Welcome back to another Ranger Talk, my national park ranger interview series! This week I’m featuring a new Internet friend, Cass! She’s currently working in Yellowstone. If you want to see more interviews, head over here. Just keep in mind, the views expressed here are her own and are not reflective of National Park Service in any way.
Name: Cass Hennings
Where are you from: Spokane, Washington
Favorite book: Either The Great Gatsby or The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
Favorite color and constellation: Red and Orion.
What is your dream trip outside of the parks: I’d really love to visit Scotland one day since most of my family came from there long ago.
Where do you work, how did you end up here, and what do you do: I work as a seasonal interpretive ranger at the Canyon District in Yellowstone National Park. I knew I wanted to be a park ranger and that I’d need a bachelor’s degree so I majored in Geology at Eastern Washington University.
Once I had my degree, I started applying to jobs on USAjobs.gov and Yellowstone was the first one that hired me. As an interpreter, I help educate visitors and help them forge personal connections with the parks’ natural and historic resources by giving interpretive talks and guided hikes around the canyon.
What did you do to get the job (degree? volunteer experience? other relevant work experience?): Kinda answered in the previous question but I did have an internship with the U.S. Geological Survey for a few years while I was in college working on my degree.
Besides that, I install cabinets for a construction company during the off-season months, and I also worked as a barista at a bubble tea/coffee shop for a few years while I was in school as well.
Where else have you worked: Yellowstone is the only park I’ve worked at, but I am considering possibly working somewhere else next season for a change.
What is your dream park to work at: I always camped with my family at North Cascades when I was a kid. It’s a LOT less crowded than Yellowstone, think 30 thousand vs 4 million annual visitors… that would be nice. I’d also love to work up in Alaska so I could visit that state in the summer again, and Bryce Canyon down in Utah is one of my other favorites.
Why did you want to become a ranger: Camping was always the best thing for me growing up, it was something I did with my family and I love the outdoors and want to encourage other people to love them and protect them the way I do.
How did you get interested in the parks: Camping, both with my mother and sometimes grandparents, and later on with one of my older cousins. When I was a teenager, every summer for 3-4 weeks we’d pile into his RV and do some cross-country road trip hitting as many parks as we could.
One year it was all the way to Florida from Washington, one year it was hauling up to Alaska, one year was the desert southwest, one year Canada… it was like another life compared to the rest of my year.
What do you love most about the parks: I love how most, not all, but most of the people you encounter out there love the parks just as much as you do. It’s hard sometimes when they’re crowded but then you remember that everyone is just trying to reconnect to something greater and makes memories they won’t forget. The park protects large swathes of beautiful natural scenery and we need other people to care so the parklands will continue to be protected.
Top tip for visiting the parks (don’t touch wildlife, go early, avoid holidays, etc): Don’t discount less-visited parks, state parks, or national forests. Some of the most beautiful places I’ve been have been in our national forests and no one goes there. If you are trying to go to a popular park, the shoulder seasons are the time to go.
Specific to Yellowstone, look up when sunset is and try to visit Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin then, or up to an hour before. The crowds will be less and you can still see the spring and get a nice sky reflection off the mineral mats. If you try and go there too early in the morning, the cold air steams up too much and you’ll miss those beautiful colors you want to see.
Top five parks so far: Yellowstone, North Cascades, Bryce Canyon, Olympic, Denali
Coolest park experience you’ve had so far (climbing the Teton, rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, seeing a pack of wolves attack a moose, etc.): Saw 20+ wolves of the Wapiti Lake pack down in Hayden Valley in 2017. They had two litters of pups that spring and the adults were teaching the pups (about five-six months old) how to herd some elk around and you could see them moving around on this hillside with your naked eyes.
That was pretty spectacular. Also this summer I saw an eruption of the tallest geyser in the park (and world) Steamboat Geyser, at night and there was a double moonbow! That was almost unbelievable!
Dream park experience (rim to rim to rim, climb Half Dome, road trip to all the parks, etc): I’d like to be able to say I’ve hiked all 1000+ miles of trail in Yellowstone but that’s still a ways off for me. Beyond that, as a Washingtonian, I would like to summit Mount Rainier one day. My grandpa’s done it like a dozen times so I feel like I should do it at least once.
Favorite hike and/or activity in a park: Geyser basins at sunset and nighttime, stargazing and observing the Milky Way, and hiking along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone of course.
Favorite outdoor activity: Hiking!
If you could only visit one park for the rest of your life, which and why: Hard to say for sure, but either Yellowstone or Olympic have the most diversity, I think. Yellowstone has thermal features, the most beautiful canyon I’ve ever seen, abundant wildlife, petrified forests, and miles of trails to get away from the crowds. Olympic has the Hoh Rainforest, the Olympic Mountains, and rugged beaches with seastacks galore. It even has hot springs! So I’d say one of those two parks probably.
Anything else you want to share?
Working in the parks has introduced me to like-minded friends from across the nation who I don’t think I would have ever met otherwise. It’s a wonderful opportunity, even just for a season, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
What else would you like to see in future interviews? Have you ever wanted to be a park ranger?
Are you a ranger or do you know a ranger that would like to be featured? Send me an email! I would like to branch out into forest rangers and state park rangers as well, so get in touch if you’re interested!