by Kiki Serantes, SCA Intern, Cultural Resources
Kiara “Kiki” Serantes, SCA Cultural Resources Intern, is interviewing the people she encounters in her work at Zion National Park to explore how the park and its broad cross-section of visitors, staff, and volunteers are continually building and shaping each other’s perceptions and identities. The series was inspired by Humans of New York, so she’s calling it Humans of Zion.
Mike Large, a lead ranger in the interpretive department, looks out toward West Temple, the highest point in Zion’s main canyon.
In an era where people hardly stay at a specific job for more than 5 years, Lead Park Ranger Mike Large can be said to be, in a way, serving a Zion National Park marathon. After 32 years here, he’s far from worn out by the park’s landscape and culture. After seven years as a tour guide for Zion Lodge in the ‘80s, Large decided to keep the Zion dice rolling and took a position with the fee department.
“I think the folks that work in fee have one of the most challenging jobs in the park and I do everything I can to support them, because I just know from personal experience how difficult that job is,” Large said through a muted boom of laughter. “When I first came to the interpretation department, I thought to myself ‘these guys are in La-La Land.’ I mean, there’s no stress, you don’t have people yelling at you, you don’t have the money issues, you aren’t standing out in the heat all day. I remind the seasonals here too, when they start feeling sorry for themselves, go work at the tunnel for a morning—go work at the entrance station for an afternoon—you’ll see.”
In the three decade he’s worked at the park, Large has lived through a major earthquake (1992), multiple government shut-downs, a major landslide (1995), numerous flash floods and winter storms, road-destroying rock falls, too many hot summer days to count, and—of course—ever-increasing visitation. For the 60 year old, the most impactful memory was living through the (literally) earthshaking Sentinel Slide.
“Since I’m a former lodge employee, I had a lot of friends who were working there who weren’t able to get back up the canyon because of that landslide,” he said. “So I ended up having like 10 lodge employees at my house that night and we ended up having a big party. The next morning I went up to the park, and, since I was in uniform, they let me walk up into the canyon which was barricaded. I had my video camera and I actually videotaped the damage of that 95 slide. It really did impress upon me the geology of Zion. You always here that the geology is alive, but when I saw that and walked around that, and just realized it was going to take a while to fix, that really made a big impression on me.”
Although Large echoes his colleagues in denoting a dramatic increase in visitation as being a potential detriment to Zion’s wilderness future, he still has hope and said that his role in creating interpretative products and emotional connections with the landscape may help mitigate potential degradation.
“I kind of like the idea of ‘Find Your Park.’ If we could just encourage people to go to other parks, I think that would help,” he said. “Everybody of course wants to go to Zion, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, but there’s so many other beautiful parks out there that if we could just sort of spread the love a little I think that would be a big step in the right direction.”