Tyler Priest is one of the most adventurous Texans we follow here at Hiking Texas. Based as a Park Ranger in the Davis Mountains, Tyler is always exploring a rugged peak or backcountry landscape in the greater Big Bend region. Priest talks about working for Texas Parks and Wildlife, living in Ft. Davis, Texas and all of his wild West Texas adventures.
Hiking Texas: What part of Texas are you from and what does hiking mean to you?
Tyler Priest: A year and a half ago I moved from Austin to Fort Davis, population 1,200 people, elevation 4900', which some call the Colorado of Texas. We enjoy the best four seasons in Texas in a quiet, charming little mountain town. For me, hiking gets at what it means to be human. We evolved to move through nature on two feet. To do that, sweat a bit, breathe deeply - these are fundamentally human activities. And for me it's also moving meditation. It's headspace. It seems to elicit reflection and creativity and at times you can slip into a flow state.
HT: What is your background with Texas Parks and Wildlife?
TP: I got my start with TPWD coordinating the Texas State Park Ambassador Program (@txstateparkambassadors) to engage more 18-30 year olds through volunteering, leadership, and adventure. It was a great experience connecting with some of the state's brightest conservation leaders and watching that fledgling program grow into the force that it is now. I led a few trainings at Davis Mountains State Park (@davismountainssp) where we had some magical experiences and I was already falling in love with this part of Texas. So when the interpretive ranger job came open at DMSP, I threw my name in the hat, got an interview, and the next thing I knew I was heading west.
People tend to romanticize being a park ranger. In my role as interpretive ranger and volunteer coordinator, it's a lot of logistics, communication, calendars, scheduling, public programming and desk-based work. It's not like I'm outside hiking around all day. That said, I might have the best office in the state of Texas with a trailhead 100 feet out the door. I try not to take that for granted.
HT: What is the best part about your job?
TP: I love facilitating nature-based experiences that change the way people see my park and the world around them. The mindfulness walk that I lead might do that best, but I try to do that through every walk and talk I lead.
HT: Do you have any tips for someone who is interested in a career centered around the outdoors?
TP: Explore all the different possibilities of outdoor careers - it can take so many different forms today. Volunteer and build an outdoor jobs network. Adopt a mindset of public service. And to quote Ed Abbey, "Do not burn yourselves out... It is not enough to fight for the land. It is even more important to enjoy it." In other words, don't forget to Get Out There Y'all.
HT: Tell us about your best adventure from West Texas.
TP: It's tough to choose. It might be when I led a group of 10 Ambassador Alumni around the Rancherias Loop in Big Bend Ranch State Park in November 2016 for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine story with Tom Harvey. That trip had it all - top notch humans, a ferocious thunderstorm bearing down on us the first night, a den of rattlesnakes on the trail, a beautiful sunset filtered through the cottonwoods the second night, talking with an owl at sunrise, epic views into Mexico, and that satisfying deep-in-your bones exhaustion just as you realize there's a flat tire back at the trailhead. All kinds of type 2 fun.
HT: What are some of the most important actions we can take to help our public lands?
TP: Find ways to help reduce human impact without discouraging access and enjoyment. Become a “Master Naturalist”. Engage politically. Advocate for more public lands especially near urban centers — we desperately need them in such a booming state. By the way, big thanks to everyone who overwhelmingly supported Prop 5 last year. Our collective voice can be quite powerful. Let’s keep raising it.
HT: Where are you going next, what’s on your to-do list for 2020?
TP: As far as hiking in Texas goes, there will always be more to explore in the Big Bend. I'm starting to organize monthly day hikes in this region. I'd like to start exploring our Wildlife Management Areas like Black Gap with the Public Use Permit. Think of it as a $12 State Parks Pass to all WMA's (Wildlife Management Areas) — some truly wild off-grid places without a lot of the rules and regs of state parks. As our state and national parks become more loved and crowded, I feel like WMA's could be tremendous resources for adventurous Texans.
I also want to hike the Big Bend 100, which my good friend and colleague Ky Harkey plotted a few years ago as "Texas' 100 best miles". A full traverse of the Franklin Mountains ridgeline in a day with @kyharkey might be my biggest adventure goal of 2020. I'm grateful to live this close to some of the state's best hiking and adventures. The list just keeps growing.
Connect with Tyler on Instagram: @tylerpriest
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