First Motel in Moab, Utah?
Maybe it wasn't the very first, but this dandy motel with the iconic sign, was built in 1955. That was just 3 years after the discovery of uranium in the area. About the time Moab became the Uranium Capital of the World!
I wasn't too excited about the uranium history, but I did think it was fun knowing The Apache Motel played home to John Wayne and his family a number of times.
Why This Place?
When searching for Moab hotels online, a photo of this motel sign with its 20-foot arrow caught my eye.
Then when I read about some of the motel's celebrity guests, I got curious. In the fifties and sixties, the modern and comfy motel provided long term accommodations for John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Henry Fonda and others, while they were shooting westerns in the area. By the 1980's, I don't believe the motel was quite cushy enough for Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. But the film crew shooting Thelma and Louise stayed here.
"Modern American Movement - Victorian Eclectic Bungalow"
Don and I were intrigued with the celebrity history. We were also curious about the architectural style of this 35-unit brick structure. We've stayed at vintage motor cottages and Victorian hotels, but this style is harder to find. This design was built in the mid-fifties, a transition between the earlier roadside motor courts and the that upcoming motor inns. You have to love this sturdy design.
Honestly, all this style talk is true, but it was the room price lured us. Moab hotel rates are generally high and our motel room was $89. for the night... which is still high for a small town motel.
This eerie morning shot of the lobby, mostly shows shadows. They at least served coffee and donuts in the morning.
But when we checked in, I was disappointed. Yes, there was some knotty pine wood, that offered a bit of western homeyness. But I had been led to believe there would be sort of a museum, packed with memorabilia. I had hoped for a chatty desk clerk, with lots of stories.
There were lots of framed photos of Hollywood celebrities and the westerns they starred in. But the website said I could pose for a photo with John Wayne. Of course I knew he would be cardboard, but I didn't expect him to be quite so faded and bent. I did not pose with John. So I took a photo of the John Wayne toilet paper, instead.
Ahh! A Place to Relax
This doesn't really look too bad at a glance, but this was not a pool I wanted to lounge around. The sunny day just spotlighted the motel's peeling paint and murky water.
I tried to imagine the place in earlier years, when John Wayne was splashing in the pool with his kids. I pictured his wife playing solitaire under one of the shiny, metal umbrellas. I studied the upper floor where the Wayne's occupied their suite for long stretches of time, during filming periods. Evidently Mr. Wayne was a gracious and friendly guest and his kids loved the place. At least that's what I learned from lots of digging on the internet. No one working at the motel seemed to have much info.
Just a Reminder
I doubt this sign was around when the Wayne's stayed here.
I wondered what might have been the inspiration for putting up the sign.
Our Upstairs Room
Our room #22 was upstairs, a room away from John Wayne's family suite. I wonder how much the view has changed since the 1950's?
The red rock mountains were obviously there. But how about those mobile homes across the street? We definitely had a good view of the yellow sign from our picture window.
I can't recall why Don gave the thumbs up in this photo. Maybe because our room was fairly spacious, with "rustic" wood beams and green trees through the picture window.
But mostly I remember being bombarded by the odor of musty carpet and cheap soap.
A Seventies Update?
I wish they had just kept the original 1955 furniture and thrown in a new mattress and linens. I enjoy and tolerate just about anything vintage.
But my own definition of vintage means it has to be from before the 1970's. Give me a chenille bedspread that looks like a 1950's bathrobe and I smile and sigh. Show me a shiny, quilted bedspread that's maybe 35 years old and I feel woozy.
I felt much more relaxed after we aired out the room a bit. I checked for fresh sheets and was satisfied.
Then I removed the spread and grabbed the quilt from the car. Don shook us up some martinis in his thermal coffee mug and suddenly the corny framed art above the bed, titled "Cattle Drive", seemed sentimental and lovely.
Night at The Apache
It was actually a peaceful, pleasant night at the motel. There were no bikers, hikers, cowboys or film stars whooping it up.
We walked down the road a couple blocks to Milt's Drive-In, which has been around as long as Apache. By the time we returned, the yellow sign was glowing. I stopped in the office for some freshly brewed coffee and chatted with the woman. She seemed more friendly than when we checked in. It turns out her lack of smiling was due to her lack of teeth. She sweetly confided, that someone had recently given her the funds so she could get a set of "chompers". She was getting very excited about smiling again. That made me smile.
The Apache Motel was a little odd and worn, but it served its purpose for us. I love vintage signs and I will remember the big arrow and Apache image. But I'm pretty sure I shouldn't say I love it.
Mostly I will remember the Hollywood connections. It was incredibly fun to drive just 5 miles from our motel and visit Arches National Park the next day. Just a bit further to Canyonlands Park. So many films have been shot in these areas... including "Fort Apache" from 1949. We enjoyed a different world and had a very different kind of overnight stay!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!