Erika Nuetzel is a naturalist guide for Wanderlust Tours in Bend. Here’s how she spends her days at work.
Erika Nuetzel gets paid to be outside. She’s lived in Bend for the last year and a half and works as a naturalist guide for Wanderlust Tours. “Somehow I’ve convinced my boss to pay me to do the things I’d like to be doing in my own time,” said Nuetzel. Here’s how she spends a normal working day in Bend.
6:00 a.m.: I wake up, and take my dog, Zephyr, for a walk. After heating up some veggie hash for breakfast, I consider my options for a morning activity. Bend has so many amazing things to do, it’s always easy to squeeze something in before work!
Noon: After spending the morning running Big Eddy laps, hiking, or climbing out at Smith Rock, I head into work around noon to prep for my upcoming afternoon and night trips. As naturalist guides, our schedules vary from day to day. My afternoon at work could involve some hiking around Newberry National Volcanic Monument, or spelunking through an 80,000 year old lava tube cave. Today, I’ll be running an afternoon kayak trip and a moonlight canoe tour. Now that I know my schedule, I load up the van and the kayak trailer with the gear I need, and head over to pick the guests up at the Wanderlust Tours office.
1:30 p.m. I meet my group of ten adventurous guests and we embark on the journey to Paulina Lake. A forty-minute drive through the Deschutes National Forest provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the natural and cultural history of this part of the world. We pass through the second-growth Ponderosa pine forest in the high desert and climb higher into the old-growth subalpine ecosystem, all the while talking about the 100-plus species of animals, plants, and trees that live here, and how people have moved throughout the land over the last 15,000 years.
2:20 p.m. Once we arrive to the boat ramp, we set up the kayaks and paddles before launching off. Afternoons at Paulina are the best time for kayak trips. We cross the lake to take a dip into the hot springs that line the north shore, then we jump in the clear waters of the lake. After our swim, we pause a while on a beach overlooking the Big Obsidian Flow and Paulina Peak. From this vantage point, you can really tell we’re kayaking in a collapsed volcanic caldera! Osprey fly high overhead and take turns plunging into the lake as they dive for an afternoon snack in front of our boats.
5:30 p.m. The afternoon passes much too quickly. Before long the tour is over and we’re heading back to the Wanderlust Tours office. After parting ways with my afternoon guests, it’s time for me to go to the Wanderlust Tours warehouse to get ready for the night trip. Since the gloomy smoke from far-off wildfires has finally cleared, I’ve decided I’ll take my group up Cascade Lakes Highway to Hosmer Lake to paddle beneath the stars. I prepare the canoes for the night trip at our shop by loading them onto the trailer, and loading the van with life jackets and headlamps.
7:45 p.m. We arrive at the boat ramp as the sun sets behind us, illuminating South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor with the glorious alpenglow of the late summer evenings. Once I’ve explained the mechanics of canoeing to the guests, we set off on the lake. We’re just about the only boats on the water. At this time of day, most people have gone home, and the nocturnal animals come out in their place. A bald eagle is perched on the third story of a subalpine fir, so we pause our paddling to observe him. Soon enough he makes a move, diving into the lake to pluck an Atlantic salmon out for dinner. We leave him to enjoy his bounty in peace and continue paddling as the sky darkens.
9:00 p.m. Bats and nighthawks swirl around our boats as we continue down the main channel towards the north end of the lake. We pass a beaver swimming stealthily across the lake towards her lodge in the tule reeds. As the sky darkens, Venus, Jupiter and Mars appear on the horizon, and the Summer Triangle is the first asterism to emerge. Pretty soon, the entire night sky is speckled with stars that make up various constellations, satellites flying in outer space, and the Milky Way shines brightly through the Summer Triangle.
9:45 p.m. At this point, we group all the canoes together, and I pass out delicious Sparrow Bakery desserts and homemade hot cocoa to all guests, and a Deschutes Brewery beer to those over 21. I share the Greek myths behind the constellations above us as guests enjoy their goodies, and we discuss nighttime ecology of the area. Again, nature provides an incredible backdrop to these stories and although I wish we could sit among the stars for hours, we eventually make it back to Bend.
11:00 p.m. I say farewell to my guests and drive the Wanderlust Tours van back to the warehouse. While enjoying my shift beer, I listen to music and clean out the van and canoes. Then, I head home to play with Zephy, eat some food, and pass out… ready to do it all again tomorrow!