Life in Yosemite by TB
“I worked in Yosemite for a short time in April of 2000 as a tour guide. It was my plan to work that summer from April to September. Actually I never got past the training phase and decided it was not for me but that should not in any way influence your decision. I have been going to the park for years and years and after I retired I thought it might be nice to work there for a few months. I responded to the ad in “Yosemite Magazine” and received a call from the gentleman who was, at the time responsible for the Valley Floor Tram tour guides and schedules. He wanted to know if I was serious about a tour guide position and I assured him I was. I felt I may be qualified for the position because of my knowledge of the park along with the fact I had been a professional broadcaster for 45 years and had a lot of amateur theater experience along with a good knowledge of European languages. We talked for a few minutes and I quickly realized he was auditioning me to see if I could carry on an intelligent conversation and how my voice sounded. I apparently impressed him because he asked me how soon I could be there. I told him two weeks and so we made arrangements. I had to take a drug test here in my hometown for starters, but more on that later.
I could hear Yosemite Falls roaring all night. Music to my ears. This was taken from the entrance to “Lost Arrow” Employee Housing area.
I arrived at the park using public transportation and at my own expense. That is expected. When I tried to get through the Big Oak Flat entrance, the ranger accepted that I was going in to work and so did not charge me the $20 entry fee. I had been instructed to report to Human Resources Department in Yosemite Village. It is a very large building with many, many offices and employees. (At peak times Yosemite employs nearly four thousand people.) They were expecting me and I “processed” in rather quickly. From there I went to the uniform center and was issued my nametag, shirts, pants, sweater and a very nice jacket among other items. Then it was off to housing where I was assigned my living quarters. Next I went to meet my boss. Mr. C was a very nice gentleman who warmly welcomed me. I spent the rest of the evening settling into my new “home” and learning about getting around in the employee environment which is vastly different from that of a guest. The first thing I did when I got free time was wash all my clothes because my baggage had gotten wet on the trip from home.
Here is George the cook. He has been cooking breakfast at Yosemite Lodge for more than 20 years. He loves to talk to guests and will tell you he is “world famous.”
The next day was totally spent in orientation and classes. I sat through a four hour Yosemite Concession Services lecture that told me all about my new parent company, what was expected of me and what I could expect from YCS. It was enlightening to say the least. During the afternoon I attended a lecture on back injury prevention, a housing orientation and one on hazard communications. I learned about my union, getting my meals and how to get around in the park. That took up day two and I had not yet met any of my fellow employees or begun my training.
The next two days I observed trained tour guides doing their shows (as it is called). I rode on the Valley Floor Tram and took extensive notes while I was learning, learning, and learning. I was told I would conduct my own tours the next day. But I did not feel confident that I was ready with only two days training. Those tours cost park guests about $20 and I felt they should get their money’s worth. I simply had too much respect for the park. That along with the fact that it immediately became clear that I was going to have problems with one of the drivers, a difficult fellow to say the least, convinced me I was making a mistake. I would be letting myself in for a lot of heartache. So we parted company.
Scene from a periodic cook out for “lost Arrow” residents. As you can see, they are all young people. The fellow in the yellow worked as a tour guide during summer and a ski instructor at Badger Pass Ski Area in the winter. He lived in the park year round. He and the young woman in the blue jacket were a couple. Yes, there are opportunities for romance in the park. She also, was a tour guide.
It should be noted that the valley floor tours are now handled by Park Rangers. The change happened a couple of years ago. I don’t know why.
Another shot of “residents.” The gentleman at the far right was my roommate. He had just retired from the Air Force and had worked as an Air Traffic Controller. He was on his way to Los Angeles and hopefully a new job in A.T.C. He checked his email frequently. Computers are available for employee use at the Human Services area. He started off changing cleaning and changing sheets in Yosemite Lodge guest rooms, but very quickly moved to a job where he “Talked to Guests” all day. I don’t know what he did, exactly. In his letter to me he did not elaborate on his job. Dan was a big runner and hiker and Yosemite was perfect for his recreation. We have lost touch.
Well, that was my Yosemite working experience. I am retired and after forty-five years in the business rat race it is nice to be in a position to say a job is not going to work and walk away. I emphasize however, that I have been back to the park as a guest five more times and am going again in September 2004. Leaving the job left a big hole in my heart but I still think it was for the best, both for the park and me.
What follows in this narrative is an outline of what I encountered in 2000. Some of the policies and procedures may have changed.
Now on to what you may encounter. “Living in Yosemite National Park is a special privilege. The chance to reside amid some of the most beautiful scenery in the world is a rare opportunity. For this opportunity, we all learn to sacrifice a little of our privacy and adjust to living in closer quarters than many of us have been accustomed to living in.” This phrase was repeated over and over in literature I was handed. Take special note of that. Simply stated it means you won’t have any privacy. You will probably live in a ten by ten dormitory room, canvas tent cabin or hardside cabin with a bed, a small chest of drawers and a pipe clothing hanger. That’s it! And you have a roommate. Bathroom and kitchen facilities are not connected.
I lived in “Lost Arrow” employee housing area very close to the base of Yosemite Falls. The kitchen and bath area was about one hundred yards from my cabin. This is a bit of an inconvenience for an older guy who usually has to get up a time or two at night and visit the restroom. It gets cold at night in early April in Yosemite! But the roaring of Yosemite Falls all night was music to my ears and I had the most beautiful view of Half Dome from my front porch. Cabin rent is deducted from your paycheck and is very, very reasonable.
Home sweet home, 120 Lost Arrow Employee Housing area. A ten by ten cabin with two bunk beds, chests of drawers for each of two occupants and a pipe clothes hanger.
Main Street, Lost Arrow Employee Housing area. This is one of several places where workers live. “Lost Arrow” is a short walk from Yosemite Village with all the stores and offices. Employee housing areas are “off limits” to park guests
If you are accustomed to a more comfortable life style, this may not be for you. I noticed most of the other new employees around me were college age and probably used to living in a dormitory with a roommate so this was not a problem. I went there from a 25 hundred square foot house and was anything but a college student. I merely wanted “The Yosemite Experience”.
You are permitted to have your personal car and a parking area is provided. The park encourages you to use the shuttle busses at every opportunity and that is a good rule. Gasoline is available in the valley for employees even though guests don’t have this advantage. You will be issued a vehicle entrance sticker, which allows you free passage through all Yosemite Park entrance gates. A number of employees have bicycles and that is a great way to get to any destination in the valley.
Kitchen and shower/bathroom facility.
Here is the view from my front porch. Not bad to wake up every morning and be greeted by a spectacular view of Half Dome.
Employees are offered an Employee Meals Program. It features a card that entitles you to three meals a day, seven days a week. A weekly charge is deducted from your paycheck. You may eat in any of the designated park eating establishments and the discount is large. Your meals will cost about two dollars each, however you can prepare your meal in kitchens in the housing areas if you wish.
You are paid each Friday and you probably will begin at minimum wage. With proper identification you may cash your paycheck at the YCS Cash Operations Office in Yosemite Village.
You must take a drug test before being considered for employment. As I mentioned earlier, I had to do this before I made any other plans to head west.
No dogs or cats allowed so leave Rover and Kitty at home. You can have a bird or goldfish.
You will be required to join a union.
Your workweek consists of 30 to 40 hours a week depending on the department and YCS tries to schedule two days off weekly, but this will conform to operating requirements of your unit. You may be required to work “extra” during busy times. You’ll be paid overtime and will not be asked to “donate” time.
If you plan to make a career of it, you are offered two weeks vacation yearly.
You are responsible for cleaning your uniforms. The uniform center will handle any repairs needed.
You will enjoy a nice discount on purchases at most of the park retail outlets.
Expect rigid grooming and hygiene standards.
Noise and partying are kept to a minimum. Some of the employees housing areas are designated “quiet zones.” These are for people who sleep during the day.
Your employer will probably be Yosemite Concession Services, A Delaware North Corporation company. YCS has been selected by The National Park Service to provide services and facilities for Yosemite’s visitors. Jobs range from cooks to hotel room attendants, clerks to maintenance personnel and so many more, virtually everything it takes to service the millions of park visitors. Usually you will be offered an entry-level position unless you have valuable and much needed skills, but the opportunities to grow into better jobs are always available as your time of employment increases. You may also be able to improve your housing arrangements as you build seniority.
There is a fitness center with weights and treadmills for employees and even though I was only at the park for a week, I used it. There is a certified attendant on duty and I was given a minor physical before I was permitted to use the exercise equipment.
Medical and dental care is available at the Yosemite Medical Clinic. A 24-hour medical staff is on duty. Prescription service is available. You will be offered various health insurance programs after 120 days of employment, vision and dental insurance after a year.
There is a library and you use the post offices found in a number of locations around the park. Your mail comes to a general delivery box.
Yosemite has its own police force (and jail) so you have that protection.
If you have been to the park you know about the inventory in the various stores in Yosemite and Curry Villages. You may have to make occasional trips out of the park simply to buy a new shirt, some jeans and underwear and other clothing and personal items. Toiletries and other personal items will be available at the park stores. There are a number of cities reasonably close to the park including Merced, Manteca, Oakdale, Fresno and of course San Francisco. If you don’t have a vehicle, public transportation is available.
As I mentioned, most of the people I saw were young people seeking a summer job and seemed to be typical college students. The ‘older” ones I encountered seemed to be of a special type. Many had been there for years and I wondered if they would function well in the dog eat dog existence of the business world outside the park. Working in Yosemite is a special existence for special people. I recall one in particular. The gentleman I am thinking of has worked in the cafeteria at Yosemite Lodge for more than twenty years. He is a cook and works during the breakfast hours. He makes wonderful French toast. If you have eaten there I bet you have seen him. He is happy as a lark and would not want to do anything else. He once told me he was “world famous” and I will not argue with that. Yosemite is an international place.
So you want to work in Yosemite Park? If you will be happy in a ten by ten cabin with virtually no privacy, it may be for you. The work is hard. A lot is expected of you but the rewards from living in the unique atmosphere Yosemite affords you make it worth while. Think about it, especially if you are a young person. What a great way to spend a few months! It wasn’t for me because of my special circumstances, but if you ask me if you should give it a try… I wholeheartedly say “Go for it!”