In July 2012, Don and I took a one week road trip on the Mother Road in Oklahoma. Our journey included an evening at the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, a dancing lesson with Farmer in the old Round Barn, numerous meals in quaint and quirky cafes and diners, but only 2 nights in motels on the actual route itself.
The Motor Inn
This motel at the north end of 66 was our comfiest stay on the Route. You have to love a place called Motor Inn. They no longer have the original sign, and I do love a retro sign, but there's a grand wooden tower that greets travelers today.
We spotted some other motels with interesting signs while on the road, but we had already made reservations after reading decent reviews about our motel in Chelsea.
Route 66 Room
When I talked to Trudy on the phone a week earlier, she told me about their Route 66 Room. We were pretty darn thrilled to book that room for $49.00.
My idea of perfect décor is a place that hasn't changed anything except the sheets and mattress since opening. But I happily went along with the Route 66 themed bedspread and curtains. I appreciated the enthusiasm with the framed prints and the mighty fun fake gasoline pump. But mostly we had fun with the map of Oklahoma on the wall. It was fun following the marked route and spotting the towns we'd been through.
Motel and House
The office door is at the end near the house. Owner Trudy greeted me upon arrival and warned us not to be worried when cars arrived later, "Family is coming to stay." I was sad to hear some hints about illness in the family. I so hope the motor inn is still open. I know they had big plans to make the house next door into a bed and breakfast.
We had the whole "porch" to ourselves. Since no one else had checked in, we borrowed a green metal chair and had ourselves a pleasant happy hour.
We cooled down with icy drinks, in front of our room, #5...
...and read up on some interesting facts about the Mother Road.
And we gazed across Route 66, to this funny old garage. We even had a few cars wave to us. Now that made my day!
We had dinner in Chelsea, at the Main Street Café. I had the meatloaf special with a navy bean dish.
In the morning we found more cars in the graveled lot. Trudy's family must have been at the house. I think a couple rooms were taken by some construction workers who had arrived late. We checked out and enjoyed a few of the sights a short drive from the motel.
You have to love Ed Golloway's colorful, 90 foot cement totem pole, completed in 1948...after 11 years of work.
And we were able to find this wonderful old bridge that carried Route 66 traffic, from 1926 to 1933.
We met an interesting man from Munich on the bridge.
He was visiting The States, riding his motorcycle across the continent and said Missouri reminded him of Bavaria!
There was nothing too picturesque or luxurious or even really historic about the motel itself. But the place was welcoming and clean and best of all right there on a 2-lane portion of Route 66! It was hot, but we did what travelers did back in the early days of automobile traveling...when motels weren't air-conditioned. We parked in front of our room and sat out front and watched the cars go by.
Ouray, Colorado in Summer 2013
This hotel was quite the miner's palace when it was built during the big silver boom in the Gay '90's. When we arrived last summer, (way over a century later) jeeps were parked in front instead of horses and stagecoaches.
The hotel seemed to attract more people who were interested in booking outdoor adventure tours or dining in the saloon, than actually staying overnight. But Don and I were pretty excited to find out they still have rooms for rent!
The windows were welcoming with their painted words and stained glass. Once inside, the stuffed critters on the wall did the welcoming...along with some worn furniture and rugs.
That term is often used loosely, but this really is a family run business. The Pieper family bought the hotel in 2002 and the young son checked us into our room.
Up We Go!
We followed the stairs up to the second floor, feeling a little giddy to check out our room. We went all out and skipped the 35-dollar room with bathroom down the hall and spent only a few extra dollars for the honeymoon suite!
The Big Blue Room
Don and I just grinned when we opened the door. You have to love a room that's big enough to play Red Rover...or tag...or some other game kids played in 1891. The wallpaper was original, but thank goodness the bedspread and headboards were updated... in the 1970's maybe?
We've stayed in a lot of historic hotels that are cramped, but this spacious room had 3 areas. One area for sleeping, one for lounging and one for bathing.
In the Room
Yes, the claw footed tub and double sinks were right there, in the corner of the room. There was a privacy screen, in case the maid should walk in, but I don't think there was any chance of that. I had to chuckle at the attempts to make the toilet private. But, we were only staying a night and they did have bathrooms down the hall if we preferred.
Room With a View
We had numerous windows with casually tied velvet and lace curtains. One window was propped open when we entered, inviting us to climb out onto the porch where chairs awaited. (Hopefully not inviting others to climb in) But the best part was the view. Ouray is known as "Little Switzerland.
More Entertaining Features
The wallpaper as I mentioned, was old. We were particularly amused by an area of wallpaper that had a large hole in it.
There were some hints about the wall mystery written up in a few of the many guest books that we enjoyed. Evidently their are tales of a bullet in that wall. There were quite a few guests who wrote about witnessing ghost activity. I think I loved the children's entries the most. One young writer shared that she loved the hotel's "crikedi floors" and the bed. "They were kinda wore out, but sleeps like new!"
Back in the day, every Holiday Inn had a restaurant for your convenience. The Historic Western's saloon/restaurant was just a quick walk down the creaky staircase for us. We expected bar food, but discovered an impressive menu.
Owner, Rosemarie Pieper learned how to cook as a girl growing up in The Netherlands. She became a prize winning chef before owning the hotel with her husband.
Art & Conversation
While we dined, we studied the curious art surrounding us. The image on the floor was painted by an artist who traveled through the area with his mule years ago. He did the painting in return for beer. We also enjoyed chatting with some fellow diners who seemed surprised that we were actually staying at the hotel. One man who had stopped in for a beer, laughed that his wife was back at the campground. He was never able to convince her to stay at the creepy hotel. But he appreciated old hotels, and told us about an old Harvey House hotel in Winslow, Arizona. Don and I haven't forgotten his enthusiasm and recently made reservations for the old hotel in April. (In the blog eventually) Another couple who seemed equally surprised that anyone would actually stay in the hotel, eventually walked up the staircase with us to have a peek at the room. I'm still not sure we convinced them with our enthusiasm, but they claimed it was nicer than expected.
I woke in the morning a little disappointed. There were no crooked picture frames or emptied suitcases. No signs of playful ghosts at all.
We may have no ghost stories to tell, but we heard some great hotel stories before checking out. Chef Rosemarie's husband Gregg seemed to be the storyteller of the team. It was fun to hear some pretty amazing tales about the characters and activity that took place at the hotel back when it was hopping in the late 1890's. Gregg's good humor and storytelling energy made us wish we had another day and could take one of his jeep adventure tours. Gregg's enthusiasm was fun to be around.
So What's Noteworthy?
I've hardly mentioned the town or setting, but that's what made the hotel most attractive. The quirky hotel history and our oddly large, well-worn room (with unique bathroom set-up) is what made our overnight most memorable. But having a hotel run by a hardworking, good natured family is what made the stay comfortable instead of creepy! We would love to go back!
Clarksdale, Mississippi - 2012 and 2013
Don and I were planning a road trip which included the Mississippi Delta when we heard about this oddly named place, located on the historic Hopson Plantation. When I called to reserve one of the renovated sharecropper shacks, I found out they were booked. "It's The Pinetop Perkins Homecoming!" I was told. "But you're lucky, we still have 1 room left in the cotton gin."
I had never heard of Pinetop Perkins, but learned that he was a blues pianist, who later became the oldest to win a Grammy, at age 97. When he was a younger man he worked on the Hopkins Plantation, outside of Clarksdale, just a few miles from the legendary crossroads of Hwy 49 and Hwy 61... where the Blues is said to be born. Pinetop picked cotton and drove a tractor on the plantation, but had moved on with his music by the time Hopson became home to the first mechanized cotton pickers in the 1940's. In recent years, Blues musicians and fans have gathered at the Plantation to honor Pinetop each fall. Proceeds from the celebration go to Pinetop Perkins Foundation which provides music education for youth.
Long story short, Don and I lucked out. Our road trip would not only allow us a unique night sleeping in an old cotton gin, but we would experience a Blues Festival as well!
The Cotton Gin
This photo shows the rear of the old cotton gin, where hotel rooms were created by attaching carved out cotton bins. A winding staircase in a silo took us to our room on the upper level. We had a nice little balcony with a view of the sharecropper shacks across the grass. We also could see an old wagon here and a rusty truck or tractor there. The skies had just turned blue after a couple days of rain and folks were starting to emerge into the common area to socialize and play music.
The owners of this compound make it clear there are no frills, but our room was actually quite spacious and clean, with wifi and coffee maker. We didn't have a piano like some, but we did have a few old music posters and record albums for our amusement. The corrugated metal roof, headboard made from a door and oil drum/bedside table added a nice touch. A couple of folding chairs on our balcony gave us a place to sit while we pondered our best strategy for enjoying our stay.
Absorbing our Surroundings
Don and I bought a couple beers and roamed a bit. The atmosphere was calm and relaxing, with a gentle breeze carrying the music of numerous jam sessions. A sort of bluegrass group with bass and fiddle used an old wagon as a stage. A few shack porches held musicians jamming with guitars and harmonicas.
We wandered by a few of the sharecropper shacks, wondering about the history of each. There were a few other options for rental as well...a tiny trailer and a weathered houseboat.
The Old Commissary
This is where most of the music was happening. The building was crowded with oddball antiques and music fans. One man listened while perched on a dusty barber's chair. A woman swayed to the tunes underneath a hanging mass of dried cotton. The musicians and equipment squeezed happily onto a barely raised stage near the front door.
It felt like we'd stepped into a private party of musicians and friends playing for each other, cheering each other on. There were pros sharing the stage with amateurs. The young playing with the old... men, women...black, white. A great mix of performers with not one acting like a star.
Don and I returned last May, when things were a little quieter. Many of the shacks were in use since there was a harmonica and guitar workshop going on that weekend. But our little rental house (near these signs) seemed isolated from the other activity.
Once again we had time to explore the grounds just as evening was upon us. This time it felt very different. I'm not even sure which I like better.
Our Little House
Our house was once an office, rather than a sharecropper's shack.
It had a porch and wooden swing nearby.
Don and I happen to love cats so we were happy to have our friends share the porch. The furry one liked the handy psychiatrist's couch, which we didn't really put to use. And the gray cat liked the old chair covered in vines.
Best of All!
The skies grew dark and we ended up with a dramatic thunderstorm. We sat on the porch while rain pounded on the metal roof and gushed over the side. Thunder crashed and trees blew sideways! This was our muddy view from the porch a while later.
The Shack Up does not attempt to please everyone. Music and history buffs are more likely to feel comfortable in a room with warped floors and curtains hanging on tree branches. Our room décor included an antique desk and typewriter, a wooden Dutch shoe, 2 old box radios, a couple of soda fountain stools plus a roller skate. We had a TV and microwave and a bathroom with a big broken piece of mirror glass hanging over the sink. It's not for everyone, but it is what it is...without being cutesy.
We got to enjoy a sunset a few steps from our porch and then drove into Clarksdale for a feast with locals at Abe's Bar-B-Q! Back at the Inn we were invited to come in and enjoy the workshop students perform on their last night.
What made our 2 stays notable and unique?
We slept in a cotton gin! We stepped into history...music, farming... We met and observed incredibly interesting people. We had free Delta Donuts in the morning!
Would we visit again?
Yes! Bed and bath were not ideal, but the experience more than made up for it!
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!