a new home in the desert


Yesterday, in the heat-stained midst of Training Day Four, the three of us came upon a shallow, muddy puddle along the No Thoroughfare Canyon trail. A joy leapt up in my chest. While my new boss, Nick, babbled on (and I mean that in the nicest way possible, he’s a great interpreter) about turning a lizard sighting into an interpretive moment, I crouched down and dipped my fingers into the water. It was lukewarm and gritty, but hell, I’d take what COLM was giving me.

Photo May 23, 1 42 11 PM
Here is the largest of the puddles.

I fucking miss water. I miss leaping off the docks in Tobin Harbor and crashing into Lake Superior, or splashing into the waves of Lake Michigan. I miss thunderstorms and kayaking and swimming underwater. I’ve been here less than a week, and I’m dreaming deeply of a Great Lakes beach. (And more specifically, as those who know me know, a certain large island in Lake Superior. Leaving Isle Royale is painful and feels strangely like betrayal; the abandonment of something I fell in love with.)

Photo May 19, 7 18 33 PM
Smack in the middle of our campground

So here I am. One of the two new seasonal interp rangers with the National Park Service at the Colorado National Monument (COLM), which has nothing but puddles now and will have no water at all in a few short weeks. Average temperature in the summer: 95. Average annual rainfall: 11 inches. (For comparison, Ann Arbor usually gets almost 40 inches a year.) Last year, COLM got four.

Photo May 19, 8 16 38 PM
This is my park housing. And there’s my wee Subaru!

Another thing this park doesn’t have much of is people, or at least staff. It’s a small park, and right next to a big city (Grand Junction, CO), which manages its fires, wildlife, and SARs. Our staff mostly lives in town; most people are in their late thirties to sixties, and live with spouses and kids and dogs in Fruita (town motto: WTF) or Grand Junction. Park housing (which is frickin gorgeous inside) currently holds myself and my roommate Jackie, and across the road, Mark and Molly. It’s a low population. At the same time, the cities are right there, our visitation is twice that of Isle Royale’s, and if I leave my house and drive for twenty minutes, I’m drinking a New Belgium brew on the back patio of the Hot Tomato in Fruita.

Even with the smell of the sagebrush and the sunlit sandstone canyons, it’s hard not to compare this park and this job to Isle Royale and find so many things turn up lacking. To be honest, in my homesick, weary state, that’s what I’ve spent most of my first five days doing. But it’s an adventure, damn it. And I am Liz Fucking Dengate and I going to explore the hell out of this desert and Figure. It. Out. I can do it, right? There’s water everywhere. Sometimes it’s in the form of a big lake, and sometimes it’s a little green cactus.

Photo May 19, 7 58 21 PM

So for the next few months, this blog will chronicle that pursuit. I am going to learn about a new ecosystem, try to make lots of friends, explore the Southwest, and attempt to do more of two things that are probably going to be very expensive and also, frankly, terrify me a little bit: mountain biking and real rock climbing on real rocks.

Join me in these beautiful canyons, and wish me luck.


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