RANKING THE NORTHWEST NATIONAL PARK LODGES

It has been quite a journey, for I began this blog series on the Northwest National Park Lodges way back on August 4, 2010, with just a couple of interruptions, it has taken until now to achieve closure. 

Just to recap, right after the Zane Grey’s West Society convention in Gold Beach, Oregon last June, our cherished friends, Bob and Lucy Earp of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Connie, and yours truly, finally managed to shoehorn all our luggage into the ample (we thought) deep trunk of a Lincoln Town Car.  To an onlooker, we’d have been considered the counterpart of Desi and Lucy in films such as their Long Long Trailer.  Finally—and I do mean finally—,we all made our nests, asked God to bless and protect us, and headed up that stunningly beautiful Oregon coast.

We were on the road almost a month.  Amazingly, at the end, we were/are still friends!  Truly a miracle; if you doubt it, just try cooping up four independent-minded free spirits in one box for that long a time without fireworks.

It proved to be a journey none of us will ever forget.  And we’d never have thought of doing it without the Ken Burns PBS Series on the National Parks and the Christine Barnes books on the National Park lodges.

If you’ve been following our trail week by week, I hope you’ll let us know your reactions.  If you have tuned in lately, I encourage you to torque up your mouse and vicariously travel along with us since that first August 4 entry.

* * * * *

We have found these lodges very difficult to rank, for there are so many variables to take into consideration.  Especially the differing reactions to the lodges compared to the parks themselves.  Not surprisingly, rarely were the two experiences ranked the same.  Note reasons why: 

CRATER LAKE LODGE.  We have all stayed there a number of times over the years so our conclusions were multi-layered.

OREGON CAVES CHATEAU.  It was the fist time for all four of us, and since we hadn’t booked it for the night, our rankings did a disservice to it.  But we’ve all vowed to return and stay over night there.

MOUNT HOOD LODGE.  Only I had been there before.  Since it was swamped with skiers, it was anything but a serene experience to stay there.  And given the fact that TV sets were in the guest rooms, the experience was totally incompatible with the atmosphere found in the other lodges.

PARADISE INN.  Only Connie and I had stayed there before. 

STEHEKIN.  The cabins were so recent that they by no means could be considered historic or unique.  But the village itself was both historic and unique.

LAKE QUINAULT LODGE.  It was the first time for all of us.

CRESCENT LAKE LODGE.  It was the first time for all of us.

OLD FAITHFUL INN.  We’ve all been to Yellowstone many times over the years, however, it was the first time any of us had ever stayed over night at Old Faithful Inn.  Because of the incredible congestion, none of us are likely to stay there again – however, we wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world!

YELLOWSTONE LAKE HOTEL.  One of the undiscovered gems in the pantheon of National Park lodges.  It was the first time for all four of us.

JACKSON LAKE LODGE.  All of us had stayed here before, and each time have vowed to return.

LAKE McDONALD LODGE.  All of us had visited the lodge before, but none of us have ever stayed over night there.

GLACIER PARK HOTEL.  All of us have stayed here before, and returned.  It is a very special place.

MANY GLACIER LODGE.  We’d all stayed here before, and we return every blessed chance we get!

PRINCE OF WALES HOTEL.  We’d all stayed here before, and love returning to it.

THE RANKINGS

 

In order to separate our hotel evaluations from our Park evaluations, we are listing them separately.  One thing will be obvious to you as you compare rankings: it is amazing that we concluded the journey friends!

 * * * * *

   
Lodge Rankings
   
 
Joe
Connie
Bob
Lucy
Total
Composite
Many Glacier
1
1
2
11
15
3.75
East Glacier
7
9
2
1
1
4.5
Paradise Inn
8
3
6
4
21
5.25
Lake Quinault
6
7
3
6
22
5.5
Crater Lake Lodge
4
5
7
7
23
5.75
Prince of Wales
3
4
11
10
28
7.0
Crescent Lake
11
2
12
5
30
7.5
Timberline Lodge
12
8
5
8
33
8.25
Old Faithful
13
13
4
3
33
8.25
Jackson Lake
10
12
9
2
33
8.25
Yellowstone Lake
9
6
10
9
34
8.5
Stehekin
2
10
13
12
37
9.25
             
   
Park Rankings
   
 
Joe
Connie
Bob
Lucy
Total
Composite
Glacier National Park
1
1
2
11
15
2.0
Grand Teton National Park
3
3
6
1
13
3.25
Yellowstone National Park
1
9
5
2
17
4.25
North Cascades & Stehekin
6
5
4
3
18
4.5
Crater Lake National Park
7
4
3
6
20
5.0
Olympic National Park
5
7
2
7
21
5.25
Mt. Rainier National Park
4
2
8
8
22
5.5
Oregon Caves
8
8
9
5
30
7.5
Mt. Hood
9
6
7
9
31
7.75
             

 * * * * *

Some last questions:    Do you like the addition of photos to the blogs?  Do you think we ought to make the series available in book form for travelers?  Of course, we’d have to first find a publisher interested in printing and promoting such a book.

* * * * *

Do you think we ought to risk our friendship once more by journeying through the Southwest National Park Lodges together?

Thanks so much for taking the journey with us.

THE PRINCE OF WALES HOTEL

Prince of Wales Hotel

The Prince of Wales Hotel almost wasn’t, for the Fates seemed
determined to keep it from ever being born. Louis Hill had long dreamed of creating a third great hotel that would link Waterton
Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada to Glacier National Park.
More than a little envious, Hill looked across the border at the
chain of great hotels Canadian Pacific Railway had constructed
throughout the Canadian Rockies.

In 1913, Hill found just the place:  windswept knoll overlooking the magnificent Waterton Lakes that straddled the border between the two nations. Here he proposed to build a 300 room hotel. But then, World War I broke out, and travel for pleasure came to a virtual halt. After the war, it appeared for a time that the U.S. and Canada would jointly dam the narrows between the two lakes. Only when that plan failed to gain traction was Hill able to garner support for his decade-old dream hotel. But by now, Hill’s own enthusiasm for the project had begun to wane, partly because he began to doubt that sufficient tourists would find this out-of-the-way place to make it a paying proposition. Nevertheless, it was announced to the media that Great Northern would construct a 450-room hotel on the site. Estimated cost: $500,000.

Problems, one after another, delayed the project. All these roadblocks spawned such corporate pessimism that the proposed size kept shrinking, reaching a bottom of only 65 rooms. With torrential rain, heavy snow, deteriorating roads, and major transportation problems, the outlook for a hotel on this site was increasingly dismal. Except for Hill, who was then traveling in Europe, touring France and Switzerland. Every time he’d see a building he really liked, he’d have his photographer take pictures and send them back to Thomas McMahon (his architect). Result: the hotel was rebuilt four times; in the process, the hotel grew from four to seven stories, and from 65 to 90 rooms. Finally, it appeared that the hotel would become a reality after all.

There remained, however, one not-so-small problem: the wind. The building spot just happened to be one of the windiest places in North America. Hotel historian
Christine Barnes chronicles what happened on December 10 of 1926: “According to Oland’s memoirs [Douglas Oland, the builder], the resident engineer estimated readings of an average of 84 mph with gusts of 100 mph. ‘I would not have been too greatly surprised if the whole building had blown down, as it was, it blew eight inches off plumb,’ wrote Oland. Timber landed two miles from the site. Oland’s crew winched the structure back within four inches of the original site” (Barnes, 107).

There then followed snowstorms, a second major windstorm, cutting off all transportation. But indefatigable Oland refused to give up: when trucks couldn’t make it through, supplies and building materials were brought in by sleigh.

Romayne Wheeler giving a concert in the Prince ofWales Hotel & Waterton Lakes

It paid off: on July 25, 1927, the largest wooden structure in Alberta, the Prince of Wales Hotel, opened. It had cost $300,000. According to Barnes, “The exterior of the Prince of Wales Hotel seemed like a fairy-tale creation [others label it a ‘giant dollhouse”], but it is also a shelter from which to view the park. Eighteen-foot-high windows along the lake-side of the great hall frame a scene that none of Hill’s artists hired to promote the hotels could possibly capture. Every window, from the attic to the cocktail lounge, contains the spectacular surroundings” (Barnes, 107). As befits its name, the hotel leans more to rustic Tudor than to the “Wild West.” It is the most formal of any of the Great Northern hostelries.

* * * * *

Years passed. After its creator, Louis Hill, died in 1948, there was no one to ensure his legacy’s survival. It has always been victimized by weather extremes and winter road closures. But yet it still stands.

* * * * *

Connie & GregWheeler at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Connie and I love this place. And each time we return, we find it more difficult to leave. Strangely enough, even though its location is remote and often difficult to get to, the small town of Waterton,
about a mile away, keeps it from seeming isolated. The views out
those giant windows are to die for. If you revel in the elements,
as we do, you’ll stay in one of the high-up lake-side rooms where
you get the full force of the wind. On one never-to-be-forgotten
night, when I attempted to go out on the balcony, the wind blew so hard it was virtually impossible to open the door!

One ofthe local Grizzly Bears at Prince of Wales Hotel

People come here from all around the world, and here one rubs shoulders with a new breed of travelers: those who seek to escape from cookie-cutter boxes and ennui induced by five-star glitzy palaces of sameness. These new travelers revel in lodgings that have withstood the ravages of time, and still retain the unique
qualities that have endeared them to generations of travelers who
have loved them. So, if you have not yet come here, write down on
your Bucket List: I must stay at Prince of Wales Hotel before I die!

SOURCES: The best source of information, by far, is found in Christine Barnes’ landmark Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc, 1997).

MANY GLACIER LODGE

Each of Hill’s great Glacier National Park lodges creates a different mood. Not the least of this one’s charm is the twelve-mile-long drive through Swiftcurrent Valley, so wild that you’re likely to see bears to your left fishing in the river.

Just before reaching Swiftcurrent Lake, a magnificent waterfall thunders out of the lake in a torrent. After shutterbugging, you proceed to another world.

Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier Lodge

While larger than its East Glacier counterpart, because Many Glacier Hotel blends so seamlessly into the natural grandeur of the park, it actually appears smaller. Even before you find a parking spot on the hill above, you somehow feel you’re “home.” However, once you enter that great but warmth-inducing lobby, the pressures of the world outside begin to dissipate. But, let me warn you: by the time you’ve stayed here a couple of days (the minimum recomended stay), it almost takes a crowbar to dislodge you.

* * * * *

Louis Hill chose this stunning site for his second Glacier Park hotel in 1909. Two architects (Thomas McMahon and Kirtland Cutter) visited the site in 1914, and subsequently drew plans for a Swiss-style mountain hotel. Although Hill chose McMahon over Cutter, according to National Park historian Christine Barnes, “it is a blend of the Bartlett McMahon Glacier Park Lodge . . . and Cutter’s original drawings. . . . The Swiss chalet architecture combined with timbers and native rock—a hallmark of Cutter’s Lake McDonald Lodge . . . is prevalent at Many Glacier” (Barnes, 50).

Circular fireplace in May Glacier Hotel's lobby

The Circular Fireplace at Many Glacier LodgeThe Great Hall, though only half the size of East Glacier’s baronial colonnade, seems perfect for the setting. Three balconies line two sides of the lobby with guest rooms. Dominating the room is a fire pit over which is suspended a huge copper hood. A fire burns here night and day. The great Ptarmigan Dining Room is anchored by a massive stone fireplace; Swiss banners hang from the ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the almost breath-taking scenery of snow-capped mountains as reflected in the glacial lake.

The hotel opened on July 4, 1915. So popular was it that it was soon expanded to 214 rooms. Altogether, it cost $500,000 to construct.

Many Glacier Hotel

Through the years, the venerable hotel has survived changing tastes in travel and accommodations, fires, heavy snowfalls, floods, and benign neglect. In fact, its owners, burdened by the staggering costs involved in its maintenance and upkeep, at times, would have been glad to see it burn down. But, in spite of it all, the hotel beat the odds and, almost a century after its birth, remains the reigning queen at the center of Glacier National Park..

Connie and I have returned to it again and again. In fact, I even incorporated it into one of my Christmas stories, “By the Fireplace:”

“A dreamy look comes over Kim’s face. ‘Grammy, you would have liked Many Glacier Hotel. Isn’t that a funny name? Sort of like ‘Many Cassie’ or ‘Many Mother.’ Cassie giggles. ‘It had a big lobby with a high ceiling. Out the northern windows was one of the most beautiful lakes, glacier turquoise, that you’ll ever see. And in the middle of the lobby was a fire pit with a copper hood, open on all sides. And around it people from all around the world sat and talked.’

‘Or played games, crocheted, read, or just relaxed,’ adds Tom.

‘But what impressed me most,’ continues Kim, ‘was the people. People who had traveled widely, were cultured, some very wealthy, who talked about the most interesting things. . . .”

Diane adds, “At East Glacier they put puzzles together. And people played and sang at the piano. Remember those two cowboy singers?’ ‘They were funny,’ chimes in Cassie.”

“But those two couldn’t hold a candle to that string trio from Slovakia at Many Glacier,’ declares her father. ‘It was fascinating to watch the audience in that big lobby. One by one they stood up and gravitated toward the trio who were performing classical, folk, light-classical, and old standards. At the end they showered them with tips. Did you see the size of some of those bills?”

“Sure did! There was money in that room’ concludes Tom. ‘By the way, I was intrigued by something Uncle Lance said as we were leaving the park. I thought it was kind of strange, coming from him, being an advertising copywriter.”

“‘What was that?’ asked Kim.”

“Well, he seemed kind of blown away by this peaceful, quiet world at Glacier. So different from the world of advertising hype he makes his living in. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Tom, mark my words. You may quite possibly have seen the future in the lodges of Glacier.’ I asked him what he meant, and he said, ‘Well, we’ve just about reached the breaking point in terms of electronic intrusion and noise in our lives. Serenity is almost a lost commodity. God did not create us to be so inundated in ear-battering sound. People are already breaking over it. Just think, in the average American home the television is on seven to nine hours a day, and children are playing with Play Stations instead of being outdoors. There’s the computer, the television screen in your face all day at the office, telephones, cell phones everywhere you go, even on planes, ships, and vacations in the remotest places of the world . . . Faxes, videos, radio. Barraged by a million ads by the time you’re 20! It just goes on and on. So I say it again: You may have just seen the future. Human behavior can tilt only so far before it changes direction. We’ve about reached that point.”

Grandpa had been intently following the dialogue; now he enters the conversation. “‘Sooo,’ he says slowly, ‘if I’m hearing you right, there was something about the Glacier experience that has been reinforced by this blizzard. Where are you trying to take us?’”

For a time there is silence in the room.”

—Wheeler, Christmas in My Heart® 14, 122-123.

* * * * *

Many Glacier Hotel

When you stay here, be sure and book a lakeside room. Waking up to that ever-changing panorama outside your window is an experience that burns its way into your memory. It becomes a Shangri-la to escape to when the troubles of the real world begin to close in on you.

* * * * *

Next week, we’ll move on to Prince of Wales Hotel.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc, 1997).
Wheeler, Joe, Christmas in My Heart® 14 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2005).

LAKE McDONALD LODGE

Glacier National Park is sliced in two by the Continental Divide. The eastern side is quiet and genteel, the west can sometimes feel like Coney Island on a busy day. Hill maintained iron-handed control of what little development was permitted in the east, but no such master hand exhibited much control of the west, which grew like Topsy, with little indication of any master hand.

Most likely the Lodge would have been treated even worse had it not been for its early-on isolation. In 1895, George Snyder constructed the Snyder Hotel here, but given that there were as yet no roads to it, all access was by boat.

In 1904 – 05, John Lewis gained control of the hotel. In the years that followed, he watched with great interest the construction of Glacier Park Hotel Lodge, and sighed because he lacked the wherewithal to construct its equal on the western side. Nevertheless, he had a vision for his brainchild, implemented by architect Kirtland Cutter of Spokane. Lewis had the original Snyder Hotel moved so he could construct a new one in its place.

Cutter had gained valuable experience with Swiss-style architecture in co-designing the Idaho Building for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Lake McDonald Lodge

Construction of this alpine chalet began in 1913 and was completed in 1914. Three and a half stories high, it is a combination of stucco and clapboarding, painted brown like the Great Northern hotels. All supplies had to be hauled in by boat; or, during the bitterly cold winter, skidded across on ice. The exterior was Swiss-appearing, but inside, it was Wild West. Especially dramatic was the three-story lobby dominated by a huge fireplace, so large that five-foot-long logs were routinely burned in it. A log-trussed ceiling and cedar balconies on three sides added to the warm ambiance. Great western cedar logs helped anchor the room. Lewis decorated the lobby with his own hunting trophies (elk, moose, mountain sheep, goat, eagle, etc.); animal skins and Navajo rugs were draped from the balconies. The walls were enlivened by Fred Kiser photographs and Frank Stick and H. Bartlett oil paintings. Famed Montana artist Charlie Russell was a frequent guest here; he it was who is said to have created the fireplace designs.

Beautiful Lake McDonald

The 65-room hotel opened in June of 1914; it had cost $48,000, less than one-tenth of its eastern competition. Early guests, after disembarking from trains, boarded a steamship to take them across Glacier’s largest lake. Their initial view of the alpine lodge framed against glass-smooth water, verdant forests, and snow-capped mountains made coming here and staying here a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Not until 1921 was a road to the lodge completed. A road that proved to be a mixed blessing, for it brought with it more and more automobile traffic and noise. Now that the lodge received guests from both directions, there was no longer a focal center. The resultant remodeling altered the symmetry of the lodge. Successive owners accelerated the deterioration and blurring of focus. A flood didn’t help much either.

Finally, just in the nick of time, in 1988-9, a $1.2 million renovation took place. The object being to, as much as possible, restore the lodge to what it had once been in 1914. Fortunately, 60% of the original furniture was still intact. The Great Lobby was lovingly restored, and the dining room was rescued from its near-hopeless state. Once again, the fireplace rules supreme. The ambiance is back.

* * * * *

Red Jammers

Several times we’ve ridden in Jammers over the Divide and down to the Lodge, and had lunch in the dining area. We have not yet stayed here over night. Consequently, I cannot accurately describe what it’s like at night.

Nevertheless, there is one reality that cannot help but dilute the overall experience. In the little village that clusters around the lodge are 38 cabins, two two-story motel units, support buildings, a store, and the resultant traffic that all this generates.

A pity.

SOURCES CONSULTED Invaluable for the history of the hotel is Christine Barnes’ splendid Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. W. West, Inc, 1997). Also helpful is David and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

GLACIER PARK LODGE

Glacier National Park is perceived by many as being one of the most remote national parks in the lower 48, for it is a destination rather than being a way-station on a route to somewhere.  Comparatively few Americans have ever been here, which is a pity for it is a magical place of great beauty.

That the park exists at all we owe no small thanks to railroad tycoon, Louis Hill, son of James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern empire of trains and ships.  Indeed, such a passion did Louis Hill have for the park and its development that he temporarily stepped down from the presidency of Great Northern so that he could devote all his time to Glacier.  His dream was to create a park on the European model, complete with great hotels, chalets, roads, trails, telephone and boat service—something never before accomplished in America.

He began by using his Great Northern clout to secure a special Act of Congress in 1912 to purchase 160 acres of land that was part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation that bordered the just created [in 1910] Glacier National Park.  Here he would position his flagship hotel, and he would lay transcontinental railway track right to his front door (one of the very few national parks where this was done).  Even El Tovar’s rail connection would be a spur rather than being part of a transcontinental route.

Glacier Park Lodge

Hill lay awake nights dreaming of ways to make his first Glacier hotel into one of the nation’s greatest.  The linchpin had come to him earlier, in 1905, while attending the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon.  Unquestionably, the hit of the exposition was the great Oregon Forestry Building, constructed in the rectangular colonnaded basilica style pioneered by Roman architects—only, rather than built of brick, stone, and masonry, this one was anchored by massive Oregon Douglas fir, four feet thick and 48 feet high, each weighing 30,000 – 36,000 pounds.  Now Hill determined to make those same great columns the WOW factor at Glacier.

So it came to pass that Hill constructed (with the able assistance of architects S. L. Bartlett and Thomas McMahon) a great forest basilica at East Glacier.  When the Blackfeet Indians saw those 60 massive logs hauled in by train, they were in awe, for they’d never seen trees that big!  They promptly dubbed the new building “Oom-Coo-Mush-Taw” (Big Tree Lodge”).  Hill did not miss a trick: to ensure that the bark wouldn’t fall off later, he had the logs cut before the sap began to run in the spring.  The Great Hall with its 200 by 100 foot lobby, soaring 60 feet high with three atriums, flanked by galleries on each side, is indeed—as Hill planned it to be—akin to a great European cathedral, only created out of trees.

Great Lobby of Glacier Park Lodge

Inside, Hill orchestrated a most eclectic mix: Indian pictographs; animal horns and skins; buffalo skulls; Indian teepees; Blackfeet crafts, rugs, blankets, baskets; two great fireplaces [the open one has since been removed]; Japanese lanterns hung from rafters, and tea served by women in kimonos; Blackfeet Indians in full regalia and porters in Bavarian uniforms.

When the hotel was completed in 1913, its upperscale rooms featured private baths, fireplaces, and porches.  So successful was it that Hill added 111 additional rooms to the original 61.  Altogether, it cost more than $500,000 to build.

But here we are, almost a hundred years later, and it remains one of America’s great hotels.

* * * * *

Connie and I have not only seen the lodge from the windows of an Amtrak train, we have stayed there three times, most recently when the Zane Grey’s West Society held its annual convention there.  Bob and Lucy Earp were also in attendance with us.  My brother, concert pianist Romayne Wheeler, feted our Society and hotel guests with a concert in the Grand Hall.

Red jammers at Glacier Park Lodge

Each of Hill’s three great Glacier hotels has a unique feel all its own.  Glacier Park Lodge feels more like a jumping-off place rather than a park hotel.  Vintage red jammers ferry people all over the park, departing and returning to the hotel.  It is part of a small railroad town so it has its own infrastructure, and it borders the large Blackfeet reservation.

Yet, with all this, it remains a serene place to stay.  Separating the railway terminal from the hotel is a thousand-foot-long garden.  In the great lobby and long vista’d verandas, guests play board games, write letters, visit with friends, and regenerate from the hectic life they left behind.  No one misses the television sets ubiquitous in cookie-cutter lodgings elsewhere.  To experience the Great Hall alone is worth the trip.  Especially at night when you stare into the flickering flames in the fireplace.

And once you’ve stayed here one time, you’ll yearn to return.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Invaluable for the history of the hotel is Christine Barnes’ splendid Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. W. West, Inc, 1997).  Also helpful is David and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK TITANS

Give a month to this precious reserve [Glacier National Park].  The time will not be taken from the sum of your life.  Instead of shortening, it will infinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.

                                                                        –John Muir (Olin, 31)

GEORGE BIRD GRINELL

George Bird Grinnell was one of the most influential men our nation has ever known.  Founder of the Audubon Society and colleague of John Muir, Grinnell sold his father’s investment business in order to speak out on conservation issues in his Forest and Stream magazine.  But of all the at-risk beauty spots in the nation, Glacier held center stage in his heart.  He labeled it “The Crown of the Continent…one of the most beautiful mountain regions in the world.”

As to what this region had come to mean to him, he wrote “How often, in dreams of the night or days, have I revisited these scenes during the years that have passed. . . .  How often, in fancy, have I seated myself on some rock…and gazed over the beautiful scene.

Few people know these wonderful mountains, yet no one who goes there but comes away with enthusiasm for their wild and singular beauty” (Duncan and Burns, 116).

In 1897, Grinnell pulled every known string at his command to get the Glacier area set aside as the Lewis and Clark Forest Preserve.  Then he immediately set about moving the debate to the next level: national park status.  But the opposition from special interests was determined to continue mining around the scenic lakes, hunting in the mountains, and denuding the forest of its trees.

Thirteen more years would pass, with Grinnell refusing to admit defeat and fiercely battling on, before, at long last, in 1910, President Taft, with a stroke of his pen, preserved for all time the million-acre wonderland the world knows as Glacier National Park.

Years later, Grinnell reflected on the significance of it all: “If we had not succeeded in getting those regions set apart as National Parks, by this time they would have been . . . cut bare of timber, dotted with irrigation reservoirs, the game would have been all killed off, the country would have been burned over” (Duncan and Burns, 119).

LOUIS HILL

But Grinnell was anything but alone in his efforts to save Glacier for posterity.  Louis Hill, the Great Northern Railway tycoon, was tireless in promoting the park.  To attract tourists conditioned to vacation in Europe, he enthusiastically preached the gospel of “See America First!”  He labeled Glacier National Park as “America’s Switzerland,” and employed Blackfoot Indians to dress in full regalia as they met incoming trains.  Disembarking, tourists could rent tepees so as to immerse themselves immediately into the Wild West.  Hill even paid for a group of Blackfoot Indians to tour the East.  And got Mary Roberts Rinehart to write about the park.

Legendary park visionary, Stephen Tyng Mather, viewed Hill—not as an opponent but as a valued and trusted ally.

But Louis Hill’s legacy is far bigger than just smart advertising: he was an inspired lodge-builder and innkeeper.  More on that during the next few weeks.

SOURCES CONSULTED 

Duncan Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Olin, Susan, Insider’s Guide® to Glacier National Park (Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003). 

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 2009).

JACKSON LAKE LODGE

If you have ever stood at Jenny Lake and looked across to Cascade Canyon weaving its way towards the summit of the Tetons, you will know the joy of being in a sacred place, designed by God to be protected forever.

                            —Horace Albright (Duncan and Burns, 229)

             As we drove the short distance to the south end of Yellowstone, we couldn’t help reminiscing back to our earliest visit to the park in the 1960s, when cars would be stopped for miles as stupid people like us fed panhandling bears from our cars.  Naturally, there were incidents—some of them gory, when bears took the arm as well as the proffered food.

            We also noted that, 32 years after the devastating fires of 1988, the park is greening up again.  It is difficult, though, to know when you’re leaving one park and entering the other, as Rockefeller purchased, then gave, a 23,777 acre corridor between the two parks to the American people.  Today it’s called the “John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.”

View from Jackson Lake Lodge

            Even though it was too early to check in, we stopped at Jackson Lake Lodge to make dinner reservations for the Mural Dining Room.  Since neither Bob nor Lucy had ever been inside the hotel before, Connie and I watched for that magical moment when someone walks up the wide terrazzo stairway into the Grand Lounge.  That view!  I know of only one comparable view in North America: Grand Canyon at sunset from the North Rim lodge’s dining room.  We were not disappointed: in the faces of Bob and Lucy was that look, as they internalized for the first time, in one I-MAX-size frame, 12,605-foot Mount Moran dead center, bookended to the south by Mount Woodring and to the north by Bivouac Peak.  Concentrated in this 40-mile-long range are seventeen white-crowned peaks ranging from 10,000 to almost 14,000 feet in elevation, with close to 7,000 feet of vertical thrust straight up without foothills.  Needless to say, seen for the first time, this once-in-a-lifetime view, in short, staggers.

            And how terribly hard it has been to preserve it!

GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROCKEFELLER!

            Mountain men were the first non-Native Americans to discover this great watering hole.  In fact, not only is the valley named for a fur trader named Davey Jackson, Leigh Lake and iconic Jenny Lake are named for a fur-trading couple: Dick and Jenny Leigh.

            General Phil Sheridan, early on (with his cavalry) the savior of Yellowstone, argued in 1882 that Yellowstone needed to be expanded to include the Tetons and their lowlands in order to protect the natural grazing range of the world’s largest surviving elk herd.  But politicians in Washington turned a deaf ear to his argument.

            Down through the years time and time again, just when it seemed the Tetons would be preserved for future generations,Wyoming special interest groups would sabotage those efforts.  On one of their first inspection trips of the national parks, Park founding fathers Stephen Mather and Horace Albright first set eyes on Jackson Hole: “Mather and I were both flabbergasted,” Albright wrote.  “I had never beheld such scenery.” (Duncan and Burns, 228).

            Both men pushed the idea of adding the Teton basin to Yellowstone, but no matter what forward momentum they achieved, ranchers, farmers, sportsmen, and the U.S. Forest Service (often jealous of the national parks) together made it impossible to get a bill through Congress.

            One never-to-be-forgotten day in our nation’s history, Albright learned that the richest man in America, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., wife Abby, and their three children (John, Nelson, and Laurance), were traveling incognito in Yellowstone National Park.  Since Rockefeller had already put up the money to make Acadia National Park possible, Albright extended every courtesy to them.  But it was on their second visit, in 1926, as Albright was driving the Rockefellers through the Tetons, that the great moment came: When John D. and Abby expressed dismay at what was happening as developers ruthlessly destroyed what nature had taken ages to create, Albright leaped at the opening and shared his dream with them.  Four months later, John D. informed Albright that he’d decided to embark on a long—and perhaps fruitless—quest to help save the Tetons.  Though the U. S. Forest Service oversaw 2,000,000 acres of forest land in the area, in the past their directors had proven all too willing to permit special interests to take what they wanted.  But, Rockefeller warned Albright, secrecy was essential for if word leaked out that he was buying up land in the area, the asking prices would skyrocket.

            Two years later, Congress finally redesignated some national forest land to create a small Grand Teton National Park—both Rockefeller and Albright were dismayed at how little had been preserved.  Meanwhile, all through the Depression years, Rockefeller secretly continued to buy.  Again and again, Rockefeller offered his holdings as a gift to the American people—and was turned down each time.

Grand Tetons

            Finally, on March 15, 1943, Rockefeller had had enough: he wrote FDR a letter informing him that since the nation refused to accept his gift, he was going to sell it off for whatever it would bring.  That certainly got the President’s attention.  Despairing of getting Congress to buck special interests in this case, he and his Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes concluded their only hope was to use the Antiquities Act as a vehicle for creating a national monument with this land.  On March 15, 1943, the President signed an executive order establishing Jackson National Monument, placing 221,610 acres of public land on the eastern borders of Grand Teton National Park under national park control.

            Wyoming promptly declared war, even trying to ram through a bill to abolish the national monument.  FDR vetoed it.  When Roosevelt died in 1945, the battle was still raging.  Five years later, President Truman brokered a compromise wherein all parties gave and took.  Result: Jackson Hole National Monument became part of an enlarged Grand Teton National Park (included was Rockefeller’s 32,000 acres), bringing the park’s total acreage to 309,994 acres. 

And so ended what has been called “the greatest conservation project of its kind ever undertaken.”  It had taken Rockefeller a quarter of a century to give the land to the American people!  Well might we all shudder just to think of what the Grand Teton country would look like today had there never been a John D. Rockefeller, Jr., to champion its cause. (This section: Duncan and Burns, 229-33, 311-12).

UNDERWOOD UNDERSTATES

Joe at Jenny Lake

            Not long after World War II drew to a close, the American people, so long repressed (1929-1945) because of the twin holocausts of the Great Depression and Second World War, gradually came alive to the realization that life was good, everything was looking up, and that it was high time they checked up on their national parks.

            In fact it was this sudden invasion of American tourists that caused the Rockefellers to re-evaluate their role as leading hospitality provider in the Tetons.  Clearly, more accommodations were needed—perhaps most needed of all was a great hotel that would enhance the stature of their fledgling Grand Teton National Park.  The Rockefellers, one memorable day, climbed up to the top of a knoll that was incredibly dear to them—for it was here, from which point they could look out at one of the grandest views on the planet, that the dream for the park had been born.  Now, one dream realized, they determined to build a great park hotel at the bottom of their beloved knoll.  Next time you’re in the Tetons, take a few minutes to climb that knoll and read the plaque on the modest monument to the Rockefellers there.

Front of Jackson Lake Lodge

            John D. never thought small.  Once the decision was made, he requested the services of the nation’s top architect, Gilbert Stanley Underwood, catapulted to fame by his already legendary 1926 creation, Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel; building upon that reputation with Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, Bryce and Zion Lodges in Utah, and the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.  Now Underwood basked in the impressive title of, Supervising Architect for the United States. Underwood accepted the offer, realizing that, because of infirmities of age, this might well turn out to be his life’s capstone.  It would take five long years to build.

            But times and architectural styles had dramatically changed since the rustic parkitecture of Ahwahnee.  Now steel, concrete, and plate-glass windows were the vogue.  As to the crucial question of the exterior of this new hotel, Rockefeller and Underwood were of one mind: the hotel must not be permitted to upstage one of perhaps the five greatest views in the world.  Thus it would not be an Ahwahnee or Old Faithful, self-standing icons in their own right.  But rather the exterior must be so understated if would seamlessly blend into the landscape.  But inside—ah!  That would be the challenge: to focus 100% of the visitors’ attention on one thing only—the view in the west.  It is said that John D. had scaffolding put up so he and his son Laurance could climb up to the same height and position where the massive window would be positioned in the Grand Lounge.  Only then were they convinced they’d be guaranteed the same sense of awe one gets walking into Old Faithful Inn or down into the Grand Canyon Lodge of the North Rim’s dining room.

            But neither did they desire a massive hotel; instead Underwood sketched out what turned out to be 385 rooms, only 37 of which would be in the main lodge—all the rest would be cottages.  For the first few decades after they were built, one might have questioned such a decision.  But not today, now that all the trees planted then have reached maturity and softened the cottages’ visual imprint.

* * * * *

            After making our dinner reservations, we climbed back into the faithful Lincoln, and drove down to Jenny Lake.  At her loveliest, Jenny Lake, with her magnificent setting, almost takes your breath away.  But not today—in fact, with clouds obscuring the sun, she seemed a tad dowdy.  But that was because Connie and I had seen her in show-stopping attire.  I told Bob and Lucy about one never-to-be-forgotten day 44 years before when I’d taken our little son Greg on the longest hike of his young life: around Jenny Lake and seven more miles up to Lake Solitude and back.  Looking back at my life, I considered that hike up Cascade Canyon to be perhaps the most—even though I’ve exhausted the adjectives in my thesaurus, not even the word “glorious” is adequate to the challenge of describing the sensual impact of that one day on us.

View from the Chapel of Transfiguration

            Then, after first taking in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart and the now world-famous Church of the Transfiguration, we returned to Jackson Lake Lodge and checked into our cottage. Wisely, even though the lodge is modern (dedicated in 1955), there are no TVs in the rooms.  Consequently, we quickly drifted back to that mesmerizing grand lounge, with its two fireplaces with hammered steel hoods and moose-head andirons; the Eagle’s Nest and Crow’s Nest getaways for those who wish more solitude, the Pioneer Grill with its “world’s longest lunch counter,” the Blue Heron Lounge, and the Mural Dining Room.

            After having to pry Lucy and Connie from the outside deck (they were fascinated by the wildlife-watching taking place in the meadow—a grizzly sneaking up on its intended prey, moose, deer, elk, etc).  Finally, we were ushered to our window seat in the Mural Dining Room, where few bothered to look at Carl Roter’s great wood-carving reproduction of Alfred Jacob Miller’s sketches of the Jackson Hole Valley.  Instead, our eyes were riveted on the continually changing vision out the windows.  The dinner proved equal to holding its own, but not equaling its competition.  We stayed there in order to watch the sunset.  Silence . . . the only possible response.

SPECIAL NOTE

            Tune in next week for Glacier National Park.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks 2 (Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Books, 2008) [a splendid chapter on Jackson Lake Lodge].

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2002). [Invaluable source of information on the long struggle for Teton parkhood].

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).

LAKE YELLOWSTONE LODGE

A poignant moment, as we left Old Faithful Inn: This wonderful National Park Lodges Tour that we’ve anticipated and planned for, for over a year, is nearing its terminus. How true the closing line in Dumas’ powerful novel, The Count of Monte Cristo—that all human wisdom is distilled in just two words: Wait and Hope. Indeed, for those like us who have reached the autumn of our lives—without new goals, new dreams, new directions, new places to see, new people to meet—our bodies would close shop on us. It is our dreams that energize each day’s awakening, and give us torque and joy.

Then it was time to leave. Actually, it was harder to leave than I thought it would be. Perhaps because of all I now knew about Robert Reamer, who’d dreamed up this magical place, who’d done the same with Lake Quinault Lodge, and transformed Lake Yellowstone Hotel—which I could hardly wait to see. After driving away from a place I now felt we knew personally, I (as navigator) read the entry in Barnes’ second book having to do with the Lake Hotel. What an incredible difference it makes to arrive at a hotel you already know inside out because of all her research, words, and photographs!

Yellowstone Falls

Soon we angled off to Artist’s Point on the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Bob and Lucy had never been here before so, with them, we were able to experience vicariously that once-in-a-lifetime moment when someone first takes in the sights and sounds of those prodigious waterfalls thundering over their wide ledges into the abyss over a thousand feet below us. This incredible vista never fails to overwhelm us with its grandeur—and Bob and Lucy’s silence was testimony to how deeply it affected them.

By mid-afternoon it was time to head for another of the world’s most beautiful sights: twenty-mile long Yellowstone Lake, framed by the snowcapped Absaroka Mountains (with peaks towering over 12,000 feet). At first, we missed the turn-off for the hotel—which is not surprisingly given the undeniable fact that it is publicized so little. As many times as we’d been to the park over the years, we’d not only not seen it—we’d not even heard about it! In fact, it hadn’t been included in Barnes’ first book at all (but Old Faithful Inn had). Only during the last year had I discovered it even existed.

Lake Yellowstone Lodge

Then we turned a corner—and there it was! Real after all. A very long wooden structure radiantly golden in the afternoon sun. As out of place stylistically yet paradoxically just as much at home as is true of the Stanley Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. As Robert L. Wheaton put it,

Lake Hotel represents a rare survivor of the large Colonial Revival-style hotels and resorts that once sprawled along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Maine and inland at mountain retreats. At Yellowstone National Park, it was a symbol of civilization in the wilderness. (Barnes, 32).

After driving up the sweeping drive to the porte cochere, we parked behind one of the hotel’s eight vintage White Motor Company motorbuses, painted yellow like the hotel of course. Inside, we walked into a scene that could not be more at variance with old Faithful’s were it on the moon. A grand hotel out of the Golden Age of a hundred years ago, reminiscent of the likes of Greenbriar Inn and Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel. And as serene:

Solitude seekers hike and pack into the far reaches of the park and lose themselves in its beauty. For those simply looking for a room to soothe the soul, far from the marvels at Old Faithful or Mammoth Hot Springs, the butter-yellow and white Colonial Revival facade of Lake Hotel . . . simply beckons an attitude adjustment. (Barnes, 17).

THE LAKE HOTEL’S STORY

When Robert Reamer was hired on to be the equivalent of “court architect” for Harry Child in 1903, it was with the understanding that he would design everything Child entrusted to him—which turned out, meant everything! Virtually every building that has endured for the last century came about because of this collaboration of kindred spirits. More often than not, there were many concurrent projects going at once. Just so, it was with Lake Hotel and Old Faithful Inn. Northern Pacific Railroad wanted a hotel on Yellowstone Lake, but all they had was a plain-looking box with the ambiance and appeal of an Army barracks. Reamer’s job was to transform the ugly duckling into a swan.

Interior of Lake Yellowstone Lodge

During the 1903-1904 period, Reamer doubled the size of the facility, and by the introduction of twelve 50-foot-high ionic columns transported all the way from Chicago (these supported the porticos), dormers, false balconies, huge iron coach lamps, balustrades, verandas, enlarged windows, etc., he pulled off his miracle: transforming a plain box into an elegant hotel. By summer of 1904, the Lake Hotel had 210 rooms and the ability to accommodate 466 persons, and was advertised as the largest hotel in the park. Because its opening predated that of Old Faithful Hotel, it is considered today to be the oldest public lodging in the park.

Twenty years later, so popular had the hotel become that Reamer was asked to expand its size by adding 113 rooms, and 59 additional bathrooms. Inside, major changes took place: the dark redwood paneling was removed and replaced with light painted woodwork and plaster; “reed-style furniture ordered from San Francisco and large potted ferns replaced the heavy, wooden Colonial Revival ladder-back furniture, giving the hotel the feeling of an East Coast ‘summer resort’ . . . .” Not only that, but now Reamer also constructed a larger, four-hundred capacity, dining room, complete with large picture windows, curved bay window, and self-standing torchere lights.” Adjacent to it, in an inspired mood, Reamer constructed “a lounge solarium set between the columned portico and new porte cochere at the west end of the hotel. This beautiful sun-filled lounge seemed to be the architect’s final grand statement.” (Barnes, 24-28).

The hotel reached its peak beauty just as the Great Depression hit. It was closed down from 1933 – 1936, and only partially opened in 1937. By 1940, the decision was made to tear it down. That summer, the rear wing was demolished. What was left remained empty until 1947. “Neglected and unappreciated, the hotel stood like an aging grand dame with a saucy new era mocking its once stately beauty.” (Barnes, 32).

It was all down-hill from there. In 1979, the National Park Service purchased the derelict from the Yellowstone Park Hotel Company. During the last 30 years, gradually the hotel (now a National Landmark) has been restored to its former glory. Since 1995, it has been managed by XANTERRA.

* * * * *

View of Yellowstone Lake from the Lake Lodge

Our own room on the second floor front looked out at the deep blue waters of Yellowstone Lake. After exploring the hotel, none of us wanted to leave the sunny lounge solarium. Nor, apparently did the hotel’s other guests. Since (as is generally the case with these old lodges) there was no TV in the rooms, families either explored the outdoors or relaxed, read, chatted, played board games, or spent money in the gift shop. Later on, we sat down in the large dining room, and took a long time to dine. Outside: the great windows we never tired of. Later, as darkness fell, the Lake String Quartet (a group of professional musicians from New York City, here for their fourth season) performed from a wide musical menu—from classical, semi-classical, easy-listening, pop, to jazz. The audience loved them!

Afterwards we retired. My head spun; I had the sniffles—the bug had got me too.

Next morning, we ate breakfast in that lovely dining room, then delayed our moment of leaving until check-out time. Afterwards, we drove over to another old facility (also managed by XANTERRA, the rustic Lake Lodge (built during the 1920s) and its 186 wooden cabins (away from the lake). The main lodge has a large lobby with two impressive gas fireplaces, a cafeteria dining area, and long veranda equipped with rocking chairs so comfortable neither Lucy nor Connie wanted to get out of them. As we drove out, just north of the Lake Hotel, a great bull buffalo grazing next to the road posed for photos.

CANYON HOTEL—PARADISE LOST

We must not close this series of Robert Reamer-designed hotels without bringing up a very sad story. In the fall of 1909, the Childs and Reamer boarded the steamship S. S. Mauritania for Europe. Once there, they studied European architecture in England, Scotland, Switzerland, and Germany. On their return, his head whirling with visions of all the romantic architecture he’d studied, Reamer dreamed up his Xanadu: a great European-inspired hotel at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Construction began in June of 1910, of the largest building ever to be constructed in the park. Thanks to Northern Pacific’s deep pockets, money was no object, and it showed. It cost half a million dollars—a staggering sum for the times.

Lake Lodge

It was 600-feet long by 100 wide, and contained 375 guest rooms—huge fireplaces added to the overall dramatic effect. The great three-story-high lounge was 200-feet long by 100-wide, and became renowned for its two spiral staircases, and grand staircase; the magnificent lobby was 85-feet high, 175-feet-long, and 100-feet-wide, complete with signature fireplaces. Twenty years later, so heavily booked was it that Reamer added a 96-room-wing to the already enormous hotel. The great masquerade balls and dances became the stuff of legend.

That Reamer knew he’d created a masterpiece is borne out by these words: I built it in keeping with the place where it stands. Nobody could improve upon that. To be at discord with the landscape would be almost a crime. To try to improve upon it would be an impertinence. (Quinn, 79).

But then the Great Depression hit, delaying completion of the 96-room-addition until 1935. By then it was all too clear that the euphoria of the Jazz Age would not return; nor would the wealthy clientele that filled great resort hotels like this for months at a time.

It remained a forlorn relic of that bygone age for 25 more years until it was demolished in August of 1960. But it did not perish ignominiously to the wrecking ball—somehow, it suddenly ignited and roared into an inferno.

Quinn’s requiem reads thus: “The Grand Canyon Hotel is second only to Old Faithful Inn in fame and recognition of Reamer’s talents. Numerous Yellowstone visitors today return with fond memories of lunches eaten, dances enjoyed, or summers engaged as employees at this grand hostelry. For those who experience it only vicariously through photographs, it is a romantic reminder of grander, gentler times.” (Quinn, 78).

SPECIAL NOTE

Next Wednesday, we move on to Jackson Lake Lodge

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks 2 (Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Books, 2008) [most informative!]

Quinn, Ruth, Weaver of Dreams (Gardiner, MT: Leslie and Ruth Quinn, Publishers, 2004). [Invaluable source for both the Yellowstone Lake and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone hotels].

Scott, David L. and Kay W. (The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

OLD FAITHFUL INN

            After leaving Grand Coulee Dam, we drove south along shimmering blue Banks Lake (a Grand Coulee reservoir) to Coulee City, then turned east on hwy 2, taking us to Spokane and Interstate 90.  We stayed at a Best Western in Coeur d’Alene that night.  Next morning we continued along I-90.  Now, the scenery became more mountainous and scenic—well, as scenic as interstates ever get.  Because we were on a tight schedule, we made few stops en route to Bozeman, Montana, where we stayed at the Hampton.

            Already the differences between the world of the old national park lodges and the world of chain lodges was beginning to be more and more marked in our minds: small bedrooms and large lobbies compared to small lobbies and large bedrooms; serenity compared to electronic noise; camaraderie compared to isolation; deep thoughts about life compared to electronic stifling of thought—not coincidentally, TVs everywhere to no TVs at all.

Historic North Entrance gate to Yellowstone National Park

            Next day, we drove into Yellowstone National Park, stopping at the famous Gardiner Gate at the North Entrance, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, and Virginia Cascade, en route to Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Geyser.

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK       

            Before 1872, there was not in the entire world such a thing as a “national park.”  For almost three quarters of a century, reports of its wonders had occasionally trickled out, but no one believed them.  Not until 1870, when Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson not only saw those wonders but returned with proof: Moran’s stunning panoramic paintings and Jackson’s memorable and convincing photographs.   On the premise that it was useless to developers, the bill for its preservation passed almost unanimously.  It was signed into law by Pres. Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

            But creating a national park and protecting it proved to be two different things.  Gradually, conditions deteriorated to the point where the park’s very survival was at risk.  At this critical point, George Bird Grinnell (influential editor of Forest and Stream and close friend of young Teddy Roosevelt) and General Phil Sheridan (hero of the great Civil War poem, “Sheridan’s Ride”) joined forces; since the government refused to protect the park, Sheridan sent his cavalry in—thirty years later, they were still there.

            Roosevelt first visited the park in 1883, John Muir in 1888, Rudyard Kipling in 1889.  By then most everyone was calling the park “Wonderland.”  On April 24, 1903, Roosevelt, on a transcontinental 14,000-mile speaking tour, spent two weeks in Yellowstone.  Dedicating the new entrance arch in Gardiner, Montana, TR said,

The Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world. . . .  Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors, where at the same time not only the scenery of the wilderness, but the wild creatures of the Park are scrupulously preserved.

                                                                        —(Duncan and Burns, 92).

Old Faithful Geyser

            Yellowstone’s iconic symbol is Old Faithful Geyser—most appropriate since, with over 10,000 hydrothermal features, the park offers the largest concentration of geysers (over 300) and geothermal activity on earth.  1,700-foot-deep Yellowstone Canyon is by itself one of the greatest natural wonders on earth; and Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake in North America above 7,000 feet.  But Yellowstone is also perhaps the world’s most successful wildlife sanctuary, with grizzlies, black bears, elk, moose, wolves, bison, and so much more.

            In short, 2,200,000 acre Yellowstone is the parent stock for all the national parks around the world that have come into being during the last 138 years. 

THE STORY OF OLD FAITHFUL

            Have you ever noticed that it is the best-known, most famous, subjects that prove the hardest to get your arms around?  Just so, it is for Old Faithful Inn, without question the best known hotel in national park history.  Strangely enough it is just as much an international icon as Old Faithful Geyser itself.

            Over 3,000,000 tourists from all over the world swarm Yellowstone each year, almost all during the short summer season—so they come at the rate of almost a million a month.  And it appears that no one dares to come here without worshiping at the shrine of both Old Faithfuls.  Who’d believe they’d been to Yellowstone without photographic proof that they’d actually stood there in front of those two semi-immortal entities?

            So how did the lodge get here in the first place?

            Well, in the early days they could get by with just tents.  But all that changed in 1883 when railroad tracks reached the North Entrance in Gardiner.  Park administration continued to complain about the failure of tourists to stay long enough to see much; but the reason was obvious: they had to find lodging somewhere by nightfall.

            The breakthrough came in 1901 when Northern Pacific Railroad sold its controlling stock in Yellowstone Park Association to the Yellowstone Transportation Company; Harry Child was named president.  Up till then, the park had lacked a focal center, a final authority.  Child would rule supreme in Yellowstone for the rest of his life.  Almost immediately, he set about searching for an architect he could count on, not just for a building or two, but for the long haul.  He found that in the person in a self-taught architect by the name of Robert Reamer.

            Reamer journeyed to Yellowstone in 1903 via a career trajectory beginning in Ohio, and continuing through Tennessee, Michigan, Illinois, and California.  When Child first heard of him, Reamer was making a name for himself in San Diego, especially in terms of his projects for the already legendary del Coronado Hotel (first opened in 1888).  It proved to be a perfect fit: Child and Reamer worked together for the rest of Reamer’s life.

            Old Faithful not only was Reamer’s first major project, it would remain his life’s greatest achievement.  Teddy Roosevelt, in his 1903 visit to the park, upon seeing Reamer’s designs for park hotels, expressed his delight.  Northern Pacific Railroad came up with $100,000 to construct it.

Interior of Old Faithful Inn

            Reamer designed the iconic core of the hotel in 1903, the East Wing in 1913-14, and the Y-shaped West Wing in 1927; eventually providing 327 rooms for guests.  The seven-story stair-stepped-inn is striking enough from the outside, but Reamer’s biographer, Ruth Quinn, maintains that the píece de résistance has to be the lobby:

                        For most visitors the lobby stands as the structure’s distinguishing feature.  From its polished maple floor to the peak of its log paneled ceiling, it measures more than 76 feet in height.  The lobby of Old Faithful Inn is a maze of twisted branches, inviting staircases, and welcoming balconies described by one historian as rusticity gone berserk!  Upon viewing the lobby, many are drawn beyond, to experience it—to touch its enormous stone chimney, to stroke a beautifully polished log, to inhale the scent of the wood, to listen to the creak of the stairs and the chatter of admirers.  This is a building to delight the senses.  It is a public space with a strong sense of place where many feel at home.  All eyes are carried upward, one gapes and wonders, Who could have imagined this? (Quinn, 1).

            Old Faithful Inn would become the template, the inspiration, for other great park hotels such as El Tovar, East Glacier, Many Glacier, Prince of Wales; Crater Lake, and Ahwahnee.  It would be reproduced life-size for the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915, and is the inspiration behind Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

            Though it has been loved to death from the start, almost we lost it during the 1970s.  Barnes notes that “Rotting logs, worn shingle siding, and a deteriorating roof were the obvious problem. . . .  There were joints coming apart, the roof was collapsing in sections, logs were falling off the building.”  The NPS seriously considered demolishing it, but the public was outraged at the very thought! (Barnes, 24).

            It took ten years and over $7,000,000 to fix the problems and shore it up for the next half century.  Periodic earthquakes are always a problem since Yellowstone itself is the world’s most active volcano.

            The entire world watched with bated breath, however, in 1988, when it appeared certain Old Faithful Inn was doomed.  In that terrible forest fire, when almost a third of the park burned over, only a last-minute shift of the wind saved the lodge for posterity.

* * * * *

Exterior of Old Faithful Inn

            Over the years we’d been to Old Faithful Geyser and Inn many times, but had never stayed here.  Since it’s booked a year in advance, it was not easy to get rooms in the Inn itself.  Turns out we didn’t spend much time in our bedrooms, because the hotel itself is so fascinating.  Especially the people-watching.  The clock everyone watches is the one that tells everyone when Old Faithful Geyser is due to erupt (the intervals used to be about an hour long, but since the last big earthquake, it has extended to about an hour and a half).  About fifteen minutes before it’s due, the tide goes out; five minutes before, the inn is all but deserted.  When it’s over, the tide surges in again—but in one long sustained tsunami.  And the cycle is faithfully repeated night and day.  The poor Inn never sleeps.  One clerk told me, “I get here at 6 a.m., and chances are the lobby will be jammed already!”

            What’s most fun is to sit on the second floor mezzanine and watch the faces of people young and old as they stream in—especially the moment of shock when they freeze in motion and stare up and up in awe, jaws dropping.  It never fails.

            Since dinner reservations are so difficult to secure, our travel agent made ours over half a year ahead of time.  Eating in Reamer’s great dining room was a feast for the senses as well as for the food itself.

            Next morning, Bob and I took a tour of the Inn.  Our guide, in period costume, really made the old hotel live, telling us behind-the-scenes anecdotes and secrets most people would never know.  We learned that the last major quake stopped the great fourteen-foot clock and messed up the chimney in the huge fireplace—no one knows when they’ll be up and running again.

            But unlike sister park lodges, because of the continual tidal surges there is little serenity here—though, later in the evening, we came fairly close when a pianist played old standards and brought about the first lessening of the decibels since we’d arrived.  And breakfast was considerably quieter than dinner was.

            So we weren’t sorry to go.  Wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world!  But once was enough.  Perhaps Reamer’s next hotel would be quieter.

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next Wednesday, we’ll move on to Robert Reamer’s Yellowstone Lake Lodge.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002). [Splendid chapter on the hotel].

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009). [The most definitive history of Yellowstone Park I’ve ever read].

                        The Most Scenic Drives in America (Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1997).

Quinn, Ruth, Weaver of Dreams (Gardiner, MT: Leslie and Ruth Quinn, Publishers, 2004). [Invaluable biography of the builder of Old Faithful Inn].

Scofield, Susan C, and Jeremy C. Schmidt, The Inn at Old Faithful (no p.: Crowsnest Associates, 1979).

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Graphic Society, 2009). [Helpful].

LAKE CRESCENT LODGE

Pacific Ocean

In the morning, Connie was little better, so the garlic hadn’t quite “stopped the bug in its tracks.” We loaded up, and looked back regretfully at a place we already loved. About an hour later, we stopped at Kalaloch Lodge on the ocean for breakfast. Its predecessor was constructed in the late 1920s; additional cabins were added in the mid 1930s after Hwy 101 had been completed.

Kalaloch Lodge dining room

Between 1950 and 1954, Charles Becker erected the main lodge where we had breakfast. It too is operated by the ARAMARK concession that currently manages Lake Quinault Lodge. Altogether, the lodge services 64 guest rooms, most oceanside cabins. Hard to say which we appreciated most: the delicious breakfast or the sights and sounds of the Pacific.

Crescent Lake

It was early afternoon by the time when, directly ahead of us—smooth as glass—was one of the most beautiful lakes I’d ever seen—Crescent Lake. It almost took our breath away; all the more impressive because we hadn’t expected it; to us it was just another lodge on a lake we needed to check off. We arrived at the lodge just before the wind came up to wreck the mirror imagery. We made our dinner reservations, then since the rooms weren’t ready yet, we drove to Port Angeles then up into the Olympics in order to take pictures of the iconic Hurricane Ridge. Unfortunately, it was socked in by clouds; after having enjoyed beautiful weather at Crater Lake, Oregon Caves Chateau, Timberline, and Paradise Inn, the law of averages now caught up with us—and stayed . So we gave up and returned to Crescent Lake, and found our rooms in a newer addition overlooking the lake.

By now the wind had come up, and the temperature dropped. Nevertheless, Bob and I took the trail through the old growth forest up to the 90-foot-high Marymere Falls. Connie had grown up in old growth redwoods in Northern California, so the sight of these didn’t impress her as much as it did the rest of us: but we had now seen the Jedediah Smith grove of Redwoods near Crescent City, CA; the old growth Douglas fir and red cedar in Oregon Caves National Monument and Mount Rainier National Park; then the more diversified old growth at Quinault; now we were back into Douglas fir and red cedar. As we walked through the forest, Bob and I were staggered by their girth and height. Up till this trip, I had always assumed that a redwood tree was the world’s tallest living thing, but on this trip we learned of a Douglas fir that had fallen—it was taller even than the current tallest redwood! These magnificent stands of Douglas fir and red cedar included many thousand-year-old trees! Those who have never seen such trees ought to determine to add them to their bucket list and see them before they die.

THE STORY OF CRESCENT LAKE LODGE

Two fur trappers (John Everett and John Sutherland) first explored the Crescent Lake area in the early 1860s; so captivated were they by its pristine beauty that they settled in the Olympic Peninsula. Early transportation across the nine-mile-long, mile-wide, and 600-feet deep lake was by canoe; not until 1891 did the first steam launch go into service. Lake Crescent came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service in 1897 when it was included in the Olympic Forest Reserve. As word got out of its beauty, more and more tourists came to see it for themselves.

At the turn of the twentieth century, following the lead of Teddy Roosevelt, Americans everywhere were embracing the outdoor life. Train travel had tremendously increased the distance they could travel in a short time; now the automobile made it possible to do the same for areas not reached by rail. Indeed it was the automobile industry that reined in train travel, resulting in the long decline that has continued until our time.

On the eve of World War I, 1914, Avery and Julia Singer, recognizing the need for a first class resort on the south side of Lake Crescent, purchased eight acres of lakefront property, constructed a two-story hotel and cluster of cottages—in the then popular Arts and Crafts style.

Crescent Lake Lodge

So what greeted guests here? According to Barnes, “Guests arrived by private launch or ferry, enjoyed strolling gardens filled with roses, lilacs, and rhododendrons, and lounged on the tavern’s wraparound porch, taking in the views of the lake and mountains that jutted from the water’s edge. Wisteria draped the hotel’s eaves; croquet, golf, horseshoes, swimming, boating activities, fishing, and exploring filled the days. In the evening, tuxedoed waiters served dinner to guests in evening wear. ‘Civilized’ described the enclave carved out of Barnes Point, a land promenade off the shores of one of the most scenic lakes in Washington. ‘Pastoral’ might also fit the bill.” (Barnes, 69).

Inside, the wood-paneled 56 x 33 foot living room was dominated by an impressive two-tiered rock fireplace, crowned with the antlered head of a magnificent Roosevelt elk. It was a perfect place to relax after an activity-filled day.

Barnes notes that the entire complex “took advantage of its incredible setting, cupping the shoreline with the bathing beach and small craft and ferry landing docks. The placement of the lodge and cabins to the east created a courtyard effect, making space for a horseshoe pit and strolling gardens a marked contrast to towering mountains, dense forests, creeks, and waterfalls.” (Barnes, 71).

The Singers, after expanding their resort to close to a hundred acres with thirty to forty cabins, sold it in 1927. Over the years, many famous guests have stayed here—including Henry Ford, Frank Sinatra, outdoor-loving Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Robert Kennedy, and First Lady Laura Bush. But perhaps most famous of all was president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, with his entourage, spent the night of September 20, 1937, here; the #1 topic of discussion: Should an Olympic National Park be established?

We had no idea when booking this trip that we were thereby intersecting with so much history: Teddy Roosevelt, through the Antiquities Act, saving this area for posterity; Woodrow Wilson, tossing half of it back to the logging industry; and Teddy’s cousin, FDR taking the trouble to travel here himself, dedicating Timberline Lodge on September 28, 1937; spending the night of September 30 here at Crescent Lake Lodge; and then moving on to Quinault Lake Lodge on October 1 (all three lodges that we just visited, FDR did too, in only four days).

The lodge remained privately owned until 1951, when the National Park Service purchased the entire property. For a time, FOREVER Resorts managed it; today it is administered by ARAMARK.

* * * * *

In the late afternoon, we were ushered to a table with a great lake view for dinner. It was difficult to take our eyes off the scene out the window. Afterwards, we relaxed in wicker chairs and settees in that enchanting flower-bedecked sun porch, still here after almost 85 years.

Next morning, Lucy and Connie agreed that one of the worst mistakes of the entire trip was not booking at least a two-day stay here. All agreed that we must come back. It is a place that, once experienced, is guaranteed to haunt your dreams.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks 2 (Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Books, 2009). [The best source of information for this lodge].

“Discovery and History of Lake Crescent,” [handout].

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).