A McMenamins Hotel in Kalama, WA
Kalama Harbor Lodge is one of 12 hotels with the McMenamins name attached. That makes it sound like a chain hotel.
But all McMenamin properties are unique and curious. I don't associate those words with chain businesses.Don and I are addicted to McMenamins.
Other McMenamin hotels are in renovated, historic buildings. Kalama Lodge was built just a year ago, but its location is what makes it unique.
Where else can see ships in one direction and trains in the other? Where else can you walk over a bridge and visit the small Northwestern town, with a name that sounds Hawaiian?
Lelooska Totem Pole
I knew the history of Kalama, WA was linked to the Columbia River and the Northern Pacific Railway. But it wasn't until we saw the nearby totem poles that I was reminded about the Pacific Northwest Native American culture in the area.
These totem poles were carved in the early 1960's by Chief Don Lelooska who lived in town, just across the tracks. Recently, the 140-foot pole was lowered due to safety concerns. It still is the tallest totem pole in the world, carved from a 700 year old Western Red Cedar.
Don and I arrived at Kalama Lodge a few days before Christmas. We were eager to see how this hotel compared to the others.
I didn't care that the weather was cold and gloomy. It all seemed to add to the charm
As we came through the door, we were greeted by tropical designs and colors. The Hawaiian flavor of the lodge was linked to the town's namesake, John Kalama.
In 1837, he came to the area from Maui and worked as a middleman, between the local Cowlitz Tribe and the Hudson Bay Company.
Christmas and Beer
In the lobby we saw a few things that had no tropical flavor at all.
Just to our left in the lobby, I could see the brewery through the glass. (It wouldn't be a McMenamins property, without beer) I was happy to see there was a little Christmas happening at the lodge. The tree was festive and the Grinch (looking through the window) was humorous.
Finding Our Room
The staff at check-in was friendly and enthused about the new hotel. We were told we'd love our room.
We headed to the third floor and found room #306. All rooms are named and ours was called, Pioneer Room. The knotty pine walls made me think of a pioneer log cabin.
The Old Hickory furniture and lumberjack fabrics, felt cozy and lodge-ish. We opened the door to the balcony and felt a blast of cold. No worries. There were 4 cozy lap blankets, right beside the door.
Our room's name really had little to do with pioneers and cabins. It was named for an actual hotel in Maui.
When the McMenamin brothers were young, they stayed with their family at the Pioneer Inn, in Lahaina. They must have had good memories, because the old hotel inspired the design of the Kalama Harbor Lodge. The colorful hotel painting (over the couch) made me long for a trip to Hawaii!
Good to Have
It was a treat having a couch, as well as a table with chairs. It was an even bigger treat having our own bathroom.
Some of the McMenamins hotels have shared, European baths... down the hall.
Cozy at Night
I loved the mix of styles. The thick curtains and pine walls, felt like a cozy cabin in the Northwest.
The tropical feel of the painted headboard, made me feel like I was tucked into a boat or hut. I of course loved the little red bird... as did Don.
The corner porch had two sets of comfy chairs.
There were dividers for privacy, but I don't think anyone else was sitting out watching the boats go by. I made use of a blanket.
Besides the river, there were other things to look down on.
The riverside pathway and fire-pit were pretty quiet, on a chilly weekday afternoon. But at night, the fire was lit!
Early Next Morning
We were on Texas time, so we woke early the next day. It took forever for the sun to come up, but I finally got down there on the path and made use of my running shoes.
The wind blasted my face and made me laugh. I couldn't complain. I was running along the Columbia River... trying to remember Woody Guthrie's song as I jogged along. "...Roll Columbia, won't you roll, roll, roll..."
Wet and Cold
A light rain stung my face, but I couldn't complain.
I was running by a totem pole...
And... I got to see trains moving down the railroad tracks. I got to see the little Alhes Point Cabin, which houses a cozy bar for the lodge.
Breakfast in Harbor Lounge
When I finished my brief run, we headed down to the Harbor Lounge and served ourselves some coffee.
We took a seat on the couch, beneath a giant outrigger canoe. Soft classical and jazz music filled the homey space. We ordered an omelet and shared it right on the couch, kind of like we were having breakfast in bed!
Music at Night
That night the same lounge was transformed into a relaxed music venue.
A couple, sharing one guitar, sang in the corner by the wood burning stove. Locals and hotel guests took over the couches and comfy chairs, sipping cocktails and coffee.
With a 2-night stay, Don and I had time to explore. The 40-room lodge wasn't huge, but there were a few stairwells and floors to wander.
We found surprises when we took the stairs... chandeliers, painted stars, artwork and creepy pipes with faces!
Don and I knew there were two secret rooms in the hotel. We traveled down every hallway, trying doors that weren't "titled" as guest rooms. We enjoyed lots of artwork, hanging on the knotty pine walls. Each painting or photograph, shared a bit of history.
It would have taken a week to read about all the people and places who were spotlighted. Don suddenly noticed one piece of art hanging near a blue light. A slight push on the wall, revealed a surprise!
Rock & Opera!
We suddenly found ourselves inside room lit by a black light. (I never knew the laces on my tennis shoes glowed in the dark!) Sounds of Grateful Dead filled the tiny room.
I attempted a photo of Don with Jerry Garcia. I posed with Pavarotti, when the music changed to opera!
Room # 2
The grooves in the walls made it hard to spot the second hidden door. There was no blue light to signal us. Don finally found the moving wall and gave a push.
We were not alone in this room. Zach the Brewer, had set up a special beer sample station. The newly created brew was named, "Hidden Unicorn Glitter Beer". Zach used a light to shine into the cup so we could see the swirling sparkles... barely.
Luckily Zach gave us a hint that there was yet another secret room, off of the room we were in.
In the swirling artwork, we found an image that looked like a button. When we pushed the button, we found ourselves in a room filled with eerie images and glowing lamps. What a total hoot!
The Cloud Lounge
On the top floor, (not far from the secret glitter beer room) we enjoyed a drink in the Cloud Lounge.
There were plenty of clouds outside the window, but also a great view of the river. No one was outside enjoying the deck, but I imagine it gets a lot of use in warm summer months.
On our second night we had dinner in The Pub. It was dark, so we didn't care that all the tables and booths near windows were taken.
It was so crowded, that we were actually thrilled to find 2 stools at the wonderful bamboo bar. We shared a gigantic Kalama burger and a house salad. The menus are similar in all properties so there were no surprises, but the food was hot and tasty.
One of the coziest places on the property, is the little cabin just a quarter mile down the walkway. It was fun walking the lamp-lit path for a drink on our first night.
The place was tiny, but we lucked out with 2 seats at the bar. We had a memorable chat with a Portland baker and our wonderfully chatty bartender, Amanda.
Coming from Texas, we're thrilled to find wood burning fireplaces. It's also added entertainment watching the staff deal with the fires. Some were more skilled than others!
The inside fireplace kept us extra toasty on a cold night. I loved the whimsical mask. I checked out the deck fireplace, the next morning and had to chuckle at the angry mask, wearing a wreath.
New hotels don't usually impress me. They usually have a lot of kinks to work out and they also lack history and charm. I was glad we ended up absorbing some of the local history, after all.
And it was a nice change to sleep in a freshly created space, with new linens and paint and furniture... that looked old and cozy. We liked our hotel oasis! We'll have to try it during a sunny season, next time!
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!