CAMP VERDE - According to Case Griffing, lead interpretive park ranger and volunteer program manager for Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments, the essence of being a park ranger is "preserving the touchstones of our national history and our identity for people to see and learn from, and then passing them forward to our children and grandchildren and beyond.
"It's so much more than just walking in the woods," he says. "It's about holding on to places like Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot and the Well that represent so many inherent lessons, not only about prehistoric people, but about ourselves today. It's about passing along the stunning beauty of Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. But it's also about saving and sharing the profound lessons of places like Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, Pearl Harbor, Manzanar, or the nation's capital.
"When you go to a national park or monument or historic site, you are seeing and investing in something that either physically or philosophically represents a part of what it means to be American."
Bugle: How long have you been living in the Verde Valley?
Griffing: I moved to Camp Verde in September 2010, so I've been here almost three years now.
Bugle: Where did you live before you moved to Camp Verde?
Griffing: I grew up in the hot, humid southeast. My family is originally from Mississippi, and I was born in the capital of north Mississippi - Memphis, Tenn. I grew up in those two states, as well as Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. As much as the states I lived in, I think it's an important part of "where I come from" that I grew up outdoors, playing ball, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, and being a part of everything outside.
Bugle: What brought you to the Verde Valley?
Griffing: My first trip to the Verde Valley was in 2004, and I quickly fell in love with the scenery - the bright blue sky, the rusty red rocks, the low bosques and the high forests. When a position opened at Montezuma Castle in 2010, I applied immediately.
Bugle: What is your favorite place in the Verde Valley?
Griffing: How could I choose just one? I enjoy the scenery and hiking around Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. Camp Verde and Beaver Creek offer a terrific sense of community. Clarkdale, Cottonwood, and Jerome give us a peek at some of our early industrial history, followed by remarkably creative renewal of spaces that were falling into disuse. One of the nicest things about living in the Verde Valley is that there are so many favorite places.
Bugle: What are some of your hobbies?
Griffing: I became a park ranger because I love national parks, and after 10 years in the service, I still spend most of my vacation time traveling to see them. I enjoy astronomy and art, science and science fiction, and more than almost anything, I like to learn about and try new things.
Bugle: Do you have a family? Spouse? Kids?
Griffing: I have been happily married to my beloved wife Kat for 11 1/2 years.
Bugle: When you have a long weekend, what do you and your family like to do?
Griffing: Kat and I really enjoy road trips. The culture and history of Tucson, the excitement of Las Vegas, the ancient traditions of the various American Indian nations, and the laid-back atmosphere (and cool weather) of Flagstaff give us a lot of choices for exploration and discovery.
Bugle: Do you have any pets?
Griffing: We have two rescues. When we got our cat, she had been abandoned and had a funny little walk that reminded my wife of an old grandfather tinkering in his garage - so she's named Tinker. Our dog was abandoned with his dam and littermates at my last park in San Antonio. We found families for all the others, and Jake came home to be part of ours.
Bugle: What music is in your car right now?
Griffing: I keep the dial on NPR, with occasional bouts of jazz in between.
Bugle: What is your favorite food?
Griffing: If my wife and I are going out for something special, we look for seafood or something Asian - Chinese, Thai, or Japanese, including various kinds of sushi. Still, there's nothing like mama's home cookin'!
Bugle: What was your favorite sports team when you were growing up?
Griffing: I grew up playing baseball and collecting baseball cards, and any team with Nolan Ryan or Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite - Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and Seattle Mariners.
Bugle: What is your most embarrassing moment?
Griffing: When I was little, my father (a member of the Greatest Generation who grew up during The Depression and The War) would look at me after I'd done something embarrassing and ask, "Well, son, did you learn anything?" In retrospect, I figure that if you learn something worthwhile from your experiences, then there's not so much need to linger on whatever part of them might have embarrassed you at the time.
Bugle: Is there anything else people do not know about you that you would like to share?
Griffing: The best advice I've ever been given: "Take small bites and chew carefully." I've learned that works for more than just food. (Thanks, Dad!)