When you visit a Colorado State Park this summer, do more than simply as a park ranger for directions to the firewood or for tips on good hikes in the park.
Ask a ranger to tell you some war stories. Ask for their "you had to be there" stories.
The things they can tell you - the funny, scary, heart-wrenching encounters they've experienced on the job - will be more frightening than any ghost story you might swap with friends around your campfire that night.
Here are a couple of mine.
When I was a rookie ranger, my training officer and I responded to a call in the outer reaches of the park.
A group of young adults, all under 21, were having a party and the alcohol was flowing. (Actually, this situation is not terribly uncommon.)
I was trying to impress my boss by acting "all official like" as we dealt with the young drunks when a large turkey emerged from the dark and proceeded to peck at my boots. Then it sat, literally, between my feet. I gotta tell you, it's hard to look official with a turkey on your boots.
I told my boss we needed to take her because she was obviously a pet that had been dumped on the park. (Sadly, pet-dumping is another common occurrence in our parks.)
"We are not putting a turkey in a patrol car," my boss said.
So, I proceeded writing citations and arranging rides home for the partiers while straddling that darn turkey the entire time.
Eventually the turkey ended up in the back seat of my car, behind the partition that protects park rangers from suspects in the back. I will never forget looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing that turkey plopped in the middle of the seat, looking straight ahead.
The sight of her riding like a felon made me laugh so hard I was afraid I may crash the car. (The laughter soon stopped when my boss saw her back there, but that is for another column.)
Another time, I was patrolling when I saw a Jeep driving toward me. The driver was honking his horn and his kids were hanging out the rear window, frantically waving at me.
Frankly, I was expecting the worst. Was someone seriously injured? Or perhaps dead? As my mind raced, I pulled up and jumped out to see a snake hanging from the driver's door.
Turned out the family had visited the park for a snake presentation and came upon a large bull snake in the road as they were driving away. They pulled over and got out to look at it and take it out of the road so it wouldn't get run over.
But the snake had a different idea. It decided to enter the open car door, instead.
The driver panicked and shut the door with the snake's head inside the vehicle and about two-thirds of its body hanging outside. (Luckily, the thick rubber gasket on the door protected the snake from injury.)
So here was the driver, trying to control his Jeep with an angry bull snake's head wiggling around next to his legs and his kids screaming in the back seat.
Of course, I know bull snakes are harmless, but I didn't remove it immediately.
I had to take a picture first, because otherwise no one would believe it.
Then I quickly released the snake, which was unharmed, and sent the family on its way, also unharmed. But we all had a war story to share.
I have many more stories, ranging from a purple Volkswagen bus being converted into a boat, elderly men wearing nothing but tighty whiteys and tube socks running to catch a boat that had come untied, and even a story about a middle-of-the-night call reporting a "woman screaming" that actually turned out to be simply elk bugling.
I'll be glad to share these stories and more if you see me this summer. And if you can't make it to Cheyenne Mountain State Park, just ask any ranger you see for their "you had to be there" story. I guarantee they have one.
As always, please give me a shout if you have any questions I might be able to answer.