I moved around a lot when I was a young single woman, which is where my love for road trips and new places was born. I went on to raise 3 wonderful children (mostly by myself) but the road always whispered to me and I would whisper back, “Soon.”
When the last chickie left the nest I remembered my dream of living the gypsy life, but I had no savings and had no idea how I’d manage to see new places. In 2006 I typed “National Park Jobs” on an internet search and found CoolWorks.com – Jackpot!
I was 50 years old when I accepted a front desk job in the Tetons. Most of my friends and family were surprised and a little worried about me. I heard variations of “Don’t you think you should work at a real job for a couple years and save some more money?” “Aren’t you scared?” “How can you just take off alone, not knowing anyone?” “At your age?” “What if… .?”
It was early May and already hot in Arizona when I left, but there was snow along the highway as I got closer to my destination. I drove through the town of Jackson, Wyoming and when I finally got a glimpse of the Teton mountain range, I was overwhelmed. I pulled my car over to the side of the road, and burst into tears. My eyes and my heart just couldn’t believe the beauty of where I had arrived.
That first summer on the shores of Jackson Lake was one of the happiest of my whole life! I made friends that are still very dear to me, soaked in breathtaking scenery, and took a million photos and sent them everywhere, always with the disclaimer “It’s so much more beautiful, the photos don’t do justice!” Working for a concession in a National Park comes with many perks, from discounted adventure tours and dinners at local restaurants in Jackson, to free kayaking, sailing and guided river trips.
I stayed in a small but comfortable room with another woman in the “Quiet Dorm,” which was where most older employees stayed. We were fed a king’s buffet for breakfast lunch and dinner, management constantly provided praise and awards for doing a good job, and HR was always coming up with fun activities for us. I happened to have the pleasure of meeting Bill, the creator of CoolWorks, that first summer. I hugged that tall fella and told him he’d helped make a lifetime dream come true. He said he loved hearing that, and gave me a purple keychain engraved with the company logo. I still carry it in my pocket every day.
Last year my oldest son was having roommate and job problems in the sweltering heat of Phoenix. My answer was “Dude, I’ve told you a hundred times, Cool Works!” He was quickly hired mid-season at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, had a great time, made a buttload of money, and enjoyed creating fantastic dishes in the restaurant. From there he moved with a bunch of new friends to Big Bend National Park where he’s still enjoying himself. He’s already got a position waiting for him back at the North Rim for this summer. I love the fact that the seasonal adventure has now become a family affair!
Cool Works showed me a whole new world of fun, freedom, beauty, and wonderful new friends. It’s done the same for my son, and I recommend this lifestyle to any and everyone.
I’m now back in Arizona, and I frequently get “itchy feet,” but I’m enjoying where I am for now. I know however, that if I ever get ready, I can hit the road again. My message to my fellow aging hippies / young people / retired couples who are wondering what happened to their dreams is this: JUST DO IT! You will thank yourself – over and over!