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November/December 2005

Yosemite @ $7.38 An Hour: Seasonal Work in the National Parks

Our scribe-turned-pizzaman labors in the land of granite and pulls back the curtain on the seasonal-employment fantasy.

For summer employees, then, Yosemite Valley is a wilderness, just not in the way you might expect. It’s a wilderness of human distraction you must negotiate to have a meaningful time. There is no map. You have to learn the landscape on your own, wending through Sucky Job Flats and out of El Canon de los Lowlifes before you find the path to Lake Satisfaction or maybe Mt. Redemption.

There are people who successfully negotiate this wilderness. Take Graham and Cody. When I track them down at the rafting stand one morning, they’re prepping the inflatables–hosing down rafts in the warm sun, checking for leaks, and making sure none of their peers is water-soluble. They’re dressed in shorts and T-shirts and sandals. I ask Graham if they have to wear uniforms once the season begins. “This is my uniform,” he says with a coprophagous grin.

Graham and Cody will spend their summer launching tourists into the Merced, and collecting rafts and rafters at the take-out. On their days off they head to the Wawona golf course, and at least once a summer they string together a 3- or 4-day backpacking trip.

I met Cody and Graham through their college pal Dan, who had sat behind me on the bus in from Merced. He just graduated from the University of Vermont, and is hoping to get a rafting-stand job. A few days after arriving, I stop into Human Resources to get a better grasp on the job scene. It seems the union’s system weighs seniority and conduct, then doles out the prime gigs accordingly. The upshot is that the chances of a newbie scoring a job leading horse-packing trips or staffing the High Sierra camps are slim to none.

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