This Past June
Last spring, Don and I made reservations for this hotel and many others.
Just days before we were to set off for Colorado, we cancelled the trip.
Suddenly we had to make plans for a different kind of journey... that we weren't excited about. My breast cancer diagnosis put a halt to all the crazy road trips and travel.
Don and I weren't used to sitting around, but suddenly we were sitting around for a month, waiting for test results and doctor calls and insurance answers. And then there was an open weekend before surgery. Why not go to Big Spring and stay in the tallest building of the small town, Big Spring?
It was fun to know that even though we were missing our big trip, we could enjoy a tiny piece of it, at Hotel Settles.
This 15-story Art Deco beauty, opened in 1930. The solid concrete structure was built by W.R. Settles, after he discovered oil on his ranch in the late 1920's. The oil boom was attracting lots of attention in small towns like Big Spring in West Texas. This hotel had 150 rooms, a restaurant, ballroom and pharmacy. It was quite the focal point of Big Spring.
The Letter "S"
Don and I drove 7 hours from Houston. It seemed a little silly, since there's really not much at all to do in Big Spring.
But it was a treat to have a city style, glam hotel in a small town. We parked right on the street walked up to the entrance, with the giant "S" above the door. There were a lot of S's in the hotel!
There were S's on the railing, going up the stairs! And lots and lots of gold! It's hard to believe this hotel sat empty for over 30 years.
Well, not totally empty. Pigeons made the hotel their home during some of the years between 1982 and 2006.
G. Brint Ryan
Luckily the community cared about the old hotel and pushed to replace windows in the abandoned building.
And then Mr. Ryan, who grew up in Big Spring, purchased the hotel. He made sure it was impeccably restored and placed his mother's portrait above the stairs.
There were no events on Saturday night when we stayed. But the ballroom looked worthy of some of the famous guests who have stayed in the past, like Gregory Peck and LBJ.
Lawrence Welk was also a visitor, back when. I could picture him filling this green and pink room with champagne bubbles and conducting his orchestra. Elvis stayed here in the 1950's after performing in the Masonic Auditorium, next door. He probably never even stepped foot in this elegant space.
The rates are cheaper on weekends, so we were able to get a suite for a decent price.
Since the hotel reopened in 2012, the rooms were pretty nicely remodeled. Our sitting room, with couch and TV was comfortable, but nothing outstanding.
I kind of liked the desk nook with the wild west image of a cowgirl!
I'm pretty sure our suite had once been two guest rooms. Our bedroom was nice, but not large.
I would have rather had one large room, actually. We aren't picky about having a King bed, but many are. So it was a surprise to have a queen bed in a suite.
The view was not terribly exciting, but it was intriguing. In fact most of the area that surrounds the hotel looks a little like this, with ads for bail bonds etc.
But this strip of old buildings, sitting on the old Bankhead Highway, may become something pretty nice before long. Mr. Ryan has bought many of the sad looking buildings around the hotel. I'm sure there are plans.
From the 14th floor there was a much better view of the patio and pool area.
It was amazing how far we could see across the flat land... wind turbines on the horizon!
Relaxing at the Pool
We were determined to make use of all our hotel had to offer.
We packed up our own drinks in thermal mugs and headed to the pool for happy hour.
We could have grabbed one of these, but the air was too pleasant and once the Girl Scout troop left, we had the pool to ourselves.
This was my favorite part of our stay. We just sat there in the balmy breeze, feeling incredibly lucky that we were getting to enjoy this one night trip.
We had lots of unknowns ahead, but we were able to set them aside and live in the moment... watching the flowing wall of water across the pool... and the birds gathering on the roof behind the wall. Nice.
We cleaned up and headed for the Pharmacy Bar and Lounge. It was pretty quiet when we first arrived. The lounge with pool table and fireplace was empty and only a couple seats were taken at the bar.
Don and I sat down for a drink at the bar so we could learn more about this bar that had once been a pharmacy and the town of Big Spring itself. But our young local bartender knew little. She had no idea if there really was a spring somewhere in Big Spring.
On to The Grille
We moved onto The Grille dining room after a bit. The bar had begun to fill up with a younger, local crowd (mostly on cell phones) and the music style and volume clearly hinted to all elders that it was, "Time to move along, now!"
The appealing reaturant at the other end was classic and casual. The kitchen was in view at the back and there were lots of booths for cozy dining.
Our food was Big-City-Good and our service was Small-Town-Sweet. Our young server made me smile when she announced our plates with non-silenced H and L
"Here is your "herbed", grilled chicken with cheese grits and kale... enjoy your salad with "salmon" Then she added that extra syllabal that is often added... "Here is your sald with vinegar-ette!" She was beyond cute though. She didn't know if there was a spring in Big Spring either, but she told us lots about her kids! Good meal!
After dinner we strolled around the pool some more and it was fun to see the water wall changing colors.
We walked down the street to get a good look at the building with the glowing words on the roof.
We turned in late that night and would have had a good night's sleep had there not been a storm. Our phones set off flood alerts twice. The power went out once, which we might not have noticed, but the humming fan was so quickly silenced. And then the thunder started and rain slammed against the windows.
I woke early and not so rested, but I had the fitness room to myself. Wow, very nice, clean and well stocked! Off by 10!
This hotel was an oasis in the middle of nowhere. I so wish I could go back in time and see what the hotel was like when Big Spring was a hopping place!
Our stay was perfect. We needed nothing else but the hotel to lure us. But maybe someday, the town will recapture some of its charm and help attract guests, as well.
# 139 - Mayo Hotel in Tulsa
Don and I lived in Tulsa for 6 years when our kids were young. But we never stepped foot in this fine looking hotel.
Last April, we were in Oklahoma for a brief stop. We only had little time since we were squeezing in a couple events, along with my Dad from Missouri and my sister and wife from Oregon. We hoped we would at least get a moment to pause and take in the grandness of this fine hotel!
A Happening Downtown!
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, when we arrived. Tulsa looked more beautiful and alive than I ever remembered.
We barely made it on time to enjoy a local production of "Billy Elliot" starring a friend of my dad's. Then we rushed a block away to Guthrie Green to catch the end of a performance with composer/ performer, David Amram. He and my Dad had a quick reunion. It was their first, since working together over 50 years ago at Lincoln Center. It was a whirlwind of reunions and then it was time for goodbyes.
It was hard parting with family, but at least Don and I had a night at The Mayo. The hotel was just a couple blocks away and looked very impressive as we approached.
The 2-story base, lined with Doric columns, appeared to hold up all floors above. I wanted to stand and study the terra cotta facade with all the stone trim accents.
But we were in a rush. I only had time to glance up all 18 stories as we rushed in through the main entrance.
This was once the tallest building in Oklahoma, when it was built in 1925!
Everything was shining when we entered the lobby. The chandelier was shimmering, the floors were shiny, the marble was glossy.
And where was everyone? It was a Sunday evening, so things were a little quiet. But Sunday also meant we could afford the rates.
From Floor to Ceiling
Don checked us in at the desk while I studied the 2-level lobby. (Those were some very long curtains!)
I wondered what the place looked like when Bob Hope stayed... or JFK or Charlie Chaplin!
Off to Our Room
We got our key and headed for the set of elevators.
It was fun to imagine the clothing styles and even the suitcases that traveled up these elevators over the years.
History in the Halls
The hall gave no hints of the hotel's age. The Mayo was gutted and renovated before its reopening in 2009, so all seemed sleek and modern.
But there were numerous framed photographs telling lots of history. I longed for some time to study, but we were in a hurry.
We checked in at 7:10 and needed to freshen up and be in the bar by 7:30, so I snapped pics fast.
It is my job to take photos before we mess the place up. This place was huge for $119.00!
It was nice to be able to spread out after 2 weeks of of road-tripping, with mostly cramped accommodations.
The modern decor was a little unmemorable and I think they forgot to put artwork on the walls, but we weren't complaining. The bed was heavenly and the TV was huge.
Well, there was some art in the bathroom, which was spotless.
My photos don't capture any of the clean, fresh feel of this place. I kept wishing we could slow down and enjoy.
I lifted the blinds of one of our two windows, since I always need to check out the view.
I couldn't see much, since we were surrounded by buildings. But if I have to stare at a building, at least it was one with some character.
So Don and I rushed to make it downstairs to the hotel's "Boiler Room" by 7:30. The classy restaurant and bar were as quiet as the hotel lobby. But then we met up with our dear friends and old neighbors, Kim and Dan! What a treat that they could meet up on short notice.
In about 2 seconds we filled that quiet place with a few years worth of catching up and laughter.
Drinks Served by Casey
Casey was our very extroverted server in the bar. He brought our drinks and made sure to give Dan lots of olives.
We yakked on and on over appetizers and drinks. We made sure Casey got a photo of all of us and of course he took a selfie of himself. I took my own photo of Casey and I think it shows off his personality quite well.
We made some toasts and enjoyed having the place to ourselves. I also had a chance to wander a bit and snoop at the decor.
In the dining room there were numerous, Warhol-ish images of celebrities like Lucy and Lindberg who were once guests.
I didn't see any artwork showing Britney Spears, but evidently she booked 80 rooms in 2009, right before the grand re-opening.
Boiler Room Treasures
I liked the clever use of this piece of "junk" that actually did come from the original boiler room. The rusty metal piece made an excellent host desk!
Since The Mayo was vacant for nearly 30 years, there must have been very few valuable treasures left in the building. I'm glad they rescued a few curious things like this.
Good Night To Dan & Kim
If it hadn't been a Sunday night, our friends might have been able to hang out longer.
We also could have enjoyed a visit to the Penthouse Rooftop Bar, but it was closed on Sunday. It was finally time for good-byes, then Don and I took a detour on the way to our room. We weren't able to peek at the Rooftop Bar, but we found The Crystal Ballroom.
We had no idea The Mayo had been rescued from the wrecking ball in 1981! No wonder Don and I had never stepped into the hotel before.
This is photo from the hotel's website, shows what the ballroom looked like before renovation. I so love stories like this! The building was bought for "for the price of a parking lot" and look at it today!
I'll mostly remember this stay, like a dream. I didn't get to absorb all that this impressive hotel had to offer. Our focus was on family and friends and I would have it no other way.
We pulled out at 7 the next morning, after a good night's sleep... except for the trash trucks at 3 am. I'm eager to give this one another try in the future. I'll be sure to allow lots of time to explore the hotel and the downtown and visit with old friends, as well!
#138 Alpaca Farm in Jay, OK
New Kind of Overnight
I don't usually include camping overnights in the 90- Notable List. But this night was mighty notable.
I slept in an RV, on an Alpaca farm, in northeast Oklahoma. There was no fee, but our help with chores was welcomed.
Big RV on Dirt Road
Jennifer and Kate had been traveling in their Winnebago for over a year. Don and I managed to meet up with them numerous times during their travels.
We had just finished a rendezvous in Missouri, but Don was eager to head off to Arkansas for some hiking. I chose to spend a day and night, traveling in the "Bessie". The road that took us to the farm was beautiful and entertaining... with smacking low branches and jolting pot holes!
Will We Fit?
We called as we neared the farm, to give the owner enough time to walk down from her house to unlock the gate. She and her friend arrived, sipping glasses of champagne.
It as Happy Hour after all. Kathleen was sure Bessie would fit through the gateway, but it looked impossible to me. Jennifer and Kate made it happen!
Kathleen said to park anywhere, so we pulled over, right in front of their lovely log house, beside a field of curious alpacas.
As we approached in the RV, the alpaca heads all turned to watch the Big Bess come to a halt.
A few seemed to frolic like happy goats. Kathleen called it pronking.
Kathleen said it was no problem if our traveling animals, Gypsy and Bailey came out for a look. The alpacas were used to small critters.
The sun was lowering, but we got a quick tour of the barn.
Kathleen had names for every alpaca, which is a hint that these animals are raised for their luxurious wool, not meat. One sweet friend (hard to see in dim light) had a prosthetic leg. What sweet creatures.
Back in Bessie
The alpacas got settled in their stalls for the night and we headed into Bessie for dinner and bed. It had been a long day.
I got the Railroad Bunk, which I loved. Kate had even made a little curtain that I could pull. The outside temps were pleasant, so no need for the noisy generator to cool or heat Bessie.
I slept well and woke early.
I was eager to peek out my window, but the alpacas weren't out yet.
I took Bailey on a walk down the dirt road, past the rolls of hay.
I tried to earn my keep in the Bessie, by helping with some animal walks. But in truth, I caused a bit of a problem when I let Little Gypsy Cat loose.
She headed right through the fence, into the alpaca area. Luckily she was lured back... not by me.
Kathleen had pointed out a few pregnant alpacas the night before.
She said there was a chance we might get to witness a birth in the morning. That would have been a first for me! But we had no such luck.
Jennifer and I made good use of our cameras.
And then we made good use of our muscles.
I was wearing flip flops and a white jacket when we asked Kathleen if there was anything we could do to help out.
Suddenly, Jennifer and I were invited to clean stalls. Alpaca poop! But my sister and I have always teamed up well doing chores.
We took turns with the shovel and hoe. I had the fun of emptying the wheelbarrow into the big pile.
Touching the Poop!
Kathleen scooped up a sample of the dried alpaca poop, which I'm sure has a more important name. Jennifer was a good sport and touched the stuff...
"Oh yes, it's not that bad."
I can't recall what the point was. I think we just all agreed it wasn't that yucky. I guess it is used for fertilizer? But I know I felt yucky myself. I was eager to shower before we headed off.
How crazy to spend the night in Bessie, that cozy house on wheels... on a farm! We were parked right in the midst of it all and felt graciously welcomed by the owners.
But, most of all I will remember the chores! It was pretty comical how Jennifer and I moved about scooping and scraping, while Kathleen followed us around telling us stories. That is the image that I will most remember!
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!