As Mountainfilm’s symposium theme to celebrate our national parks takes shape, I’ve been inspired to reflect on a childhood memory, following at the heels of my mother and her boyfriend as we explored the country’s national parks. We camped out for months at a time, mostly in national parks, and Death Valley quickly became a favorite, and then an annual spring destination for several years. Death Valley is incredibly beautiful in the spring with perfect hiking weather, deafening silence and an ocean of desert flowers as far as the eye can see. We had the opportunity to explore every corner of the park, but my favorite repeat hikes were Desolation Canyon and the hike from Zabriskie Point to Golden Canyon under the full moon.
On days when it was too hot to hike, my sister and I would frequent the visitor’s center near the campground, where we met a park ranger named Rick McIntyre. He noticed us wandering around on more than a few afternoons and asked if we might like to assist with his presentations. We accepted his offer excitedly and went every day to hold up his stuffed kangaroo rat and desert kit fox for viewing while he spoke to swarms of tourists about desert life. We returned to Death Valley for the next three years, and Rick became a familiar and friendly face. As it happens in life, things changed and, eventually, we moved on to new adventures, but I never forgot my time with Ranger Rick.
Some 36 years later, I was thinking about Rick and decided to search for him on Google. His name came up immediately, still a park ranger, but now in Yellowstone working on the wolf reintroduction program. As it turns out, Rick hasn’t missed a single day of tracking and studying the wolves in nearly 16 years. He’s well known to park visitors and has logged more time observing the wolves than anyone else in the Yellowstone program. Our oldest son, Henry, had been obsessed with wolves, so I reached out to Rick, and he invited us to visit him in Yellowstone.
In April of 2014, we spent spring break in a tiny cabin buried in the snow, waking up at 5 a.m. each morning to meet Rick wherever he had tracked the wolves in the Lamar Valley. Half of Yellowstone is closed in April, but Rick introduced us to a small and extremely dedicated group of guests who come to the park every year to observe and photograph the wolves. Among them was Emmy award-winning filmmaker Bob Landis, who’s made several films about Yellowstone wolves.
We were able to see wolves every day we were there, and Rick provided specific details about each wolf’s life story and the history of the various packs. It was fascinating to hear him talk about these amazing animals in such detail and especially exciting to observe them in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Reconnecting with Rick and introducing him to my family was especially sweet for me. This trip goes down as one of our best family adventure/vacations ever, and I tried to get Rick to come to the festival this year — but he wouldn’t think of spending time away from (his) wolves.
Nonetheless, this year’s Moving Mountain’s Symposium is packed with exceptional people who share a passion and appreciation for Yellowstone and all of our national parks — welcome to Mountainfilm 2016!
Executive Director, Telluride Mountainfilm