Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks

ranger confidentialEver wonder what National Park rangers talk about when they swap war stories over a beer? In Ranger Confidential, Andrea Lankford offers you a chance to find out with this collection of related stories – a wonderful view into the nitty-gritty of rangers’ lives.

National parks are small, self-contained towns and must provide all the services that implies, from jails to restaurants. As one ranger noted, they are “cops, firemen, EMTs, and game wardens! All of the fun stuff in one job.”

The format allows you to dip in and out of chapters, hearing about the lives and experiences of several rangers, including the author. As you’d expect, these stories are the “most.” Most stupid, most frustrating, most unfair, most drunk.

Park visitors bring all the troubles of society with them.

  • Many of the stories are not G-rated. Early in the book one ranger arrests a man caught masturbating over a woman who was asleep on a beach.
  • There are kidnappings, fights, and nuts trying to blow rocks off Yosemite waterfalls with home made bombs.
  • Bureaucratic frustrations abound – you can’t apply for a full time (with benefits – an important point) federal job unless you have a full time federal job.
  • Climbing accidents can be horrific, and rescue or recovery dangerous.
  • Suicides are traumatic for responders, and there was a flurry of people driving their cars off the edge into the Grand Canyon after a popular movie ended with that very act.
  • “Tombstone humor” is common. Upon finding the decomposing body of a fallen climber after a long search, one ranger comments “I don’t think he’ll make it.”
  • Locals are often angry at rangers for enforcing rules so a night off “in town” can turn unpleasant. “Pine pigs” is one taunt.
  • Concession employees who live in the park can be as dangerous as visitors, with drunken fights and rapes.

Animals figure in stories, too.

Scorpion karma is one I liked – in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the highly unpleasant bark scorpion is hard to spot and delivers a vicious venomous sting. Rangers became convinced that if you kill one, the others target you for vengeance. Pity the ranger who accidentally knocked five babies off a mother scorpion’s back. After two stings, he’s left dreading the three still to come.

Sometimes rangers die, and there’s a scene at the scattering of one man’s ashes.

Employees gathered… to witness the ranger’s ‘last call.’ When we heard the helicopters coming, we turned to face the canyon. The uniformed rangers turned up the volume on their radios, and the patrol cars and fire trucks played the transmission.

‘Calling Five-Four-Nine Schaffer’ said a steady-voiced dispatcher. Moments later, three rescue helicopters buzzed over our heads… one of them peeled out of formation and descended straight into the Grand Canyon.

‘Ranger Five-Four-Nine… Good luck on your next mission.

There are also some wonderful descriptions of parks and animals, too. After all, these are people who give up a lot in terms of salary and comforts to be park rangers.

What others say
Ranger Confidential has a 4 1/2 star rating on Amazon, and ranks 11th in the Memoirs/ Ecotourism category – even 30th in Memoirs/Law Enforcement.

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