Hey there! To kick things off for the YNP seasonal working posts, I’ll recall the tale of what it was like picking up and moving to Yellowstone for a summer all by myself. The whole process was utterly chaotic, going to work in a place I’ve never been with a job I didn’t fully understand. But believe it or not, I was able to get a grip and make a few preliminary friends! That made all the difference, I think, because adjusting to a completely different lifestyle is always easier when you’re doing it with others who are in the same boat.
So, without further ado- here is the story of the time I moved to Wyoming/Montana to work the summer season at Yellowstone National Park!
The start of the move, fears and all
The night before I was set to fly out to Bozeman, Montana, I didn’t sleep much at all. This was strange. Usually, I go to sleep the night before an adventure terribly excited for the following day, then sleep like a baby until my red-eye alarm goes off. However, I couldn’t stop the rush of increasingly terrible scenarios flitting through my head of ways that my summer job in Yellowstone could go wrong. Maybe my roommate would kill me, or maybe the company I’ve promised to work for is a front and I’m about to be trafficked, or maybe I get eaten by a mountain lion, or maybe or maybe or maybe…
Blearily making my way to the Missouri airport, the day’s clarity let me dismiss most of these worries as fantastical. But that’s not to say I wasn’t still a little nervous.
Finally arriving at the airport, I slung on my brand new little hiking backpack and lugged a massive green suitcase behind me.
I’ve actually never checked a bag before, but this is a special case. Because I won’t have access to any big grocery/supply stores in Yellowstone, I’ve got to bring every item of clothing, cosmetic, camping, and dorm living gear that I’d need. I’ll include a packing list later! It was extremely heavy, probably 50 lbs or something like that!
The flight itself was uneventful, and I arrived at the Bozeman international airport right on time. After collecting my things, I looked to the left, then to the right. I had a written list of everything that I needed to do to get from Bozeman to Yellowstone, but I’ve never done something like this before, and just stood around for a minute in a stupor.
Eventually, I realized that I needed to do something as opposed to my current state of doing nothing, and made my way to the pick-up lane. After a few minutes of standing with my little backpack and comically large suitcase, a van pulled up and asked if I was with Xanterra. I looked into the van to see a bunch of other teen girls like me, and so I relievedly hopped in the van.
Meeting coworkers and exploring Bozeman
Probably overwhelmed by the sheer newness of all of this, we sat in silence for most of the ride. Finally, and thank god-dedlly, one girl piped up and asked if any of us were with Xanterra. The relief was hilariously palpable as we all relaxed and started to chat about how nervous/excited we were about this whole experience, and how reassuring it was to meet others in the same boat.
Finally, we arrived at the Holiday Inn in Bozeman and got our rooms. Since so many Xanterra seasonal workers travel though Bozeman, the owners are more than familiar with us nervous newbies. They went above and beyond to make us comfortable at the hotel, and offered to shuttle us into town and back so that we could run errands and just enjoy the town.
The girl who’d spoken up, we’ll call her K, asked our group if anyone wanted to do some shopping and then get dinner. The others opted to settle in in preparation for transport to the park the next day, but me, desperate for adventure and to make a friend amidst all this newness, I agreed and we were shuttled into town.
Making brief stops at REI and walmart, we talked excitedly with any clerk that would listen, and then just walked around downtown. Bozeman is an awesome city, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and full of vibrant murals.
After heading back to the hotel, I realized that this was the first time I’d ever had a hotel room all to myself. The power is intoxicating. Burger in hand, I sprawled out on the bed and watched what will probably be the last TV I’ll get for the next few months.
Montana- first impressions and my job assignment!
The next morning, I found myself once again standing on a curb with a tiny backpack and a giant suitcase.
The bus that pulled up to pick us up was much bigger than the van yesterday, and quite a few people were already on board. Most of them seem to be around my age, and I was even so lucky as to run into an acquaintance from Missouri.
As we left the small city of Bozeman, I started to get an idea of what Montana was like. Sweeping green valleys that dip into clear blue lakes and curve back up into mountains that touch the cloudy summer sky. All that is to say that Montana has some of the greatest natural beauty in the United States based on first impressions.
My landscape-gazing was cut off when we arrived at what looked like a factory in the middle of nowhere. I thought that was kind of strange since there’s no way we could be at Yellowstone yet, but with about 30-40 young adults, I figured we’d probably be fine to fight off any threats.
We were ushered into a line where I waited for probably half an hour, mustering up the courage to defeat my shyness and chatting with my line-neighbors about what this could be about. Someone told us that we were getting our official job placements now. Ah!!! To give some context: when hired at Xanterra, you are initially given the vauge job title of “hospitality crewmember” before arriving at the park to be placed where you are most needed. I think if I’d had a better grasp as to what is going on, I would have been nervous with the uncertainty, but everything was happening so fast that when I was placed at the ice cream counter in Mammoth Hot Springs, I simply thought that being an ice cream scooper sounded pretty cool.
After getting my paperwork and instructions, we were herded into another line. This one was to get fitted for our uniforms. When I got to the counter of what looked like a dry cleaners, with every type of uniform you could imagine, I rattled off my job title and an approximation of my clothing sizes. Trying on a short-sleeve black button down, a pair of khaki pants with a waistline that reached several inches above my belly button, and a red apron, I realized that this is what I’d be greeting thousands of travelers in. Certainly not a flattering look, but since when have I been a put-together, glamorous person?
Arriving in Mammoth Hot Springs and Learning about Yellowstone
Part of me was hoping that I would be last to be dropped off so that I could take in the park from the bus window. However, in just half an hour, I was dropped off at Mammoth Hot Springs, the northernmost village in Yellowstone.
I didn’t know this before arriving, but Yellowstone is such a big park that it’s subdivided into a bunch of “villages”, each containing a notable landmark and all interconnected by a road shaped like a figure-eight. Here’s a photo for reference:
Us Mammoth-ers were shuttled into a place called the employee dining room, or ‘EDR’ for lunch. The EDR is a fairly standard cafeteria-like lunch room offering a solid three hot meals + salad bar, with continental breakfast foods available pretty much all the time. With us newbies and the existing workers, the EDR was absolutely jam packed.
I was surprised to see people from all ages working here, and I wondered if they were like me, just trying to explore beyond the bounds of home. At this point, I thanked my stars above and the dirt below for having made some friends earlier, because eating alone in this craziness would have been totally overwhelming. Especially because I thought I saw a big guy with some… alarming tattoos, though my eyes may have been tricking me.
Headed to the pub for training– aka how not to get eaten by a bear
Next, the new crew were shuttled into the employee pub. Yes, you heard that right. The employees of Yellowstone have their very own pub, no tourists allowed.
Here, I was given Servsafe training since I’d be working with ice cream. At this point, exhaustion had gotten to me and I was falling asleep. Thankfully, the EDR has a soda fountain, and so I was able to stay awake. At least I can safely say that I am Servesafe certified in Wyoming!
Next, we had wildlife safety training of all things. Never thought that’d be part of the job, but it ended up being really important. You have to be 25 yards away from bison and elk at all times, and 50-100 yards away from bears and wolves. We also learned how to use bear spray, which is apparently 10 times stronger than pepper spray. Because bears are the biggest safety hazards I guess, we also were told that you have to make noise constantly when hiking. I personally pant a lot when I hike, so that’s gonna be a challenge, but anything to avoid being mauled or trampled this summer!
Settling into my dorm
After a long day of travel and training, I was relieved when we were finally released to our dorms. The dorms are separated by age group, with ours being the 18-25ish group and I was relieved about that because that makes it easier to make friends, and because we won’t have to worry about keeping any grammies or grampies awake if we decide to have a party.
My dorm is called Lodgepole, after the lodgepole pine. Apparently each dorm is named after a tree. When unlocking my dorm, I finally got to meet my roommate, H. H is awesome, and it’s great to be relieved of all of that anxiety.
Moving to Yellowstone for the summer season is undoubtedly one of the strangest things I’ve done. I never imagined that work and travel were things that I could do at the same time, but all of the sudden, it’s real. I’m doing it and I’m actually here now. This whole working-in-a-remote-location type of thing is completely new to me, and it’s honestly a miracle that everything worked out right the way it did.
I can already tell that this summer holds so much potential for fun, and I am jumping-out-of-my-boots excited to share it all with you.
Where did she come from? Packing in Missouri
Where is she going? Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone, USA