As I begin the last few weeks of my internship here at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (BLCA), the stress of figuring out what the “next step” will be, is at an all time high. Luckily, this week gave me a little hope as to what I need to do, which is trust myself, and honestly pursue what I love. Earlier this week during my interpretation days, instead of holding down the visitor center, another Ranger and I got to go out to one of our back country trails called Red Rock Canyon. This lottery only area, is traveled by those lucky enough to be selected out of a lottery of applicants in order to decrease constant visitor travelers. Earlier in the week a visitor reported a Big Horn Sheep kill about 200 yards from the beginning of the trail. In addition to myself and a fellow ranger, two law enforcement rangers accompanied us, as well as a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Biologist. Finally, some real life wildlife documentation that goes beyond game cameras and sightings that I only know about through word-of-mouth.
The smell hit me before the sight of the body did, and let me tell you, nothing eliminates any appetite you might have had previously had than a rotting corpse. Of course, my excitement to see one in the first place went beyond the horrid smell that accompanied it. We knew that this was a mountain lion kill based on how it was buried under a pile of grass and leaves. Further inspection done by the Wildlife Biologist, who had come to collect the head for nasal samples, told us that it was indeed a mountain lion kill based on the puncture wounds around the neck and deep scratch marks under the skin. The next question was; how are we going to get pictures of this mountain lion coming back for its meal without any solid trees nearby to put up a game camera? Being the curious field scientists we are, we decided the haul the body across a stream and up a mountain side to get the perfect angle for game camera pics. Although I did not have to do any of the heavy lifting, I can tell you about size of this big boy based on that fact that it took four grown men to drag this eight year old Big Horn Sheep a mere few hundred yards.
After positioning the body and setting up the camera, I had the opportunity to talk to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Biologist and discuss how he attained the position he was holding. His honesty about pursuing a masters and the amount of time it took to finally land this type of job was not surprising to hear in the least, but I was grateful that I wasn’t behind the curve in getting started in my field experience now.
The next stop on our agenda for the day was to hike into the canyon by a possible trail extension area to put up another game camera in an area known for a lot of bear activity. Based on the amount of fresh bear scat I almost stepped in, I think it is safe to say that the camera we put up will have some quality bear pictures. I can also say that the amount of Oak Brush we had to push our way through without sliding down the steep hillside in the mud makes this camera location not fun to get to in the slightest, but the trip with be definitely worth it!
My day ended with a meeting with a meeting with Roger Semler, Chief of the Wilderness Stewardship Division, and Bruce Noble, Superintendent of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park & Curecanti National Recreation Area. Knowing that Roger made the 9 hour trip from a wilderness convention to meet me was a true honor, and being able to meet with him is a definite high light of my internship experience. We discussed wilderness character, my role here at BLCA, and future plans that I was considering. He asked me about my opinion of working in a Washington D.C. office, where he resides, and the first thing that came out of my mouth was, ” Well, would I be in the field?” He laughed and told me no, and I told him how being in the field and doing what I am doing now by gaining experience through internships like this is definitely something that makes my heart beat fast and pursuing a career as a Wildlife Biologist who has the option to continue projects like observing the dead Big Horn sheep earlier today, travel through the great vastness of wilderness this world has to offer, and being in the field daily, is something I want to focus on for right now. Roger surprisingly really enjoyed my honesty and determined state of mind and offered himself as a contact in pursuing specific fellowships for the future, which is an amazing connection that I am incredibly happy to have. One day, after I have had my wilderness field experience, I may try to secure an office in the Wilderness Stewardship Division with Roger, but that career path is not for several years from now.
I described my meeting to fellow coworkers at BLCA and they were shocked that I did not jump on the huge pay grade that the offices in Washington D.C. had to offer and thought that my answer was incorrect. Although I highly value their opinions on my meeting due to their years of experience, I cannot help but say that their opinions are not going to decide my happiness or alter the career paths that I want to explore. I have learned in life that I need to trust myself and be honest with what is going to make me happy and act on what I am truly passionate about. I stand by my answer to Roger and I can only look forward to the doors that open for me by working with him and continue on this wilderness adventure.