Ed note: When I first published this article on seasonal work five or six years ago, a lot of people said that, since it had been a few years since my last contract in Yellowstone, my experience and insight was somehow invalidated. That said, I’ve also spent time on Orcas Island, Hawaii and a lodge in Alaska. Over the past summer, I went back, this time for a five-month contract in the Grand Tetons and, get this, I even left with a spotless record with zero disciplinary actions. This means that none of you can say I’ve got a chip on my shoulder from getting busted by the rangers.
The lifestyle is different and takes a bit of getting used to and yet, you’re getting paid to live in paradise. Yeah, you have to deal with a lot of bullshit but you don’t have to worry about rent or food and you will no doubt make some memories. That said, here’s what you need to know before you go.
It’s like a summer camp for adults.
Yeah, I know some people might actually take their job seriously but fortunately, I work as a Chef and as a result, take a different approach to work and life in general. This goes for 90% of people who aren’t in management and about 75% of those who are. We’re not really there to further our career (though it does stand out on a resume), we’re there to live in paradise. Ahhh, but if you’re smart, you can turn it into a year-round lifestyle and it can be a whole lot of fun for a few years or in some cases, a lifetime.
This season I got lucky and was less than a hundred miles from Jackson Wyoming. While it sounds far, this is close in comparison to a lot of places such as the resorts along the Grand Canyon where your a few hours away from a town.
At first, it’s amazing, after a while, it can wear on you. While on the one hand, there’s a real sense of freedom being in a place that open, at the same time, it’s easy to feel trapped oddly enough.
Finally, while housing and food are typically provided, anything you do need to get at the general store is going to be a lot more expensive. Some places offer a slight discount but it never seems to apply to things like booze or smokes.
There are a whole lot of places to choose from.
I did two seasons working for a large company in Yellowstone, this past season I went for something a lot smaller but still bigger than the lodge I worked at in Alaska. Given that it’s a big industry, there’s a damn good chance that you can find a gig that fits you. Hands down your biggest resource is going to be Coolworks.com and, from time to time Craigslist.
There’s a lot of drama and debauchery
Thanks to the various statutes of limitations, I’m not going to admit anything but I can say that sex and drugs are prevalent. People like to party and as long as the tourists and rangers don’t know, well they just don’t need to know.
I met my now ex-wife during my last season in Yellowstone, the same season we, according to several sources, ran out of the Plan B pill. I’ve also watched married couples split up during a season so let me tell you, things can and will get weird.
On that note, let me just say that the drugs are shit and overpriced. I haven’t done Blow in years so I can’t speak from first-hand experience but the rumor was that the Cocaine in Jackson was cut with speed and I couldn’t find mushrooms to save my life. Even the weed was……not exactly top shelf but readily available if you knew where to look.
It’s always the weekend.
Since we’re the vacation spot, we’re always open which means that at any given time, 2/7ths of the staff are on their weekend. You can often tell since they’re the ones carrying an 18 pack of Rolling Rock since it’s the cheapest beer you can buy in the park. This also means that at any given time, people are in full Friday night mode and parties just kinda happen out of nowhere.
Some places are shady as hell.
Listen, I’ve got no way to prove it but it’s happened a few times. *Timmy is a hard worker and is coming up on the end of his contract and looking forward to collecting his hard-earned bonus. Despite the fact that they’ve never given the Rangers any rhyme or reason to bring the dogs in, three days before the end of his gig, they do a sweep and Timmy now has a Felony possession charge and loses his bonus. Not to mention a $1,000 court fine and two years of unsupervised probation.
This happening once or twice is weird but it’s happened to enough people over the years that there’s clearly something going on. This is also a big part of why I didn’t go back to Yellowstone this past summer. If you’re going to party, and I certainly suggest you do, you need to be smart about it. If you do have an encounter with the Rangers, know your rights but be respectful to them and chances are they’ll be cool.
The Wildlife are….wild.
It blows my mind that I need to say this but, looking at the number of incidents we have in the parks every year, I have to point it out, don’t fuck with the wildlife. No matter where you go, you’re going to have a few encounters and it’s majestic and beautiful but you need to remember to be respectful or you’re going to get hurt. Also, keep in mind that, if you do get seriously hurt, you’re in the middle of nowhere and it might take a while to get you to a good hospital
Tourons and Citiots
Prepare yourself now because you are going to be asked some really dumb questions and you might even think that you’re on a hidden camera show. No, sadly, these people are serious.
The thing that you need to remember is that, while you might take certain things for granted, for a lot of these people, it’s their first time experiencing a place like this. As hard as it is to believe, they’re not really stupid, just ignorant. It’s up to us to help educate them so that they don’t think that we keep the Elk and Bison in corrals at night or that we have a pump house for the geysers. Keep your sense of humor and try to not be a dick.
Otherwise known as the Employee dining room. These vary in quality drastically but for the most part, the food isn’t bad. My only complaint is that being that I’m not exactly a social person, I hated the crowds. My solution was just to eat at work and get coffee and bagels between the rush. And yes, sadly, it’s just as clickish as it was in Highschool. Be warned.
It takes a special person to be able to thrive in these kinds of environments and it’s certainly not for everyone. You’re leaving your life behind and living and working in the middle of nowhere with a small group of odd individuals. You have to make a lot of compromises and at times, it can get frustrating.
At the same time, you’re getting paid to live in places that people save up for years just to come and visit. You’re able to experience things that they don’t write about in the guide books and, as cheesy as it sounds, make friendships that last decades. At the very least, it’s worth looking into….
By the way, if you dig what we’re doing and want to help
We are currently in the process of filming a new indie documentary series called “Life on the Line” about the real lives of working-class Cooks and Chefs. For as little as a buck a month, you’ll get behind the scenes, uncensored access to one of a kind content you won’t find anywhere else or you can make a one-time donation below. This project is fan-funded so seriously, every dollar helps out a lot. Thanks and I look forward to cooking for you soon.