Secrets from the Park Ranger Files: Joshua Tree

Part 6 of 6: These funny, scary, and downright bizarre true stories come from rangers in some of America's favorite national parks. This week we hear from a ranger in Joshua Tree National Park.
Star Trails at Night in Joshua Tree National Park, California
Star Trails: Strange things happen in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park, California. (iStockphoto)

Joshua Tree National Park
Ranger Trouper Snow has made the national park rounds, working in Alaska, Florida, and, most recently, California’s Joshua Tree National Park, where he’s seen some pretty strange things.

Take, for instance, the case of the golf-ball bandit. Hundreds, if not thousands, of golf balls kept popping up in strange pyramid stacks all over the California desert. When Snow picked all of them up, the person started leaving golf scoring cards. And when Snow picked all of those up, the guy started leaving canned food. Eventually the bandit grew angry at whoever was messing up his work and just started leaving garbage. Through some clever detective work, Snow finally found the perp, a guy who was leaving the items as tributes to “fallen golfers” and the cans of food for “hungry hikers,” although Snow pointed out those hikers would have appreciated a can opener, too.

But the strangest incident happened about five years ago when Snow got a call that a fire truck was broken down in J-Tree, as climbers like to call it. “That’s an odd call to get,” Snow says. “We would know if there was a fire truck in the park.” To top it off, the report said the driver was dressed as a pirate.

Snow shows up and, sure enough, there’s a fire truck and guy wearing an eye-patch and a pirate vest. His companion was wearing wings. “Nothing lined up at all,” Snow says. “The fire truck was from Florida. They couldn’t show they owned it, that they had permission to drive it, nothing.” Rangers impounded the truck and made a list of everything that was inside it. That’s when things really got weird.

“First thing I pulled out of a storage area where you’d put the hose was an elk head,” he says. “It wasn’t mounted. Just in a plastic bag. I thought, ‘Hmm, we don’t have elk in the desert.’ I wondered what else we might find.”

Hours later, the list of dead animals inventoried had soared to 20.

“There were three species of owls and hawks, which are protected raptors,” Snow said. “We also found a bobcat, or parts of a bobcat. The leg was still bloody from where he’d taken it off to go do some sacrifice out in the park.”

Snow was worried that the guy had been poaching the animals on some sick rampage across the country, but what’s even stranger still is that he hadn’t. Rather he’d bought or been given the animals and was on his way to the Burning Man festival, where he planned to decorate the fire truck into an animal-head mobile disco. The pirate’s story actually checked out. But he still faced charges, and the animal bits were seized.

Don’t be that guy…
Bobcats do live in Joshua Tree National Park, and Snow says the best place to see them is around the Cottonwood area in the south of the park. Evening into night is the best time to try to spot them, but they’re shy and typically will run and hide well before you even know they’re there.

Published: 5 Jun 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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