First Motel in Moab, Utah?
Maybe it wasn't the very first, but this dandy motel with the iconic sigh, was built in 1955. That was just 3 years after the discovery of uranium in the area, about the time Moab became the Uranium Capital of the World!
I wasn't too excited about the uranium history, but I did think it was fun knowing The Apache Motel played home to John Wayne and his family a number of times.
Why This Place?
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.
Just a Reminder
I doubt this sign was around when the Wayne's was here.
I wondered what might have been the inspiration for putting up the sign.
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 can't recall why Don gave the thumbs up in this photo. Maybe because our room was fairly spacious, with "rustic" wood beams and green trees through the picture window.
But mostly I remember being bombarded by the odor of musty carpet and cheap soap.
A Seventies Update?
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.
The Apache Motel was a little odd and worn, but it served its purpose for us. I love vintage signs and I will remember the big arrow and Apache image. But I'm not sure I should say I love it.
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!
What Kind of Place?
This "resort" is located in a spectacular setting, just outside of Escalante, Utah. You can tell by the sign, they had a hard time giving the place a name. I sure wouldn't call it a resort.
Resorts make me think of swimming pools and golf courses. This place had something that most small resorts don't have... a drive in movie theatre!
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 September Day
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.
Our Host, Troy
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, along 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.
Heber City... in Utah
Our "Inn" didn't exactly have a view of the Alps, but we could have spotted the towering slopes of Mount Timpanogoes, if we'd not been socked in by clouds.
We may have lacked the perfect view, but we did have some mighty sweet Swiss kiddos, holding a bucket and Alpenhorn, gazing down on us as we approached.
An Inn or Motel?
This is a darn cute little inn, with or without the mountains. My photo on the right, didn't exactly match the one shown on TripAdvisor.
"Swiss Alps Inn" is a fitting name for a place that looks quaint and cozy, even on a gloomy weather evening. So why did they add a sign with MOTEL on it? The word motel says America to me... not Switzerland.
Roof Top Treat
But I do like retro motels, especially with a rooftop display, showing a sheepherder and his sheep.
I was eager to get checked in and ask if they could turn it on with a switch. I assumed the whimsical little thing worked sort of like a cuckoo clock.
The office door was locked, but there was a phone to call for assistance. The man in red, came over from the Dairy Keen, next door. Evidently the Mawhiney Family owns both. I was eager to find out some scoop from a 5th generation owner who might know something about the business, which started as a shack in 1946.
When I was handed the key I asked the man in red if he was the owner. He laughed comfortably and said his family owned the place so he guessd that meant he was the owner. "But don't tell my sister!" He teased. Then the phone rang and I didn't get to ask about the dandy little bell on the counter.
I stalled a bit, but he kept talking so I didn't get to ask about the decorative shields on the stucco wall.
I didn't get to ask if it was his grandma's idea to have blue shutters and flower painted stucco. It was pretty clear that we'd be dropping the key in the box in the morning... so no chatty fun learning about our little inn's history.
No matter if we are staying in a lodge, mansion or rambling hotel, I have to explore.
There wasn't much to see in a 10 room motel, especially since the rain was starting up. But I glanced at the pool and slide and swings and remembered how much I loved finding a motel playground on travels as a kid.
It's funny how the simple zigzag design of the front, gave guests a little bit of separation.
The chairs were a little worn and the view was of the parking lot, but I appreciate the nice cottage look to the painted trim around the big picture window.
I'm pretty sure there weren't 30 rooms, but this was our number.
And we had our own little shield with the title, ASARGAU. That's another thing I could have asked my man in red.
In We Go
Don and I were tired on day 16 of our trip. It had been a long day in the car with rain and bad traffic, so I wasn't giddy with enthusiasm (as I often am) to open our door and see what surprises awaited.
We tried to find the positives as we looked about, but it was a bit tough. "Look, a Willkommen greeting on the wall." I smiled. "Someone worked hard on painting that headboard." I sort of grinned, then I had to inquire, "But, what is that smell anyway?"
I would have preferred a 1950's bathroom, but there was a coffee pot on the counter and some "Swiss Miss" hot chocolate packets.
Nice touch. There was a fridge and microwave and we popped some popcorn and opened the door to change up the smell, which I can't really describe.
However if you look out the open door you can see a triangular roof image. That's an odd story.
The Cute Building
I always like to take a photo of the view from our hotel window, but we hardly wanted to open the shades and stare at the parking lot.
When I took a morning walk the next day, I took this photo of the gingerbread style house that faced Main Street. It was the same roof, we'd seen from our motel door. The little building was the office for Karl Malone's Car Dealership. Now I know nothing about Karl Malone or his basketball career, but I do know that our son was driving down this very street on a road trip last summer, when he texted Don to say, "We just drove by a building at a car dealership and we saw Karl Malone sitting on the porch!" It's a small world.
Night and Morning
It was an uneventful evening. Don and I were so tired we just picked up some incredibly yummy carryouts from Cafe Rio and ate at our little table with some Margaritas... while rain poured down.
We were up and on our way early the next day, feeling a little sad that we hadn't fully experienced all that the Swiss Alps Inn might have had to offer.
Pretty simple. The Swiss Alps Inn is a storybook inn on the outside and an outdated motel on the inside. It would take so very, very little to fix this up and make it adorable. Maybe they're saving that job for the 6th generation.
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!