Medicine Bow, Wyoming
When I stumbled across The Virginian Hotel on the internet, I quickly knew it had big potential for a memorable overnight!
I remember laughing out loud as I sat at my computer, hunting for hotel options between Fort Collins and Casper. I hollered to Don in the other room.
"You need to check this out! This might be crazy, but I'm game to stay, if you are!"
Markers and Signs
So we planned it into our road trip. Medicine Bow wasn't exactly on our route, but it was on the Old Lincoln Highway. It was worth a detour.
When we arrived at the hotel last June, we parked beside two old highway markers. I climbed out of the car and spotted a sign, with a quote, bolted right onto the hotel's cement bricks. The words reminded me that I hadn't done my hotel homework! The Virginian Hotel was named for the first western novel, written in 1902. I wished I had read the book, since I only vaguely remember the old TV series and movies.
Standing Sturdy Since 1911
The sturdy, but stark hotel looked pretty quiet, sitting beside the highway and across from railroad tracks. Fresh paint helped hide the age of the hotel, completed in 1911.
It was odd to picture this hotel, 106 years ago, capitalizing on a book's success. But the hotel did just that. It was named in honor of Owen Wister's novel, which was set in Medicine Bow. I would love to have seen the town, back in its rowdier days of cowboys and railroad workers.
I tried not to worry about what the missing key revealed. I have a feeling, most visitors come to eat, not to stay overnight. I just amused myself looking at the old cash register and the fancy call board. I'm still trying to figure out how those buzzers and arrows worked.
While Sharon searched, I wandered through an opening, with velvet drapes and found the more formal dining room. The set tables looked pretty inviting, even with the stuffed critters watching from above. Sadly this would not be an option for our dinner, since the room was reserved for special occasions.
The Room Search
So Many Rooms
The 16 rooms on the second floor were all open for viewing. It was pretty clear that no other overnight guests were staying. However, we were prepared to "not be alone" since we knew some travelers in the diner had been invited to explore.
During our own exploring, we found a cute little sitting room. I imagine this was used mostly by the guests renting the smaller "sleeping rooms". The "water closet" was also available for the sleeping room guests, who only had sinks in their room.
The "Owen Wister Suite"
At the end of the hall we found the door to our room. I'd been told it was the prized room, often used for honeymooners. Mostly we chose it, so we wouldn't have to share a "water closet".
There was a sort of confusing cluster of doors and entrances, but basically we had 3 bedrooms, a parlor and a bathroom... and 3 entrances to the hall. We entered the parlor first and found the old button light switch, right beside the nifty call button.
I'm a bit amused to see how elegant the parlor appears in my photo. My eyes are drawn to the glowing chandelier, the antiques and velvet... the colors of gold and burgundy... even the pipes were painted gold.
But there was much more than meets the eye.
There were many visuals to distract me, but my other senses went to work. The odors of old carpets and fabrics mingled with cooking smells from the kitchen. The sound of a train rumbling by across the street, didn't drown out the sound of the saloon's juke box, below our room. The textures of dusty wood and lumpy pillows and metal radiators... well, it was a lot to take in.
Voices in the Bathroom
Don and I aren't used to having so many bed options with our whacky overnights. We took our decision making seriously.
We could have slept in the yellow room with its sewing machine, if we hadn't been nervous about the bed collapsing in the night. The brass head and footboards leaned towards each other, even without bodies weighting it down. However, the mattress was practically touching the floor, so we might have slept through the fall. "Does, it even have a box spring?" Don asked.
Two More Rooms
The room with the single bed was easy to cross off. The bed near the bathroom looked sturdier, but there seemed to be a huge lump under the 1980's era bedspread. I bravely investigated and found an issue with some kind of mattress topper. Nope. I wasn't going to sleep on that.
Don and I have a lot of tolerance for the oddities of aging hotels. We choose places that amuse or intrigue us, over hotels that pamper us. Usually we just laugh and take photos. However, sometimes our photos reveal our inner discomfort.
After checking for clean sheets and deciding we were up for the "Virginian Experience", we attempted to settle in. I posed with a hat I found on the dresser and Don read a pamphlet. However, my expression looks anxious and Don looks a bit tense. We are usually so easily entertained, but there seemed to be so much time and so little to do.
I peeked out the window and spotted the old train station (now museum) across the highway. It was about 100 degrees, but we decided to explore.
After peeking in windows of the closed museum, we wandered around the back of the building and found the old bank, a laundromat and a very creepy old jailhouse. I had a good time comparing the image today, to vintage a photo.
Dressing the Part
The Shiloh Saloon
Before dinner we stopped in the saloon, expecting to meet the voices we'd been getting to know through our floor.
However, most of the afterwork locals had already moved on and only one beer drinker was left. "You staying in the Owen Wister room?" He asked, sounding more gracious, than nosy. He said he'd been told to lay off the juke box since there were guests upstairs. He asked for our permission to play some tunes and even asked what kind of music we preferred.
Horns, Hats and a Clown
Our new friend chatted about life, growing up in an isolated town, of less than 300. He liked it enough to move back, after some years in more exciting places.
Posing in Our Western Wear
After Sharon hustled over from the Eating House to take our order, our new friend encouraged us to pose behind the bar.
I'm posing with a bottle because I'm not too picky about how I drink my beer. However, Don always asks for a glass. When he asked Sharon, she looked at him as if no one had ever made such an odd request. She looked at his bottle and said, "Your beer's in glass." Don and I grinned at that comment. Sharon wasn't being a bit sassy. She was just stating the fact, before she got Don a mug.
There were no options in town for dinner, besides the hotel's Eating Room. Don and I took a table under the fine Virginian mural.
Local families and a few teens ate at the other tables and booths. Sharon teased some teen boys for ordering french fries when dinner was waiting at home. The hotel owner addressed a few diners by name, as he busied himself with some paperwork.
Dining and Goats
While Don and I settled into our good enough sandwich meals, I became distracted by a man who had stopped by the hotel to announce something about goats.
I ended up outside with a few other diners to see the 3 baby goats riding in his truck. He said they'd been born 2 hours ago and he was out to get them some milk, since they were unable to nurse. That was the highlight of my mea!
We both lay back and laughed. We were amused by our accommodations and amused with ourselves. It wasn't even 10:00, but we were going to bed so it would hurry up and be morning. Shortly after 10 pm, we heard a door slam below and the final car pulled away from the gravel lot. For some reason I slept well and hardly even noticed the numerous trains in the night.
I woke before 6, when I heard noises from the kitchen. Don said he'd hold off on a shower, until our next hotel.
We weren't worried about safety or ghosts or even the dust and smells or sounds. But it was odd sleeping in a building that seemed more of a community gathering place, than a hotel.
I'll remember our curious and creaky Victorian suite and the fortress-like vision, of our isolated hotel. But I will also remember feeling like we were outsiders. When we walked down the stairs, we were the guests from the Owen Wister room. When we were in our room, the voices from the saloon reminded us that we weren't a part of the local crowd. Maybe if we had stayed one more night, we could have eased into the place and talked with more folks. Well, never mind that.
I'm glad we stayed. But one night was all that was needed!
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!