A Poet, Musician, Cowboy and Ranger
Pursuing the life of a western cowboy and ranger has been challenging for Shelton Johnson, Interpretive Ranger at Yosemite National Park in California. Shelton, like most National Park Service (NPS) employees, fell in love with a career that would combine his favorite wilderness recreational pursuits, with an opportunity to share the knowledge and experience he learns with other people.
Often, unaware of the opportunities within the NPS, prospective employees stumble into discovering our National Parks through an indirect route. Shelton began his creative pursuits as a high school student at Caltech in Detroit, MI where he studied classical and jazz music. In 1981 he received a BA in English Literature from the University of Michigan. Johnson then joined the Peace Corps and spent two years teaching English in Liberia, South Africa. It was not until 1984, while a graduate student in creative writing at the University of Michigan that Shelton fully discovered Yellowstone National Park. During the summers of 1984 and 1985 he worked for a concessionaire in the park. His very first job that connected him to the NPS was as a dishwasher at the "Old Faithful Hotel."
He returned to Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 1987 as a seasonal entrance fee collector, in his first National Park Service job. After three summer seasons, seduced by Yellowstone National Park and the opportunities within the NPS, Shelton accepted his first permanent job as a clerical/park ranger in the Chief Rangers office. While in that position, Shelton ‘s most unique routine duty was driving the snowmobile to deliver the mail during the winter months.
As an employee of Great Basin National Park, Nevada, Shelton conducted tours of Lehman Cave, including playing his clarinet, led nature walks in the Bristlecone Pine Forest, and presented campfire programs. Great Basin is one of the most remote parks in the NPS, and it has the most "open space" that Shelton has ever lived in.
What is Shelton doing now?
As an Interpretive Ranger at Yosemite National Park, Shelton is researching and interpreting the African American military history within Yosemite National Park. Specifically, Johnson is focusing on the role of the Buffalo Soldiers, the 9th Cavalry and the 24th Mounted Infantry, in protecting the national parks. It is a "work in progress" as he uncovers the layers of history since 1864, when President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant. The Yosemite Grant protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees by setting it aside under the administration of the State of California.
Visitors to Yosemite interested in attending the military
history interpretive program may have an opportunity to hear Johnson’s
talk this summer. The talk will be included, along with many
other subjects, during "Yosemite’s Legacy," an interpretive walk that occurs
every Monday at 02:00 PM. However, "Yosemite’s Legacy "is a series
of general parks themes that rotate from week to week.
As the summer unfolds, Johnson is planning a stationary talk where he will
ride in on horseback in buffalo soldier period clothing. Visitors
interested in attending a program on African American involvement in military
protection of National Parks, should contact the Yosemite visitors center
to see if any of these talks will be presented during their stay.
Next year the program will be formally advertised in the Yosemite National
Park Program Bulletin and become a regularly interpreted park history.
The Best and Worst Aspects of the Job
Shelton‘s favorite part of the job is: Talking to the public, first through formal programs and secondly through casual interaction. The hardest part of his job is when other duties take him away from the first two duties. His dream job would be researching and interpreting the research to the public without interruptions or other commitments.
Most Recent Experience that Illustrates the Challenges of a Career
as a Cowboy and Ranger
The most recent challenege on Johnson’s road to becoming a cowboy was to attend a comprehensive six weeks of horse school. Learning the various techniques of riding a horse and jumping, 8 hours a day every day for six weeks, was both challenging and painful. Johnson’s muscles were sore, his arms were sore, and his back hurt! There is nothing that can replace the exhilaration in Johnson’s mind as he challenged himself, the only African American participant, to finish the class this year. He knew that not many African Americans have attended this particular NPS training. He was further challenged by the fact that he was learning the skills that were required of the African American mounted soldier in the 1800’s. It was the combination of the physical challenge and following in the footsteps of former African American soldiers that provided him with inspiration.
Shelton Johnson’s Advice to Future Visitors and Prospective Employees
Be Persistent and take the time to learn the government language for seeking employment.
Everyone is welcome as a visitor to and as an employee in our National Parks, even if they do not feel as if they are welcome. Parks were established for all people, as a visitor you need to take the chance, because the rewards are worth the risk.