to the Forest Service: The visitor was in the parking lot and saw a van pull up to the iron ranger and two people who didn’t look like they belonged there retrieved the money from the iron ranger. The people seemed to be “under the influence.” After taking the envelopes from the iron ranger, the two shady people stayed in the area, probably to hit other locations.

I don’t know what day or time the reported incident occurred. The Man and I had gone together to empty the iron ranger a few times in the six days we’d been on the mountain before we received this report. Depending on what day the visitor saw us empty the iron ranger, the circumstances were slightly different. The Man thinks the incident probably happened the day he opened the ranger and 35 or 40 envelopes fell into his lap, causing him to yell exuberantly to me, Honey! Honey! Get a bag! Get a bag! I think the incident happened the day I emptied the iron ranger, then The Man and I stayed in the area (parking lot, campground, trail, highway) picking up trash. In any case, please allow me to separate the fact from the fiction in the visitor’s tale.

FACT: The company I work for does not provide me with a vehicle to drive between campgrounds, so I drive my van to the parking lot when I go there to retrieve money from the iron ranger. My van sports no decals or magnets with the company logo. So, yes, the visitor did see my hippie van with out-of-state plates in the parking lot. There is no disputing that the van in the photo is indeed my van.

FICTION: Two people who didn’t belong there retrieved the money from the iron ranger.

FACT:  The Man and I very much belonged there. We were on the company payroll, with instructions to empty the iron ranger.

It seems to me that seeing us emptying the iron ranger in broad daylight would have been a clue we belonged there. It seems to me the fact that we had a key to unlock the padlock protecting the money would have been a clue we were authorized to retrieve the envelopes.

FACT: To be fair, we weren’t in regulation uniforms. I had not been issued uniform pants, so I was wearing a uniform shirt, my uniform jacket, and my nametag from last season along with a pair of tan Carhartt-type pants. The Man was wearing a uniform shirt and uniform jacket with grey sweatpants because he was on his way to paint and didn’t want to ruin his uniform pants before the season even began.

So maybe our attire did not scream professional, but if the concerned citizen had spoken to us, even casually, we could have explained who we were and what we were doing there.

FICTION: We were “under the influence” (presumably of some illicit chemical substance).

FACT: We were certainly not under the influence of any illicit chemical substance. I don’t know where the visitor got that idea. Maybe because we were laughing and joking? Maybe the visitor thinks only people who are chemically altered can have a good time at work?

FACT: Yes, we stayed in the area after we emptied the iron ranger. We either went next door to the campground to work there, or we spent the next couple of hours picking up trash.

Honestly, I’m not upset my boss was contacted, although I have to admit I’m a bit miffed about that “under the influence” part. I know The Man and I were doing nothing wrong. However, why can’t people just talk to each other? If the concerned citizen had only spoken to me or The Man, we could have cleared everything up.



Survey Says


One Saturday morning, I arrived at the parking lot and saw a sign which read Traffic Survey Ahead. When I asked my coworker what was going on, he pointed to a man wearing a fluorescent orange vest and a large straw hat. The man had set up a car counter across the entrance to the parking lot. He was supposed to survey people after they walked the trail. My coworker was unclear on who this guy worked for, but the man had assured my coworker the results would go all the way to Congress.

Before the lot got busy Survey Guy tried to chat with me and my coworker. After all the hours he’d spent in the library working on his master’s degree in history, he was excited to have an outdoor job for the summer, he told us. I think he was trying to impress us, but he failed miserably. I just don’t think being in grad school necessarily means a person’s smart. This guy cam across as a big, bumbling loser. He was trying too hard, and he didn’t say anything witty or intelligent or thought-provoking.

Survey Guy thought he’d have an easy day surveying the few people who came through the parking lot, enjoy the cool mountain air. He seemed really surprised when we got slammed and the lot filled with cars and the cars kept coming. No way was this guy going to be able to interview all the trail visitors who parked in the lot.

I watched Survey Guy all day, even after my coworker went home. I only saw Survey Guy talk to white folks. Maybe he’s talking to other people when I can’t see him, I thought, but I doubted it when I saw him walk right past a young Latino family without even asking if they had time to answer some questions.

The next day when my coworker and I rehashed Survey Guy’s visit, I said, He only talked to white people! My coworker said he’d noticed the same thing. We agreed that only surveying white people would not give an accurate representation of the variety of tourists who actually visit the trail. We also agreed we were glad Survey Guy was gone.

Of course, he came back a few weeks later. We figured he’d gotten hot at home and wanted to spend the day in the (relatively) cool mountain air. Also, My wife’s been acting really weird! he announced, then told us he’d figured out the next day was her birthday, I gave my coworker a knowing look. In addition to the cool mountain air theory, I’d predicted his appearance at the parking lot was related to wanting to get away from his wife on a Saturday afternoon.

Survey Guy got his folding chair and put it between my coworker’s perch on the metal trash can and the iron ranger where my coworker sets his clipboard. Every time a car pulled into the parking lot, my coworker had to reach over Survey Guy to get the clipboard holding his day passes.

When my coworker left for the day, I moved my chair into the shade next to the iron ranger. I moved Survey Guy’s chair as far from mine as possible, which put him right next to the trash can. I didn’t even feel bad.

I told myself I wasn’t going to engage with Survey Guy. I wasn’t going to speak to him, I wasn’t going to acknowledge him. I was going to do my job and let him do his, and there would be no interaction.

However, after seeing him interview another white family, I could no longer hold my tongue. When he plopped down in his chair, I asked him, Is this just a white people survey? Because I’ve noticed you’re only talking to white people.

He told me I didn’t realize how hard he’d been working. Since he didn’t speak Hispanic, he could only survey people who spoke English. He tried to listen to Asians and Hispanics talking before he approached them. If he didn’t hear folks he perceived as non-English speakers actually speaking English, he didn’t even try to talk to them. Apparently Survey Guy did not understand that some people are bilingual.

About that time, my boss drove into the parking lot, and I had to remove my attention from Survey Guy. However, during my conversation with my boss, I looked over and saw Survey Guy interviewing a Latino family. About time! They seemed to be communicating just fine.

My shift ended, and I left the parking lot before Survey Guy.

When I arrived for my shift on Sunday, the car counter was still stretched across the parking lot’s entrance and chained to the gate. My coworker and I wondered if Survey Guy had forgotten to take the car counter with him when he’d gone home the day before or if he’d left it on purpose to pad his results since he’d arrived so late the day before.

We’re not going to see him today, I told my coworker. It’s his wife’s birthday.

I was wrong. He showed up later in the morning. He’d served his wife breakfast in bed, which seemed to have been enough of a birthday present for her. (She probably had really low expectations.)

Survey Guy packed up the car-counting equipment, but before he left, he approached my co-worker.

I cost you about $20 yesterday, he said.

Oh? my coworker said.

I took this photo of the iron ranger labeled "Pay Here."

I didn’t think that thing worked anymore, he said, pointing to the iron ranger, which is clearly labeled “Pay Here.”

Some people wanted to pay me, Survey Guy said. I told them I didn’t work here. Then I told them the iron ranger was broken. I didn’t realize it wasn’t broken until the other woman [the camp host at the campground next door] came over and opened it. So I probably cost you about $20.

(Why would a broken iron ranger be left in a fee area? Why would a broken iron ranger be labeled “Pay Here”? In what way could an iron ranger be broken?)

My coworker held out his hand. You can pay me now, he said.

Unfortunately, Survey Guy took it as a joke.

I can’t stand it when people get over-involved in something that isn’t their business. All Survey Guy had to say was, I don’t work here collecting money. From there, people would have either figured it our or not. He didn’t  have to tell people anything was broken.

Survey Guy left. We haven’t seen him again. I hope it stays that way.

I took the photo in this post.








Dear Dog Owners


Dear Dog Owners,

When I’m working in the parking lot (or at any other time, for that matter), I do not want to discuss dog feces.

I know what you’re carrying in the small plastic bags. I don’t want to hear about it.

I don’t want to listen to you ramble on about your dog’s ability to know exactly when you are at the midpoint of any walk so it can take a dump there and force you to carry the bag of “poop” for as long as possible.

(By the way, when did we as a society decide on “poop” as our acceptable term to use when referring to feces? Why can we not say “feces”? “Poop” may be a cute word, but using it doesn’t make bodily waste any cuter.)

When you put the little plastic bag full of your dog’s feces in the trash can, don’t tell me you’re leaving me a “present.” Don’t tell me it will be there later when I’m ready for it. You may think you’re making a funny little joke, but you’re not. You’re being gross, not charming, and I don’t want to hear it.

If you’re going to do me a favor and put the bag of doggy waste in a trash can by the restrooms instead of in the one I sit near during my shift, thank you, but don’t tell me all about it. Yes, I know shit stinks. Yes, I appreciate not having to smell shit every time someone opens the trash can. But you’re not going to get any extra heaven points if you tell me all about the great favor you’re doing me.

Hey, I know it’s embarrassing to carry around a bag full of fecal matter. That’s why we don’t need to talk about it. Here’s what you do: Walk directly to the trash can. Don’t stop to make chitchat. Open the trash can’s lid. Deposit the bag of fecal matter in the trash can. Replace the lid. Don’t say anything about what you just did! Don’t worry, I won’t say anything either. We’ll pretend it never happened. It’s ok. Some things don’t need to be discussed.

If your dog defecates anywhere in the parking lot, for goodness sake, pick up the waste and dispose of it properly. Don’t leave the feces where it fell to collect giant blue flies until I notice it and pick it up. Your dog and your dog’s feces = your responsibility.

And while I have your attention: Don’t let your dog piss on the iron ranger. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. You should pay attention to where your dog is squatting or raising a leg. But if you’re not paying attention and I ask you not to let your dog pee on the iron ranger, don’t get all offended and tell me your dog wouldn’t do that. You dog would so do that, especially if your dog is male. But we workers have to put our hands on that iron ranger when we extract the self-pay envelopes, and we’d prefer not to touch dog piss while we’re doing it.


Your parking lot attendant


If You’re Refusing to Pay


Sometimes people who want to park in the parking lot also want to have philosophical discussions about whether or not they should have to pay to park on National Forest land.

One Wednesday morning, there were cars already parked in the lot when I arrived. I kept an eye on folks coming off the trail and asked them if they’d put their parking fee in the iron ranger. I asked one guy if he’d paid the fee, and he said he only had a $20 bill. I told him I could make change.

As I was writing the day pass he didn’t need since he was about to leave, he started talking about some lawsuit and court decision related to charging fees to park on public land. From what I understood, someone sued some governmental agency for charging folks a fee to park on public land. A judge decided it’s unlawful to charge people simply to park. In order to charge a day use fee, there has to be something more substantial than a portable toilet and a picnic table available for use; a day use area has to include some sort of improvement if a fee is to be charged.

I tried to justify the improvements this parking lot/day use area offers. Instead of one picnic table, we offer five picnic tables, and we don’t just have a port-a-potty, we have two gen-u-ine pit toilets in a (fancy?) little building. Also, we don’t offer only parking in the dirt; we have asphalt parking too.

Of course, the guy didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. He’d already made up his mind that he didn’t want to pay, and nothing coming out of my mouth short of no charge was going to make him happy. It didn’t even matter to him that the ruling he was talking about obviously didn’t apply to the (much improved) day use area/parking lot he was standing in.

Another time a guy wanted to have a debate while stopped in the parking lot’s entrance lane. I tried to answer his questions, although I honestly don’t know why none of a variety of federal and state passes apply to our parking lot. I don’t know why we don’t give military/disabled/disabled veteran discounts. I don’t know why folks have to pay to park even though it’s federal land which we as taxpayers own.

All I know is that my job is to stand there and collect $5 for each car parked within our gates.

So the guy driving the truck was asking me a bunch of questions I didn’t know the answers to, which was well and good for him, as he was sitting in his vehicle, out of the sun. I was standing in the sun, getting hotter and less patient.

Finally I said, If you’re refusing to pay…planning to follow up with…there’s not really anything I can do about it.

That’s the truth too. I can speak firmly and authoritatively, but I have no way to make people do anything. I don’t write tickets. (Thank goodness!) I don’t carry a gun. (Double thank goodness!) I have no access to a phone, so I can’t call anyone with authority to kick people out. If a visitor refuses to pay to park, I can’t grab him/her by the ankles, flip him/her upside down, and shake the money out of his/her pockets. All I can do if someone refuses to pay is shrug and walk away.

But all I had to say was, If you’re refusing to pay…and the guy changed his tune.

Oh! Oh no! He sounded surprised. I’m not refusing to pay, he said as if he were wondering how I’d possibly ever gotten that idea. He pulled out his money real fast. He wasn’t refusing to pay. Not him. He was paying!

I figure my hourly wage is too low to compel me to get into philosophical discussions with visitors. I’ll have to get paid $15 an hour before I feel obligated to engage in philosophical discussions.