I worked there for one summer back in 1989. It was interesting and fun, but it was also hard work. Look for me the next time you visit there. Who knows? Maybe I will be there again some summer. Right now, just enjoy the pictures.
Over the years, I have visited Yellowstone National Park many times. During the summer of 1987, I was visiting the Park with a friend of mine. We walked into one of the stores somewhere in the Park to look around, not intending buy anything (because we couldn’t afford it.) As we were walking toward the exit, I noticed that one of the employees was moving quickly toward us. “Oh, no,” I though to myself. “I hope he doesn’t think we have stolen something.” As we were almost to walk out the door, he confronted us. “I see you are from Kansas,” he said, gesturing toward the shirt my friend was wearing. “I am from Kansas, too. Where are you from?” It turned out that he was an official at Kansas State University and this was his summer job. I told him that I was a teacher, too. “Have you ever considered working here at Yellowstone?” he asked. I admitted that the thought had crossed my mind on a couple occasions, but that I had no idea of how to go about applying for a job. He hurried off and got an application form for me. We thanked him and left. It turned out (sadly) that my dog died in the spring of 1989, and I was no longer tied to my home 365 days a year.
I filled out the application form, and was soon notified that I was soon to be employed by Hamilton Stores, the company that operated the stores in Yellowstone National Park. Upon arriving at Yellowstone in late May of 1989, I was assigned to the Photo Shop in Canyon Village. After being switched around two or three times, I finally settled in the little section where all the photo supplies, film, film processing, postcards, videos, etc, were sold. The name Photo Shop is misleading. It is a full-line store, selling everything from the typical original “Made in Taiwan” souvenirs, to clothing, to groceries, to liquor. (Today it is called the Nature Shop, I think.) Sometimes we would stand around wondering where all the people were, but most of the time, it was a zoo. Tour busses carrying people from all reaches of the earth would descend on us, empty the people into our store (and the “Big Store” next door.) We would work furiously to serve the tourists and get them out of the store as quickly as possible. (As I stand in line at K-Mart or Wal-Mart, wasting away half my natural life, I often wonder what some of the clerks would do working in a place like that.)
We worked five days a week---seven hours a day, in shifts of four hours and three hours and a three or four hour break in between. I would have preferred to work my seven hours in straight, continuous time, but, I think, due to the fact that there were a lot of older retired people working there, the split shift was designed to accommodate them.
Working in Yellowstone was certainly no “vacation”---it was hard work. But during my free time and on my days off, I was free to roam and explore and hike and relax----do anything I wanted to do. During the two and half months I spent in the Park, I hiked through the remote green wilderness and through acres of charred trees; I climbed mountains and descended into valleys. I visited thermal features that are listed only in the footnotes of Yellowstone guidebooks. I fought the traffic jams caused by the thousands of summer visitors; I also sat and waited patiently while hundreds of bison leisurely crossed the same highways. By the time I left Yellowstone that summer for the real world again, few, if any, parts of Yellowstone had gone unexplored. I had the rare opportunity to get away from the rude, camera-toting tourists who come to this beautiful park only to jump out of the car (while it is still running) snap a quick photo, and then jump back into the vehicle and speed to the next photo opportunity to repeat the process. They will, of course, take the pictures back home, and as instant experts, brag to their friends and family of all the things they saw in Yellowstone. Let’s face it, nobody can “see” Yellowstone in a day, or even a week or a month. It is a vast territory, most of which is accessible only by hiking trails. And even though I spent almost every leisure hour exploring on the trails, I, too, feel that I only scratched the surface in understanding and experiencing this incredible park. From Yellowstone Lake, to Artist’s Point along the Yellowstone Canyon, to Mammoth Hot Springs, to Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park is one of nature’s miracles.
And, I was part of the “miracle” that tourists take for granted when they come to have fun, be catered to, and forget their problems for a few days. It is hard work, sometimes even stressful work; but it is worth the effort when compared to the opportunity to see a baby moose only minutes after it was born. Or to witness a mother bear and her cubs while hiking ten miles into the forest. Or to behold a waterfall on a seldom traveled path; or to be caught in a snowstorm while hiking on a June afternoon. Or to have to walk around a bison who is lying on the sidewalk between the dorm and the dining room. Will I do it again? Who knows? Perhaps. But, this I can assure you, each time I visit Yellowstone now, I see it though different, and more understanding, eyes.