It was early in the season, before any of the campgrounds on our side of the mountain opened. The Man and I were already at work preparing campgrounds and making sure no one walked off with any yurt components.
Although it was officially my day off, I’d told The Big Boss Man I’d empty the iron ranger in the parking lot and make sure the restrooms there had toilet paper on my way to babysit the yurts at night. Babysitting the yurts simply meant sleeping in my van in the campground where they were located, and dropping off toilet paper and emptying the iron ranger only took a few minutes, so I didn’t mind helping out.
I’d been cleaning up an unfortunate honey spill in the big food tub in my van, so I got a late start heading to the parking lot. It was about 6:30 in the evening when I got there, and while it wasn’t dark, the sun was no longer shining brightly on the mountain.
I stopped at the restroom first and found there was still toilet paper on the holders. The rolls were less than half full, but I figured few people would be arriving so late in the day and the tissue would last through the night. I decided I’d stop at the parking lot again in the morning to make sure everything was ok, and I’d put out new rolls then.
As I drove around the road that looped through the parking area, I saw a full-blown campfire in one of the picnic areas. I pulled my van over and got out to talk to the two young men standing near the fire. They looked hella nervous as I approached.
Hello! I said. Are y’all just hanging out?
They planned to camp here, the one with the long hair admitted. He had a strong French accent, but spoke English well.
I explained they were in a day use area where camping was not allowed.
They said the woman at the Forest Service office had said they could camp at the campground next door. They seemed hopeful about the possibility of camping there.
No, I’m sorry, I told them. All the campgrounds around here are closed.
(I obviously don’t know what the lady at the Forest Service office told them, but it seems a little strange that a Forest Service employee would say they could camp in a facility not scheduled to open for over two weeks.)
I told the young men about nearby dispersed camping areas and then told them the fire had to be completely out when they left. Do y’all have water? I asked.
Oh yes, the one with the long hair said while the one with glasses pointed to a half-full one-gallon container sitting next to the fire. I was thinking a half gallon of water wasn’t going to put out a campfire when the one with long hair said they had three such containers. I figured at least two of them must be full and 2½ gallons of water could put the fire out if they were smart about how they used it.
I didn’t really like the idea of them having the fire in the parking area, but I didn’t think there was a rule against it. They said they had a fire permit, and having a fire in the parking area didn’t seem all that different from having a fire in a dispersed camping area. I stressed again the need to put the fire completely out before they left, and they assured me they would. I walked over to the iron ranger.
As I sat on the ground unlocking the padlock hidden within the iron ranger, a car pulled into the parking lot, ignored the yellow arrow on the road pointing in the opposite direction, and drove the wrong way to a parking space. A very young couple emerged from the car and began to walk toward the trail. I was standing by then, a pile of self-pay envelopes in my hand. I greeted the couple, and I guessed from the fellow’s accent when he responded to me that they were not Americans.
You can put your $5 access fee in a self-pay envelope, I said, gesturing to the empty self-pay envelopes in the holder, and drop the envelope into the iron ranger. At that point in my monologue, I gestured to the iron ranger.
The fellow and the woman both looked uncomfortable. Maybe they didn’t have $5. If they had told me they had no money, I would have told them no problem and invited them to enjoy the trail. Instead the fellow said they would be there one minute to make a picture.
I’m getting ready to leave, I told them. Let your conscience be your guide.
They both looked hella guilty and uncomfortable, but they moved toward the trail without taking an envelope, much less putting $5 in one and dropping it into the iron ranger. I got in van and left. I’d done all I could to get a payment out of them.