Grilling a Gay Park Ranger

10.2.2005

By Bob Smith

For the past 12 seasons, Bob Butler has worked as a park ranger in Zion National Park in Utah. This beautiful park of 229 square miles features spectacular cliff formations and an unusual diversity of plants and animals. Bob's typical day might include everything from digging at an archaeological site to leading a hike to just giving directions. I first met Bob, a native of Long Island, New York, when I went on a camping trip to Zion with the Great Outdoors, a gay and lesbian outdoors group, and immediately thought that he'd be of interest to the readers of Out and Out.com.

What made you decide to become a park ranger?
I was traveling across the country after having just finished a job painting hieroglyphics at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas. And I stopped at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico where I had a conversation with a park ranger. I mentioned my background'18 years in the medical field, a degree in Earth Sciences, and I can converse in German. The ranger said, 'You ought to apply for a job.' Suddenly a lightbulb went off over my head. I applied, but I was told that my chances of actually getting a job as a park ranger were very small, but that winter they called and told me I had the job.

Were you a Boy Scout?
I've always loved the outdoors, but I was a terrible Boy Scout. I don't like structure. I wanted to play in the woods with my friends. I didn't want to earn merit badges. Even then, I felt like they were training us for the army.

What's the best thing about being a park ranger?
Waking up every day in a beautiful place where I always see new things. I love being in nature with people. And that's an important distinction. I enjoy doing fun and adventurous things in the outdoors with people. You have to love people and wilderness to be a park ranger.

Was it difficult coming out in the Park Service?
I was cautious at first but I needn't have been. For one thing, it's against the rules to discriminate against someone in the Park Service. [Laughs] And then I realized that all park rangers are humorous eccentrics. To be a park ranger, you have to be a highly talented, round-peg person living in a square-peg world.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Well, having been brought up by an overprotective mother, I've found out there are lots of things that I can do and do well. I've done everything from fighting forest fires to building trails to giving first aid to telling visitors about the life history of hummingbirds. And I've definitely earned the respect of my coworkers.

Do you ever feel isolated from gay life?
Sure. But I get off 10 weeks every year and I travel.

What's the worst thing about being a park ranger?
Loneliness. But you can also be lonely in a big city. I love my job and live in a beautiful log cabin with a woodburning stove. I'd like to share it with someone.

What's your favorite national park?
Carlsbad Caverns. It's incredibly beautiful and the name almost sounds vaguely dirty and I like to think a little gay. Carl's BAD Caverns.

Are visitors to national parks sometimes stupider than the average bear?
Well, Bob, those two friends of yours who visited last year tied the rope of their tent to a sign that said 'No camping allowed.'

Sorry about that. I never claim that my friends are intelligent. Just that they're fun.
They were fun. After their stay, everyone in the park talked about them for weeks.

What survival skills should every gay person follow?
Always carry water. And leave a note in your car with the time and date with where you plan to hike.

That plan would also work if you were going into a gay bar.
Yes, it would.

Singing around the campfire: Sondheim or Sinatra?
Oh, definitely show tunes. I grew up on them. My dad used to work at The New York Times near Broadway so when I was growing up my parents played a lot of cast albums from musicals.

Winnie the Pooh or Yogi?
Yogi. As I recall, he got along well with park rangers.

For more on the National Parks check out: www.nps.gov/zion

Out wants to hear from gay men and lesbians with unusual jobs. So if you're a lesbian archaeologist or a gay beekeeper, please contact Bob Smith at [email protected]

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