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

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