Travels To and Beyond This Year’s RMOWP Conference

Article and photos by Jack Wendleton

Ranch house at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Ranch house at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

In planning my 3-week journey to the RMOWP Conference and beyond, I first contacted Jack Olson. He recommended that my first destination should be the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which is 18 miles West of Emporia, Kansas. I did not, initially, find the idea of a National Park Service area dedicated to preserving tallgrass prairies to be exciting, and I admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The park includes a well preserved three-story stone ranch house, a massive barn, ranch buildings and prairie interpretive trails. Nearby, the well-preserved town of Cottonwood Falls with its historic courthouse and buildings add to understanding life on the prairies and the Flint Hills country of Kansas in the nineteenth century.

Ft. Larned parade ground as seen from the officers quarters

Ft. Larned parade ground as seen from the officers quarters

From the Preserve, I travelled to Fort Larned National Historical Site in south central Kansas, 35 miles southwest of Great Bend. Established in 1859, Fort Larned is the best preserved Indian Wars era military post on the Santa Fe Trail. The fort provided protection and assistance for the wagon trains on their way from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory. In the 1970’s, I was part of a National Park Service planning team sent to address reconstruction/preservation of this vital western fort. After leaving Fort Larned, I stopped at Fort Hays State Historic Site, which is located at Hays, Kansas on I-70. I continued on I-70 to my favorite “hot spot” in Colorado, Glenwood Springs, and took a long dip in the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. (I forgot to put on sunscreen, a big mistake).

Award-winning Needles Visitor Center at Canyonlands National Park

Award-winning Needles Visitor Center at Canyonlands National Park

Arriving at Fruita, Colorado, Jack Olson and I drove up to Colorado National Monument and scouted overlooks for best early morning photography. Many thanks to Don and Barbara Laine and the committee for a great conference! Personally, the most important thing I learned was –“watch your boot laces.” (Note, If any of you attendees have a photo of my black eye & stitches, please send me a copy). Following the conference, I spent two days camping in Colorado National Monument, enjoying a park in which I worked on a number of design/construction projects but never really took the time to explore. Before leaving Fruita, I had the stitches over my right eye removed (the cost of removing the stitches was included in the urgent care process).

“Reading the paper” at Newspaper Rock National Historic Site

“Reading the paper” at Newspaper Rock National Historic Site

In Grand Junction, I called Ed Chamberlin, architect of the award-winning Needles Visitor Center in Canyonlands National Park (this back country wilderness at the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers). Over a beer, Ed and I remembered the building that Ed designed and I supervised the construction 22 years ago. I told him I was heading to the wilderness again and would make sure that the park service is taking good care of “OUR” visitor center. When I arrived at the visitor center and mentioned to the district interpreter and rangers that I had been the project supervisor for the visitor center, they were excited. They love “THEIR” visitor center. We exchanged thoughts about the building and the use that it receives. I took photos of them and they of me. Later, Maryann Gaug sent me a Facebook posting submitted by the Needles District interpreter reporting our meeting. I promised to send them photos of the construction, I took many pictures during the 15-month construction project. Leaving the Needles I stopped to take a few pictures of Newpaper Rock National Historic Site, which is on the road going back to U.S. Highway 191. This is an outstanding display of Anasazi rock art.

After Canyonlands, my keen interest in the Southwest Indian history and culture led to the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni Reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. More stories, later.

“Reading the paper” at Newspaper Rock National Historic Site

“Reading the paper” at Newspaper Rock National Historic Site

Journeying into New Mexico, I camped at El Morro National Monument, 50 miles southeast of Gallup. El Morro is a 200 foot sheer sandstone cliff/mesa known as “Inscription Rock.” The Anasazi carved their petroglyphs, and the Spanish conquistadors, early American settlers, and U.S. Army expeditions (using camels) all left their signatures and stories, resulting in a unique recording of adventures. There is a large pool at the base of Inscription Rock which collects the rain runoff from the mesa above, providing water for wildlife, livestock and humans as they travelled by this site. In summer of 1960, I spent my first assignment with the National Park Service here at El Morro, where I served as a student engineer doing construction surveying layout and inspections.

My last National Park Service/Bureau of Land Management area visit was to the new inter-government agency area, El Malpais National Monument and Conservation Area, just east of El Morro. This area is divided into two units, one managed by the National Park Service, the other by the Bureau of Land Management. An interagency visitor center (The Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center) is located at Grants, New Mexico on I-40. It is staffed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. It is worth a stop just to see that three government agencies, in two different departments (Interior and Agriculture), can and do work well together. I concluded my travels by racing across Oklahoma on I-40 being chased by tornados back to Missouri.

While travel to the RMOWP Conference is a serious commitment, my journey “To and Beyond the Conference” allowed me to relish the joy of returning to my beloved Rocky Mountains and re-uniting with the RMOWP gang.