What is interpretation? (And many other questions)

What is interpretation? (And many other questions)

It’s hard to believe that my first week at Rocky Mountain is already over. I’ve only been here for 5 days and somehow it feels like I’ve been here forever. While seasonal staff training begins officially on Monday, I was really privileged to go out into the park twice with both the park photographer and one of the more established rangers and become acquainted to the park and some of its most compelling ecological features. While we drove, hiked and spoke with dozens of volunteers, rangers and support staff, I was able to speak with them directly and specifically about how to cultivate a personal relationship with such a beautiful place that I can translate into creating successful and impactful interpretive programs this summer. What is interpretation? What does my role really mean?

In Interpreting Our Heritage, Freeman Tilden writes, “The visitor’s chief interest is in whatever touches his personality, his experiences, and his ideals. The adult visitor who happens to be the auditor or reader of interpretation has no general awe of the interpreter…He does not so much wish to be talked at as to be talked with.”

I’ve been reading Tilden as I try to sort out what my role means for me; for the visitors I’ll be interacting with; for the Park Service. How do I engage with visitors in a way that animates the natural history of the park? Its social history and implications? How do I make the Calypso orchid not merely a small purple speck on the trail but bring it alive in its context? How do you properly blend the intellectual and emotional to really impact a visitor?

Calypso orchid spotted on the trail. These wildflowers, one of the first signs of spring in the park, are also called “fairy slippers” by many.


I’m asking lots of questions, but as one of the rangers told me yesterday, this is the time for questions. I am excited for training to begin next week and begin to put some meat on the bones of my relationship to this park. This weekend I plan to keep hiking and running; soaking in as much of the personal and emotional as I can.

Here are some of my favorite photos that capture some of the best moments of this week:

Views of Bear Lake from one of my hikes with Ranger Don.

Goofing off at the Forest Canyon Overlook along Trail Ridge Road on Wednesday. It’s hard to believe it is already June with all this fresh snow on the ground. 1/3 of Rocky Mountain, including the overlook where this was taken, is classified as alpine tundra. This distinction is one of the Park’s many unique ecological features, especially since this environment at such a scale is so remote, the closest similar alpine tundra being in northern Canada.

On another note, elk are everywhere and I intend to close every blog post with them. They’re majestic and quirky (which must be why I am so enamored with them), but if you ever intend to visit Rocky, you should start by accepting just how commonplace they are… these tri-tone landscape fixtures with the capacity to define the landscape of an entire park.

Herd of sexually immature bull elk and cows on Thursday, June 1 on my way back into the Park’s east entrance.


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