During my first week here in Custer State Park, a herd of 50 buffalo was grazing outside of my dormitory. It was a quiet early morning- no one was outside except me. I walked out of my dormitory, which is a single-story military trailer, and headed towards the trail to work when suddenly, as I passed the end of the trailer and turned my head left, cows were everywhere! Stealthy, slow and peaceful…yet dangerous. I had gone through that same herd the day before. That time I was on a noisy, old bike, literally forced to go through them on the Wildlife Loop Road, which only made them more aggravated on top of protecting their calves. That was probably the scariest moment of my life.
Those were my first close encounters with the buffalo here at Custer State Park, where I am working at the Front Desk of the State Game Lodge. I really wanted to work here over the summer because of a trip my family and I went on three years ago to the Black Hills of South Dakota. While we were in Custer State Park, we met this girl who worked for the Visitor’s Center along the Wildlife Loop Road. She made the job sound great!
I didn’t really think I would ever work here until I applied last year and got the job! Now I’m working for Custer State Park Resorts, which upkeeps the State Game Lodge. Work is six days a week and eight hours a day with almost unlimited amounts of food prepared for every meal, everyday by the other employees! I’m pretty happy. A variety of people work here. Some are 60 years old and retired. Many are Native Americans. Others are students who are just starting university. Some haven’t graduated from High School. Then there are the foreigners from Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Russia, the Philippines…and Florida! My roommate, Corey, is 35 years old. He works in the dish room. It’s a resort- so there are people who have backgrounds in all areas but have to work in housekeeping, on the food line or at the gift shop. I worked at Westerlin’s cafeteria for two years- I’m really glad that I am able to work at the front desk!
So far, I have met guests from Germany, England and France. This guy from France spent about 20 minutes talking with my front-desk friend, Allison, and I about surfing in California. He finished by reading the first paragraph of his book that he is writing. Crazy nice guy- he gave us his information. A few days ago I had a conversation about photography with this guy from England. I can’t even recall how we started talking about it, but he ended up giving me his website- he’s a great photographer.
The front desk is the front desk: I answer phones, check people in and out and try to comfort guests who don’t have toilet-paper in their rooms. But I’d rather say that the front desk is the headquarters for the hotel. We connect the guests with everyone they need to talk with. I help people find cool places to go even though I’ve only hiked a few trails and seen a few things. We are the gatekeepers of Custer State Park- maybe that’s a little exaggerated!
The Lodge was built in 1922. President Coolidge stayed during the summer of 1927 where he promised federal funding to the Mount Rushmore project and where he chose not to re-run for office in 1928. Eisenhower also stayed here in 1953. (I also really enjoy giving special tours to guests who want to see the presidential rooms!).
I am only going to be here for two and a half months. But this is South Dakota! Before I know it, I’ll have a rough beard, know all of the Wal-mart greeters by name, and own a Harley! I already caught myself with a Fargo accent!