From Yellowstone to Reno
On the inside back cover of our 2010 Holiday Catalog is an image that originally appeared on the cover of our 1990 winter Kid’s Catalog. Not one person here in mail order even worked for Patagonia back then but nonetheless it’s a picture many of us know well. The photograph is of a little girl looking out her window at a buffalo munching grass on a snowy day in Yellowstone National Park. The reason we all know it so well is that Skye, the little girl in the picture, has worked here since 2004. When the picture reappeared in the current Holiday Catalog, I knew there must be a story behind that Yellowstone childhood and how she came to work here at Patagonia.
The story begins in England where her mom (a Brit) and dad (an American) met while in college. They married and returned to the US, living in Boston where her dad found work as an operating technician at Massachusetts General Hospital. But the story really gets under way in 1973 with a newspaper ad, an ad for the Winter Keeper position in the Canyon Village area of Yellowstone National Park (think The Shining). Only this job didn’t entail watching over a huge hotel, it involved watching over some 200 summer cabins perched on the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. He was offered the job (Skye is pretty sure he was the only applicant) and after talking it over with his wife, she decided that doing it for a year might be fun; because, she figured, you can survive just about anything for a year. So they packed up their old Saab and their new baby (Skye’s sister Emma) and headed west.
[Photo Top: Skye at home in Yellowstone. Photo: Steven Fuller]
As the Winter Keeper, her father’s job was to watch over the summer cabins and he spent many a day shoveling roofs and attending to winter-related maintenance. A photographer and inveterate tinkerer with a penchant for the wide open, Steven Fuller had found the perfect job. Winter evenings were spent playing games, doing art projects or reading. They also had the occasional visitor; more often than not lost skiers or snowmobilers attracted like moths to the only manmade light within a 20 mile radius. Wildlife was the more common visitor; buffalo were a daily occurrence, so much so that Skye can’t even remember exactly when that picture was taken. More worrisome was the occasional grizzly. On a cold November night one broke through the kitchen window and grabbed dinner right off the stove, pot and all, and disappeared into the night.
Sometime in April the snowplows would arrive and Skye and Emma would excitedly don their sundresses to greet the driver as he plowed the road to their house and to the outside world. Springtime also meant the time for travel, when her parents took the family on extended trips around the U.S. and to England to visit relatives.
Summers the family would ride horses and camp in the Yellowstone backcountry. It was also the time when her dad’s far-flung friends would pop in for a visit. Among the more frequent guests was Doug Peacock, the famous grizzly bear researcher and real-life model for Edward Abbey’s George Hayduke in The Monkey Wrench Gang. Skye reports that he is even crazier than Hayduke, if that’s possible.
Yellowstone, in the summer at least, proved to be an easy place for Skye to find employment and early on she proved to be quite the entrepreneur. She started her first business at the age of eight, baking and selling birthday cakes for the summer staff. This business was quite successful but came to an abrupt end when her parents stopped subsidizing the baking ingredients. Her second business was cleaning houses for some of the park staff. This job wasn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds, so once she was old enough she began working in the Canyon Village Gift Shop. She worked at the gift shop all through high school, making life-long friends with people from around the world.
By the time Skye was a sophmore in high school her mom was pretty much over living in the middle of nowhere and moved to Jackson, WY. Skye followed, and for the first time was able to attend public school for an entire year. Finally able to do something in the winter with someone other than her sister, she joined the Jackson Hole Ski Team and washed dishes in Teton Village to get a ski pass. But the pull of Yellowstone was strong and she returned every summer. Upon graduation she headed off to college at the University of Oregon. Here she majored in Anthropology and met her future husband Darrel. After college they moved to L.A. where Skye went to work at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles in the elementary school outreach program. After a while they both missed the mountains so when Darrel was offered a position in Reno they jumped at the chance.
Upon landing in Reno, Skye set out looking for work and applied to a couple local museums but when she saw the ad for Patagonia Mail Order Rep position she decided to apply. She had been wearing Patagonia clothing for as long she could remember and heck her picture had even appeared on a catalog cover way back when. So against our better judgment we decided to give her a try (just kidding Skye!) and she’s been here ever since.
In the meantime, Skye’s dad, Steven, still lives in the same house above the Yellowstone River. He is a highly acclaimed photographer and in 1980 was awarded “International Wildlife Photographer of the Year” for his photo "Garish Moose." In 1992 he was a guest lecturer in the Royal Geographic Society’s lecture series; the list of that season’s speakers included such luminaries as Paul Theroux, Richard Leakey, Thor Heyerdahl, David Bellamy and Jonathan Porritt. To see some of Steven's work, visit his website.
Steven continues on in his work, this year marking his 37th as a Yellowstone Winter Keeper. Despite the years of continued service and isolation, he has yet to write the words "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
[Photo above left, Not a bad backyard, Yellowstone in winter. Photo: Steven Fuller.]
[Photo aboe right, Garish Moose, Photo: Steven Fuller]