An Accidental Reunion in Glacier National Park

I spent a summer during college working at the Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park. At the time, I had barely travelled outside of the Southeast and I was awestruck by the park. It was simply the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. Fast forward to now, many years later, and after visiting nearly 40 countries and all but three states, I still consider Glacier the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

This is the Many Glacier Hotel where I worked for a summer in college

Anybody up for a Hootenanny?

I’ve been to two employee reunions over the years and it’s always fun to see people I knew from this unique summer back in the day. Many of us who worked in the hotel had music or theater backgrounds and we performed for guests in evenings in Hootenannies (folk/country music) or Serenades (classical music). The reunions always include a Hootenanny and a Serenade, just like the old days, in addition to a cookout at Johnson’s, a campground and hotel near the St. Mary’s entrance to the park.

The reunions are always great fun, but there is a painful ritual that must take place a year before the event. This involves getting up in the middle of the night on the specific night that reservations open for the following year’s reunion date for the Many Glacier Hotel and the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn (a mile from the hotel) and logging into the website the second that reservations open to book a room. By following this ritual, I was able to book a room for the reunion set for 2020 but, of course, it was postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19. Then, back in March, the 2021 reunion was postponed to 2022. By then, I had not only secured a reservation for Many Glacier but had also booked lodging for a number of other national parks and points of interest for a long summer trip. So, we kept our plans, hoping that there would be some reunion goers who, like us, kept their reservations and pressed on. The closer we got to the reunion, though, the more people cancelled. I was a little disappointed at the prospect of not seeing anyone from my summer at Glacier, but so be it – it’s always a joy to be at Glacier!

Meeting a new pal on the Grinnell Glacier Hike

I’ve always loved the Grinnell Glacier Hike. It’s fairly long as day hikes go at 11 miles, but the views, which change all day are spectacular, watching the valley below open up and seeing the turquoise waters of Grinnell and Josephine lakes, as we approach the glacier. This year, sadly, the smoky haze diminished the effect.

A few weeks ago, I had communicated on a Facebook page for Glacier Former Employees with Laura, someone who had worked at Glacier a few summers later than I, so I didn’t know her. She also seemed interested in hiking Grinnell Glacier and we would be in the Many Glacier area at the same time as she would be. But we never actually finalized a plan.

On the day that John and I set out for the hike, we had lots of company on the trail. But then, as we were hiking along I thought that I saw Laura passing us, recognizing her from her Facebook photo. I caught a glimpse of her again on a switchback, and then she was off, hiking out ahead of us. A bit later, we turned a corner and I saw her sitting out on a rock, just off the trail so I approached her, “Are you Laura?” I asked. “I’m Sallie – we met on the Facebook page.” I was a little concerned that I might be disturbing her solitude, but she seemed happy to meet us. It turns out that Laura spent seven years working at Glacier as a park naturalist and had, by her estimation, led the Grinnell Glacier hike 70 times! As we hiked along, she shared bits of wisdom and funny stories about the hike, and we also got to know each other. After working for Glacier, she then worked for Grand Canyon National Park for twenty years, is recently retired from the Park Service to Flagstaff where she lives with her husband and son. There does always seem to be an instant connection with people who have worked at Many Glacier, even those of us who never actually worked together.

The Grand Tour

The Grinnell Glacier hike was the longest and hardest we had done in a while, and, this was John’s first trip to Glacier, so, the next day we took it easy by driving the beautiful Going-to-the-Sun Road, which goes across the park, crossing the Continental Divide. It is widely considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the United States. Getting to the west side of the park, we stopped to see Lake McDonald Lodge, and then went by the tiny village of Apgar which is near the park’s west entrance. We bought sandwiches and pasta salad at a shop in Apgar and ate our lunch at a picnic area of the beautiful shores of Lake McDonald. Not far from the Lake McDonald Lodge, celebrated cowboy artist C.M. Russell owned a retreat in the days before Glacier became a national park. John and I ended up driving the full loop, Highway 2, across the southern edge of the park, to the other side to see the Glacier Park Lodge near the east entrance, before heading back.

After all the driving, we decided to take the 2.6 mile walk around Swiftcurrent Lake, right in front of the hotel. We had barely gotten on the trail when I recognized Mike, who worked in the hotel gift shop the summer I worked at Many G. He was there with family and with Leanna and Laurie who were also my summer co-workers, also there with family.  What a treat to see them! The next morning we were greeted by a steady rain so sat in a quiet area of the hotel together to visit. We caught up on events in our lives and reminisced and laughed about the good ol’ days at the hotel, such as the time that the dining room chef was upset with one of the kitchen workers and literally chased the guy out of the kitchen, wielding a meat cleaver, which sounds like something out of a cartoon. Since there was nightly entertainment in the dining room, mostly singing waitstaff, the dining room guests thought that the chef’s fit of pique was part of the show and burst into applause!

Co-workers from my summer at Glacier – what fun it was to see them!

We are planning to join next summer’s reunion and look forward to seeing more friends and also enjoying a Hootenanny, Serenade, and outing to Johnson’s, but this serendipitous reunion was a wonderful and fun surprise.

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