Dwight Pit­caith­ley lec­tures on “100 Years of Our Na­tional Parks,”and a show of na­ture photos by David Muelch

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

in­grade school, some kids al­ready know what they want to do when they grow up. Dwight T. Pit­caith­ley was not one of those. “I grew up in Carls­bad, and I was a ter­ri­ble stu­dent, but I was pretty good at mu­sic,” he told Pasatiempo re­cently. “I was a per­cus­sion­ist, and when I went to col­lege the first time, I ma­jored in mu­sic, which was re­ally hard. You have to be very dis­ci­plined. I lasted three years at Eastern New Mexico Uni­ver­sity be­fore they asked me to leave and come back when I thought I could keep my grades up.”

Pit­caith­ley would go on to a 30-year ca­reer with the Na­tional Park Ser­vice. He speaks at the New Mexico His­tory Mu­seum on Sun­day, Sept. 4, on “100 Years of Our Na­tional Parks.”

Af­ter leav­ing ENMU, he joined the Marine Corps. That was in the sum­mer of 1964, and one month later, there was a sea bat­tle be­tween Amer­i­can and North Viet­namese ves­sels in the Gulf of Tonkin that ac­cel­er­ated U.S. in­volve­ment in the Viet­nam War. Pit­caith­ley served three years in the Marines, in­clud­ing six months in Viet­nam. He re­turned to ENMU, and for rea­sons he doesn’t fully un­der­stand, he chose to study his­tory and ex­celled at it. He earned bach­e­lor’s and master’s de­grees there and then went to Texas Tech for his doc­tor­ate in Western his­tory.

In the mid-1970s, he was hired for a temporary job by Na­tional Park Ser­vice his­to­rian Richard West Sel­lars of the NPS’ South­west Re­gional Of­fice on Old Santa Fe Trail. Pit­caith­ley re­called, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven work­ing in the Santa Fe re­gional of­fice.” Sel­lars (a Santa Fe res­i­dent) went on to head the ser­vice’s South­west Cul­tural Re­sources Cen­ter and re­tired in 2008 af­ter 35 years with the agency. Pit­caith­ley, who ac­tu­ally be­gan his ca­reer clean­ing toi­lets at Carls­bad Na­tional Park, re­tired from NPS in 2005 af­ter serv­ing as chief his­to­rian for 10 years.

What did he most en­joy about that po­si­tion? “It’s a bully pul­pit,” he said. “I was the chief cheer­leader for his­tory in the Park Ser­vice. My job was to ad­vo­cate for good his­tory, whether in in­ter­pre­ta­tion or man­age­ment or plan­ning or de­vel­op­ment, to make sure the schol­arly his­tor­i­cal voice was present.”

Pit­caith­ley dis­cov­ered that NPS his­to­ri­ans worked more of­ten in cul­tural re­source man­age­ment than in in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which meant that all the ed­u­ca­tional and in­ter­pre­tive pro­grams didn’t nec­es­sar­ily have a schol­arly base. When he be­came chief his­to­rian, he de­voted him­self to forg­ing a part­ner­ship be­tween

Left to right, Park ranger at en­trance to the main build­ing of Aztec Ru­ins Na­tional Mon­u­ment, Neg. No. HP.2007.20.499; Jim White at the top of shaft that took the first tourists into Carls­bad Cav­erns, Neg. No. 177737; Ru­ins of Fort Union on the Santa Fe Trail, Neg. No. 055320; Park rangers at the en­trance to Carls­bad Cav­erns Na­tional Park, Neg. No. 052059; all his­toric photos cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Archives

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