AMERICAN FORK CANYON — It started as a summer job at Timpanogos Cave and changed Jay Allen’s life forever.
Allen spent his first summer at the cave in 1968, when he was 22. He had just finished his studies in premed.
"I liked this so much I never made it to medical school," he said. "It's a lot funner to play in a park than to work in a doctor's office."
Forty-five years later he is still leading tours at Timpanogos Cave. Allen became a science teacher at American Fork High School and said he has kept the cave job all these years because he loves it.
Allen's day starts at 7:45 a.m. and his commute to work is 1 ½-mile hike, with a 1,000-foot climb in elevation. But he said he doesn't mind at all.
"There's no better job on this earth than to come to Timpanogos Cave and hike the trail and meet the people and go in the cave and cool off every day," Allen said.
Even though he's guided thousands of tours over the years, leading tens of thousands of visitors through the cave, it still doesn't get old for him.
"Every day I meet people from all over the world, and the landscape here is incredible," he said. "As we go through the season from spring to summer to fall, and finally the snow is come, that makes it worth coming back every day."
Seeing people's faces light up as they learn something new — in the darkness of the cave — is what Allen finds most rewarding.
“When I see people on tours from every country in the world, they express they have never seen anything like some of the rooms here in Timpanogos Caves, and I feel the same way,” Allen said. “People around here, by the time they walk out of here, realize how unique this is.”
Allen said that at his age, he takes the job one day at a time, but doesn't plan on retiring as long as he can keep hiking to the cave.
"Well you know what, every day there are things that are real interesting," he said. "I think that is why I keep coming back, because every day there is at least one good challenge that catches your attention."
He's also training another generation of guides.
The visitor center and caves are open through Sept. 22, depending on conditions. Allen is at the cave Sunday through Wednesday. This is the peak season, however, and tours often sell out in advance. People can purchase tickets up to 30 days in advance by calling 801-756-5238 between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours are limited to 16 visitors and are subject to staff availability. For more information go to www.nps.gov.