With a warm smile and friendly greeting, I welcomed the vehicle full of young people to Canyonlands. As I leaned out the kiosk window to collect their $10 entrance fee, the acrimonious diatribe began. Abbreviated version: “You mean I have to pay to get into public land? Doesn’t it belong to all of us? I already paid at Arches, you mean I have to pay AGAIN? Is there free camping? What service are you providing? You don’t NEED services in a national park; just let people in to enjoy the land.” I listened and acknowledged their concerns, then began to calmly explain, but they did not want to hear it; their minds were made up. “This is ridiculous — we’re turning around.”
The splenetic young man in the next truck, same party, fairly spat out his words at me: “Standing here collecting $10 is NOT a service.” He squealed his tires as he drove off to follow his buddies.
The 20-somethings’ selfishness and rancor threw me. Something tells me they didn’t grow up seeing gratitude modeled, or respect, and it isn’t easy to learn these character qualities as adults.
Who provides clean toilets and toilet paper, prints maps, empties trash, plows roads, erases graffiti, installs water faucets for their safety? Who rescues them when they get lost or their car runs out of gas? Who maintains the trails they want to walk on, erects radio repeaters for communications, or takes their mounds of empty bottles to the recycling center 35 miles away? Who creates and installs signs so they can find their way in this wilderness? Who drives the 6,000-gallon water trucks up from Moab? Next time they need any of these things, perhaps the national park entrance fee would seem a reasonable exchange.
Yesterday a man let his two dogs out of his car just as I arrived at an overlook, and they took off running. “Sir? Your dogs are welcome here, but they must be on leashes.” “ANTI-ANIMAL,” he vented, as he whistled for his pets to return. When they got to his side, he loudly told the canines, “NOT YOUR FRIEND.” I took a deep breath to say something but chose to walk the other direction instead of getting tangled up in this miasma of emotion and strong opinion.
Most of my conversations with visitors are delightful, but ones like these drain my joy. I’m a Minnesotan, for crying out loud, and just want people to get along, be happy, and play by the rules. Four cars after the one that opened this post, an elderly Georgia gentleman with a long soft drawl showed me his senior pass, then said, “Do me a favor?” “Sure.” “You have a real wonderful day.” And off he drove.
And I did, by choice.
Leave a comment about some brief interaction you’ve had that startled you.