How one “girl ranger” helped save the Southwest
—Andrew Gulliford, Writers on the Range
Ed Abbey once called her a “girl ranger,” and that’s what she was, the very first. Lynell Schalk began her federal career tracking grave robbers and pothunters in southeast Utah, and ended it catching pot growers in western Oregon. She broke through the sagebrush ceiling as the first female special agent in charge in the Western United States, and she did a bang-up job.
Schalk, who winters in Bluff, Utah and summers in Oregon, is retired these days, but she still volunteers for the BLM as a site steward-at-large, patrolling for pot-hunters and documenting illegal activities. A University of Washington graduate in philosophy, Schalk had been working as a swimming instructor when she read Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. It changed her life. She gave two weeks’ notice, and at twenty-three, headed towards the Southwest and a lifelong love affair with the landscape.
Schalk went to Natural Bridges National Monument, where she worked as a volunteer in the park for a per diem of $3 a day. Thus began her introduction to women’s work in a male-dominated federal agency. As a seasonal ranger at Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona, her uniform was a white polyester knit dress, with a special version of the Park Service’s arrowhead logo. It was only half the size of a man’s—and she hated that.
As a seasonal worker at Navajo National Monument south of Kayenta, Arizona, she spent days alone at Kiet Siel, the second-largest cliff dwelling in the United States. In the oppressive heat of full summer, she’d see an occasional visitor, but more often she had the magnificent ruin all to herself. “It was always hot,” Schalk recalls. “And once it got dark, there was a constant pitter-patter of rats and mice. You couldn’t sleep because of the night noises.”
By 1974, she’d become a ranger for Grand Gulch, entitled to her very own sixteen-foot trailer. Her job was to nab the pothunters who were looting some of the most remote ancestral Puebloan sites in the Southwest. Schalk eventually became one of the first Grand Gulch rangers, patrolling in everything from pickups to helicopters to horseback. One morning, as she was rounding up horses in a tight corral, she got kicked in her lower back. She lay screaming in agony, sprawled in horse manure. After almost a two-hour wait for an ambulance, she was taken to the Monticello, Utah hospital, only to be placed on a stainless-steel table and given nothing for pain.
Finally, a physician arrived. Schalk will never forget his words: “Well, young lady, I understand you’ve been kicked by a horse. I hope it knocked some sense in you, and you will quit this job and get married.” Instead, she got a gun.
In 1978, Schalk became one of the first Bureau of Land Management staffers authorized to carry a service revolver. She was also the first female officer. But the BLM had never had armed rangers before, and administrators thought that sidearms should be locked in truck gloveboxes, while rangers wore an empty holster on their duty belts. Schalk and her colleagues protested in a story that eventually made the New York Times. She stated, “You’re putting our lives at risk because we are dressed as officers and that’s how the public perceives us. We wear a badge and we need to be able to enforce it.” Because they were not allowed to wear their weapons, the officers initially refused their commissions.
Rabble-rouser Edward Abbey then got into the controversy, telling Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus to “give these people the enforcement authority they need to protect the public lands of the American West.” The secretary rescinded his gun-in-the-glovebox memo, and Schalk got her revolver.
She worked in Utah, California, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon, sometimes under cover, often alone. Schalk helped with the second prosecution of pothunters under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, taught hundreds of federal and Indian officers and archaeologists about protecting artifacts, and retired after twenty-eight years with a Superior Service Award. In one case, she personally helped recover 150 Anasazi artifacts now at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah.
Retired U.S. Attorney Kris Olson called Schalk “the best case agent I ever had in trial… Lynell was fearless, but not reckless, in pursuit of her duties.”
Schalk is finishing a book she plans to call Plunder on the Plateau. I can’t wait to read it. The Old West abounds with stories of sheriffs with their big hats and handlebar mustaches. Now it’s the New West, and it’s high time we learned about the “girl rangers” who saved thousand-year old artifacts for us all.
Andrew Gulliford is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a professor of Southwest studies and history at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.
Behind the Mike: One angry man
— Michael Aun
I’m a moron when it comes to tech stuff. When my sons gave me an I-pod, I actually thought it was a transistor radio. I told them I could only get one channel on the darn thing, but it was a great channel. Had all my favorite beach music on it and the really cool part was that whenever I cut it off, it always came back on to the same song and there were never any commercials. Man, is that ever awesome!
Now comes my newest technological challenge—text messaging. The first recorded text message was sent in December 1992. Before you’re done reading this article, the total number of text messages sent will exceed the population of the United States. Twenty-four hours from now, they will exceed the population of the entire planet.
I don’t get the hidden messages within text messages. (MEGO) my eyes glaze over when it comes to this stuff. Does anyone write in complete sentences anymore? Do people still talk to one another over the phone?
I realize I’m a (nOOb) newbie to the text message thing. So (?4U) I have a question for you and I’m not looking for (2MI) too much information. (B4) before text messaging, how did we manage to communicate?
The big challenge is figuring out all the acronyms. I can’t wait until my two-year-old granddaughter Ashley gets a little older so I can ask her what all this #$%^& means. I’m trying to (T+) think positive here but I prefer to (SIT) stay in touch the old fashion way… with email and the telephone.
But even email is like alphabet stew anymore. Yes, when one of my employees needs (SOS) help, all he needs to do is ask for help. What’s with the (SOS) stuff? Help is only one letter longer. Of course, (SOS) could also stand for Son of Sam.
I promised my wife today I would (T:}T) think happy thoughts when I wrote this column, but I’m wondering if my (PEEPS) people who are reading this garbage understand all this stuff. Come on (d00d), get with it. Why not just spell dude? I can understand that.
(NIGI) now I get it. I’m almost sixty and this is a language I just don’t understand. I keep saying to myself (WIIFE), what’s in it for me? I have to keep a text message manual around to understand what the sender is saying. (RTMS) read the manual, stupid. (TA) thanks a lot. (WTG) way to go… screw up my entire life by making me learn a new language. I’m too old and grumpy for this nonsense. I feel like telling them (MYOB) mind your own business. (OMG) oh my God… (NSISR) not sure I spelled that right.
Kids love this stuff. They can communicate in code to keep their parents in the dark. For instance, (P911) clearly gives the receiver a heads-up that the parents are coming into the room. You could also go with the old standby (PAW) parents are watching. You have to give your (PEEPS) a heads-up. Can’t have the older generation knowing what’s between your ears. (GF) God forbid!
I want these kids to know I’m onto them. (TA) thanks a lot. You can no longer get one by this old geezer. I might be (SQ) square, but I got my trusty text message glossary close by, and it’s (AWESO) awesome, which is how every kid under eighteen describes everything today. What’s that about? How can everything be (AWESO)?
I suspect I might be (ZZZZ) putting you to sleep with all this gibberish. Personally, I have (ZOT) zero tolerance for all this. (YYSSW) yeah, yeah, sure, sure, whatever, you say. You could have just said what every kid under eighteen says—(W/E) whatever—and saved a few letters. But no, (UGTBK) you’ve got to be kidding; you have to pontificate with the yeah, yeah, sure, sure crap. (UNBLEFBLE) unbelievable!
What I really feel like saying is (^URS) up yours with all this acronym stuff. (BM) bite me. (STFU) shut the freak up.
(TTFN) ta-ta for now. (CUL8R) see you later. Have a good (W/E) weekend. (ENUF) enough already! I’m (1AM) one angry man. The last one’s on me.