Tag Archives: pit toilet

High Maintenance

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I was walking down the incline leading to the restrooms. I’d been at the front of the parking lot putting self-pay envelopses into their holder, and now I was heading down to the restrooms to check the toilet paper supply.

I saw the woman open the restroom door, look inside and squeal with disgust. Look at that! she said to her male companion.

Oh no, I thought, imagining what the woman was seeing in there to cause such revulsion.

Where do you even wash your hands? the woman asked her companion in utter disbelief.

Theres no water here, I told the couple. No water in the campgrounds on this mountain either. That’s what the drought’s done. There used to be water here, but now the well’s dry.

The woman looked at me increduously. The fellow was grinning slightly.

What did you see in the restroom? I asked the woman. Did someone do something gross?

No, she said a little sheepishly. I was just being high maintenance.

I chuckled when she called herself high maintenance. She didn’t look high maintenance–no high heels, no elaborate makeup or fingernails or hairdo, no inappropriate-for-spending-time-in-nature clothing–but standing in the doorway or a restroom that’s not really dirty and making sounds of disgust does make a person seem high maintenance in my eyes.

If you enjoyed this story, check out my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. It’s all about my two seasons as a camp host and parking lot attendant at a very popular trailhead.

I took the photos in this post.

Terrible Experience

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This photo shows the Double Arch, right across from where we utilized the pit toilets before starting our hike to see the North and South Windows.

I’d stepped out of the little building housing the pit toilet and was waiting for The Lady of the House to step out of the little building she’d gone into. We were in Arches National Park, near the Windows Trail. We were on our epic road trip, and we were having a great time.

I was standing to one side of the walkway. Two women passed me and went to the front of the pit toilet buildings. They were older than I am, probably in thier early to mid 60s. One woman was wearing a rather bashed up black cowgirl hat glittering with black sequins. The woman with the hat looked at her companion and declared, This is going to be a terrible experience.

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought it a shame she’d decided what kind of experience she was going to have before she even allowed herself to experience her actual experience.

My experience with the pit toilets throughout the national parks we visited was that they weren’t so bad. They all had toilet paper, most offered hand sanitizer, and none disgusted me. The Lady and I ulilized one at a scenic overlook at the very end of the day, and we both noticed the floor could have used a sweep and the outside of the risers could have used a wipe, but it was still on the pleasant end of the pit toilet spectrum.

Some of the pit toilets we encountered were smelly, but that’s the nature of decaying of animal (human or otherwise) waste. Folks who flush away their excrement don’t always realize the pit toilet stench is a normal result of the process of decay. Sometimes they don’t seem to realize that loudly complaining about the stink isn’t going to make it go away.

I think perhaps this sign I saw in the pit toilets thoughout the national parks in Utah is helping to keep things clean.

I can tell you from experience, finding feces on the floor near a pit toilet is a terrible experience. Having to clean up the feces is even worse. I wonder if the lady in the black sequined cowgirl hat had ever had that experience.

I took the photos in this post.

How Do They Work?

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It was dusk when the car pulled into the campground. It stopped near the information board, and I walked over to find out if the folks inside were looking for a camping spot. Three young women got out of the car. They seemed to be in their mid 20s.

I asked if they were looking for a campsite. They said they were.

I told them the price to camp ($20) and gave them the rundown on the campground’s lack of amenities: no water, no electricity, no hooks-ups of any kind. (I find it better to tell people right up front what we don’t offer so there’s no disappointment after the fee has been paid.)

After I said, No water, one of the women asked if the campground had restrooms. I told her there were pit toilets.

She asked, How do they work?

I was flabbergasted. I guess she’d never before encountered pit toilets, but don’t the phrases no water and pit toilet paint a pretty clear picture? Apparently not.

I hemmed and hawed and sputtered, unsure of how to answer in a polite and nongross manner. The question caught me completely by surprise. I realize now I should have said, There’s a hole with a plastic toilet over it. Waste material goes into the hole. When the hole gets full, the waste products are pumped out.

This is a pit toilet. It works thanks to gravity.

This is a pit toilet. It works thanks to gravity.

The next day when I saw my co-worker, I told him the story of the young woman who wanted to know how the pit toilet worked.  He provided me with a succinct, elegant answer: Gravity.