At the beginning of April, I started RV Job #2 at Petrified Forest
National Park, near Holbrook, AZ. This time I would be an Interpretive
Guide, one of the folks who give programs about the various resources in
the park. Since I was starting in the so-called “swing season” there
was no formal training set up for me. When I arrived and checked in at
the Interpretive office, I was handed a backpack with about 30 pounds of
books in it. I started reading.
the first two weeks I roamed through the park: walking the Rim Trail,
and the trails at Blue Mesa, Crystal Forest, and Giant Logs; stopping at
the turnouts at Tawa Point, Kachina Point, Nizhoni, Whipple and Lacey
Points, Jasper Forest; listening to the “real” rangers give their
programs at Puerco Pueblo Ruins, the Painted Desert Inn and Rainbow
Forest Museum. Finally, I was scheduled to do my own programs at those
places. And, when I wasn’t doing programs, I walked the trails talking
with visitors and answering questions, or helped out at the visitor
centers. On most of my working days I walked 3-7 miles – good exercise!
Job #2 also required four 8-hour days per week. The schedule varied
however. The park is open from 7am to 6pm (7pm after May 8), so there
are two and then three different shifts for the interpretive division.
Some weeks it was 6:45 to 3:15; the next week it might be 10:45 to 7:15
or 8:45 to 5:15. That took a little getting used to.
Electric, water and sewer hookups are provided in a small (six sites) VIP area. There were only a few of us; several sites remained empty. No propane is provided here, so that first month or so I’d take my 20-pounder to Holbrook each week to get propane, and load up on groceries at the very expensive Safeway market. There’s a Wal-Mart in Winslow, about 50 miles away – I went once.
Cell service was very good at the north end of the park where we lived – spottier in the south end. I also had a fine internet connection at my site with my Verizon USB modem. And, I was delighted to discover that there was an NPR station I could receive. No TV – no loss.
The altitude at RV Job #2 was 5300-6000 feet – this represented an increase of over 3000 feet for me. I’ve been told it takes a good three months to adjust – I was frequently out of breath. And, if you go to Petrified Forest in the spring, you must be prepared for the wind; it starts by mid-morning and many afternoons there are gusts between 40-50 mph. One day, we had gusts around 60 mph.
I was warned about the wind when I first arrived and there were a few afternoons when I got anxious, thinking Mehitabel would be blown over. It can be difficult giving your talk to visitors when the wind is blowing. I was also told that by June I'd be wishing for the wind to come back. I did.
The amenities provided for the volunteers are not nearly as extensive or as nice as those provided at Organ Pipe Cactus NM. There is a recreation room with a satellite TV; there is a refrigerator there, but it is for everyone in park housing, not just volunteers, so I didn’t use it. There are two small laundry rooms, with just one washer and dryer each. They weren’t very clean – sort of like the old basement laundry area – and they were available for everyone, not just the volunteers. We discovered that very early in the morning was the best time to use them – unless someone had left stuff in the machines overnight.
But, if the amenities are disappointing, the park has many good hiking trails, the petrified logs are amazing, the Painted Desert is awesome, the people I worked with are great, and I loved being an interpretive guide. Many of the visitors are really curious and wanting to learn; it is fun meeting people from all over the world and chatting with them. My mind got plenty of exercise, too. Petrified Forest has a 225-million-year history and there’s plenty to learn about - geology, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology. I did read most of the books in that backpack!