Every once in a while life throws something at you that is so unexpected and yet so wonderful that you can't pass it up. That is what happened to me in mid-August as I was planning my sixth photography trip to Yellowstone National Park since April this year. Several wildfires were burning in the park and some of the campgrounds were on a short evacuation alert so our plans changed several times but we finally settled on a "safe" campground at Canyon Village. As we packed the RV for the two-week trip we were notified that the road between Fishing Bridge and Canyon was closed due to smoke and the threat of the Alum Creek fire. That meant a two-hour detour and a trip over Craig Pass on the western side of the Grand Loop. Well, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and we made our plan to leave on a Tuesday.
On Monday I received a call from a friend who is a Regional Director of the Yellowstone Association and who was in need of some part-time help to replace two employees who had to leave on urgent family business. We could come to Yellowstone, bring the RV, camp for next to nothing, and get paid in exchange for working part-time at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center. It took about 30 milliseconds to say "Yes" and we cancelled our Canyon plans and drove to Old Faithful for a 6-10 week stint living in Yellowstone.
The campground was a hidden gem for employee housing about 1/2 mile from the OF Visitors Center by bike or a 2 mile drive by car. It had full hook-ups, a laundry, the employee's Pub, and its own collection of wildlife from Snowshoe Hare, to Grizzlies, to Bison - every day was an adventure. Can you imagine calling into work that you will be late because there is a bison blocking the bike path?
Work was generally fun - working with the public and retail sales was far outside my realm of experiences but the Rangers, employees, and a brief orientation made jumping-in a positive learning experience. We worked about 30 hours a week on a schedule that allowed photography for several hours every morning or afternoon and two and a half days off for more extended landscape and nature photography each week. Needless to say that we had a great time, met some interesting people and shot a lot of photographs.
We had the opportunity to learn more about the history and operation of the park and more about the thermal features at the major geyser basins that we had ever known - that in spite of our combined many months in other parts of the park. We hiked new trails, saw new geysers erupt, explored back roads, and found new animal locations that were previously unknown to us. I was able to shoot photos from locations that I had never visited before and travel leisurely in the huge park. The Yellowstone Association allowed us to purchase maps and books at a discount and see the inner workings of the Association from its Gardiner, MT headquarters to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. We were even able to book free courses from the Yellowstone Institute and will be back to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in January and February to enjoy these employee benefits.
We had hoped to stay into mid-October or even early November but cold weather, snow, and, finally, the government shut-down and closure of the park shortened our time to "only" 6 1/2 weeks. What a wonderful, unexpected experience that will leave a warm spot in our hearts for the rest of our lives. I am finishing the processing of the photos and hope to have some posted in the National Parks and Public Lands section of this site soon.
Thanks for visiting.