by Kathy MillerI have been with Glenwood Caverns for almost six years now. I was looking for a part-time job and, having visited the Caverns, I felt that being a tour guide could be a weird, fun thing to have on the resume. Little did I know how weird and fun it would be! When I was hired the current cave manager was leaving and another was starting. I had the privilege of training with both and learned a lot from each of them.
Today I get to help with training new guides. My manager, Bob Koper, and I help guides with learning all the information and how to handle groups of people. Bob is a retired science teacher and he teaches all the science. I walk through the cave with trainees, teaching them how to navigate the caves, help the guests, and stay on schedule.
I also go over guide etiquette; for example, the guide going down the stairs must move in a quick and timely manner so the guide going up the stairs can have use of the platforms as needed.
Some times our guests are not acclimated to our altitude and can have trouble catching their breath. We learn to pay attention to everyone. For example, if someone is breathing heavily, you keep showing things and telling stories until they are ready to climb more stairs. As guides we are there to protect the cave, take care of our guests and, as our mission statement says, “Make People Smile”.
For four years now I have led the “wild tours”. A wild tour is a crawling adventure on your belly, working hard, and getting filthy dirty for 2–2 ½ hours. You spend 4–5 hours crawling with guests. When you lead walking tours, depending on your shift you will walk 3 ½ miles and climb up and down 400 stairs, or 5 miles and climb over 500 stairs. Needless to say, at the end of the day you are definitely tired!
I am often asked which is better, leading wild or walking tours. They are both great
in different ways. When you are walking through the cave with a wide-eyed five year old
full of excitement and questions, that experience is priceless. You know you are
creating a memory for that family and child. Seeing things through a child’s eyes
can be very refreshing!
Wild tours are a great way to build confidence. When we get to where we are about to turn around and head out, we pick a guest to lead us out. When someone starts out scared and timid, and in the end leads the group out of the cave with a big smile on their face, that is priceless. I especially like working with scout and youth groups. Caving is an activity that can build confidence in individuals and camaraderie amongst strangers. You rely on each other and encourage each other. Many times guests are swapping e-mail addresses afterwards. I joke that it is the only job where you can kick dirt in your boss’s face and step on the owner and it’s okay. I did both on the same day!
My favorite things about being a tour guide are the people, especially children, and the cave itself. I have had the opportunity to see and experience things that I would have never dreamed of. There are places in Iron Mountain that are jaw-droppingly amazing and I have sat there thinking, wow, I can’t believe I am here.
I have met all kinds of interesting folks from all over the world. It is our job to make people smile, but many of them have done the same for me. Last December, I took a Navy Chaplain stationed in San Diego and his grown son on a wild tour. We had a blast! I mentioned to him that I was going to San Diego in a few weeks with my 78 year old mother-in-law. I told him that she was fascinated with the San Diego Navy culture because her brother was stationed there during WWII. He gave me his card, and once there he took us on base and we toured his ship. Mom was so thrilled, like a little kid. Chappy had some payback time for me from the wild tour. After many stairwells and long hallways he asked me if I knew where we were. I had a good guess. He then showed me how to read the letters and numbers on the wall to figure it out.
This would not be complete without mentioning my co-workers. I work with a very fun and creative bunch of people. In following online reviews and our in-house surveys, when describing our guides we hear over and over again that they are friendly, knowledgeable, unscripted, funny, patient, helpful, courteous, good with kids, and they make learning fun. I am proud of our guides and glad to be part of that team.