Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 12, 2010

Didn’t know if it would ever happen, but it did

Her face changed in an instant, from engaged in listening to my patio talk to transported to a far-removed place and gripped with emotion. She swallowed hard, and a sniff followed. Soon her glasses were in her hands and she was surreptitiously trying to dab a tear from each eye. I couldn’t miss it in my intimate audience of seven.

It all came at that powerful place in my talk where I build an emotional connection for my listeners; I take them from “John Wesley Powell was here in the park facing an unimaginable unknown (Cataract Canyon) on July 20, 1869” to “Exactly 100 years later, to the day, Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the unexplored moon.” My visitor must have been in the right frame of mind to make that leap, that connection to a piece of history-turned-reality. It opened her up to something she’d never considered before. To my eyes, it looked as if it rocked her world.

Our training in interpretation techniques states clearly that if we assist the visitor to make both intellectual and emotional connections with the park, it is a powerful one-two punch that drives our teaching home like nothing else. I’d seen glimpses of this a few times in my presentations, but this one was a ten on a ten-point scale. It is my sincere hope that the woman from Houston will experience Canyonlands NP with a “beginner mind” as a result of her fresh connections between 19th-century exploration and 20th-century accomplishments.

March 27, 2010

(KR + KA) x AT = IO

Little did I know that a mathematical equation would guide my visitor interactions.

In a recent post about my first guided walk, I summed it up: “Park interpretation is one part factual knowledge, one part story-telling, one part entertainment, and a whole lot of knowing how to read your audience.”

Ahem. I just discovered that what I intuitively knew to be true has already been officially codified: Knowledge of the Resource (KR) plus Knowledge of the Audience (KA) times Appropriate Techniques (AT) equals Interpretive Opportunity (IO).

My KR has a strong base and grows daily as I devour everything I can find about my beloved desert. My KA is solid, based on five decades of studying people. My AT is what I was coached on. The IO is the result/product.

Some days I feel as if 90% of my job is “the relaying of information.” This could be anything from where the bathrooms are to what our annual rainfall is to which is the prettiest arch that they should not miss. Someone of substantial import in the interpretation division of the NPS has a different perspective: “The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.”

We can amaze people with facts all we want, but unless they are provoked enough to form an emotional connection with the park (aka “the resource”), they will not care enough to go deeper. Going deeper might mean bringing the next generations here, or supporting legislation that will protect wild places, or joining a volunteer work crew to remove invasive tamarisk trees along the Colorado River.

I’m going to be provocative today.

March 25, 2010

Sego Canyon Rock Art

Limbless mummies. Bug-eyed space aliens. Shamanistic anthropomorphs. Trapezoidal beings. One of Utah’s best collections of rock art is found in this canyon north of Thompson Springs. The National Register of Historic Places helps preserve an gallery of outdoor artwork in this setting.

Alien bug-eyed anthropomorph with unusual accompaniments; Barrier Canyon style, over 2000 yr old

Three different cultures are represented here, and their artwork is utterly distinctive. The Barrier Canyon style, two to three thousand years old, is mysterious and beautiful. These figures are all painted (pictographs) and many are life-sized.

The Fremont culture flourished here between 600 and 1250 A.D. Their figures typically have trapezoidal heads and bodies, and often wear necklaces. A richly-decorated panel shows multiple individuals.

I’ve no photograph for the Ute artwork, but it is post-Spanish and therefore shows horses.

I find pictographs and petroglyphs deeply intriguing. They help me make an emotional connection to people far removed. What scenes from their lives were worthy of depicting? What can we infer about their lifestyle? Did they have pets? Why is the artwork concentrated in certain places?

Fremont culture (about 1000 yrs ago)

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