NPS photo Ranger with visitors at Rocky Mtn National ParkNational and state parks are wonderful places to learn about the Great Outdoors, so the following examples of wacky questions asked of park rangers are offered in the spirit of fun. If you’re curious about something during your visit to a park, I hope you’ll have a chance to ask a ranger. Just take a second to engage your brain before speaking, so you don’t end up on a future “Question of the Week” list!

Dealing with an incredible variety of questions is one of the interesting aspects of a ranger’s job. The moment you put on that uniform, you’re assumed by many people to be an expert in virtually any subject even remotely connected to the park, the earth, or sometimes the universe.

Questions come in almost as many varieties as visitors, and include the daily dozen ( “Where’s the restroom, is it going to rain today, how far to the nearest McDonald’s . . .?” ), the sincere seeker ( “What kind of bird, or tree, or flower, or . . . is that?” ), and the inane inquiry.

It’s this last group that poses a major test of tact and diplomacy for rangers—and their ability to keep a straight face. When confronted with these questions rangers have to wonder, “Is he (or she) really serious, or is this one a joke?” I’ll let you be the judge of the following examples.

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado contains world-class cliff dwellings and other archaeological treasures. Several of the best sites require at least a short walk from the parking lot, prompting visitors to ask more than once, “Why did the Indians build the ruins so far from the road?” (One would think they’d have been more considerate of the tourists who would eventually come to see what was left of their homes.)

NPS photo, Mesa Verde National ParkThe staff at Mesa Verde also has to endure the inquiry, “Why did the Indians only build ruins?” (Those ancient structures were built long before Europeans arrived in North America, so at least we know the answer to that question is not, “It was a government funded project, and Congress didn’t appropriate enough money to finish the building.”)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is to caves what the National Gallery is to art. There are plenty of caves in the world that boast magnificent formations and others that lay claim to miles of passageways, but for the combination of beauty, size and easy access for the average visitor, it’s tough to beat the underground wonders of Carlsbad.

Located within the boundaries of this park are both Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave. Between the two, the park offers a nice variety of ways to enjoy a cave, from paved walking trails that wind through tastefully lighted rooms to completely wild, undeveloped routes that require expert spelunking skills and a permit or a trained guide to explore.

Media reports about the discovery of a new area of the caverns probably help account for the following questions:

“How much of the cave hasn’t been discovered yet?” and a closely related inquiry, “What’s in the undiscovered part of the cave?” (Rangers are very talented at what they do, but prophetic abilities are not part of their job description.)

Those inquiries can probably be placed in the “I just didn’t think before I asked” category, but I do have to wonder about, “How much of the cave is underground?”

Logan Pass, Glacier NP, NPS PhotoOne of the great scenic drives in the world is the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, which crosses the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,646 feet. Even at midday in the summer it’s usually pleasantly cool—and sometimes downright chilly—at that altitude in Montana, but I actually had one visitor ask me why it didn’t get warmer as he neared the summit. His reasoning—honest now—was he thought it should be getting hotter as his car approached the pass, since the road was supposed to be taking him closer to the sun!

Now, don’t you wish you had the chance to answer such great questions on your job? Hey, maybe you do, so starting taking notes for your future book!

Jim Burnett

Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!

This story is excerpted from the books Hey Ranger! and Hey Ranger 2, © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing. Used by permission.

Leave a Reply


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  2. Gary Hauck

    Hi Jim Hope alls been well. Are you going to be putting out a Het Ranger 3..Gary

  3. Janet –

    Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by.


  4. Cool. It took almost a day to find this info. Thanks, great job. 🙂

  5. Glad you found it useful. Thanks for the comment!


  6. Tom –

    Thanks for sharing a great story about Yosemite Falls. Perhaps these are the same folks who visited Yellowstone and asked if the rangers turned the geysers off at night. (No need wasting all that geothermal energy if there weren’t any tourists around to enjoy the show 🙂


  7. Tom Ricks

    Here is one to add to the list. For those of you who have been to Yosemite Valley, you know that Yosemite Lodge is accross the road from Yosemite Falls. In early Spring the Falls can be very full and the sound of the crashing water carries accross the road. One ranger did not realize just how loud the sound was until a tourist staying at the lodge came up and asked what time the falls were “turned off” at night as it was keeping her son awake…….

  8. Jim Burnett

    I’m glad you enjoyed the stories – and thanks for sharing another one!


  9. Rich Kozloski

    My wife was standing in line at the Washington Monument one summer giving our house guests a tour. It was a bright sunny day with a light wind. A woman ahead of her in line asked the ranger “How long does it take you to get all the flags pointing in the same direction?”

  10. 2oldman

    I guess you can’t say ‘stupid’ question, so wacky will have to do. Thanks for the laughs.

  11. Jim Burnett

    Ernie and Latta –

    Thanks for sharing two more wonderful stories!


  12. Latta Johnston

    I know about wacky questions. Last summer my wife and I were VIPs at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A couple asked us how far it was to the Cape Hatteras Light House and we told them 40 miles. The next question was, “How far is it back then?” Oh Well……

  13. Ernie

    Many years ago, there was a book out called “Dear Congressman” that contained actual letters received by our country’s finest. One lady wrote that she had read that the most severe injuries in a train wreck occurred in the last car. She wanted him to pass a law removing the last car from every train!