Pete Parry was superintendent of Canyonlands National Park from 1975 to 1987 and elsewhere in this issue is a story about Pete’s decade of service during one of Southeast Utah’s most turbulent and politically charged times—the Sagebrush Rebellion. Pete dealt with controversy quietly but forcefully and I hope you’ll take the time to read how Pete’s legacy lives on, every time you visit the canyon country.
But I’d like to take just a moment to talk about Pete on a more personal level. Like I say in the main story, I was hired at Arches as a seasonal ranger in my early 20s and over my ten years at the Devils Garden, I seemed to get myself in trouble a lot. Imagine an immature 24 year old government employee with a fondness for quoting Ed Abbey from memory to park visitors and who moonlighted as a cartoonist for the “radical” Earth First! Journal. Then imagine a park superintendent who would tolerate that kind of dichotomy. I lasted ten years at Arches ONLY because of Pete. Time and again, I thought I had cooked my own goose, only to have Pete pull me from the broiling pan at the last moment. For example…
In 1983, James Watt, the controversial Interior Secretary who once said, “I don’t like to walk and I don’t like to paddle,” came to Arches for an inspection tour. He was on his way to Glen Canyon Dam to “celebrate” its 20th anniversary; unfortunately so were a bunch of my pals from Earth First! When I found them waiting for me at the campground trailer the previous evening, I said, “PLEASE…don’t tell me why you’re here. Don’t tell me what you plan to do.” They grinned and left.
The next morning my fellow ranger Mike Salamacha and I were assigned , if you can believe this, to provide protection for Mr. Watt (We were both law enforcement rangers). In a previous issue of the EF! Journal I had doodled a hideous cartoon called, “The Day All the Birds Crapped on James Watt,” a hopeful prophesy of the time when the feathered world took their revenge for Watt’s insensitivity to Nature. And yet, here I was, offering myself as James Watt’s bodyguard.
On the drive down to the visitor center, we discovered that ‘someone’ had spray painted epithets to the Interior boss. Most of them read, “DUMP WATT.” Or “WATT…A NATIONAL DISGRACE.” They were mostly the work of my EF! pals (though later I learned that one offering of graffiti had been secretly spray-painted by the Arches chief ranger at 3 o’clock in the morning.). I felt a tad nervous.
When we got to the visitor center, there was Pete. He walked over to our patrol cruiser and I thought I was done for. He leaned on the door and said, “Well, this sure is a mess.” He gave me a long Pete Parry Gaze and then said, “Well, all we have to do is get through this day. Let’s hope there won’t be any more incidents.” I nodded. He gave me one more hard look and then went back to entertain the Interior Secretary. Watt made his tour, pointed to the spray painted signs and called the culprits “vandals.” And by noon he was on his way to the airport and a short flight to Page. It was another close call, but I was still wearing my uniform at the end of the day.
There were other moments. Once the trail crew planned to “improve” the Devils Garden Trail to Landscape Arch. Their plan to widen the trail included the use of a five-yard dump truck and a bulldozer. Because the trail makes such hard tight turns and because dump trucks and dozers can’t make hard tight turns, the loss of trees and vegetation was going to be significant. Still, somehow, the trail plan was approved and the project was on the eve of being implemented.
But a few of us seasonal rangers were almost apoplectic about the trail project and finally, in desperation, we took it straight to Pete. Going over the heads of immediate supervisors was not just frowned upon in the Park Service, it was condemned and we were sure we’d finally gone a bridge too far. But Pete listened. “Okay, he said. “Give me a better option.” We proposed using smaller trucks–S10 pickups—and a Bobcat dozer instead of its larger cousin. Pete argued that it would take far more trips to haul the same materials and that the trail crew didn’t have enough workers to do the job that way. We seasonals volunteered to help, especially when it came to hauling and unloading gravel with the S10s.
Pete thought a moment. “Let’s go out and take a look.” The next morning we met Pete at the trailhead and walked the one mile trail to Landscape Arch. We showed him where a cluster of oak trees would have to be removed or a magnificent stand of Serviceberry would be hacked up. Finally Pete nodded. “Alright. We’ll give this a try. But if we get behind or this doesn’t work, we’ll have to go back to the bigger trucks.”
Today, the Landscape trail looks the way it does because Pete intervened.
Finally, there is the matter of my dogs. When I came to Arches, I brought my two dogs with me, Muckluk and Squawker. We were inseparable and in those days, the backcountry of national parks was still open to dogs. Park managers had the good sense to know that, with ever shrinking predator numbers, rabbits and squirrels and lizards NEEDED to be chased, in order to stay fit and keep their reflexes sharp. What better substitute than my dogs, who chased everything and caught nothing. They were full of enthusiasm and short on wits. The chipmunks outwitted them every time.
But going into my third season, a new administrative officer came to the park with a bad attitude toward both seasonal rangers and dogs. She may have placed both us grungy seasonals and our dogs on the same social strata. So she sent out a memo that declared seasonal rangers could no longer have pets of any kind. There would be no exceptions.
Naturally, I went to Pete. “But your dogs are so big,” Pete complained. “And they shed a lot.” He remembered the time he’d come by the Arches campground and Muckluk, a Husky mix in full molting mode had sidled up to Pete and coated him in a layer of dog wool.
“Well,” I pleaded. “It was hot out there. You’d shed too if you were Muck.”
Finally Pete agreed to create a grandfather clause for my dogs and they got to stay. For years I was the only seasonal that still had pets. The administrative officer was convinced I’d never leave. As it turned out, I outlasted her.
I left the Park Service just a few months before Pete retired. I had arrived in Moab just a few months after Pete took over at Canyonlands. So I never really knew what it was like to serve under any superintendent but Pete Parry. As it turns out, for once in my life, my timing was perfect.
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