Internship at national park brings student closer to dream

Ever since she was 10 years old, Antonieta Wescott has been pursuing her dream of becoming an interpretative park ranger.

The general studies major at South Plains College says she has a passion for researching history through anthropology.

“Anthropology is the study of homo sapiens,” she explained. “So basically I get to study different cultural societies, different subcultures, and I get to study the first humans on Earth.”

Wescott, a sophomore from Lubbock, says her interest in anthropology will play a very large role in her future career in the National Parks Service. In 10 years, Wescott plans on working in a national park as a park ranger.

Wescott says her love of national parks has been inspired by her father and grandfather since she was 7 years old.

“My dad has always been a mountain man,” Wescott said. “He has always taken me and my family out since I was a little girl. I remember my first days out at Big Bend, sitting at a campground and opening a cabbage patch doll for my birthday. It’s just in me.”

This summer, Wescott was  offered an internship at the Valles Caldera National Reserve in New Mexico, where she worked as an interpretive park ranger.

Antonieta Wescott spent her summer as an intern for Valles Caldera National Park. Photo courtesy of Antonieta Wescott

“Interpretive park rangers are the face of the park,” she explained. “My job was to give important information to the visitors who came to our park. I would hand out maps and give directions. I also had to do my own research on different anthropological notes.”

She was offered the internship by her mentor, Marin Karraker, who has been in the parks department for 30 years.

“I actually met her at San Juan Island National Park in Washington,” Wescott recalled. “Now, she’s over here in New Mexico at the Valles Caldera. That’s how I got the opportunity. It was the second internship I have gotten to do. I got to dip into every division out there. I was very thankful for the opportunity.”

Using resources from the park’s library, Wescott educated herself on all of the information she would need to inform visitors of the park during hike tours. She says she was glad to have the opportunity to research a park that was new to her.

Wescott says she was given cliff notes of archeological discoveries from research that dates back to the 1920s.

“It was my job to research from different time stamps,” Wescott said. “I would take those notes and use them in my own speech while giving tours, from my own perspective on the resource. And that’s what this park is. It’s one big resource, and I got to choose what I wanted to talk about.”

During her time at the Valles Caldera, Wescott did her research on the indigenous people who lived there before American settlement and call it home today. She also researched park safety awareness, as well as the ecosystem of the reserve.

“It was a lot of research I had to do,” Wescott said. “I worked out there by myself for a good month, and this reserve is huge. In 89,000 acres, I got to learn a lot.”

The Valles Caldera, where Wescott spent her internship, has a large supply of obsidian, which the indigenous hunters and warriors would use to craft arrowheads and other tools. She says one thing she found interesting about the caldera is that over time, as it erupted, the shape of the caldera grew into a perfect circle.

“It’s a real big hotspot for different geologists,” Wescott said. “I witnessed a lot of big student groups from major universities out there this summer. The geology is just phenomenal out there. We had a huge obsidian valley in our backyard that had 6,000-year-old arrowheads. What’s really cool about the park is that it was a big trading point for ancient, indigenous cultures.”

During the internship, Wescott says that she was able to see the filming of the last season of “Longmeyer,” a modern western crime drama. The Valles Caldera has been the site of many film projects where actors such as Adam Sandler, Kate Blanchette and Johnny Depp have worked.

“Robert Taylor’s cabin was actually just two miles down the road from where my lodge was,” she said. “Hollywood production sets will go out there thanks to the third and last private owner, the Bond family.”

Wescott says that out of the many national parks she has visited, the Valles Caldera is one that is unique to her. Because the park was not registered as a national reserve until 2015, Wescott says that the resources in the land have gone almost untouched, giving her a new experience.

“This place is an oasis,” she said. “The view out there is one of its own. It’s so unheard of. This is a brand new national park.”

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