Imagine having the opportunity to live and work in a place considered to be one of the most monumental natural wonders on earth. It's a possibility that can easily become a reality.
Yosemite National Park, situated in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Central California, has been my home in paradise and place of employment for the last 10 summers.
Offering towering walls of granite, glacially carved mountains, a wide range of wildlife, and almost a million acres of wilderness to explore, Yosemite is more than just another way to make a living. A backpacking trip begins at your doorstep. A day of rock climbing is just moments away. A lazy walk along the river is right around the corner. And with so much nature around, working here really gives those who love the outdoors an endless array of activities.
As many Western New Yorkers have also found, this opportunity is too good to pass up.
"It's changed the way I see life," says Michael Schweitzer, 24, of Williamsville.
A Buffalo State graduate, who also spent time as a diving coach at the college, decided he needed a change. So he packed a few bags with his belongings and headed out west to Yosemite. After driving across the country with a few friends, Schweitzer arrived in the park and began working as a waiter. When not at work, a vast expanse of a whole new world awaited him.
"I was never really one for hiking, but once you get to Yosemite, every step you take, you see something else that makes you want to take another step," he says. "And the next thing you know your standing on top of a mountain."
Schweitzer, who also took up rock climbing while in Yosemite, came back to Buffalo for the last few winters, and is planning on returning to Yosemite for his third summer this year.
East Aurora native Seanna Biggs, 21, heard about Yosemite through a few friends living in California and downloaded her application online. She plans on returning to Yosemite for her second full season this summer.
"Yosemite has really opened my eyes to the world and to people," she says. "I fell in love with the diversity and beauty of the west. With the support of my family I left by myself on a whim. It's really taught me to be independent and I was introduced to the mountain life. It's the most amazing scenery I've ever encountered."
Most new employees start off at entry-level positions as room keepers or in food service, but with upwards of 1,800 people working in Yosemite for the summer season, opportunities for other positions exist. Depending on the job, most workdays last for eight hours and wages vary.
There are generally two areas of the park where employees live and work.
The first is Yosemite Valley, an area surrounded by granite walls extending more than 3,000-feet high. It's where tourists visit and most employees work. It offers both seasonal and year-round positions ranging from working in a four-star hotel to bicycle rentals. In the winter there is an ice skating rink and a small ski resort.
When spring arrives, dozens of waterfalls teem into the raging Merced River on the valley floor. The most famous is Yosemite Falls -- the highest in North America at 2,425 feet. Looking up is unavoidable here, as giant pines spread as far as the eye can see and granite palisades possess parts of the sky.
The "high country" is the other region to work. The conditions here are much more rustic and less crowded then the valley, and it is only open for the summer season. The elevation begins at 7,000 feet, an elevation where the scenery is completely different from the valley. Those more serious about mountaineering often frequent this part of Yosemite.
Polished granite domes infiltrate the landscape, as peaks, some reaching more than 13,000 feet, fill much of the seemingly limitless bastions of expanse that encompass the higher altitudes. There are hikers a plenty passing through as they follow the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,638-mile journey from Mexico to Canada, right through the middle of this awe-inspiring area.
Wherever one ends up working they will have a roommate and likely be living in a tent cabin, a large structure with canvas walls that allows for beds and dressers, which are provided. There are some dormitories in Yosemite Valley, though space is limited. In the high country, living areas include a wood-burning stove since the temperatures can sometimes dip into the teens at night.
Meeting people from across the country and around the world is another of the many benefits of working in Yosemite. From New Orleans to Nepal, the Yosemite mystique draws an eclectic group of individuals looking for employment that is something out of the ordinary. Many employees stay only for the summer season, when the tourist peak is at its highest. University students escaping during their break from school comprise a large portion of those who work here.
Besides it's stunning natural beauty and endless hiking, Yosemite is also known as the best place in the world to rock climb. This has attracted the most prolific rock climbers from across the globe who spend the summer scaling the long, steep and challenging big walls of the valley, as well as the shorter sport climbs of the high country.
If you're a lover of the outdoors and looking for a something different, Yosemite National Park just might be the place for you. Just ask Schweitzer.
"At first, I wasn't sure about going and then I thought, if I stay in here I'm just going to do the same thing day in and day out," he says. "Now I know that everybody needs to experience Yosemite. Everyone needs to see it because I think that a lot of people have forgotten what life is really about."
To learn more about employment opportunities in Yosemite or for an application, visit the "Jobs" section on www.YosemitePark.com or call (209) 372-1236.