Don’t mess with park rangers. Seriously.
They’ll kick you out. In the nicest, most passive-aggressive way, they’ll politely ask you to leave. Let me go back and explain what happened.
As anyone from Washington State knows, the drive from Seattle to Spokane (or vice-versa) can be riddled with boredom unless you’re playing traffic games with other drivers or looking for something in particular (like totaling up the different crops with names posted on the fence lines to see if it turns out to be a microcosm of the state’s overall agricultural output…but I digress). One bright spot that often gets overlooked is the Ginko Petrified Forest in Vantage, located on the west side of the Columbia River.
Having driven the Seattle-Spokane run literally hundreds of times in my life, I’ve only stopped at the Ginko interpretive center once or twice. I’ve often driven past it with my wife and said, “Honey, you have to see this. It’s really cool. Plus they have petroglyphs. We’ll stop on the way back, okay?” Then we never do, opting instead to burn rubber back home where the beds are always more comfortable.
This time, I insisted on stopping. I was even going to do a video interview with a ranger to add to this very blog. I had the trip planned out to the minute and was going to spend a good half-hour showing Kelly and Parker the petrified forest and visitor’s center. Even when we fell behind thanks to an overstayed visit to the North Bend Outlet Mall (a concession that had to be made in exchange for stopping in Vantage) I insisted on making a quick visit anyway.
As we drove the quick half-mile off Interstate 90, we passed a sign I really should have seen coming: Discover Pass Required. It’s not that I have any problem with that…in fact, I support user-based fees over increased general taxes any day of the week. It’s just that, well…I haven’t exactly been able to justify the $30 cost yet this year. With my reduced free time, my wife’s developing pregnancy and our recession-limited funds, we haven’t been able to squeeze it into the budget just yet (although I did begin volunteering to earn a free Discover Pass, another provision of the new restriction that I happen to agree with).
Nevertheless, we pressed on as long road trips with pregnant women and toddlers necessitates multiple potty breaks. After using the facilities (whew!) and seeing no other cars in the parking lot, we thought maybe the visitor center was closed. I had wanted to show Kelly the Native American petroglyphs since I first took her across the state back in 2005. She and Parker finally got to see the ancient renditions of humans, animals and other unknown symbols. In prehistoric times, the Wanapum tribe of Native Americans inhabited the region along the Columbia River from the Beverly Gap to the Snake River. The Wanapum people first welcomed white strangers in the area during Lewis and Clarks expeditions across the United States. They lived by fishing and agriculture, carved the over 300 petroglyphs into the basalt cliffs, and may have used the petrified wood exposed by erosion for arrowheads and other tools.
When the Wanapum Dam was built in 1963 four miles downstream, raising the water level of the Columbia River, a new interpretive center was constructed and about 60 of the petroglyphs were salvaged from the rising water and relocated to their current position on display at the visitor center. In October 2000, the National Park Service designated the Ginkgo Petrified Forest as a National Natural Landmark. Petrified wood was named the Washington state gem by the state legislature on March 12, 1975.
Though hundreds (if not thousands) of cars drive right past the Ginko Petrified Forest every day, very few actually stop to enjoy the historical and geological attraction. That’s why I found it very interesting that the twenty-something park ranger’s first comments to us (the only people in the park who didn’t work there) after she got off the phone was, “Welcome to Ginko State Park, do you have a Discover Pass in your car?”
I stared back at her blankly, half expecting her to finish with, “I’m only kidding, you’re our only visitors today!” My wife finally broke the silence, admitting that we did not have a Discover Pass. The ranger politely offered to sell us one for the day for $10 or a yearly pass for only $30, and warned us that her fellow park ranger was patrolling the area writing $99 tickets today. Upon asking us which option we’d like to pursue, we thanked her and left the park. Since we were the only visitors in the parking lot I felt it was only a matter of time before her colleague spotted our lone vehicle to check for a Discover Pass. So we got to see the petroglyphs, but were evicted before we could enjoy the visitor center. The moral of this story is, don’t be a cheapskate…buy the Discover Pass or face the (polite) wrath of the underpaid park ranger.