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How a Summer in Yellowstone Changed Everything

How a Summer in Yellowstone Changed Everything

Written by: , February 02nd, 2023
Categories: People


As human beings, we long for a sense of purpose, and we crave adventure.

We have to take risks to bring ourselves where we’re meant to be but often lack the courage to pursue these desires. But when we do break away from the familiar and pursue our passions, we can accomplish incredible things.

I’ll tell you a story of that success. A girl who left everything behind one summer to do extraordinary things in Yellowstone National Park.

She sought out photography opportunities in the park for her nature portfolio. Yellowstone is a photographer’s paradise. Having been there for a day and a half the summer prior, she knew it was the perfect place for her self-appointed mission.

She signed up for a seasonal job online and found herself on the open road armed with a box full of clothes, her camera and a heart full of dreams.

Karley Nugent

When she left, she questioned whether she’d actually find whatever she was looking for. From that first mile marker outside her hometown to the eastern entrance of Yellowstone, she had never felt so much uncertainty in her entire life. However, over all of that anxiety, she knew one truth: if she didn’t make a change then, she never would. The thought of continuing a life as boring as hers had been terrifying her.

So she took the chance and never looked back.

She greeted everyone she met with warm smiles, forming bonds with people from all walks of life. The people of Yellowstone taught her that no matter where they come from, all people are humans who were meant to come together and share love. And she learned that people are part of what makes Yellowstone so special.

She spent more time outside than she ever had to better understand the wildlife that shared this home with her. She watched bison battle their way to herd dominance. She beheld wolf cubs playing while their pack leaders kept watchful eyes over them. She heard the shriek of the elk signaling the changing of the seasons and saw bears exploring the changing environments just as she was. She learned that the animals of Yellowstone live at their own pace. They exist simply and happily.

Antlers Hiking People Karley Nugent

She completely immersed herself in Yellowstone’s backcountry; she hiked over 200 miles and journeyed through every inch of the park that time allowed her to. She visited places few people see or know. She stood atop petrified trees, scaled mountains, wandered through valleys, gazed into canyons and looked on as the Yellowstone caldera shot boiling waters up 100 feet high.

Her time there made her braver; she began to explore outside of the park boundaries as well. She drove through mountains and followed rushing rivers. She learned history from small-town museums and found new cultures in isolated reserves. She learned to love the wanderlust expanding in her soul. She grew to appreciate all of the lessons traveling could bring people. And she learned that the places that surround Yellowstone make it so special.

There were nights she slept outside and would gaze into infinity. She viewed the stars as their light dotted the dark sky and wondered at the vast expanse of the Milky Way. She counted comets, chased falling stars across the land and watched the dance of the northern lights.


She did all of these things and more. And by the end of her time there, she felt tears streaming down her face when she had to leave.

Her uncertainty in the beginning was replaced with a new dread. She didn’t know when she would return to the park. Her only solace was the promise to herself that she would go back to the place her heart had learned to call home.

By now you’ve probably figured out who the main character in this story is. That girl is me.

To say that my time in Yellowstone changed me would be an understatement to the highest degree. Yellowstone gave me everything I could have asked for and more. My time there taught me who I am as a person; it showed me what I value most and where I want to go in my life.

It all happened because I took the chance. From the pictures I took to the friendships I made, I will always regard that summer as the best summer of my life.

I challenge you to find your Yellowstone, too. Don’t be afraid, go out and see what the world has to offer! Never back away from the opportunity to discover new things and places. In the end, we are defined by what we did with the time we are given and the chances we take in our lives.

Go out and find yourself; who you really are just might surprise you.

Karley Nugent graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a major in journalism and a minor in English. During the summer of 2015, she worked as a Senior Guest Service Agent (GSA) at Lake Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. Nugent is a photographer, avid hiker and lover of all things Yellowstone, especially the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (look for her at Artist Point).

Want to experience Yellowstone in-depth? See what makes Yellowstone National Park a great place to work for a season or longer!