Thursday, May 23, 2013

Preparing to Work in a National Park

With less than one week left before I head to Bryce Canyon National Park for my seasonal job in the gift shop, I am busy making final preparations.

Living in a company dorm is always a challenge. You sure learn how to downsize when it's the only "home" you have! For me, this time this has meant getting rid of absolutely everything I cannot carry with me in two suitcases plus one carry on.

Trust me. Releasing material possessions is hard. Up until the past few weeks, I had always considered myself a pro at not owning "things".

This week, I had to throw away several years' worth of handwritten journals and fiction manuscripts. I had to toss printed photographs from my time in Florida. I've had to give away all my books, and my souvenirs from my travels abroad.

I keep telling myself, this is all for the best. One day I will be glad I did it. I have challenged myself to consider this a spiritual process.

I am also writing about about letting go of your worldly goods which I will publish on Amazon later this year!

Now, the uniforms are bought. Some parks provide uniforms or have a very casual dress code. Forever Resorts has a much more strict, formal (and expensive) uniform policy for employees. So far I have spent over $200 getting everything together, and am still not completely finished.

The plane ticket is paid for. I have booked my hotel in the city where my job's HR staff will come to pick me up.

I remind myself of all the positive aspects of this upcoming adventure. I am looking forward to being in nature, again. To long hikes in stunning landscapes on my off days. I am looking forward to meeting new coworkers from around the world.

Most of all, I am looking forward to at least of few months' worth of financial security!

I still have no idea where I will go at the end of this season. Sometimes I think I want to return to explore more of India. Maybe I will finally attempt to make a life in Europe, finances permitting.

Part of me wants nothing more than to find whatever it means to have a "home". To have a place to call my own, where I can sit in the garden with one (or three) good cats and drink tea.

I have bounced back and forth between 7 US states and various other countries over the past two decades. I will always love travel and exploring new places. But I also want a place to rest.

On a positive note, let me leave you with a few national park images I've taken over my previous seasonal jobs!

From Rocky Mountain National Park, where I worked in the Gift Shop.
Wildflowers Along Mount Ida Trail in RMNP

A Golden Marmot on Mount Ida in Colorado's RMNP
From Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming...

Jenny Lake, with Mount Moran in the Background
And last but not least, America's "favorite" park, a scene from Mt. Rushmore National Monument!

George Washington and Abe Lincoln on Mt Rushmore

Leave me a comment if you can relate to my adventures. Leave me a comment if you have ever worked in a national park! Or just leave me a comment if you have a particular topic you'd like me to cover related to this experience.

Thanks for coming along with me on this journey! Please share the post with all your friends!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

When I Went to Work in the National Parks

In 2007, out of work and floundering for something that would both interest and support me financially, I discovered the Coolworks website, which lists a wide range of seasonal hospitality jobs.

Every year National Parks, ranches, resorts and wilderness lodges (just to name a few) hire thousands of employees from around the world to staff their facilities. Jobs range from housekeeping and kitchen workers, to gift shop and front desk staff, to  the more "exotic" roles of ranch hands and trail riding guides! Employment terms start at a minimum commitment of 90 days. Occasionally you may find a full time permanent position. 

I sent out several applications. My first choice was retail staff at Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim). I don't recall how long passed before I received an offer from a fishing lodge in Alaska. I think I waited about another week, and when no word came from Arizona, I accepted the job on the Kenai Peninsula.

Of course, since the Universe has a sense of humor, I had no sooner sent my non-refundable $100 room deposit to Alaska than I was offered the position at the Canyon! After a few days of weighing options, I decided my heart really wanted to be in the southwest, cancelled my gig in Alaska, and made preparations for Arizona.

I arrived on the property, which is maintained by contract with Xanterra South Rim LLC, in March 2007. My assignment was retail staff at Hermit's Rest Lodge, a smaller historic property at the far western side of the popular Rim Road.

Porch Area of Hermits Rest Snack Bar and Gift Shop in Winter

Working at Grand Canyon changed my life. It gave me a lot of opportunity to practice my passion for photography (all images on this page are my own). It also introduced me to hiking and fueled my interest in ancient history and geology.

Exterior of Historic Hopi House at Grand Canyon

Some of the difficulties for me were:
* being 75 miles from the nearest city, Flagstaff (maybe going once a month for shopping necessities not provided at the village's general store)
* cell phone coverage was slim, and even when available, calls dropped frequently
* long work hours (sometimes up to 60 hrs a week)

Other lessons included:
* living in close proximity to a lot of different personalities from diverse cultures and backgrounds, which was both fascinating and frustrating.
* helping customers from all corners of the earth
* trying to help educate the public regarding proper ways to interact with and care for the environment and wildlife (I'll talk much more bluntly, ie less politely, about some of those experiences in a future post!)

I have since worked at three other western US national parks (not including the upcoming job), but the South Rim will always be a special memory for me.

If you want to work for Xanterra at the Grand Canyon, or any of their other locations, you can check current openings and apply online at: Xanterra Jobs

Colorful Canyon Sunset Viewed from Yavapai Point

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Sojourn Continues

Here we are again, friends. The edge of another journey.
I am not heading off to India this time. But my travels and vagabonding seem destined to continue at least for the foreseeable future, so I might as well share the journey.

On May 29th I will be flying from Denver, where I have only been since the start of April, to work at the gift shop at The Lodge at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

This is not my first national park hospitality job. In fact from 2007-2009, most of my jobs were exactly that. Seasonal work in the great national parks of the American west and southwest.
This time I will be working for a company that I have no experience with: Forever Resorts.

Many people have asked what working in the parks is like. I can tell you it sure isn't like any other job! There are unique challenges, and sometimes amazing rewards.

In the upcoming posts you will learn who my coworkers at Bryce are, where they are from and why they came to work there. You will discover what it's like to live in a college dorm room environment when you are well past college age. You will hear me talk about the trials and tribulations of dealing with tourists who give a whole new meaning to being on vacation!

It might be offensive to some. I will not be nice. But I WILL be real, honest, and hopefully entertaining.

In my next post, I'll tell you a bit about how I first entered this line of work, and what recent events have led me to go back to it.

Come with me on this rare glimpse into the world of a seasonal hospitality industry employee!