If you visit Colorado National Monument this summer and drive the park's scenic Rim Rock Drive, you may encounter a group of masked men along the way. Fear not, Jesse James and his gang haven't been reincarnated, but this bunch certainly qualifies as "tough guys."
These masked men are members of a highly skilled team working to restore the historic stone walls along the Rim Rock Drive. The work is part of a two-year project to rehabilitate and stabilize 4,000 square feet of historic stone guard walls and replace deteriorated concrete foundations at the base of the walls, which were originally constructed decades ago by Civilian Conservation Corp crews.
Work on this project is being accomplished by stone masons from Bandelier National Monument and members of the maintenance staff from Colorado National Monument. The Bandelier stone masons are part of the NPS Division of Historic Preservation based at Bandelier.
But why the masks? It's not just the dust you might expect from stone work.
According to the park, "In the spring and summer, nearly invisible biting gnats make outdoor work extremely uncomfortable in Colorado National Monument." These gnats "particularly like to bite at the hairline and around the eyes, ears and nose." That's an annoyance for anyone, but when you're working on a rock ledge and your hands are busy with heavy tools and stones, such insects can become a major issue.
In response to the problem, the park experimenting with new micro-netting insect hoods to thwart the biting gnats, and the effect, as shown in the above photo, is a bit of a Darth Vader look. We hope the masks are proving effective, because this crew deserves all the help they can get to make their work just a bit less difficult. Biting bugs aren't the only challenge on this job.
A park spokesman notes, "Adding to the discomfort of this work is the 100 plus degree days spent on hot rocks and asphalt, high desert sun exposure, precarious stone ledges and adjacent traffic that all create an exceptionally challenging work environment." That more than meets the "tough guys" label in my book, and it sounds like this crew deserves a segment on one of those TV shows that feature heavy duty jobs.
The park staff is making a major effort to promote safety in this difficult work environment by providing shade shelters and lots of water, and by requiring frequent breaks. The park has also hired additional seasonal staff and trained them as flaggers to control traffic and provide an additional safety margin for the masked masons working on the rock ledges.
A spokesperson for the park notes, "The work is not for the faint of heart. The park is grateful to all of these employees for their attention to safety and their can-do attitudes while working in such harsh conditions. They are carrying on the traditions begun by the original stone masons who constructed the walls during the CCC era under similar harsh conditions but without the modern day detailed attention to employee safety."