ROGER REISCH



By Lynn Chelewski
For decades in the era of the late 1960’s to the late 1990’s Roger Reisch was known as “Mr. Guadalupe Mountains”.  Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the World War II Marine Corps Veteran and National Park Service ranger lived in many localities in the Guadalupe’s over the years. A lifelong bachelor and lover of history, nature and horses Reisch on many occasions would purchase a horse and donate it to the Park ensuring that he would have good stock to ride into the back country. He had worked at other National Park sites such as Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Padre Island National Seashore and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  He was the first official employee of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in its formative years, and remained there for the remainder of his career.  

Although he had a jovial personality and staunch work ethic, to neighbors, co-workers and people in the surrounding communities he was noted as somewhat of an eccentric character. I know, I was there from 1986 until he retired in the late 1990’s. We became good friends despite our difference in age, (he was old enough to be my dad), and we were both Marine Corps veterans, and I had started out my career at Padre Island National Seashore. 
 
Roger’s personal attire and phobia of skin cancer drew a lot of attention.  When he was out and about even on a hot day he wore long sleeves, perhaps a jacket, high cuffed leather gloves, his wide brimmed hat with a large red bandana tucked into it that would totally protect the back and sides of his neck.  Sometimes he wore a black leather nose piece held on by a string for further protection from the sun.  He drove a late 1960’s model Chevy truck that was mint green in color, and kept it in immaculate condition.  For further protection from the sun, he had a cloth covering the rear glass behind the driver’s seat, and to my knowledge was never accosted about it by local law enforcement. 
 
Although admired by locals for his outgoing, friendly personality and work ethic, he was disdained by some for his environmental advocacy and support of the Park Service view that Mountain Lions and Black Bears should have safe refuge in the Guadalupe’s which were shared in stewardship by the Lincoln National Forest, Bureau of Land Management holdings on the New Mexico boundary, and private land ownership on the Texas side of the border. I remember visiting with him one day at Dog Canyon when we could hear hounds baying in the distance up along the rim.  When the baying ceased, Roger commented solemnly, “Well, they got another one.” (Mountain Lion).  In the park everything was protected, right down to Rattlesnakes, scorpions and centipedes.  Roger adhered to that policy; although Darren Bryant recalls an episode when he witnessed a small rattlesnake latch onto Roger’s pant leg about boot level. Roger shook the snake off spewing some colorful expletives which I won’t put in print here!  It no doubt wasn’t funny to Roger, but was rather comical to see!
 
He once nominated his horse, Alejandro, for a performance award for the horse’s part in relocated wild turkeys into the back country.  Superintendent Bill Dunmire presented the award to the horse with Roger accepting on his behalf.  
 
He lived in many locations within the park over the years: Pratt’s cabin in McKittrick canyon, Pratt’s more permanent home dubbed, “Ship On The Desert”, the Frijole Ranch house, and for many years, Dog Canyon.  His last few years he lived in house # 305 in the Pine Springs Housing area.  He always had a chin up bar that he used even into his 70’s, and provided food and water for the birds.  
 
One of my fondest memories was of staying at his house at Dog Canyon one year when we were working on the Dog Canyon Water Well.  I remember sitting in his dining room having a cold beer and some apple slices, just watching the birds and ground squirrels take advantage of the ground level water container he had placed at the base of an Alligator Juniper tree in his back yard.  
 
The old bachelor could cook too, and one time Johnny Mac Sanders and I were staying over at Dog Canyon in the old bunkhouse doing some work. As we were leaving, we polished off a dozen eggs, toast and coffee when Roger came to the bunkhouse.  “Hey Mac, why don’t you and Lynn come up to the house and have some waffles?”  “No thanks Roger, we just had a dozen eggs.” Johnny casually replied.  “Aw you didn’t have that many, come on up to the house.”
 
You couldn’t refuse, so we obliged.  As we slowly soaked in his hospitality and forked in some waffles Roger asked, “You didn’t really have a dozen eggs, did you Mac?”  “No,” he lied, “we didn’t hardly have that many.” 
 
On one famous occasion, there were record winds hitting the Guadalupe’s; bankrupting a wind generator farm in the Delaware Mountains where it was clocked at 165 mph when it bent massive towers and tore off blades.  Roger and I happened to be in the parking lot by the maintenance compound when we saw a channel of strong wind coming from the southwest. We hunched down with our backs to the wind and it slid us about a foot and half with our feet planted on the asphalt.  Vehicles were sand blasted of paint, windows broken, and a roof tore off one of the Texas Highway Department homes next door. 
 
His exploring and research yielded countless Midden rings left by the Mescalero Apache, and some rifle pits built by the Buffalo Soldiers who bivouacked near Pine Springs.  He single-handedly called in slurry bomb strikes combatting wildfires back in his time and built enough old school ranger memories to fill a text book.  He was frustrated with all the change and technology in his last couple of years.  He once commented to me regarding the new breed of rangers in the National Park Service.  “At least I have memories.  What will these kids have memories of? A computer monitor?”   
 
My last visual of Roger when he was alive was of him standing beside his old Chevy pickup just off Highway 62-180 at a rest area with El Capitan in the background, tipping his hat farewell to his beloved Guadalupe’s.  It was the end of an era.  

 

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