The Lady of the House and I arrived at the visitor center at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the day. We may have been the first visitors in after the doors were unlocked.
Two people were working at the information desk/checkout counter that morning, a young man with a beard and an older woman with straight grey hair. They talked to each other as The Lady and I looked at the souvenirs in the corner of the building that served as a gift shop.
We hadn’t been in the building long when another visitor came inside. I didn’t pay her much mind, but from what I saw out of the corner of my eye, she was old enough to be my mother and well-dressed. She made a beeline to the counter where the Park Service employees stood.
I have a question, she told them, but I’m going to wait until my husband gets in here.
I don’t know why she even started talking before her husband made his entrance. I guess she was excited.
The husband walked in within minutes and the question turned out to concern the Elephant Hill Road.
The couple had a rented four-wheel-drive vehicle, and they wanted to take it exploring on Elephant Hill Road.
According to information about Needles District trails and roads issued by Canyonlands National Park,
One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads…
It would be ok to drive their rented vehicle there, wouldn’t it, the visitor woman asked confidentally.
I don’t recommend it, the Park Service employee with the straight grey hair said gravely.
Really? The tourist woman asked in a tone of voice that made it plain she couldn’t believe her plan to drive on Elephant Hill Road was being thwarted. It was obvious she thought the Park Service worker was wrong.
Does your vehicle have a wench? the Park Service employee asked the couple. Do you have the capability to self-rescue?
Oh no, the husband said. Nothing like that.
I don’t recommend it, the worker repeated. If you get stuck, the Park Service won’t tow you out, and you’ll have to pay $2,500 for a towing company to get you out.
The Park Service employee asked them what they hoped to see, then helped them decide to go partway down Elephant Hill Road, but turn around before the road became too rugged for their vehicle.
(Let me say here, every employee I’ve encountered doing his or her job at any of the National Parks I’ve visited has been absolutely friendly and helpful, even when a visitor has been asking for something ridiculous or impossible. Without exception, the employees of National Parks I’ve seen interacting with the public have been professional to a degree I find awe inspiring. I consider folks who work for the National Parks in a class above all service industry employees, save perhaps for those employed in some capacity by Mickey Mouse. )
When we got back in the van, I asked The Lady if she’d heard that tourist woman get thwarted.
Oh yeah, The Lady said. She seemed so sure of herself.
The Lady and I made up the following story about the tourist couple: The woman had her heart set on driving Elephant Hill Road and was trying to convince her husband that the vehicle they had rented could handle it. The husband was skeptical.
Fine! We could image the woman saying, We’ll ask at the visitor center.
The way she said, Really? made it clear she hadn’t expected to be told no.
The way she said, Really? made me think she hears the word “no” on a highly infrequent basis.