A breed apart

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A breed apart

Wilderness rangers need special skills to meet challenges of solitary duty
Michael Anderson chops vegetables for his Wilderness Ranger Cookoff dish Wednesday, June, 6, at Mesa Verde.
Lacy Wilson rolls sushi for the Wilderness Ranger Cook-off competition Wednesday, June, 6, at Mesa Verde. Wilderness rangers demonstrated their cooking skills they use when they go backpacking.
Steve Chesterton fires up his backpacking burner to begin cooking for the Wilderness Ranger Cookoff at Mesa Verde National Park Wednesday, June 6.
Backcountry cuisine:
the ultimate takeout

Among the other challenges faced by wilderness rangers working deep in the backcountry of America’s wild lands is the complication of creating meals that will satisfy both sophisticated palates and bodies craving energy.
This is no job for ramen noodles and pre-packaged pepperoni.
The demands of the profession, and the sheer amount of time spent in the backcountry have, by necessity, created outstanding cooks of many wilderness rangers, men and women capable of whipping up a five-star meal with just a few ingredients, one pot and a backpacking stove. These culinary skills were highlighted during the Wilderness Ranger Academy at Mesa Verde National Park.
In order to provide a little rest and relaxation for the rangers attending the academy, a backcountry cook-off was held on Wednesday, June 6, to test the skills of the rangers and provide inspiration for others.
The cooks who participated in the contest had to follow a few basic ground rules. All meals must be made in one pot, with ingredients that can be carried into the backcountry. The resulting creations were extraordinary.
Lacy Wilson, a wilderness ranger in the Carson National Forest near Taos, N.M., pulled out her stove and began cooking rice, while laying out the ingredients for sushi rolls. Wilson’s meal was far from the standard backcountry fare.
Wilson said when cooking on the job, she looks for meals that are simple and nutritious.
“I make meals that are quick, one dish and anything I can get that’s veggie and flavorful,” Wilson said.
Anna Zajicek, a ranger in the Weminuche Wilderness, created a couscous dish with apple cider, peanut butter, apple butter and cranberries. She named her creation “Cranberry Delight,” and said it would work for breakfast or dessert.
Zajicek said her backcountry cooking skills have been aided by the strategic use of spices in her meals.
“Once I learned how to cook with spices, that was all I needed,” Zajicek said.
Despite the seeming complexity of her dish for the competition, Zajicek said she has just one simple rule for food in the backcountry.
“Just bring chocolate,” she said, laughing.
Among other dishes entered in the contest were a sausage and spaghetti meal, with the spaghetti actually threaded through the slices of sausage; Stormtroopper Spooze, a pasta-based dish with mashed potatoes, cheese, hot sauce and red pepper; Potato Surprise; and Landlocked Gumbo.
Steve Chesterton, a wilderness manager for the Arapaho National Forest, near Boulder, Colo., created Stormtrooper Spooze and said the meal is constantly evolving.
“It is really just a combination of what remains at the end of a trip,” Chesterton said. “You just throw it all together.”
While the cooking competition seemed to be lighthearted fun, it was also the beginning stages of research for Wilderness Ranger Cookbook II, the sequel to the first book, published in 1990.
The original cookbook was the brainchild of Ralph Swain, wilderness project manager for the Rocky Mountain Region, who said the cookbook has provided a place to highlight the creative and delicious recipes crafted by rangers.
“We want to update the cookbook for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, in 2014,” Swain said. “The recipes blow me away. They are nutritious and delicious, and we can share them with other people.”
The winners of the backcountry cookoff were Landlocked Gumbo, created by Triston Richardson, San Juan National Forest; Cranberry Delight, created by Ana Zajicek, Weminuche Wilderness; and Potato Surprise, created by Chris Smith, Routt National Forest.
The Wilderness Ranger Cookbook is available for sale at the Dolores Public Lands Office, 29211 Colorado Highway 184, Dolores.

Reach Kimberly Benedict at kimberlyb@cortezjournal.com.

A breed apart

Michael Anderson chops vegetables for his Wilderness Ranger Cookoff dish Wednesday, June, 6, at Mesa Verde.
Lacy Wilson rolls sushi for the Wilderness Ranger Cook-off competition Wednesday, June, 6, at Mesa Verde. Wilderness rangers demonstrated their cooking skills they use when they go backpacking.
Steve Chesterton fires up his backpacking burner to begin cooking for the Wilderness Ranger Cookoff at Mesa Verde National Park Wednesday, June 6.
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