The two dozen visitors began gathering nearly 30 minutes ahead of time, anxious to undertake their long-awaited ranger-led tour of the rock maze. Many had held tickets for weeks or months; all had read in a guidebook that this was the biggest “must-do” in all of Arches National Park. Some were unsure of their ability, which they expressed simply as “we’re older than we used to be.” I knew what they meant.
Trained to look for problems before they start, I immediately noticed one young woman wearing Chaco sandals for the strenuous trek instead of the normal boots/hikers. She had been instructed NOT to wear them but chose otherwise. A German family walked up with their children, the youngest of whom was four. Our tour website clearly says six is the minimum. “Oh, he is a good hiker,” were their famous last words. (Not.)
I had spent the 30-minute drive to the trailhead mentally preparing for these scenarios; if there is nothing I can do about a situation, I choose not to waste precious energy on it. In my most confident ranger voice the safety talk was delivered, my theme was introduced, and within minutes we were off down the hill toward the sandstone fins. The most apprehensive ones had been placed right behind me.
Emerging from the Furnace three hours later, we were all awestruck. The visitors were smitten by the stunning beauty of the rocks; I was shaking my head at the power of Story to engage people’s minds and hearts in learning about their world. In two miles and seven interpretive stops, they eagerly drank in tales of juniper trees, rock layers, and tiny pothole critters. They had no idea this was my inaugural tour. They had no idea my theme was elusive and often in seminal form. They had no idea I forgot my all-important transitions in some places, and glossed over important points in others. They had no idea I was re-working my topics in my head, searching for more effective ways to communicate while I was also searching for shady locales for our talks and passing a heavy four-year-old through cracks in the rocks.
Is it not reward enough just to reach the end and know that you have given your best — even if it is a ‘dress rehearsal’ of sorts? Then how doubly sweet when Apprehensive Couple returned to the visitor center afterward to talk to my boss and tell her what an incredible time they had just had.
Shhhhh — don’t tell anyone: I have the best job in the world.