Tag Archives: pit toilet

Line for the Restroom

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It turned out to be an unusually busy Monday at the Mercantile. The Fourth of July was two days away, and lots of people must have taken vacation time and left the city to visit our mountain. The other store clerk was about to leave for the day, so I took one more bathroom break.

This photo shows the restroom building the women were lined up outside of. The lined formed on the left, outside the door marked “women.”

When I stepped onto the Mercantile’s porch, I saw quite a line of women outside one of the restrooms, but not a single person standing in front of the other one. Those particular restrooms still had signs labeling the one on the right for men and the one on the left for women, but in reality, the restrooms are identical. Each has a hole in the floor leading to a lined pit in the ground. Over the hole in the floor sits a tall plastic toilet that provides a seat and a lid and some distance from what’s in the hole in the ground. Any person of any gender can pull down pants or lift up skirt, sit on the seat, and deposit waste material into the pit. When the pit is full of waste material, a pumper truck (like those that clean out porta-potties) comes up the mountain, pumps out the waste material, and hauls it away.

I’ve never been one for strict restroom segregation, especially when the restroom consists of one toilet behind a door that locks. While I would not saunter into a men’s room with a row of urinals and multiple stalls, if I’m alone with the toilet, what difference does the sign on the door make? Yep, I’m the gal at the bar who’d go to the deserted men’s room if there was a line in front of the ladies’. I’m not going to pee my pants in order to help uphold some made-up gender norms.

So I walked out of the Mercantile and saw that line of women and girls in front of one restroom and not a single person in front of the other restroom. I knew which one I’d be using despite the designation on the door.

As I walked out of the Mercantile, a grown woman was yelling through the closed restroom door to the person who’d just gone in, Don’t sit on the seat! Don’t sit on the seat!

By the time I approached the little building housing the two pit toilets, a little girl had walked up to the still closed restroom door and was screeching, Hurry up Savannah! Do you know there are seven people in line, Savannah?

I bypassed the entire group, and I approached the restroom which had no line. I knocked on the door and received no response, so I pulled it open. The room was empty and not even dirty! I locked the door and did what needed to be done.

Savannah may have exited the other restroom by the time I came out, but at least one more woman had joined the line. Still there was no one waiting for the restroom I was exiting. Apparently these ladies needed specific permission to throw off their gender shackles and use the unoccupied restroom. I would be the superhero to give them their permission.

There’s no waiting in that one, I said to the line of woman and tossed my head to indicate the empty restroom.

But…that’s…we thought…one of the adult women stammered.

It’s all the same hole, I said matter-of-factly as I strode toward the Mercantile.

When I looked back the adult woman who didn’t believe in sitting on the seat and several of the girls had formed a line in front of the restroom I’d just used. I’m proud to have helped them make their gender shackles just a little weaker.

I took the photo in this post.

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.