Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Bridge Hollow Fire

It began last Wednesday, when I was out with the veg crew.

All of our radios squawked…"Fire call center to Bryce Canyon Fire Chief…we have reports that, if the current conditions remain constant, a fire is headed in your direction and should reach the main park road in approximately 2 hours."

From that point on, for the next 5 days, the radio never went quiet. Not for more than a second.

The fire that began with one, single strike of lightning in Bridge Hollow, would burn continuously for over 5 days, scorching over 3000 acres of land in Bryce Canyon National Park and Dixie National Forest. With over 200 wildland firefighters on call, teams of resource and safety specialists from all over southern Utah, and, of course, the amazing team of people at Bryce Canyon National Park, this “incident” would require everyone’s best efforts to, not only manage the fire, but also keep the public’s (locals and visitors) safety and ease of mind as top priorities.

Just to give you a little bit more perspective, this smoke is about 14 miles away.

I attended the first fire briefing on Thursday morning. The fire had already burned 1500 acres. A plan had to be put into action, and quickly. The fire crew-chiefs would have a full plate of contradicting objectives; the national forest wanted to sustain and utilize the fire for resource benefit, but the national park wanted to go on full suppression, and they had a whole set of rules of what the firefighters could and couldn't do in the park due to impact levels on the park’s resources (falcon nests, archaeological sites, etc.). Thankfully we all reached a consensus and, although I didn’t experience the fire first hand, I believe the fire was managed fairly easily.

After the meeting, I was approached by our Chief of Interpretation and the Chief of Resources. They wanted to promote me to Public Information Officer (PIO) for the next few days. I was ecstatic. Not only would I be getting paid for a change, but I’d also be gaining some new experience (“It’s all about exposure to experience, and experiencing exposure,” that was my late grandfather Pops’s saying and my inspiration for the title of this blog and my own ambitious lifestyle).

I would be in charge of editing daily press releases and hand-delivering them to select people and businesses within a 50-mile radius. Now THIS was my style. I really enjoyed this job. Driving around, meeting new people and talking with them about the fire (or whatever else they wanted to chat about) was really fun.

The southern end of Bryce Canyon’s main road would be closed, restricting visitors from seeing 75% of the park. Fortunately our main attraction, the Bryce Amphitheater, would remain open to the park. The biggest challenge for our interpreters and administrators were the visitors that would constantly demand that their park entrance fee be refunded because they couldn’t see the whole park (even though about 60% of our visitors never spend more than 2 hours in the park, nonetheless get to see the whole thing).

When I wasn’t out working as the PIO, I was around the park looking for the best vantage points for pictures of the fire and smoke. At Fairyland Point, I would take the best panorama shot of the summer so far. I hope you like it!

The Bridge fire went down in history as the biggest fire Bryce Canyon National Park has ever seen. Teams of specialists are still coming in and out of the park for weeks at a time to analyze the affects the fire had on the local ecosystems.

I feel privileged to have witnessed and been a part of managing it.

What an amazing experience.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Another day at the office…

My office has no walls, no cubicles, no clocks to stare at, no stuffy, annoying aromas of day-old coffee and hot paper from copy machines.

My office is 36,000 acres of some of the most unique, pristine wilderness in the entire world. My office is 64 miles of trails. My office has the 2nd best air and precipitation quality in the United States. My office has views that no 75th floor corporate office could ever provide. My office is Bryce Canyon National Park.

Some days are better than others, just like anything else…but when I get down, all I have to do is take a step back and realize where I am. Then, all of a sudden, everything is good again.

It’s been 6 weeks since I began my internship here, and the morals and perspectives that I’ve pulled from this experience have already shaped my own in ways that I probably won’t even understand until I leave.

The one thing I have realized, though, is that there isn’t enough balance for me here. There’s too much isolation, and too little of what I’ve grown to love in places like Gainesville and Fort Lauderdale. It’s fair to say that I still haven’t found a place with the perfect balance, but Park City is damn close to it. I’ve decided to move there once my internship is finished. I’m determined to make it big there. I will make it big there. My social and professional network has grown exponentially in just 5 total days there and still shows signs of incredible growth. The culture and sense of community is right on point with what I’m looking for; a huge street farmer and vendor market every Sunday, a park with every type of sport field or court, all types of restaurants from gourmet to cheap pizza, a monster ski resort, one of the biggest film festivals in the world (Sundance), and, to top it all off, it’s within 6 driving hours to over 15 national park and forest lands.

The only thing it’s missing…is my family. Not just my bloodline and the people that have known me my entire life, but the family that I’ve made over the past 5 years. To my friends and family all over the world…GET YOUR @$$E$ OUT HERE! Hahahaha

Just in case you don’t though, expect me to come back to Florida for at least a winter season (possibly 2010-2011) to work at Biscayne or Dry Tortugas National Park.

And to all of my friends and family in Florida, expect me to be HEAVILY campaigning for all of you to come out to Park City for a ski vacation of your own. So start looking at dates!

Now for the real update…

The past two weeks have been awesome. I’ve covered almost all of the main trails here in the park, AT WORK! Like I said, my office rocks (no pun intended).

The week of July 4th, I worked with interpretation again. I was able to accompany a couple of great people on their guided hikes. The first, was on the “Under-the-rim” trail to the “Hat Shop.” This was, by far, the most difficult section of trail I’ve encountered here. It’s all down hill from Bryce point to the hat shop and man, is it steep. It was a great hike, though. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), nobody showed up for the guided hike, so it was just my friend and I chatting up a storm, enjoying every second of our hike while we learned things about and from each other. Once we reached the “Hat Shop,” I was, once again, astonished at Bryce Canyon’s beauty. Over 100 “hats” were strewn about the area. It was quite a sight to see.

The next day I went on another guided hike on the Fairyland Loop trail to “Tower Bridge.” This time, we had a nice couple from England that joined us on our hike. This trail quickly became my next favorite trail behind the route Ben and I took on that faithful day earlier this summer. With unique hoodoo formations like Cinderella’s castle, Marge (from Simpsons) watching TV, the Great Wall of China, along with hundreds of bristle cone pine trees scattered around the area, this trail was obviously unique to the rest. Also along this hike, I took, what may turn out to be, my favorite picture of the summer.

The rest of this week was spent in the visitor’s center, then I headed off to Park City for the 4th of July weekend. Unfortunately, I locked my camera in my car, so I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the parade or other festivities :(

It was still a fantastic weekend filled with partying, fireworks, a huge parade and great people. Park City proved to me that it definitely knows how to do the 4th of July right.

The next week started out slow, but ended with a bang. I began working with the veg-crew managing invasive exotics and restoring social trails (trails made by people that repeatedly take shortcuts rather than walk on the trails they’re supposed to). That was on Monday and Tuesday (as a side note, I began working as a busser at the Bryce Lodge restaurant this week for some cash on the side), but on Wednesday I got a real treat. I was assigned to working with our on-site biologists. Our assignment for the day was to set up a soundscape monitoring station in the backcountry near a peregrine falcon eyrie (spelling might be wrong, but it's the techincal term for a nest). The data collected at this station would provide valuable information on whether or not the sounds that would be recorded have any correlation with the falcon’s activity level and/or presence/absence in that area. The site we finally decided to set up shop at was about 3.75 miles (7.25 miles round-trip) out in the backcountry off of the Riggs Springs Trail (the southern most trail in the park). This hike was especially difficult because I was delegated the responsibility of carrying the batteries, which weighed a good 35 pounds, out to the site. The setting up of the equipment was an awesome learning experience. I learned about the various equipment, how to tie a trucker’s hitch knot (which is extremely useful), and all about falcons and other wildlife.

That evening, my Aunt Martha and Uncle Steve arrived at Bryce. They stayed for almost 2 days and we would end up eating at every decent restaurant within a 30-mile radius (which totals about 4 hahah). The night they arrived, though, we watched the moon rise. I had never seen a full moonrise before in my entire life and, I have to say, it was just as, if not more stunning, than a sunrise. The morning after the moonrise, we got up for sunrise. I was especially excited for this sunrise since I had found a new spot to watch it from (versus the tourist swarmed Bryce Point outlook). After sunrise, I had to report to work for just a half-day. I was with the veg-crew again, but this time, we were assigned some recon work on the Agua Canyon trail. It ended up just being a hike. I was exhausted afterwards.

I met up with my Aunt and Uncle after work and we had a wonderful afternoon. We did some light hiking, heavy eating, and just overall great times. Thanks, Uncle Steve and Aunt Martha, for a great time!

I just saw them off this afternoon (Friday) and now I’m ready to tackle the second half of my internship. I can’t wait to see what the next half has in store!

And I can’t wait to see Bruno! I’m gona try and go see it tomorrow! It’s quite a process to see a movie here. The nearest theater is 1.5 hours away lol