Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Our New Workamping Gig on the South Rim for the Grand Canyon Association

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, but loads of fun and excitement.  We left Quartzsite around 7 a.m. on April 1 with Mom at the wheel.  Dad took over right after we reached Congress, which made Mom very happy.   She would much rather indulge in the amazing, breathtaking scenery of the Bradshaw Mountains than deal with the ascending, winding, hairpin-turn roads with snow still hugging the rocks.

Like life, we endured and overcame the hardship of the mountains and arrived at the peaceful Peebles Valley, a true paradise with lush horse and cattle-filled pastures surrounded by colorful hills. 

As the elevation climbed again to 6000 feet, the vegetation changed.  We saw more Boreal forests with Ponderosa pines and conifers rather than cacti and desert flora.  

Prescott, the territorial capital for Arizona before it moved to Tuscon, is a really cool town.  It’s got five lakes, lots of pubs, taverns, and restaurants along Whiskey Row, and Big Nose Kate, significant other of Doc Holiday and Tombstone’s best known call girl/gaming hall dancer, is interred in its Pioneer Cemetery.

Watson Lake in Prescott

We arrived at the South Entrance to the Grand Canyon about 2 p.m. and were greeted by lines of cars waiting for entry.  The popularity of our National Parks has grown tremendously in recent years!

We are thrilled with our “new home”!    Our RV site is HUGE (it housed a double-wide trailer previously), backs up to a wooded area where elk and mule deer come to dine, and has plenty of privacy.   The site is provided to us for a nominal monthly fee, and we pay our own electric bill.  There is a nice, clean, FREE laundromat just for workers in the housing community, with huge front loading machines.  Typically, we use our Splendide in the rig for most things (thank goodness, the surgery Dad performed seems to have corrected the problems we were encountering.)  But it would take 3 loads to clean our work pants and shirts, which all fit into 1 load of these washers.  So depending on our work schedules and exploring plans, we might take advantage of this perk during our tenure at the Park.  There is also a library with free WiFi (although our Verizon MiFi and mobile hotspots are working great here), church, bank with ATM, post office (at which we receive a free box as part of our compensation package at GCA), and school for the children of parents who work here all year round.

Elk Eating in a Neighbor's Yard

We worked like beavers to get the rig all set up, cleaned, and organized.  We zonked out by 8 p.m., but arose early on Sunday to begin exploring and to re-orientate ourselves to the lay of the land.  Thankfully, we visited Grand Canyon last April for 5 days, so things came back to us quickly (even Mom the sieve-head didn’t have to dust off too many cobwebs in her brain).  They have lots of walking/biking paths and a free shuttle service.  So between hoofing it and riding the bus, we can get most places, including our work locations, quite easily.

Dawn From our Campground

We stopped at the General Store to check out pricing.  Most things are more than double what we pay normally.  We stocked up on meat, paper products, snacks, cereal, canned goods, etc. before we arrived, so we will only use the General Store for produce and dairy (like my cheese), which weren’t priced as exorbitantly as we would have expected.  There is so much exploring to do and beauty to see, we don’t want to waste our days off driving 1.5 hours to Flagstaff or Williams for Sam’s/Wal-mart/Safeway.  Instead, we will do what we did at Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer—order non-food and non-perishable food items from and Amazon with free shipping (a perk of Prime Membership), and only do a run to a major shopping area about once every 4-5 weeks.

We arrived for our “onboarding” on Monday morning, which consisted of the usual paperwork and overview.  While Xanterra and Delaware North are for-profit vendors at the Park, The Grand Canyon Association  (GCA) is a nonprofit organization, which endears it to our hearts (my parents and I were active volunteers for many nonprofit organizations in our “other life”.  With our new traveling lifestyle, volunteerism is not as easy to do.  So we feel fortunate when we land seasonal workamping gigs at nonprofits, like we did at Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation back in 2015.  We provide a vital service to assist in achieving the organization’s mission while getting paid at the same time.  It’s a win-win situation in our minds).  The GCA partners with the National Park Service to provide funding for education, trail restoration, and wildlife preservation, among other programs.   Through the proceeds of its 8-store retail operations and donor members, it contributed more than $4 million to the Grand Canyon National Park in 2015.    

Since asking customers to become members will be part of our function while working in the retail stores, we thought it only right to become members ourselves.  We are firm believers of putting our money where our mouth is.  If we enjoy something and want it available for future generations--whether it pertains to the arts, culture, National Parks, historical buildings, you name it--it is up to us, as individuals, to provide our financial support.  We shouldn't rely solely on the government and tax dollars, and we can’t expect someone else to support something if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves.

Yours Truly, with my New Member Welcome Gifts!

As employees, we were treated to a back-stage tour of Kolb Studios (something we were not privy to on our tourist visit last year).  Emory and Ellsworth Kolb were entrepreneurial brothers who built a photography studio at the trailhead to Bright Angel Trail in 1904.  They would take photos of hikers and mule caravans before they descended down the canyon, process the prints, and have them available for their patrons upon their return to the South Rim.  They were the first to make a motion picture of a Colorado river trip, a pretty big deal since their trip of 1911-1912 was only the 8th successful canyon river journey until that point in time!  Their movie was shown twice a day for tourists for 60 years, from 1915 until 1965.  Ellsworth left the business in 1915, but Emory continued until his death in 1976, at which time the GCA acquired the building, renovating it to a bookstore and art gallery.  It is a real treasure!  Between its absolutely spectacular views, gorgeous original family furnishings, and intact photo studio and movie library, it is so very deserving of being on the National Register of Historic Buildings!

The Views from Kolb Studios

You Can See the Bright Angel Trail

Can You Believe This Fridge Still Works!  Wish RV Fridges Were As Reliable!

Original Photo Studio

We learned early on that the weather changes dramatically here on the South Rim.  We went from cloudy skies, to snow, to a beautiful sunshine in a matter of a few hours.

We toured the 6 GCA stores located on the South Rim, meeting tons of employees.  Mom was making herself Cliff Notes to try to remember them all!   GCA has about 100 employees, but only 30% of them work year-round.  We are fortunate that we are the very first of the Spring/Summer workampers to arrive.  This gives us more personalized training.  The managers, leads, and winter seasonal workers have been ever so helpful and patient.  GCA is very cognizant of the grueling tasks of retail sales, and therefore is very generous with breaks:  a 15-minute morning break, an hour lunch, and a 15-minute afternoon break within an 8-hour day.  If we work a 10-hour day, the breaks extend to 20 minutes!  (So different than at Amazon where we worked 10-or 11-hour days and received only a 1/2 hour lunch with 2 breaks of barely 15 minutes).

There is lots to learn here, like facts about the Canyon, directions to get to various places, running the registers, store inventory, etc, but we seem to be catching on quickly and are enjoying the learning process!  We have already been charged with opening the Yavapai Pt. store on our own!

Yavapai Pt. Geology Museum, Which Houses a GCA Store

What A Great "Office" View from the Yavapai Pt. Store in the Geology Museum!

Speaking of Amazon, they decided not to have any Texas workamping locations this year, contrary to the San Marcos and Coppell locations they informed us about at the Quartzsite RV Show in January.   Instead, workamping opportunities are only available in TN and KY.   We are disappointed--Amazon is truly a good gig.  You get paid very well for all hours worked, get a reduction in your expenses since they pay for your RV site, and you receive a $1/hour completion bonus at the end of the season.  That buys me quite a supply of cheese!  Plus you get a free workout/weight loss program since most of the positions are very labor-intensive and involve substantial walking, lifting, and bending.  But it just isn't cost effective for us to travel to TN or KY after Grand Canyon only to return to Arizona again in January.  Instead, we will remain in Arizona, relocating to our favorite desert abode for a few extra months of rest and relaxation after we finish our gig here.  Although disappointed about no opportunities to work at Amazon in TX, we are not surprised.  Although Amazon included Haslet, TX on the application back in December, they did tell us the decision to include workampers there was still pending.    This is why we took the longer term (April through mid-October) position at Grand Canyon.  Mom is the "glass half empty" analytic.  We always plan for the worse.  We never put all our eggs in one basket.  We always have a "Plan B", and usually a Plan "C".  So no harm no foul for us except we will so miss seeing all the friends we have met the prior two years at Amazon!

Well, I’ve got to get back to coloring my Easter eggs, so I’ll sign off now.  Will speak to you again soon!


  1. Sounds like you guys have a great gig in a very beautiful area. Enjoy!

  2. You've found a great spot for your summer gig. Looking forward to your adventures while you are there.

  3. Sounds like a great job with a nice site. Can't wait to read more about it!

  4. Great site and love the elk!! Lee and I can't wait to read about it as Lee is very interested in trying a summer there. Glad to hear you have good cell coverage. Please let us know if that remains the case through high season.

  5. How much is the nominal fee for the campsite? My husband and I are seriously thinking we would love to work the South Rim January 2019-Mar31st 2019.

  6. Things may be different by then, but at the time we worked there, it was $50 per month, plus you paid your own electric and propane. The $50 was a payroll deduction of $25 per bi-weekly paycheck.