Since I toured my first national park years ago, I’ve thought of becoming a National Park Service ranger. I toyed with the idea even so far as to go online and look at job openings and descriptions. I may have never applied, but I certainly gave it strong consideration. I mean, what would be so wrong with being outdoors all day, surrounded by beauty and wildlife, and occasionally giving directions to tourists excited to see where you live? Well, before I went any further, I’m glad I read Andrea Lankford’s Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks.
Lankford paints a very vivid picture of what it is like to live and work in a national park as a NPS ranger. And as I turned the pages, it became crystal clear that it wasn’t as sweet of a gig as I would have hoped. As a matter of fact, it was down right ugly; there was no lounging and enjoying the view or advising tourists on the best places to see, instead it’s all about running around trying to keep them alive. So, don’t let the subtitle fool you – this isn’t a book so much about living in the national parks, just working and dealing with death in them.
I was instantly glued to Lankford’s words, but hit a lull about two-thirds of the way through the book. I think I just reached critical mass about reading of another stupid tourist or unfortunate incident that an underpaid ranger would have to sort out. But, I also believe that was the author’s objective in Ranger Confidential – to show the reader just how nonstop and crazy working as a ranger can be. So, instead of reading about the great nights and times off with other park rangers, it was an onslaught of rescue after rescue.
Just before my eyes became glazed over, Andrea Lankford hit me with an incredible, albeit sad, ending to the story of her life, as well as that of her fellow rangers and friends, in the national parks – particularly Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Denali. The ending was beautiful and powerful at the same time and brought a connection to me that wasn’t firmly established in the preceeding pages detailing their trying work days. And because of that ending, I’m more than pleased to have read Ranger Confidential.
I initially purchased this book to read while I was lounding on vacation in Yosemite National Park, but, in hind-sight, am pleased to have read it before going there. I think it was good homework, in a manner of speaking, for my trip out to California to experience some spectacular moments in the parks around visits to San Francisco and San Diego. I highly recommend any park enthusiast or vacationer read Lankford’s Ranger Confidential before passing the gates on their next visit; if it doesn’t do anything else for you, it will at least act as a deterrent for stupidity.