Balmorhea, Texas on Last Night of Road Trip
historic and curious overnights, we were going to be staying at a family owned, 11-room motel, serving travelers since 1946... kind of in the middle of Nowhere, Texas.
A Long Day
It shouldn't have taken quite so long getting to our tiny town, driving from Cloudcroft, New Mexico. But we squeezed in two more National Parks on the way. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Guadalupe National Park in Texas. We managed 13 National Parks in 27 days.
It was nearly 7 when we pulled up to the little cement block, motel office. The NO VACANCIES sign didn't worry me. We'd made reservations a couple months before.
nice enough to plead with us to be guests in his home for the night. Don and I were stunned. After months of careful planning, why would we have our only glitch, in a tiny town, with no other options... or cell service for that matter! We said thanks, but turned down the offer and headed down the road.
A Cabin at Balmorhea State Park?
The reason we'd put Balmorhea on our route was that we had hoped to revisit the nearby State Park, with the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool. (3.5 million gallons!) It was just up the road, so maybe we could stay in one of their cabins. We spotted the empty pool, as we pulled up to the "No Vacancies" sign at the entrance.
Beautiful Texas Highway 17
The next closest town was Fort Davis, 30 minutes away. We have always loved this drive and it was extra lovely as the sun was setting. But the stress level was high. We knew of a few small inns in Ft. Davis, but it was a Saturday and likely they were booked. I tried to call as we drove, but there was no cell service.
Suddenly, my phone came to life and alerted me that I'd had a few missed calls. I listened to a voicemail from David, begging us to come back. "I have a room for you. It's being cleaned right now. Please come back." What to do? Return to the frustrating motel that looked pretty weary to begin with? Or drive on to a number of towns to discover no vacancies?
We were half way to Ft. David, but I texted David that we were on our way back to his motel. The pink sky and rising moon tried desperately to lift our spirits. It helped a little.
David and His Dogs
The dogs, like the sunset and moon, cheered me up. Even though we'd wasted lots of time and the whole intereaction had felt awkward and frustrating, we had a room. I didn't ask why a room was suddenly available. I'm guessing he must have called his wife, who was out of town. She must have prompted him in solving our problem.
Room # 2
The L-shaped motel was kind of cute with its western-rustic look. The moon was rising and all was quiet, except for a yapping Yorkie in room number 1. "I told them not to leave Molly alone in the room." David apologized. "They've just gone to dinner. She'll stop barking as soon as they get back."
We opened the screened doors (with decorative bars) and our room was revealed. It wasn't the Queen Room that David had delightfully described over the phone months ago. But it was freshly cleaned and we had a place to sleep on the last night of our fabulous road trip.
Moon Over Motel
All the pickup trucks that had filled the small lot were gone to dinner, I guess. I was glad everyone had deserted the place so Don and I could just shake our heads and quietly chuckle over this odd end to our trip. We grabbed a beer and a cup's worth of wine from our cooler and headed back, past a cow skull here and a wagon wheel there...
Peaceful in the Yard
David had told us, the motel was mostly filled with divers. Many guests who use the inn are often in the area taking scuba classes at the the state park's spring-fed pool. I had read the motel's website and knew not to expect your average tourist at The Eleven Inn. We might be sharing the motel with campers or cowboys... drillers or truck drivers... harvesters, hikers or hunters. I found this very curious.
An Old Playground
Tucked far back in the yard, we found a picnic table and some well worn playground goodies. Like the sunset and moon and the dogs... the playground put a smile on my face. I didn't play. That's how tired I was on night #27. Usually, I would have given the merry-go-round at least one rotation!
You could still smell the smoke from the fire pit, maybe from the night before. There were barbecue grills and more tables. I was reminded of how fun this place could be on any other night. If the guests were as varied as described, we could expect a very interesting evening around the campfire.
Best Part of Our Stay
So we sat for a short while and let the soothing sounds of the crickets and the balmy breeze ease us into the night. We were suddenly able to laugh at this final stop on our journey. We realized, out of 27 nights and 6 states, this motel was our only Texas stay. Instead of ending our month with a big splashy hotel, we were keeping it simple, coming back to reality.
We should have stayed put and had snacks in our room for dinner. But we headed across the street to a wooden icehouse that was serving food till late.
We skipped showers and headed off before sunrise in the morning. I dropped the key in the box with "Thanks, David" written on a note. I feel bad that David never got to show his best hosting skills... and we hardly got to share our good guest talents.
So, I think I'll choose to focus on the notable memory of sitting under the cottonwood trees, in that mosquito-free yard... the crickets, the white lights lining the roof, the moon... and of course that funny little playground. Let's end it positive!
Cloudcroft, New Mexico
The Newer Lodge
We drove up a quarter mile from the sign and found this curious lodge sitting on top of the slope. Originally a log constructed lodge was built in 1899 to house loggers, I guess. By 1908 a fancier lodge was built, mostly for travelers coming to escape the Texas heat. That one burned in a fire and the current lodge was built in 1911.
What To Do?
The weather was cool and gloomy when we arrived, so no one was making use of those options. But there were a number of guests unloading golf clubs. I don't care much about golf anymore, so I would rather go back to 1911, when there was dancing in the pavilion and tennis courts and bowling and burro rides for the kids.
The small lobby desk was bustling just inside the door. So was the gathering room with the copper-lidded fireplace and stuffed beasts, above and beside the hearth.
The crowds dispersed (off to the golf course) and I could manage a few photos without men in sweaters, greeting one another with loud voices and handshakes. Nice guys, I'm sure. I just hate it when I feel like we're crashing someone's private party. There seemed to be a lot of groups.
Finding Our Room
The decor in the lobby area reminded me too much of a Texas Ranch House. I was excited to head for our room and see some proof that our hotel was over 100 years old. We passed the gift shop (which had some fun stuff, actually) and I was delighted by the set of windows with layers and layers of shiny varnish.
Up, Then Down
I had to stop and just stare at the worn wood on a few steps down to a lower hall. Could one ever come close to calculating the number of shoes that have worn down that wood?
Stairs and a Window
We paused in the hallway, which was filled with wonderful history and news clippings and then made the hike up the red stairs to the second floor. It's nice they had a landing with a pretty window, in case you need to disguise your exhaustion by pondering over the pretty glass design. I wasn't quite used to the altitude, so I was huffing and puffing.
There wasn't anything too special about the hall, but we were down at the end on the left. It wasn't exactly the hall from "The Shining", but there was a resident ghost named Rebecca. So I kept an eye out.
Surrounded in Pine
A Very Cozy Room
We are used to small rooms, small beds and baths. If you like historic hotels, you expect it. But since we were not in a huge touristy area, I thought $154. was a little high for a room of this size, that hadn't been renovated in some time.
A Fine Bar
Rueben was a delight as he served us at the "certified" Brunswick bar. Supposedly the carved bar once belonged to Al Capone. There were some other characters seated nearby and we chatted with many. There was a young man who seemed homesick and giddy when he learned we had a son who shared his name. There was a curious, but bossy older woman with amazing stories of her grandmother, the concert pianist and her father who cured the poor... but when she began to rant on about how her father tried to throw LBJ in jail for corruption... Don and I decided it was time to go explore the tower!
Tower at Sunset
Rueben encouraged us to get the key from Kelly at the front desk and hike up for the view. I raced up the stairs, scared I'd miss sunset and practically had a heart attack. I hadn't noticed the altitude until I stopped at the first level. I gasped and laughed at the leather "recovery chairs" that seemed to be put there for people like me.
Just in Time!
We paused not too long, before continuing up to the last level.
The funny shaped windows gave us a better view, over the trees to the mountains beyond. And straight up we could see the light from the cupola windows. There was also a sign, reminding us to refrain from carving our names into the wood wall. Which is pretty funny because when Judy Garland visited long ago, she carved her name, as well as another special guest, Clark Gable!
I couldn't believe no one else was racing up the stairs to take in the view with us. What a perfect sight. I still could not believe I was seeing this view, in New Mexico!
A Dinner View
Earlier, I had peeked into the dining room to see what the seating options were. From looking at old photos, I could tell that this dining area by the windows, had once been the porch. What a wonderful view.
The Original Dining Room
We made reservations for 8:00, in hopes that the dining groups and families would be finished up by then. It was quiet when we walked through this room, but the piano player was still performing... on the platform between rooms.
First off, the salad & bread was heavenly. My Veggie Pasta Alfredo, with thick noodles and green chiles was pure comfort. Don's pecan crusted salmon with asparagus and rice, tasted as good as it looked. And our young server Leigh had sweet stories of raising her small daughters in the Cloudcroft world... which sounded sort of like fictional, Mayberry.
Cold and Sunny
We slept well despite the fact Kelly at the desk had apologized the night before, "Oh, I'm afraid your room doesn't have heat, but I can get you a space heater and more blankets!" It got down in the thirties, but we were fine. We hiked in the morning and ended up sitting in the back of the hotel as the day began to warm.
Coffee and Coats
There was complimentary coffee in the morning and we took it out by the pool and watched a cute family playing catch on the lawn. We were still full from dinner, so we shared a day-old muffin, before packing and moving on down the road.
As we headed down the drive, I felt like I hadn't had time to figure this place out. It felt like a retreat/resort that families or golfing buddies return to year after year. Not that everyone knew each other, but I felt like we were the only first-timers. Mostly I'll remember the isolation of this odd building up on the hilltop. If the weather had been more ideal I would have really craved a porch!
For our one night in Albuquerque, Don and I were excited to stay in the historic Nob Hill area, in a retro motel with an awesome orange sign!
As we headed towards the Nob Hill area on the old Route 66, we enjoyed quite a festive display of old motel signs. We hoped our motel would not be as creepy as the ones we passed.
There It Was!
We spotted it on the left. The sign with the cartoonish jalopy and the words "Sleep Is Our Business" was hard to miss. This was going to be one of those "Stay before it's gone!" places. The HiWay House chain, was started by construction magnate, Del Webb in 1956. The chain was never as popular as Howard Johnson's or Holiday Inn, but they were scattered over the western states. Now there are just a couple of these Colonial Style Motor Hotels (with goofy orange signs) left!
Experiencing the Retro
At a glance, the 2-story motel, with alternating pinkish-orange and blue doors had a fun throwback feel. But as we drove into the parking lot, the place looked a little wearier than the images on the website. There was an outdoor area with a grill and some plants. But judging from all the full ashtrays, I think it was just a smoking lounge.
When I was a kid, a pool was all that mattered. This motel had one, but I wasn't tempted. As I glanced at the pool, my eyes followed the stairs upward, to some chairs and a table that had been pulled out of the motel room. The door to the room was wide open (at that moment) and the middle-aged couple enjoying a few smokes and beers on the porch, appeared to be living there. I began to wonder if the Airstream parked in the lot was inhabited as well. In fact, maybe all the "guests" were long term.
On the other side of the parking lot, we spotted the hotel office. I headed over, but found the door locked. I pressed the buzzer and waited. Then I realized who our hosts were. The woman who had been lounging on the porch perch above the pool, headed down to unlock the office door. "You need a room?" The woman spoke firmly, with (I guess) an Eastern European accent. I wanted to take a picture of her as she frowned down at her desk, as if the act of searching for our reservation, was a huge inconvenience. But I didn't dare. I snapped a cell pic of the Li'l Snack machine instead... as if I could somehow capture her reflection in the glass. ( Not sure why I felt I needed some photo to capture this awkward memory) Finally, she reached into a wooden slot and handed me the key to room 105.
Grand in Its Day
I've certainly seen worse. The room was dated, but spacious. There was a fridge and microwave and a coffeemaker... with no coffee. And there was also an odor. Don and I argued a bit, since he thought it was some strong cleaning product and I was pretty sure the product was trying to mask the smell of vomit.
Are We Staying?
We left the door wide open as we examined the room. Nobody was making us stay, although I couldn't picture our frowning host giving us a refund, too easily. So I looked around and admired a few items. "Awesome lamp!" I exclaimed. I'm sure I saw one of those swag lamps in a Dean Martin movie once... with cigarette smoke swirling in its glow. And what an impressive set of controls just over the bed. Heating, cooling, volume and music? No Magic Fingers, though.
More Windows and Space
Behind the partition was a dressing area, with a carpeted bench for suitcase storage. You don't see that luxury anymore. We opened the back window to get a little cross ventilation and noticed a nearby Pilates studio behind us. They had nice music, which floated through the window, along with fresh air.
I'm pretty sure the tub and sink were original from when the motel opened in 1958. And what a hoot to open the shower curtain and see the logo from the sign, decorating the wall tile. You just have to laugh at the idea of sharing the shower with this proper little husband & wife in their red car!
Okay We'll Stay
Don and I have weathered a few bad ones with all our oddball overnights. So after we looked around, I was a little surprised to hear Don ask, "So do we stay?" I had to laugh. "Unless we are in some kind of danger, we can make it work." So Don settled in and made a phone call, while I headed back to the office for ice.
A Blurry Memory
"So, I guess this motel has some history!" I said, trying to open up some conversation while the man scooped my ice. He was busy, inspecting my ice... then discarding it and scooping up some more. (yikes) The woman behind the counter answered without looking up. "1959." That was the end of the history conversation. I gave up and thanked them for the ice, although I wanted to say, "Well, the website says, 1958!!"
Enjoying Nob Hill
I had to laugh with Don about Mr. and Mrs. Norman Bates. Although that's an insult to Norman, since he at least smiled. But we decided to stay, since the surrounding area had some fun places in walking distance. We refused the adjoining Korean BBQ place, that had once been the motel's coffee house. It's under separate ownership, but we wanted to get a little further away. Next door there was an old Texaco, converted into a bar/restaurant. It looked sort of fun.
Across Route 66
And across the road there were a number of popular looking places, with colorful signs and good aromas. We heard some pleasant sounding live music from one direction and some siren sounds coming from the other way. It's an intriguing area, what can I say.
We didn't see mice, but there was a hole under the sink, with evidence that mice had visited. I was eager to have a reason to speak to our host one more time. I was going to be friendly, and just inform her of the problem. I figured I was giving her one more chance to be a good host... to be apologetic. Maybe she was a morning person and she'd leave me with a better impression. So I rang the buzzer. And I rang it again and again. No one ever came. The door above was closed and the chairs were empty. I dropped the key in the box, just as an young arguing couple stomped by on the sidewalk. I so was happy to be leaving.
I will remember this as the retro motel stay, where we never felt welcome! We gave it the "happy traveler try" and there were no rewards for our efforts!
This motel has such potential. The Nob Hill area is "coming back" with music and good food and this worn, old motel is right in the middle of it. It perplexes me that no one has swooped in to renovate this place. There are many Baby Boomer Travelers would spend decent money to stay in a well renovated boutique motel with reminders of travel life in the 1950's and '60's. Someone needs to come to the rescue! It won't be me. .. I'm still irritated.
Durango, Colorado in Fall
December of 2011
The weather was very different when I stayed with my brother and sister, three years earlier. We were in town to attend our half brother's funeral, so my memories are not fun and festive. But what I do remember, is the warmth and comfort of that grand hotel on two snowy nights. The Christmas decorations and celebrating guests could have had an opposite effect. But somehow, the hotel seemed to soothe.
No Snow in September
We arrived on a lovely, warm afternoon just as couple tour buses stopped to unload their middle aged tourists and luggage. Oh joy. I wasn't ready for crowds. The night before we had been the only guests at the Creede Hotel. Of course there were only 4 guest rooms at The Creede... and 93 at The Strater.
Remembering the Lobby
Once the bus crowds moved on to their rooms, I was able to look around the quiet lobby and remember how it once looked in December, with wreaths and ribbons, Christmas music and the fireplace glowing.
But it was more fun imagining the hotel 128 years ago, when a pharmacist named Henry Strater built the spectacular, red brick hotel. He ran his pharmacy in part of the building and attracted guests by filling the hotel with parlors and pianos and wood-burning stoves in each room. It even became a winter retreat for many locals, who closed up their homes to move in.
When I wandered around it was clear that someone (besides a company) was taking great pride in this hotel. Everything from the Victorian walnut furniture to the sweet old phone booths, looked well tended.
There were a lot of complications with ownership, when Mr. Strater ran the hotel for only about 12 years. But, since 1926 the Barker family has been involved in the ownership. Rod Barker is the current president/CEO of the Strater. It would be fun to know what he remembers. His parents ran the hotel for 30 years, modernizing with TVs and phones and heating. I wonder if Rod knew his grandfather, who bought the property in 1926, when the hotel was 39 years old.
So Many Patterns!
have my efforts rewarded with some stylish columns and railings and maybe a skylight!
Thick drapes, dark woods, heavy furniture... But when it's done well, I love it. Don is a foot taller than me and he didn't even complain about the small bed.
Wall & Ceiling Paper!
I never had wallpaper next to my bed as a child, but I did love finding images in drippy layers of paint, on the walls next to my childhood bed. As I kid, I don't think I ever could have gone to sleep if I'd had such wonderful designs above my bed!
As always, I'm grateful to have a bathroom in an old hotel. When the Strater was built, every guest room had its own washstand and a cabinet, which stored the bed pan! There was also a 3-story privy. I assume that was outside. I can't quite visualize that!
Food and Entertainment
The Diamond Belle Saloon was one option in the hotel, for food and drink. Yes, it was a little touristy. There were servers dressed like dance hall girls and there was a honky tonk piano player. But the tourists brought their money, which is why the hotel is still here. Besides, the piano player was fun. And I could imagine Room 222 right above us. That was the room author, Louis L'Amour always requested. He said the honky tonk music from the saloon below, inspired his western writing.
Later in the evening, Don and I sat up on the second level of the other hotel lounge, to enjoy some of the live entertainment. We couldn't see the performer from there, but we could keep an eye on the woman by the fireplace who was whooping it up after numerous martinis. She had a piercing whistle and she told the singer she'd pay him 20 dollars, if he could guess how many divorces she and her husband had between them. The singer's guess of 10, was too low. The correct answer was 11. Maybe there would have been fewer divorces for this woman, if she laid off the martinis!
An Old Phone
I missed seeing the snow this time. And I didn't hear the Polar Express whistling behind the hotel. But everything else was how I remembered it. Yes, it is touristy. But that's why there's money to maintain and renovate as needed. We have seen so many neglected historic hotels. It's nice to see one that's filled with happy guests.
So we made an attempt to return this past fall. When we arrived, it almost looked like smoke, lingering from 3 years ago. But the quiet little town was just soggy with fog and cold, drizzle.
Funny Little Hotel
We arrived on September 22, just a day or two before the hotel was going to close down for the winter. It looked dark, so we hoped it hadn't already! Don and I were determined to stay at this historic place that was once the best of about 100 hotels in the once booming town of Creede.
There were 3 doors. The one on the left was to the darkened restaurant. The middle door entrance had a barrel with a closed sign. Luckily, the door to the right had a note welcoming us. There were only 4 rooms listed and ours was the only one with a name next to it. It looked like we might be the last guests of the season.
The hardware on the door was pretty ancient, so the door wouldn't click shut after we entered. We headed up the steep stairs and hoped there were decent locks on the 4 guest rooms upstairs.
Calamity Jane Room
I was pretty delighted we had gotten the room that Calamity Jane supposedly stayed in. Her portrait in the room looked nothing like Doris Day, who played her in a very silly musical in 1953.
I'm not sure if Ms. Jane would have loved this decor? The white iron bed would have suited her fine. But would she have adored the two pink walls and ruffled curtains?
It was chilly and damp, so we cranked up the heat to enjoy our little room. There were some old bits of furniture that might have been around in Jane's day. The dresser and mirror looked about right... if you blurred your eyes and imagined a white pitcher and bowl, instead of the coffee maker.
Inside our small room, we did have a little tea table of sorts. It just made me laugh to look above the table cloth and flowerpot to see the portrait of Calamity. She was holding that gun like she was angry about this frilly room decor. Or was she just proudly protecting her guests? I preferred the porch table instead.
It was chilly in the morning, but we had a little coffee and enjoyed our view of Main Street, which was as quiet as the evening before. I was glad to see there was an emergency ladder draped over the railing... in case the ghost of Calamity Jane got any wilder!
The Rest of Hotel
I felt the need to pose with my cowboy boots, but they seemed to get lost in the shadows. I should have known I could not outshine Gene Autry, smiling down from his poster in his fancy hat!
Attached to the north end of the hotel is the restaurant that is oddly enough known for it's delicious food. Don and I had reservations for 7, but there were only a couple tables being served, so we had a drink at the bar, first. Dave who has been the owner and chef for 15 years came out and chatted a while. He showed us a photo of John Wayne at the bar in the 1950's. Our western road trip seemed to be connecting us with John Wayne and Calamity Jane over and over!
Our Quiet Feast
Dave told us how he moved to Creede to escape the new Colorado Boom Towns. He was tired of watching the old mining boom towns, like Boulder and Telluride being taken over by the wealthy. As we feasted on crab cakes and Caesar salad, pork tenderloin with spinach... and mashed sweet potatoes with bacon, brandy and maple syrup... we tried to imagine how a tiny place like this could serve such a feast!
This was not the first time Don and I have been the only guests at a hotel or inn. But usually the host or caretaker has a room in the building. I'm not sure which is more eerie, knowing you're all alone or knowing the host (whom you've just met) is sleeping in a nearby room. But compared to our other stays, this was the most dreamlike and mysterious. The very thought that we could enjoy a gourmet meal on a rainy night in a deserted town in an empty hotel just makes the whole memory more surreal. I'm so glad we finally got to have our stay!
When we drove into Telluride last fall, the town looked like a storybook illustration. Our hotel, with its red brick and green awnings sat perfectly on the corner. It looked charming and quaint, but the New Sheridan hardly looked new.
Actually, I believe the 2-story section on the corner is a new replacement of the original 1891 building that burned over 100 years ago. But the 3-story section of the hotel was built in brick in 1897. That's when it became the New Sheridan Hotel. The lobby pictured above, still confuses me with its classy-new art and furniture. Maybe this part was built between the old and new buildings?
Stairs for Exercise!
When we returned to the hotel we killed more time wandering the 3 floors. With an elevation of 8,750, we got a real work out on the stairs. But, I must admit, there actually was an elevator and on Day 22 of our road trip, that was a luxury with our luggage. Many historic hotels don't have that perk.
Finding the Room
There were only 26 rooms in the hotel, but there was a bit of a maze feeling. I loved the long, narrow hallway and the open areas with archival photographs. When we were finally given the key to #20, we took our time finding it. The suspense! It's always fun in old hotels to open the door and see what you'll find.
A Sweet Room!
We were graciously given an upgrade since our check-in had been delayed. We had reserved the cheapest, so we were suddenly delighted to have a King room in the old building, overlooking Main Street. It wasn't huge, but the high ceilings, tall windows and floral scented bath products, made the room feel airy and fresh.
I loved the note resting on the plaid blanket. It had the usual instructions about wifi and ice. But we also had instructions for what to do if we needed to cool down the room. "Open the window and turn on the ceiling fan."
The air smelled clean when I opened the window. And just looking at the green ski slopes with splashes of yellow, made it all the fresher. As I mentioned, the bathroom smelled of wonderful soaps and lotions. I enjoyed the "old" vintage, marble sink and tile... I loved "new" sparkling, clean smell.
Exploring the Hotel
Since we'd wandered the blocks surrounding the hotel earlier, we were ready to stay put. We enjoyed a little beer on the rooftop lounge while the sun lowered over the mountains.
We could have eaten a more informal bite in the lobby bar, which they call The Parlor. The name of the sleek looking bar and the crowds who arrived a little later, were a bit intimidating. Our "rumpled, traveler-look" wouldn't quite fit the scene.
The Chop House
We peeked earlier in the Hotel's, Chop House Restaurant. The place looked mighty classy, but the diners by the window were wearing (upscale) outdoorsy clothes and the waiter had sunglasses tucked into his collar, so I guess we could have fit in. However our dining budget for our month trip didn't allow for nightly $50. steaks or even $11. bowls of soup. So we passed.
The Historic Bar
Luckily, there was one more interesting option at the hotel. This wonderful old bar has been a part of the New Sheridan since it first opened in the late 1800's. The mahogany bar was imported from Austria. The room dividers with beveled and lead glass panels were also original. Some of the locals with long white beards, looked like they could have been sitting at the bar 100+ years ago!
Food or Drink?
9We could have ordered a burger or steak, but we'd had a late lunch. We figured we'd have just one drink absorb our surroundings. While we sipped, we wondered how different the atmosphere would be during busy ski season. And since our room was above the bar, we were glad it wasn't ski season.
Fun People Encounter
Don and I always appreciate chatting with locals or travelers on our trips, but it suddenly seemed like Telluride might be one of those places where we just enjoy the people watching. Then we met a very nice couple.
He was snapping a cell pic of her at the bar and I offered to take their picture together. We ended up chatting for quite a while. Roger talked to Don about just finishing a week hiking the Continental Divide. Cindy talked to me about what the town was like when she lived there in the 1970's. The talk of hiking lead to the fun trivia that Roger met the author, Cheryl Strayed when he first attempted hiking the Continental Divide. I am a big fan of the book and movie, "Wild" so it was fun to know that Roger was the "Greg" character in Strayed's book. He was the "nice guy" that Reese Witherspoon meets at the beginning of her journey, in the movie!
Before heading back to the room, we grabbed some food from the car and decided we'd just enjoy the rest of the evening, picnicking in our cozy room. Before it got too dark, I told Don I needed to hurry down and get a photo of the building. "Look out the window and wave, so I know which one it is!" I requested.
First Motel in Moab, Utah?
What brought us... and others here?
When searching for Moab hotels online, a photo of this motel sign with its 20-foot arrow caught my eye.
Then when I read about some of the motel's celebrity guests, I got curious. In the fifties and sixties, the modern and comfy motel provided long term accommodations for John Wayne, Anthony Quinn, Henry Fonda and others, while they were shooting westerns in the area. By the 1980's, I don't believe the motel was up cushy enough for Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. But the film crew shooting Thelma and Louise stayed here.
"Modern American Movement - Victorian Eclectic Bungalow"
Don and I were intrigued with the celebrity history. We were also curious about the architectural style of this 35-unit brick structure. We've stayed at vintage motor cottages and Victorian hotels, but this style is harder to find. This design was built in the mid-fifties, a transition between the earlier roadside motor courts and the that upcoming motor inns. You have to love this sturdy design.
Honestly, all this style talk is true, but it was the room price lured us. Moab hotel rates are generally high and our room was $89. for the night... which is still high for a small town motel.
This eerie morning shot of the lobby, mostly shows shadows. They at least served coffee and donuts in the morning.
But when we checked in, I was disappointed. Yes, there was some knotty pine wood that offered a bit of western homeyness. But I had been lead me to believe there would be sort of a museum, packed with memorabilia. I had hoped for a chatty desk clerk with lots of stories.
There were lots of framed photos of Hollywood celebrities and the westerns they starred in. But the website said I could pose for a photo with John Wayne. Of course I knew he would be cardboard, but I didn't expect him to be quite so faded and bent. I did not pose with John. So I took a photo of the John Wayne toilet paper instead.
Ahh! A Place to Relax
This doesn't really look too bad at a glance, but this was not a pool I wanted to lounge around. The sunny day just spotlighted the motel's peeling paint and murky water.
I tried to imagine the place in earlier years, when John Wayne was splashing in the pool with his kids. I pictured his wife playing solitaire under one of the shiny, metal umbrellas. I studied the upper floor where the Wayne's occupied their suite for long stretches of time, during filming periods. Evidently Mr. Wayne was gracious and friendly guest and his kids loved the place. At least that's what I learned from lots of digging in the internet. No one working at the motel seemed to have much info.
Our Upstairs Room
Our room #22 was upstairs, a room away from John Wayne's family suite. I wonder how much the view has changed since the 1950's? The red rock mountains were obviously there. But how about those mobile homes across the street? We definitely had a good view of the yellow sign from our picture window.
I wish they had just kept the original 1955 furniture and thrown in a new mattress and linens. I enjoy and tolerate just about anything vintage. But my own definition of vintage means it has to be from before the 1970's. Give me a chenille bedspread that looks like a 1950's bathrobe and I smile and sigh. Show me a shiny, quilted bedspread that's maybe 35 years old and I feel woozy.
I felt much more relaxed after we aired out the room a bit. I checked for fresh sheets and was satisfied. Then I removed the spread and grabbed the quilt from the car. Don shook us up some martinis in his thermal coffee mug and suddenly the corny framed art above the bed, titled "Cattle Drive" seemed sentimental and lovely.
Night at The Apache
It was actually a peaceful, pleasant night at the motel. There were no bikers, hikers, cowboys or film stars whooping it up.
We walked down the road a couple blocks to Milt's Drive-In, which has been around as long as Apache. By the time we returned, the yellow sign was glowing. I stopped in the office for some freshly brewed coffee and chatted with the woman who had seemed less friendly at check in. It turns out her lack of smiling was due to her lack of teeth. She sweetly confided, that someone had recently given her the funds so she could get a set of chompers! She was getting very excited about smiling again. That made me smile.
Mostly I will remember the Hollywood connections. It was incredibly fun to drive just 5 miles from our motel and visit Arches National Park the next day and a bit further to Canyonlands Park. So many films have been shot in these areas... including "Fort Apache" from 1949. We enjoyed a different world and had a very different kind of overnight stay!
So you can bring your own RV or tent, or you can stay in one of their cute little bullet shaped Airstream trailers. We happen to have an Airstream, so that wasn't what caught my eye on their website. It was the fact they had a little drive in movie screen! There's more on that later.
Gorgeous Day in September
Last summer when we were planning our 1-month road trip, it was a puzzle piecing together 28 different accommodations. There were limited trailers at "Shooting Star" and if we wanted to see a movie, we had to book for one of the nights they showed movies... and we had to hope for decent weather. We lucked out. The weather was beautiful.
I had spoken with owner, Michelle, when I booked the "Kid's Hideout" trailer. It was the smallest, but it was decorated to look like the trailer Robert Redford stayed in, while shooting Butch Cassidy. Later Michelle offered to move us to a bigger trailer for no extra charge, since someone requested the Hideout. We ended up in a trailer called, Sugar's Shack, instead.
Troy Shows Us Around
Michelle's husband Troy lead us to our trailer and showed us the ropes. We double checked to make sure there would be a movie playing that night and he assured us we could reserve one of the vintage convertibles for our viewing pleasure!
This Airstream was a lot bigger than the one we own, but Don still could barely stand! It was nice having a couch area and more of a kitchen and a useable bathroom, but we were mostly eager about the view.
The view from the window behind the couch was pretty darn nice! In the summer, I imagine there could be some intense sun, since we were looking west. But the air was perfect.
The Sugar Shack Theme?
I do love a theme and I had looked forward to the western theme of Robert Redford's trailer, with burlap curtains, leather and pressed tin.
When we switched to Sugar's Shack, I figured that would be fine, since I love Marilyn Monroe's Sugar character in "Some Like it Hot". But there wasn't much of a vintage feel to the Airstream and I had to search a bit for some reminders of what the theme was. I do adore Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon in their dresses, so their framed image made me smile!
And there were some old magazines that took me back in time... and some framed Marilyn portraits... beside a flyswatter.
There was a nice little hat on display beside the bed. It was the same style that Tony and Jack happily wore in their photo. When Troy showed us around the trailer earlier, he pointed out Marilyn's little black dress in the closet. Now the idea that they put a black dress in the closet would just sound creepy to most. But Don and I are not your normal travelers. I laughed and said, "Oh that should be fun." (In a very G-rated way) and then we began to enjoy the evening.
Don got out the uke. Trailers are much better for uke practice than hotel rooms with thin walls. Actually this was a pretty appropriate activity for Sugar's Shack as it turns out. Marilyn's character, Sugar, plays the ukulele in the movie.
If the Dress Fits...
Ok, maybe that's a little weird putting on a dress and hat when you don't know who's worn it last. But I'm all for making the most of our overnights and enjoying everything they have to offer. So I put on the dress and hat and did my photo shoot. I'm afraid I felt more like Jack Lemon than Marilyn Monroe.
Then we made use of our deck with some drinks. Luckily we had sunglasses, because it took a long time for that sun to set in the cloudless sky!
There are only three (sometimes 4) old cars you can "rent" for movie viewing. We put dibs on the red Dogde Dart and it was quite a hoot watching Looney Tunes!
Troy was up in the wooden tower where they project the films. Michelle was inside the Airstream-Turned-Snack-Bar. I had some fun picking out some goodies from their vintage candy display. I had to laugh with Michelle when I noticed a photo of the "66" Park In Theatre. I told her that it's located in St. Louis and I'm pretty sure that's where Don and I first saw "City Slickers", which was the movie we were about ready to watch.
When cartoons ended, we hunkered down with our popcorn and drinks and Troy asked if we wanted him to put the top down. Luckily we had a quilt with us, because the temps had dropped. But what a perfect movie for the environment. The movie setting was similar to the land around us. And the chill in the air, the cozy quilt and the stars overhead and a fun enough movie! No worries about falling asleep.
It was a little crisp when I tiptoed around the other trailers early the next morning. It was an odd sight seeing all the shiny metal Airstreams lined up, surrounded by mountains, green and blue sky!
Another Sunny Day
All was quiet and we were packed and on our way, without ever chatting with any of our neighbors. Even at the movie the night before, we'd only seen the dark images of a few folks sitting in lawn chairs. It was a quick stay, but we made the most of it.
Again, the Airstream experience was not the highlight for us. The crazy idea of these trailers clustered together, with a nearby drive is what made the stay unique.
I think more than anything I'll remember the fun of watching the movie with the stars above.
Built in 1935
The Lodge sits at the top of Bright Angel Trail Head, overlooking the Grand Canyon. It was constructed nearly 30 years after El Tovar was built. Back in 1905, wealthy tourists began traveling by train to vacation at the exclusive El Tovar resort. But the automobile opened the west to more than just rich tourists. There became a need for more modestly priced lodging. Bright Angel was the answer.
There was a welcoming, laid back feel to the lobby. So many western lodges have made me think of Lincoln Logs... which is a fun thing. But these smooth brown logs, just made me downright hungry. Toostie Rolls! That's all I could think of.
I haven't researched enough to know if these were the original colors, painted on the doors and shutters. But I love the colors!
The geometric designs, bold colors and Native American symbols were probably my favorite part of the building.
There was something just whimsical and primitive about the shapes and colors... especially against all the earth, log and stone.
This is actually the back of the building, but it faces the canyon. So really this is the side where people spend most of their time, wandering along the rim and watching the sunset towards the left and the sunrise towards the right... or the sunset in the reflection of the glass.
Unlike El Tovar, there are no guest rooms in the lodge. Scattered nearby, there are a few cabin buildings that house about 90 lodging units. We were in the Powell House with its orange door and blue framed windows. Before even entering, we were excited to find a parking space right in front of the door. This was a treat after many lodge stays with distant parking lots.
We also had no stairs once we got inside. No hikes down long hallways and up and down stairs!
Our room was in the stone section of the building. You can see our wonderful corner window, surrounded in pine trees.
Well, there was a little hall to walk down, but it was cute. Knotty pine, western style rugs, loggy trim! Our room #6141, was on the left at the end. The door with shutter/slats made me wonder about noise or privacy. But once we opened the door we found our own little hall with 2 more doors to our guest room and bathroom.
Open and Airy
There was nothing fancy here, but it was so comfy and airy, with light walls and beams and lots of windows.
Mixing New and Old
It was updated just enough. I liked the porcelain doorknobs and iron hinges. The furniture was obviously not from the thirties, but the style was close enough.
The windows were a huge plus. There were at least 6, including the bathroom window. Something about screens and wooden windows gave the room a summer camp or sleeping porch feel. I love that! And the bathroom was spotless and updated nicely. They even had the good sense to keep the original wooden mirror with its handy lower nook.
Bright Angel's Western Saloon
Our bartender was far too busy (or maybe just unfriendly) to be available for all the questions I wanted to ask about the old saloon. The bar itself had a lot of history, with old photos and even iron horseshoes under layers of shellack.
The place was empty when we first entered, so I got a good look at the fabulous murals. The yellowed images, behind glaring glass were quite entertaining! One whole wall was devoted to scenes of Hopi life, cooking, dancing, celebrating!
Behind the Bar
We had a good view of one colorful image behind a row or beer bottles. I loved the cowboy with hat and scarf, clinking his glass above the head of the guy... who'd had one too many. And then there was the tourist woman riding her canyon mule!
And what whacky tourist scenes! I loved the goofy tourists wandering along the canyon wall, with binoculars and cameras. I have no idea when these were painted!
But the saloon, was the most fun once Barry Brenner sat down in the corner with his four guitars and began filling the place with music. He sported a cowboy cool beard and a hat to match and a voice that fit his "Blues Roots Music" well. It was impossible to get bored as he moved from guitar to guitar (his girls) and changed his sound from honky tonk to ragtime to country. He only comes to perform (from California) twice a year. So we lucked out.
No table cloths or bow-ties in this cafe, but it was just what we needed. We walked through the main dining room, towards the cozy booths in the back.
We were handed a menu with the same design from when Bright Angel first opened! This "Coffee Shop" had been one of Fred Harvey's famous eateries and the menu cover was classic!
The Harvey House restaurants and hotels were known for good food and service, but sometimes old recipes don't hold up. I was intrigued to see they still served up the original recipe of the Harvey House salad. The sunflower seeds, cucumber and slivers of carrot and beets gave the salad a good crunch. The lemon dressing made the little feast taste like desert! And the lace doily gave the whole thing a vintage touch! Good beef stroganoff, too! .
Best Meal from Bright Angel
More memorable than our dinner in the cafe, was the hotdog meal we had on the edge of the canyon. The lodge had a handy snack shop where you could purchase hot dogs, coffee or ice cream. We grabbed hotdogs and chips and hiked up a ways for a little picnic. That was the best view I ever had, while eating a hotdog!
There was just such a delightful feel to the place with all the colors and the whimsical art murals, that it brought out the kid in me. Of course hotdogs and tootsie roll logs and honky-tonk music can bring out a little youth in all of us!
A Harvey House Grand Resort in 1905
El Tovar in Septemeber
Mr. Harvey died before he got to see this 4-story hotel completed. That made me feel extra lucky, when Don and I arrived last fall. It was also lucky that Fred Harvey had sons and grandsons who were able to oversee the limestone and pine construction. If he'd had daughters, would they have helped with construction plans? Or would they have been Harvey Girls, waiting on tables in crisp, white aprons?
Near the Rim
The Harvey Hotels were always built near the railroad, to accommodate travelers. El Tovar was also built near the railroad, but it was situated just 20 feet from the Canyon's south rim. The roof is barely visible in the upper right of this photo.
The rear of the hotel shows the long, shingled roof and fancy tower and turret. The only way you can get this view is by looking across a bit of the canyon.
Ahh! The Porches!
fiddling with parasols, while they rocked. I wonder if the porch ever had this many empty rockers during the summer months, 100 years ago?
Porch on the North
nearby. I will always remember our conversation. He was about 65 and was seated in a wheelchair. He shook his head and seemed surprisingly good humored as he talked about the complications of maneuvering his wheelchair in their cramped historic guest room. His wife quietly shared with me that he'd been unable to walk since he was hit by a drunk driver 15 years earlier. I sat on that swing a while after they left and reminded myself, "Beth, you have no right to complain... about anything...ever!"
The log interior was dim but cozy, with all the peeled log walls and posts, varnished dark brown. The structure brought me back to bored summer afternoons trying to construct log cabins out of toothpicks and Elmer's glue. I somehow thought my cabins would look sort of like this. They never did.
Time for the Newspaper
This old lodge took us back in time, with the furnishings and decor. But the lack of wifi and bad cell service did an even better job. It's odd to see so many people sitting around reading books and newspapers... and talking with each other!
The Red Carpet
This carpeted stairway to the Mezzanine Lounge looked pretty grand... and a bit odd. There were rustic log beams, a plush velvety carpet, a Swiss inspired cutout railing, a very serious portrait and an awesome wooden box for mailing your postcards!
I liked the second floor lounge for two reasons. For one, I was a guest and I got to march right up those red stairs, past the sign that announced, "hotel guests only". Of course no one was checking for keys or ID, but 3 years ago, Don and I were "non-guests" and obeyed the bold sign. When we were visited the canyon back then, we peeked in the hotel and dreamed about returning someday as guests.
Second Reason... The View!
I loved the circular hole in the floor of the mezzanine. I love being able gaze downward for a little nonchalant people-watching! However, there wasn't much going on, so I enjoyed the close up view of the buffalo and a few other critters!
To the Room
The colorful wall art, with Native American images was a nice touch. By the time we headed to our "basement quarters" to find room 6402, the walls and floor had become less decorated.
I'll say cozy, instead of tiny. I swore I wouldn't complain. There were no real hints of the old hotel down in this renovated section. It was clean and the bathroom was attractive with retro tile work, but I do kind of like the authentic old stuff.
When we entered our room, the wardrobe doors were open to reveal an actual TV, which is something most National Park Lodges don't offer. It was pretty comical moving our few bags into the room. Even with the wardrobe doors closed, I could barely walk to the other side of the bed. It made me pretty glad I wasn't in a wheelchair.
Dining at El Tovar
The restaurant was a nice combination of cozy and elegant. There were no Harvey Girls in long aprons, but there were black bow ties, which the women used to wear. The linens, log beams and stone fireplace made the atmosphere rustic, yet classy.
By the Fire!
Cookbook Encounter with Tom!
Our waiter, Tom was the best. Not only was he an expert on the hotel's history, but he was more than happy to take a look at the old Ford Motor Cookbook, which I had dragged to dinner. It turns out Tom has been collecting hotel memorabilia for 35 years, since he became employed by the hotel. He actually knew about the vintage cookbook, which featured El Tovar, with a recipe for Beef Stroganoff. Tom has also written his own book or two. He happily posed with me and the book... then explained to us what was going on, when the whole dining room began to gasp!
Excitement Up High
While we were chatting with Tom, we suddenly became aware that diners were laughing and sort of shrieking... and staring upward. A cute little ringtail cat (which is not part of the cat family) was darting in and out of the beams. Tom assured us, it was no big deal. "The ringtails just like the sugar packets..." He said the hotel has someone who handles trapping the little guys and transporting them elsewhere.
Around the Hotel
And obviously, there was the canyon... right there. We had to share the sunset with other tourists... but not too many. I think the tour buses were gone by then.
I ran out to the wall to take photos at sunset and sunrise. Sometimes the wall was crowded with tourists and sometimes empty. I loved that pretty little wall that separated the tourist world from nature. From that wall, we could see a mile across to the other side! Wow!
We got to experience a hotel that was once only available to the wealthy.
Back in the day, only the rich could afford the journey or the cost of a stay at El Tovar. Travelers from the east probably felt very special as they enjoyed the rustic and ritzy lodge in such an isolated part of the country. Today there's nothing elite about the place... except the price. Tourists wander through the hotel and stop in the gift shop or enjoy a few minutes on a rocker. I love knowing that families in vans and senior groups in tour buses can all enjoy a piece of this lodge history. But I will always remember the fun of being a guest at sunrise and sunset. At those times, I could imagine the setting as it was 100+ years ago, when so few could make it to this magical and isolated place!
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!