Black George Simmons's hand-hewn cabin in Grand Teton National Park has no running water—but it does have electricity, and that's enough to keep his ice cream frozen. After all, there's nothing like a root beer float for making new friends. After 31 years working for the U.S. Geological Survey, Simmons took to volunteering at spots around the West, among them Big Bend National Park in southern Texas. In the Tetons, where he's now in his 10th season, his official job is to help in emergencies at Death Canyon trailhead. nps.gov/grte .
Q Why do you say "Yeehaw!" to everyone?
A In Big Bend there are not very many people and you have to travel a long ways to do anything. That's just the greeting everyone exchanges.
Q The name Black George?
A There are a lot of dark pages in my history—playing piano in a bordello at age 15, stripping in Houston's Golden Age Widow's Club at age 64, much more.
Q Who gets root beer floats?
A My biggest clientele is trail crew, fire crew, anybody working in the area. But others are just whoever I happen to meet on the trail or at the trailhead.
Q You make how many in a summer?
A The record is 650. I want to make everybody who visits feel like they have a friend in the park service, a friend in the Tetons, and a friend in me personally. It gives them a sugar rush after they've used a lot of energy, and they just enjoy it. I get a great deal of pleasure out of that.
Q Your favorite spot in Grand Teton?
A I spend most of the time at my cabin at the trailhead, and I'd say that I like it as well as anyplace.
Photography by Anne Sherwood
This article was first published in July 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.