This week we loaded up the bus and headed out of the city into actual wilderness. It's the same actual wilderness we've gone to for many years (well, the same but now with one less spider). I'm familiar with its ugly bathrooms and their optional hand-washing policy, and know the trail pretty well. Ah, yes. This is the spot where you can sometimes see deer. The big rock with a carved out pothole the rangers always stop at. The mesmerizing view of the falls. The hollowed out tree that begs eight-year-olds to stick their heads in.
This year, though, our ranger put a somewhat different spin on the hike. He gave us some decent information on lichen and geology, but you could that tell his main objective really was to communicate how important it is to obey the rules of the Park Service.
At our first lookout stop, we spotted three climbers hoisting themselves up over some large boulders. The ranger blew his whistle, yelled at them to get off the rocks, and proceeded to launch into a mini-lecture to us on the importance of staying away from fenced off areas. Whatever else he was going to tell us about the river was nixed in favor of a list of the various calamities that would certainly transpire should anyone fail to heed the chain link warning. Do we want to harm rare plant species? No! Do we want to plummet to our death? Heck no! Stay on our side of the fence we shall, Ranger Andy!
A few trail turns and one muddy-knee clean-up later, the ranger gathered everyone around for another talk. This time, the subject was the hiking path. Specifically, staying on it. He motioned to the right, where apparently many park visitors like to diverge from the path, and listed off, well, the various calamities that would certainly transpire should anyone fail to stick to the path. Do we want to let our human scent cause the animals to avoid this area? Do we want to get poison ivy? Certainly not, Ranger Andy.
As we neared the end of the trail loop, we walked by a stretch of red caution tape tied between two trees and I knew we were in for another Ranger Andy talk. Calamities...transpire...entering a roped-off area. Got it. Stay out.
And thus concluded our ranger-led tour of what to stay away from, stay on, or stay out of. We might not have seen any deer or lizards, but we sure learned plenty about the dos and don'ts of national parks!