In 1982 I landed a summer job at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, high up on the park’s eastern side. I was quite naive as to the unbelievable amount of wildlife activity in that region and especially Grizzly Bears.
I was, after all, an artsy Theatre student, which is why I wanted to land a job at the Many Glacier Hotel in the first place. Back in those days, college students with a background in “entertainment” got hired to amuse hotel guests once their duties were done for the day. As far as I knew, I was there to sing and entertain, not try to escape wild animals. After our tasks were done for the day, the “guests” would gather around the large and spacious open hotel living room, where they took in musical numbers and skits for the evening.
What I was really there for (I realized once I got there) was hard, backbreaking work as a hotel maid. Some employees were waiters, some were waitresses, and some were groundskeepers; however, I was a maid, and hard and boring, tedious work it was.
The first evening we arrived there was a really boring “talk” given by the Park Rangers which included a slide show etc. As college students began to pour in from all over the United States, about five of us figured we didn’t need to listen to a deadbeat lecture by Park Rangers, and while there was still a bit of daylight left, we decided we’d take a hike across the road from the Hotel and up the mountain a couple blocks away.
After a very short time, I found out quite precisely what I was up against, and even though I had lived in rough and rugged Montana most my life, no place is as raw and rugged as East Glacier.
We (myself and other ragamuffin college students freshly into work at the Many Glacier Hotel) took off up a very steep mountain. It was glorious; we were free! The sun was still out at 5 pm, and it felt great to be alive, to explore, and be unfettered! As we continued to climb up higher and higher, it got a bit duskier. Then we began to traverse the mountain, and in doing so, the brush was thick and tall, and we got well-sort of lost. We weren’t fully lost, just a little lost, meaning we knew down was down, but how to get there was another story amid all that “thickness.”
Finally, when it was about 10 pm and dark as tar, we arrived back at our dorms tired and exerted and on top of the world; we were so proud we made it back! We were smitten with our accomplishments until the next day that was.
And then it all broke loose. I was cornered by HIM—the BOSS.
“Do you understand what kind of trouble you’ve caused, young lady?!” You were supposed to be at the Ranger talk, not climbing up the top of a mountain! We could just send you back home right now!” And on and on it went. I snapped back with some sassy remark because I, the newly employed hotel maid, was very sassy.
It wasn’t until a Park Ranger told us that a Grizzly had been following us for hours up on that mountain and stalking us that I got a wee bit scared. Once they figured out that “five college students were missing” (from the boring ranger talk), they went looking for us EVERYWHERE and had huge spotlights/floodlights peering through all that brush where they could see us, but we couldn’t see them!
God was indeed looking out for us in spite of our naivety.
After that, I learned my lesson and quickly. I never went out again without a large group of people and with bear bells and whistles, and I was still quite skittish to boot.
Every other day it was something new. “Wow, that was so exciting!” several crazy college students declared as six of them came running back to the Hotel full speed, bragging about how they had “taunted a grizzly” so that he would chase them. I thought I was dumb after my mishap on the mountain that day, but this was outright stupid.
And then there was the time when a Ranger was in the hotel lobby picking through a woman’s scalp. I knew he wasn’t a hairdresser, so I asked someone sitting next to me watching this bizarre escapade what he was up to.
“What’s he looking for in her hair?” I asked rather sheepishly.
The reply from the knowing tourist stunned me. “Oh a bear scratched the top of her head.”
OK then. I didn’t even want to know how that could happen. OK then.
Then there was the time all of us maids jumped into “Swiftcurrent Lake” hand in hand off the dock in our work uniforms/dresses. We did it because we were dumb college students, and we were hot. And in that massive multi-story Hotel, there were colossal trophy heads. Elk, deer, bison, moose, and many of them. So once our “maid attire,” meaning work dress/uniforms, dried out from the lake jump, someone got the bright idea to hang a dress from the antler of one of those massive stuffed “heads.” And if I remember correctly, that someone was ME. Why? Because I was a dumb college student.
Here’s one last thing about that crazy Hotel back in the 80’s-and they probably wouldn’t want you to know this but, there are creatures that live under the roof. And they smell really bad. It took me a little while to figure it out, and once I did, it grossed me out so badly I never wanted to clean rooms on the top floor ever again, but if they got assigned to you, well, that was that.
I “confess” that the first few times I cleaned those top rooms, I had no idea what that rotten smell was. And the hotter it was outside, the stinkier it was in those rooms “under the roof.”
Then one day it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. As I left the Hotel late one night from the cafeteria dining hall (Friday nights, we would hang out there till dark) and I was headed back to the dorms across the parking lot, it happened. And there I saw “them.” If there were one, there were 500 of them.
Personally, I think bats are probably the sketchiest animal on planet earth. That rancid smell up under the roof of the Many Glacier Hotel was bats. Hot bats. Even to this day, I can smell that “hot bat smell.” And they scratched; they made a scratching and scuffling noise up under that roof in the middle of August. Ewww so not a fan.
It’s now 40 years later, and reminiscing, I wonder if I would ever have worked there had I known all those wild things about the place where I thought I was going to go to sing and entertain guests in a hotel lobby.
Maybe I would, but I would have taken a job as a waitress because they don’t have to clean the rooms “under the roof” with that hot bat smell.