Glacier Park Montana in September 2015
This was our second night in Glacier National Park, at our second lodge. We had to grin. "It's another Swiss style lodge!"
Getting there was half the fun. The drive from one lodge to the next included a spectacular drive on a scenic road, with a curious name...winding around Swiss style mountains, of course!
Swiss Cottage with a Bit of Old West
The lobby was not quite as large as the one at Many Glacier Hotel, but to me it was more impressive. It extended up to the 3rd floor with rustic railings and log support beams. The lantern style light fixtures with their colorful Native American symbols dangled from the dim ceiling like some sort of modern Calder mobile.
The rustic décor of the lodge felt homey. The fact that guests just sat down and played the old piano now and then shows how "at home" people felt. It even looked like the mounted animals were enjoying the music. If only the massive fireplace had been lit! Although maybe they were trying not to draw attention to stonework with primitive carvings. Maybe they get tired of explaining to people that the swastika symbol belonged to the Native Americans long before Hitler adopted it. This hotel was built over 100 years ago.
There was nothing loggy about our room, #313. You have to pay bigger bucks at most lodges to get the "original style rooms". But there were 2 beds for Mama and Papa Bear and Baby Bear would have loved the doors that opened to a sweet little balcony with a (slightly) pine obstructed view of Lake Mc Donald!
A View and a Bath!
The warm fall weather allowed us to open the doors and let in the beautiful view. The bathroom was pretty much what I've grown to expect from National Parks. But how can you complain when you think about what those rich Easterners endured on their travels to the lodge in 1913. And then they had to wash up in shared baths down the hall!
Sink Note: It was a little amusing trying to wash my face. The thin glass shelf above the sink prevented my water-filled hands from reaching my face... if that makes sense.
The third floor balcony gave us a good peek at the critters that John Lewis once trapped and hunted. I would never be able to kill one of these beautiful beasts of the west, but I admit I did love studying their sweet faces. You don't ever get to be up close and personal with animals like this, not even in the zoo.
The Lodge's Best Face
The back of the lodge, that faces the lake is the prettiest! Our room was on the upper right side, above the stucco... where you see the brown clapboard and carved, white trim.
From our room we could see the old wooden boat touring on the lake. The weather was ideal, so we bought tickets for the 3:00 tour.
I stayed on the boat till the passengers departed to get a shot of the old wooden bench seats. During the ride, the seats were filled. Our Ranger/Guide told amusing and interesting stories while passengers shuffled around, shifting seats and levels for new views, now and then.
Disturbing the Glassy Water
There was limited room in the outside areas and on the upper deck. It was worth waiting in line for an upstairs visit, to see the glassy water, twisting behind the boat.
Even our guide seemed impressed with the lack of wind. These boat rides can be pretty chilly on gusty days. We lucked out, once again!
Best Time of Day
The back patio, with hanging flower baskets and and massive log furniture was ideal for an evening glass of wine and beer. I snatched a rocker and was in heaven as I gazed down the hill towards the water. I did have to make a dash down the stairway at one point, for a photo! Then it was back to my rocker and time to chat with the others who were also enjoying the view. There were such interesting people, from far away places, sharing the lodge.
A Dining Adventure
How can you not have a great dinner in a room that looks like this? But I knew we'd be having some extra fun, since I was traveling with my vintage cookbook, put out by Ford Motor Company. The book usually promotes a little fun.
The dining room was busy, so I didn't want to distract our server, Breezy about the book. I just asked, "Do you have Beef Steak Stroganoff?" which was clearly not on the menu. She laughed and said she wished they did. I told her I was really surprised they didn't have it, but I would order Bison Meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and beans. Don had a smoked trout and all was delicious!
Breezy rushed over to share the cookbook with the hostess. They studied the lodge photo and recipe and couldn't believe such a book existed. We told them we have a few of these old Ford Books and have made a game of visiting the places that haven't disappeared. Breezy posed with us in front of the old fireplace.
There was cozy mix of 3 worlds in this lodge! The Swiss chalet, the Old West Ranch and the Native American Theme, all blended perfectly for me. It was the right size and cluttered with comfy reminders of the past. One of my favorites!
Is this really Montana?
How can this even be in the U.S.? This Swiss-looking scene greeted us as we headed down the stairs from the upper parking lot. The staff at the desk welcomed us with much enthusiasm. Many spoke with European accents, which added to the international feel of the place. Were they always in such high spirits? Maybe, but a few admitted they were pretty excited about seeing the mountains without smoke. We lucked out and arrived on the first day of clear skies in weeks.
Across the Lake
To get a good feel for the size of this massive hotel, you can hike the 2.6 mile trail that loops around Swiftcurrent Lake. It's just amazing to look across the lake and think about this stone and wood superstructure being built in 1914! It's easy to see why this lodge became known as "The Gem of the West".
The American Alps
It was early September and the air already had a brisk feel of fall. The dusting of snow on some of the mountains made the stone chimney look extra inviting. I loved the Swiss Chalet look of the balconies and painted trim. It was hard to believe we arrived at this wonderful place without using a passport!
The lobby was comically large. Rows of balconies surrounded the open space which was scattered with cozy seating areas. The most coveted couches were centered around the circular fireplace at the north end. The arrangement allowed for more seating, but I was frustrated that they never used the enormous stone fireplace near the front entrance. I was also frustrated that many people took naps around the fire. Yes, fires make you drowsy, but they should have put a time limit on that prime seating!
Hall of Information
The long hallway connecting the lobby and dining rooms was actually quite entertaining. It was also often congested with people standing and enjoying the old photographs, maps and history that lined the walls. You have to love the folks who stay at historic lodges. They all carry big cameras and read anything that's posted.
Doors and Windows
I appreciate a good door and ours to Room 222 was quite memorable. Not only did it have a snazzy Swiss shield presenting our room number, but it had a quaint, no-frills barn look about it! As for windows, we lucked out with two windows in our tiny corner room. Both had spectacular views, but especially the lake-facing window.
Tiny Room, Tiny Bed
Don and I never expect luxury on our lodge stays. But we think it's funny when they try to trick us into thinking the bed is large and luxurious by pillow placement. Luckily Don can fall asleep easily anywhere... and he stays asleep! If he tossed and turned that 6'2" frame as much as I do, we'd both be in trouble.
It's often the people encounters that make an overnight memorable for me. But animal encounters can rank pretty high. Don was intrigued with the curly-horned friend we found parked outside the gift shop. I was more interested in the live animals, particularly the horses. Horseback riding was one of the original attractions for the lodge, when the wealthy visited 100 years ago. I wish I'd had the time... and the wealth to enjoy.
I can't believe I'm giving photo space to these tiny specks on the mountainside! (And I zoomed in as far as I could!) But these photos make it clear I did not have a close encounter with a brown bear or a white mountain goat.
Enjoying Our "Boat"
When evening came, the temps dropped and guests moved inside. Don and I took a little wine to the lower deck and waited for the clouds to break up. There was a steady breeze that made me long for a blanket. I had to keep reminding myself, as I looked at the lake over the railing, "I'm actually not on a boat."
Glow on the Water
The sun peeked out just a bit as it got ready to lower behind the mountains. Then they called us to our table for dinner.
Who cares about food?
We got a lovely table in the Ptarmigan Dining Room, which was a lot more crowded than when I took this photo.
I was so distracted by the window, I couldn't concentrate on the menu. I kept popping up to check on the sunset, acting like a squirmy 4 year old who should have been left with a babysitter. We did enjoy a lodge-worthy, "Loose Elk Sandwich" with salad, later.
Enjoying with Strangers
You would have thought the employees would have had enough photos by the end of their 4-5 month season. But when I saw a few taking selfies together... and offering sentimental hugs... I realized it was like the end of summer camp for them. Most were headed back home to Eastern Europe.
We slept well and woke to a beautiful sunrise. The mountains that were reflected in the the smooth water were clearer than the real thing!
Those Aged Early Risers
Maybe that's because there are no TVs and hardly any wifi and cell abilities at the lodge. Or maybe it's because National Park Lodge guests are pretty outdoorsy and exhaust themselves hiking. Or maybe it's because the fall guests are all so dang old. At least that's what Don and I chuckled about, until we realized they were pretty much our age.
Acting Our Age
So we embraced our age and did what retired folks do. Don fished that morning. He got the idea from a couple we met in Three Forks, MT who said we should pick up a cheap rod at Walmart on the way to Glacier. "You don't have to have a license to fish!"
I sat. But I was looking out over the most amazing views... and I was watching my husband fish.
Nothing Wrong With That
There really is nothing wrong with that, since the image of Don fishing was rather intriguing. it's hard to tell in the photo, but those are not trees beyond his green jacket. I was shooting downward and that's actually lake water in the background... reflecting the green mountain.
Many Glacier Hotel takes you back in time... and I love time travel!
The old Red Jammers and the tour boats still shuttle tourists just as they did back when National Parks were a new thing! Even sitting on the deck chairs looking at the lake over the railing, made me feel like I was on an old ship seeing a world I'd never seen. The charm of the old lodge, boats and cars does take you back. But the isolation of this idyllic location is what completes the package!
The rambling earthy complex, was certainly large enough to be many things! And I was actually pleased to see all the browns and tans, blending into the foot of the mountain. This was much more intriguing than the bright little sign suggested.
Such An Odd History
Miners and ranchers came to this site as early as 1863 to enjoy the saloon and bathhouse. By 1890, there was a large Victorian addition with a veranda. There had been a number of renovations even before this 1920 photo was taken.
We found the hotel under partial renovation when we arrived in September 2015. Sadly, this end of the hotel was closed to guests. I wish we could have explored this part, with the grand lobby and veranda.
There were about 50 rocking chairs with a great view. I do love a porch, so It was a little frustrating that we weren't exactly invited to use this area. It also seemed a bit eerie to see all these unoccupied chairs kind of energized by the breeze.
The front of the hotel had a lovely view of Peace Valley. The valley has long been considered sacred, due to the healing waters of the hot springs. We spoke with a local in nearby Boulder, who shared stories about the valley. His great grandmother came as a young woman to the festive gatherings between the Indians and folks from town. They sold and traded goods and participated in games... and left all weapons outside the valley.
Originally, the hotel had clapboard siding and typical porch railings. The stucco came along later to resemble the California Mission Arts and Crafts style. Our room was in the newer wing, on the left. Newer... meaning built about 1910.
Finding Our Way
There was a bit of a boarding house feel when we checked in. We stepped up to a desk in the same building that housed the bath house. Then we took our key and headed to our building where we climbed the stairs to the second floor. I will admit, the air seemed a little stuffy in that stairwell. The odor was conjuring up memories of visiting a great aunt in a nursing home. But when we opened the door to Room 202, I smiled.
Some people wouldn't get it, but I was delighted with our corner room. Not only did we overlook Peace Valley with the pond and cows and horses, but we had mighty fine covered wagon decoration, sitting on the shelf-covered radiator. There was an old desk, some comfy chairs and a brass bed and quilt. I even liked the shade with the finger loop for raising and lowering. I haven't seen one of those in a while.
A Sink Here, A Bath There
There was a decent sized bathroom with a window for light, as well as a sink and mirror near the door to the hall. This would have been a lot of luxury back in the day. There was a lace covered pitcher for water and 2 goblets. I thought maybe they were trying to tempt us, because I had read some rules about the "center" being smoke and alcohol free. Those glasses looked like they were begging us to fill them with some of the wine that was traveling with us.
Alcohol was not allowed, but evidently weapons were. We had a nice sturdy axe displayed on the wall, along with some other antique tools. Since our road trip included so many hotels that had stories about hauntings, this could have made me feel a little uneasy. But I found it somewhat empowering, to know we had a weapon to defend ourselves! Another decorative feature, was a little higher on the wall. Check out the copper pipes for steam heat!
The Bath House
This building with the upper windows running down the center, holds the bath house as well as kitchen and game room. The weather was far too nice to stay inside, but I did have a peek.
Ladies Steam Room and Plunges!
The women's locker room and spa was actually a lot eerier than our guest room with the axe. Since it was empty I invited myself to take a few photos. There was a steam room and 2 tiled "plunges" making good use of the mineral-laden pure geothermal waters. Don and I compared notes after exploring and we were surprised that the men's side required bathing suits, while women had a choice. But we later learned that "Family Bath and Pool Nights" are a regular thing and the mens' side becomes co-ed.
The Outside Pool
We made good use of our hotel robes to hike to the pool. (I did step on mine a couple times) There was a heated sidewalk, which would be handy for winter... and that was about it for luxury. We noticed an "S" or two, engraved in the pool deck. They must have added the outside pool in the 1940's, when the hotel became "Diamond S Ranch" for 35 years. I'm sure it was quite the place with big smorgasbords that served 400 to 500 people per night. There were no crowds joining us as we soaked in the warm water, which stays at 96 to 100 degrees.
It was odd that they needed a chain link fence around the pool when we seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere. But the fence allowed the flowers a nice place to climb. And the flowers reminded us to take a peek at the land surrounding us. It really was like a piece of heaven.
I love barns and there were a couple on the property. To me the sight of worn wood and red roofs in a rural setting, is about as relaxing as soaking in mineral waters.
I believe these barns do serve some kind of purpose, even if it's just for housing the chickens that were clucking about. There was a vegetable garden and a sweet kitty roaming around. That made it seem like a real farm.
Don and I played by the rules and saved our drinkin' for town. We ate dinner in Boulder's Windsor Bar. (Which was a hoot, by the way) And slept surprisingly well in our double bed. In the morning we sat in the family/game room to use a little internet. It was peaceful, but the shelves of games reminded me how different the atmosphere must be when the pools and bathouse are open for family nights! What a treat for these locals in the middle of a long winter.
A Peaceful Breakfast
There was another couple eating breakfast when we sat down. They spoke to each other in a near whisper as they sipped their coffee. Were they just quiet people or were they feeling intimidated with the philosophy of the Retreat Center, like I was? I had read the words earlier. "Honoring, Conserving, Recycling and Healing". It's not like they had a rule against laughing, but I am about respect. What if people are coming here to grieve or meditate? I tried not to giggle over my breakfast.
The cook served us orange juice, coffee and a bowl of fresh fruit right away. When we claimed we had no allergies, she scrambled us some eggs and served them with blueberry French toast and tons of sausage! It was delicious, but I couldn't eat half. The words "conserving" and "recycling" were making me anxious. I asked for a box, even though I knew we had no room in our tiny cooler. I'm still suffering the guilt of later wasting the food AND the to-go containers!
After saying good bye to our sweet room with the lovely view, we ended up chatting with the other breakfast couple in the parking lot. They were delightful, sharing photos of the sunset we somehow missed the night before. No they weren't quiet people who only spoke in whispers, they were a lot of fun and if we'd all had another night at the hotel, we might have broken the rules and shared a little wine on those porch rockers.
Over and over again, I found myself grinning and pointing. I was pleased to spot the sweet horses in the field or the collection of old hotel dishes on a shelf, or the old Granny "glider-chair" in the guest room. I will have to keep an eye on this place and see happens with the renovations. There could be many more surprises.
Three Forks, Montana
Why We Stayed
This image of the front of the hotel, shows the big porch that caught my eye when I saw it on a Facebook post a couple years ago. I had never heard of the hotel, but my FB friend raved about it. CJ is one of those people who posts comments and thoughts that make me take notice. I read her post and nodded, "Yes!" The hotel went right onto my "Want to Stay There" list!
Having lived in St. Louis for many years, I'm pretty familiar with the tales of Lewis & Clark. I thought it was intriguing to just stay in an area where the young Shoeshone woman, Sacajawea helped guide the famous explorers. I've heard enough about her hardships to imagine how much she would have appreciated sinking into a warm hotel bed. But there were no hotels when she was in this area 200 years ago.
Bad News...Leads to Good
Don and I almost had to rough it like Sacajawea when we arrived last month. Our reservations didn't show up on the computer and we panicked. It turned out to be a good thing. They weren't booked and the young woman behind the desk offered us a package with a room upgrade plus $50.00 for dinner... for less than we had expected to pay for our smaller room!
I'll Toast to That!
Then she poured us each a complimentary glass of champagne and used some tongs to grab heated towels from a crock pot. That's a first for me! I didn't even feel silly standing there scrubbing off a day's worth of road trip grime before moving to the porch for a little sipping and rocking.
Don tends to be less of a rocker than me, so he was pretty delighted to have a choice! What a treat with the late afternoon sun warming the porch, just enough.
It was fun wandering around trying to imagine this hotel when it was built in 1910. The inn catered to wealthy travelers who were headed to Yellowstone, so it was considered more refined than your typical western hotel. It was also pretty trendy, moving away from the lacy clutter of the old Victorian's. The renovations in 2010 preserved the original Arts & Crafts style, keeping the dark spruce beams and light fixtures.
Corner rooms give you more windows. The side window looked at a gas station, but the front window gave us a good view, if you ignored the roofs. The distant mountains were a plus and the little garden with the statue of Sacajawea, was a nice touch.
This and That
There were lots of nice little extras. The towels and shower curtain and even the terry robes had paper "seals" that made them seem extra fresh. The bathroom was a perfect mix of old and modern and it smelled lovely, with nice bath products. There were chocolates and bottles of water, earplugs (not needed) and even a little spritzer of lavender for the pillow! Yay! I love treats.
I was pretty curious about the red sign that invited us downstairs to the Sacajawea Bar AND VFW Club. You know you're in a small town when the hotel caters to travelers as well as the local VFW. We did check it out and enjoyed a chat when the busy bartender wasn't hustling to serve food and drinks to lots of local families. I got an answer to my #1 question. Yes, I have been pronouncing Sacajawea the way the locals do. (Not the fancy way they say it in the National Geographic documentary)
Pompey Bar and Grill
travel suggestions for us. "Fishing licenses aren't required at Glacier National Park. You should pick up a cheap rod at Walmart!" And "Pick up a hitchhiker. It really adds to your travel adventure!" We ended up following just one of those suggestions.
The hotel felt classy, but homey at the same time. The champagne, hot towels, restaurant menu and robes made it feel like a big city hotel. But the buffalo and picnic tables on the side yard tell it all. It's just a big ole country house with shade trees and grass! They don't make a big deal out of pointing out the fact that an old house (built in 1882) was actually used as the core of this hotel. But I'm pretty sure the homey spirit of the place comes from that. Well... that and the porches! Yay, I love porches!
Fort Benton, Montana
Old Town, Old Hotel
The hotel was built during the grand steamboat era, on the Upper Missouri River. Fort Benton was at the height of prosperity at that time. There were no private baths, but each room had its own coal burning stove for heat. But the town suffered once the railroad was completed. Then there was prohibition and the Depression and drought... the hotel suffered as well.
Saved Many Times
The Grand Union was sold, abandoned and refurbished many times in its 130+ years. The hotel looks pretty fine now, after its elegant restoration in 1999.
The view before entering was impressive. The old fireplace chimneys are gone, but the lovely brickwork remains.
You can tell a lot about a place, just by your check in. The desk staff was surprisingly professional for being in a small town, (1,500 or so) kind of in the middle of nowhere.
The lobby felt sleek and classy. It wasn't until we climbed those stairs that we really felt the age of the place.
After reaching the second floor, we wandered some more to find another set of stairs. Then we found the rounded hall that lead to our room, #303. That hall was built with a curve, but there were quite a number of curves, slants, bumps and lumps in the walls and floors that I'm sure came with age. I felt a little woozy as I walked on some of those uneven floors.
Our Little Brown Bathroom
The room was a little on the cozy side, but at least we had our own bathroom. Back in 1899 when the hotel got electricity for the first time, there was 1 Men's room and 1 Women's room on each floor. I was pretty delighted with our tan tile, brown woodwork and porcelain doorknob!
Missouri River View
The view out our window was the treat. The other side of the building looked across Front Street, with a view of some rather run down bars and storefronts. I am confused that Forbes mentioned Fort Benton in their list of 15 Prettiest Towns in America. Besides the river and the hotel, I didn't see much pretty in Fort Benton.
Dining and Wining
I took these photos of the Union Pub and Grill before 5:00. Things started to get pretty lively by the time we came down an hour later. By then, the cozy booths and river-view tables were beginning to fill with hotel guests. Don and I made dinner reservations and took a seat at the old bar where our delightful, young bartender served us, until he became our waiter... later.
We were impressed with the sweet and spicy, Fire Cracker Glazed Shrimp. We tried to make the scallop, served on a bed of lentils last... but it disappeared quick. How is it possible to get such a sophisticated chef in a tiny town like this?
Window at Night and Morning
There was still a glow on the river when we were first seated for dinner. It wasn't until morning when they set out a buffet of breakfast treats, that we got a good view of the patio and river. We were equally impressed by the window itself! You have to study the windowsill for a moment to enjoy the amazing slant that's going on!
I will always remember this hotel stay as a little oasis on our month-long road trip. The Grand Union, on its riverside property was picture perfect. Even the guests and staff seemed sort of special, as if they all had intriguing stories to tell. The whole stay felt classy and relaxed.
I so hope the little town can get a boost of some kind to keep the hotel out of danger. I hate the thought of those tall windows ever getting boarded up again.
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!