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).

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].

NORTH CASCADE LOOP

            Reluctantly, we checked out of Crescent Lake Lodge—but not before procrastinating all we could by taking forever to eat our breakfast in that sunny dining room.  Finally, I—Lucy calls me “the tour guide from hell”—got everyone rounded up, and we were on our way again.

            We had hoped to cross on a ferry to Whidbey Island from Port Townsend—but it was booked solid.  So we drove down the peninsula on hwy 101 to Kingston, and took the ferry across there.  It was a stunningly beautiful day, and Puget Sound flaunted its blue for us.  Next, we tried to get a ferry across to Whidbey Island from Mukilteo, only to strike out again—everyone, it seemed, was deserting Seattle for the holiday weekend.  Finally, we gave up, and grudgingly drove up I-5 to Burlington, where we checked in at a Hampton’s.  Bad news from the back seat: Connie had generously gifted her bug to Lucy.  Lucy’s case was to prove considerably worse than Connie’s—I got a baleful eye when I jocularly attributed the difference to Lucy’s inexplicable reluctance to chomp down on a couple tablespoons worth of garlic.  With both backseaters out of commission, Bob and I crossed over onto Whidbey Island on hwy 20.  An absolutely spectacular vista awaited us at the high bridge that connected the mainland to Whidbey.  Whidbey Island surprised us: we expected it to be much more built up and heavily populated than it is.  Back in Burlington, it proved to be a quiet evening.

Mt. Baker

           Next morning, we finally had the opportunity to see two iconic snowcapped mountains in the North Cascades.  We drove hwy 20 to hwy 9 north, then hwy 542 east.  We passed what shyly bore the #33, and had to go back.  It was a humble little narrow windy road that had much to be humble about.  Finally, we reached the Cougar Ridge vista point that wasn’t. 10,778 foot Mount Baker was taking the holiday off.  Regretfully, we unwound ourselves back down to hwy 542 and continued east all the way to the Mount Baker Ski Area—but 9,127-foot-high Mount Shuskan was taking the 4th off too.  Sadly, we turned around and headed back to Burlington. As Longfellow put it in “Rainy Day,” “Some days must be dark and dreary.”

            The next day, Lucy was worse, but we had to move on anyway.  Again, we picked up hwy 20 and headed east.  At Concrete, we turned north on hwy 11, following the shoreline of Baker Lake.  But both Baker and Shuskan had foggy hangovers from the holidays and refused to come out.  So it was that we had to leave Washington without seeing those two majestic mountains we’d seen in so many photographs through the years and had salivated for so long.  None of us could bring ourselves to say, “Two blessings for another time.” We could only sigh at the lost opportunity.

A WORLD OF ICE, ROCK, AND SNOW

            There are few untrampled wilderness areas left in the world
            North Cascades National Park is one of them.

                               —(North Cascades), 18

            The North Cascades National Park consists of 505,000 acres of rugged unspoiled beauty.  With peaks in excess of 9,000 feet, the park offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation; its average elevation is nearly 7,000 feet.  It is anchored by two young volcanoes both towering over 10,000 feet: Mt. Baker to the north and Glacier Peak to the south.  Even though these mountains may seem low compared to the 14,000-foot giants in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas, their vertical relief is as great or greater than any other range.

            So why do these mountains carry so much snow and ice?  It is because, running parallel to the coast and only thirty miles from the Puget Sound, “North Cascades intercept the storms that sweep in from the Pacific.  As the warm, moisture-laden air is pushed up against the mountains, it rises, cools, and drops its moisture as rain and snow.  Average annual precipitation on the west side is 110 inches.  The winter season may deposit as much as 46 feet of snow.” (North Cascades, 15).  Indeed, so much snow falls here that Highway 20 is closed through the mountains from November to April—no traffic gets through

            In actuality, the Cascades are much larger than the park itself.  When you factor in adjoining land across the Canadian border and more than 2,000,000 acres of federally designated wilderness, the ecosystem encompasses over 3,000,000 acres of protected public land.  Very few roads bisect this vast wilderness.  Its creeks would be called rivers anywhere else; these creeks eventually merge into four mighty rivers draining into the Pacific: Chilliwack, Baker, Skagit, and Nooksack.  Since the eastern side attracts much less rain, the rivers are much smaller: the Methrow and Pasayten.  Its two greatest bodies of water are Lake Chelan and 12,000 acre 25-mile-long Ross Lake.

            We can thank Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson for preserving the Cascades for us.  Concerns about the pace of population growth, especially in the West, caused Udall to warn, “What we save now may be all we’ll save.”  Besides helping to save roadless North Cascades with its 318 glaciers (almost a third of all those left in the lower 48), Udall also joined forces with the Sierra Club to save what was left of the California redwoods (which live several thousand years and grow 300 feet high).  By Udall’s time, loggers had wiped out 85% of this old growth; Redwood National Park saved only half of them.  First Lady Lady Bird Johnson was also a great champion of these parks.  North Cascades National Park was created in 1968, so it’s only 42 years old.   Highway 20 wasn’t constructed until 1972.

* * * * *

Ancient Douglas Fir

            We next stopped at Rockport State Park with its stand of magnificent old growth Douglas fir, towering to 300 feet high.  Bob and I walked through one of the loops—the park is currently closed to auto traffic because of habitat destruction.  It would be our last view of old growth trees.  We could only imagine what it must have been like a century ago before the West was all but denuded of these great trees.  What a debt of gratitude we owe Park Manager Al Nickerson and all those other thousands of conscientious guardians of our fragile park heritage.  Without them, we’d lose everything.

Diablo Lake

            Next we stopped for huckleberry ice cream at a roadside hutch—but they were sold out of it.  Then, perversely—when it was too late to go back—the sun came out.  We all walked out to see the spectacular Gorge Creek Falls cascading hundreds of feet down the mountain, then rushing under the 900-foot-high bridge.  One more stop: the dramatic Diablo lake overlook—its jade-green water is so beautiful you almost wonder if it was computer-enhanced.

Western Town of Winthrop with Wooden Sidewalks

            Late afternoon found us dropping down out of that pristine wilderness into the gold-mining town of Winthrop.  True it was once Old West but little of it was left when, in 1972, borrowing a leaf from Leavenworth, Winthrop reinvented itself, complete with old West facades, wooden sidewalks, and old-fashioned streetlights.  Town leaders at least had justification for Owen Wister describes some of the town’s original sites and citizens in his novel, The Virginian.  Wister and his bride had earlier honeymooned here.  We stayed on the Chewuch River in a River’s Edge Motel cabin.  The river lulled us to sleep.

NEXT STOP: We’ll be visiting the Grand Coulee Dam.

SOURCES

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2002).

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

North Cascades National Park (Las Vegas, NV: K.C. Publications, 2008). [Most informative!].

Oregon & Washington Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2010).

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

LAKE QUINAULT LODGE

Rarely has it been as difficult to leave a motel as it was the Enzian Inn—in fact, labeling it as just another “motel” seems almost an insult. Until this trip, I’d never really had a feel for what made Washington Washington: how its circulating system works. Now I discovered that I-90 slices it in the middle; Hwy 14 meanders along the Columbia; Hwy 101 almost circles the Olympics; but the true heart of its mountain treasure chest can be found only in the Cascade Loop: Take Hwy 2 east from I-5 at Everett until merging wit Hwy 97, go north until you merge with Hwy 20; travel west on it until you’re back to I-5 at Burlington. Today we traveled west on 2, through the Tumwater Canyon, over 4,060 foot Stevens Pass (a popular ski area), by jagged and forbidding 6,000 foot Mount Index with its lacy waterfalls, followed the Skykomish River, until we reached Hwy 522, angled down to I-405, veering over to I-5, and south until we could escape on Hwy 12, continuing west until we picked up Hwy 101 north, arriving at our nephew Byron Palmer’s third and last must-see on our trip—Lake Quinault. But I must not leave out the fact that Quinault had been on Bob’s personal bucket list ever since he read about it in Barnes’ book on park lodges.

Lake Quinault Lodge

As we parked outside Lake Quinault Lodge, we all breathed a giant sigh of relief: two whole days without having to re-pack our suitcases and move on! It was heavenly. We were lucky enough to snag rooms 107 and 105 in the main lodge (remember those numbers for they’ll come into play before we leave. As we walked into the lodge’s great hall, one word came to me: Serenity. It was the most serene place we’d stayed at so far. We felt the pressures ebbing away—even more so when we heard a screech from Bob that could have been heard back in Tennessee: “I’ve found it! I’ve found it!” It’s a wonder hotel management didn’t evict us immediately. Yes, he’d found that wretched little driver’s license: it had been sneakily hiding in a fold of his suitcase all this time. For the first time in days, we could all relax. Especially poor Lucy, who’d had to bear the brunt of his misery.

Rain forest

It was a deceptively beautiful day. Outside, guests were basking in the sun in Adirondack lounge chairs on the extensive lawn sloping down to the lake. “Deceptive,” because Lake Quinault is part of the Olympic Rain Forest. Strangely enough, the 925,000 acre Olympic National Park was one of the last places in the lower 48 to be explored (not until the late nineteenth century). 95% of the park, even today, is designated as wilderness; no roads cross its heartland. 7,980 foot Mount Olympus, overlaid with glaciers, dominates the park. The Quinault Rain Forest is the wettest place in the lower 48; the Hoh River Valley, for instance, can receive up to 170 inches of rain annually. Had we only realized just how wet it normally was, we’d have taken more advantage of our first day. Instead, Connie and Lucy found a nearby laundry and washed/dried our clothes. We’ve discovered that when you’re traveling light, you need to wash clothes every week.

Ken Burns, in his riveting National Park series revealed just how close a call this park had. During the last 48 hours of his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to set aside 615,000 acres as Mount Olympus National Monument. Unfortunately, President Woodrow Wilson crumbled to pressure from logging interests and cut it in half. At stake was the largest specimens of Douglas fir, red cedar, Sitka spruce, and western hemlock in the world. Ten different times attempts were made to protect the area—each time, timber interests won out. Upon the counsel of Harold Ickes, FDR, in 1937, went out to Washington to study the situation for himself. But timber interests did their best to hide what was happening from him—but fortunately he got wise in time. Just as loggers were approaching the last virgin stand of rain forest, on June 29, 1939, Roosevelt signed the bill that created Olympic National Park. (Duncan and Burns, 298).

REAMER THE DREAMER

We had no idea when we began this national parks trip that it would prove to be such a journey of discoveries. One of which had to do with an architect we’d never heard of before: Robert Reamer. His biographer, Ruth Quinn, titled her splendid book on his life and works Weaver of Dreams, for that’s what he was. And we have been privileged to stay in three of his great lodges on this trip: Lake Quinault, Old Faithful, and Lake Yellowstone Hotel.

On August 28, 1924, the previous Quinault Lake Hotel burned to the ground; since a new one was needed right away, Robert Weaver was chosen to design it. Being that they needed to reopen the new hotel right away, on June 9, 1926, a crew of 35 – 40 men arrived at the site; 100,000 board feet of virgin timber was hauled in; and bonfires were lit at night so that the men could work around the clock. Incredibly, it had its grand opening on August 18.

Each of Reamer’s creations has its own distinct style—he never went back or cloned. In this case, Frank and Estella McNeil desired a hotel that was elegant yet homey. Miraculously, that is exactly what Reamer gave them. A great central fireplace anchors the one and a half story 62-foot-long lobby, and that is flanked by two 56-foot wings. The style of the lodge has been variously described as rustic, Colonial, Northwest Georgian, and Norman. Also on the first floor are a 54 by 36 foot ballroom, dining room, sweet shop, kitchen, and pantry.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt came here on his 1937 fact-finding tour, eating dinner here with his entourage on Oct. 1. The bay-window alcove where the President sat is still the most requested table in the house.

* * * * *

Gazebo by the lake

That first afternoon, while the washing was being done, Bob and I walked down to see the world’s tallest Sitka spruce only a mile away from the lodge. We ate dinner at the Salmon Café. In the evening, we relaxed in that one-of-a-kind lobby. A father and son played chess with the lodge’s huge chess-pieces (each piece at least a foot high!). Over at the upright piano, a sing-along was taking place—one young man sang enthusiastically and loudly—off key. But no one seemed to mind. A fire was crackling in the great fireplace, and the lamplight cast a golden glow on everything.

Next morning, we awoke to drizzling rain. I showered in an old-timey tub with claw feet. Went after coffee so I could resurrect Connie. The breakfast was delicious. Then since it was raining—there was a rain gauge on the lakeside wall, measured in feet, not inches. The gauge indicated 15 feet in their highest year, 180 inches!—we decided to take the rain forest tour. Mike Turner (the facilities manager), seeing we needed a fireplace-fix in the interim, graciously had big logs brought in, and soon few walking by could resist walking over to the fireplace to bask in its warmth.

Our guide (Sandy) picked us up at 9:30. Sandy was one of those rare guides who are so passionate about what they do that they’re worth their weight in gold. It was the first time in our lives any of us had really experienced a rain forest first-hand. She led us on several misty walks into the ghostly old growth forest with moss and lichen bedecked trees, brooks, creeks, nursery-logs (when trees feed on fallen members), wildlife, etc. A winter wren sang to us. Sandy told us about the terrific 2007 storm with 90 – 130 mph winds, torrential rain, wholesale slaughter of trees—electricity was out in the region for two weeks. Then, a natural story-teller, she told us the fascinating story of the epic Press Expedition into the heart of the Olympics in 1888-9. An amazing story of endurance and near starvation.

Later, Bob and I took another short hike into another section of the rain forest. We spoke to three young women who’d volunteered to help build or repair forest trails for the Washington equivalent of FDR’s CCC.

Roosevelt Table in the Dining Room

But that evening, a dream came true for Bob: We got to eat dinner at the coveted Roosevelt Table. We could almost sense the presence there of the man who saved the Olympic Peninsula from being completely logged over. After relaxing by the fire, everyone but me retired. It was almost 11 p.m. when I popped into the room, only to discover that Connie wasn’t feeling well. “Would you please go get me some Vitamin C’s?” she asked. I corralled the night clerk helping out in the kitchen. She checked but could find no C’s. When I explained why I needed it, she paused, then said, “Though we don’t have any, chopped-up garlic will stop a cold in its tracks.” I thought, but did not say, Garlic period would stop an elephant in its tracks! At any rate, she said that if she couldn’t find any C’s, she’d bring me some chopped-up garlic, which Connie was to swallow whole, with water, otherwise. . . . Oh, I knew what “otherwise” was: I wouldn’t be able to get near Connie for a week! I told her what room I was in, and with fear and trembling told Connie what was coming. She was aghast: “Garlic? You must be out of your mind!” Sometime later, we heard voices in the hallway—someone was clearly not happy. So I peeped out. I’d given the poor woman the wrong room number! 105 instead of 107. At any rate, poor Connie swallowed the awful stuff. Next morning, Lucy said, “You won’t believe what happened in the middle of the night! Some lunatic knocked on our door, woke us up, and said she’d brought me my garlic!”

SPECIAL NOTE

Our next stop is Crescent Lake Lodge in Olympic National Park.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great National Park Lodges 2 (Portland, OR; Graphic Arts Books, 2008).

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, 2002).

The Most Scenic Drive in America (Pleasantville, New York: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 2009).

Oregon and Washington Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida, American Automobile Association, 2010).

Quinn, Ruth, Weaver of Dreams (Gardiner, MT: Leslie and Ruth Quinn, Publishers, 2004).

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to the 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).

STEHEKIN LANDING RESORT AND LAKE CHELAN

            We were in no hurry to leave Paradise Inn dining hall.  Indeed, we wished we could stay there another day, but since the hotel was all booked up and our other reservations had been made long before, Lucy and Connie settled into their nests in the back seat; in the front, we changed drivers, and drove down the mountain.  Just before we arrived at the Stevens Canyon Entrance, we passed through the Grove of the Patriarchs.  Another “blessing for another time” was to return here and revel in those thousand-year-old Douglas firs and western red cedars.

            Passing through the rugged Tatoosh Wilderness on hwy 12, we continued on to one of the nation’s best known fruit-growing regions, the Yakima Valley; from here we took hwy 97 north, arriving at Lake Chelan in mid-afternoon.  Here we checked in at the Lakeside Best Western, beautifully landscaped with flower-beds, shrubbery and trees.

THE TIME WARP

            Here and there in life, if we’re both adventurous and lucky, we stumble on certain places that are magical.  When we’d told our nephew, Byron Palmer (who works for Alaska Airlines) that we planned to explore Washington state, he categorized Lake Chelan and Stehekin as “must-sees.”  But even though we found the south end of the lake to be attractive, nothing prepared us for the northern terminus 51 miles away.

Lake Chelan

            Next morning early, we boarded Lady of the Lake II for what turned out to be a journey into a time warp.  As the boat moved north, the genial captain pointed out places of interest—the verdant orchards and vineyards gave the lake a Mediterranean look.  We learned that fjord-like Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States, its 1,486-foot depth exceeded only by Crater Lake’s 1,932 and Lake Tahoe’s 1,645.  We were surprised to discover that Chelan is considered to be the deepest gorge in North America: the Grand Canyon of the Colorado is a mile deep, Kings Canyon is 7,800 feet deep, Hells Canyon is 8,200 feet deep, and Lake Chelan’s gorge (given that it plunges down to 386 feet below sea level) is 8,631 feet deep.  Indeed, so deep is the lake that we were told it takes the water flowing in to the northern part of the lake from Stehekin River ten years to reach the south end 51 miles away.  Needless to say, its greens and blues, being glacier-fed, are a feast for the eyes.

View of Cathedral Peaks

           Roads reach only the midway point of our four-hour boat trip.  Soon cell phones ceased to function, no power lines or telephone lines exist, and human habitations are mighty few.  We did see one bear off to our right.  The Lady made several stops to let people off or pick them up at wilderness jumping-off points.  Other than the boat’s twin turbines, we heard nothing else.  Looming high above us were the snowcapped mountains of the North Cascades National Park, reminding us no little of the Alps.

            Finally, we docked at a little hamlet of about 85 full-time residents few Americans have ever heard of—Stehekin.  The only way one can get here is by boat, float plane, or trail.  All motor vehicles used here are brought in or taken out once a month by barge.

View of Lake Chelan from deck

            We disembarked and registered at Stehekin Landing Resort, all wooden buildings of recent vintage (1983 and later).  We stayed in two of their lakeside cabins—the front-deck view was to die for.

            In 1814, Alexander Ross of the Northwest Fur Company became one of the first white men to explore the Stehekin Valley.  But it was not until the first steamboat (built on the lake in 1889) that settlers and homesteaders moved in.  Without electricity or roads from the outside world, lifestyles were little different from frontier life: water was carried from the river, wood was used for both cooking and heating, kerosene lamps were used at night.  Not until 1963 did Chelan County PUD put in a small hydroelectric plant so folks could have electricity.  When the North Cascades National Park was established in 1968, the southern part of Lake Chelan was excluded.  A park headquarters was established in Stehekin.  Part of the legislation mandated that a road would never be built into Stehekin.  Since that time, preserving the Stehekin way of life and cultural history has become a mutual effort between the community and the park service.

* * * * *

            Stehekin really comes to life in the summers, and the population swells in order to accommodate people like us.  Young people especially revel in coming here where there is no TV and only one satellite telephone—it is such a different world from anything they’ve ever known before.  We found them a joy to talk to as they served us in the rustic dining room.

Rainbow Falls

            In mid afternoon a driver was rounded up to shuttle us up to Rainbow Falls.  We were totally unprepared for it, for it was something on the scale of waterfalls in Yosemite.  321 feet high, you can hear its thunder before you ever see it—yet, unbelievably, it appears to be virtually unknown.  We have nothing that can compare to it in the Colorado Rockies.  It wasn’t just its height that impressed us, though it did—it was the sheer volume of water coming over the falls.  As we walked part way back, we saw few motor vehicles but quite a few people on bicycles.  We stopped to inspect the old log-cabin schoolhouse so reminiscent of those of a century or two ago.

            We moved on, following signs to “The Bakery.”  First town I’ve ever been in where a bakery was the destination so many people considered central to their lives.  We stopped there.  Back at the landing, it gradually came home to us that when the year-round towns-people spoke of Stehekin as “the island,” it really made sense, for they are cut off from the rest of the world—one of the very few hamlets in the lower 48 where this is so.  In the winter, when boats (and the mail and supplies they bring) reach here only three times a week, Stehekin settles down to an even quieter life.  Since there may be five or six feet of snow on the ground, with Chelan 51 miles away having none, it’s not too surprising to hear—as I did!—that the north end of the lake was 600 feet higher than the south.  Go figure!

            We found the park headquarters to be a magnet; Connie rushed over there (about 500 feet) to get her park passport stamped first thing.  In the evening, I attended a lecture there.  In talking to locals, I discovered that a number really sacrifice in order to live here (one dentist works all week in Ellensburg, returning home by boat for weekends).  Children are either home schooled or attend the “newer” schoolhouse (if the snow’s not too deep).  The postmistress is a retiree who came here in order to experience life again, to be needed.  She and her husband love it on the “Island.”  When she takes mail to the boat, she locks the door “because of federal regulations—but I really don’t need to here,” she told me.

            During the night, the wind came up.  Its sound in the evergreens was wonderful.  With no other sound, and the lights off around us, it really seemed like another world.

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next week it’s on to Enzian Inn and Leavenworth.

SOURCES

Barnhart, Mike and Nancy, Stehekin: A Mountain Community (Stehekin, WA: Bridge Creek Publishing, 2003).

Barnhart, Mike and Nancy, Lake Chelan and the North Cascades (Stehekin, WA: Bridge Creek Publishing, 2000).

The Lady of the Lake (Stehekin, WA: Ladyofthelake.com, 2010).

Lake Chelan (Chelan, WA: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, 2010).

Lake Chelan, Washington (Chelan, WA: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, 2010).

North Cascades National Park (Las Vegas: K.C. Publications, 2008).

Hackenmiller, Tom, Ladies of the Lake (Wenatchee, WA: Point Publishing, 1998).

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

The Stehekin Guidebook (Stehekin, WA: Stehekin Heritage, 2010).

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

PARADISE INN

            There were swarms of skiers getting ready to hit the slopes, to greet us as we walked down the steps of Timberline Lodge—one girl crying because her boots were too tight.  The view was so breathtaking we had to just stare, downloading it to our memory disks.  Then it was down the mountain.

            At Sandy, we stopped for breakfast at the Tollgate Inn Restaurant, well known for its old-timey appearance, great breakfasts, and (in its bakery), the best pecan sticky buns any of us could ever remember eating.  Connie almost cried when she gobbled up the last bite.  Then we moved on through the town of Boring.  I’d waited all my life to tell the story (affirmed to be true) of a certain Pastor Dull of a Boring church—how they’d finally had to move him.  Then it was back on boring (pardon the pun) I-5 again.

            Once past the bridge over the great Columbia River, we were in Washington at last.  None of us were very familiar with the state; in fact, that had been another reason for making the trip: Washington is so far north (like Maine in that respect) that you have to make a special effort to get there.  We could hardly wait to explore it more fully.

            Finally, we escaped I-5 and turned east on Hwy 12; turning north on hwy 7, and east again on hwy 706.  We stopped at the pioneer village of Longmire, famously homesteaded by James Longmire in 1887-8.  Longmire was one of the first to bring tourists up to Paradise Valley.  When his daughter-in-law first saw its king’s ransom worth of wildflowers (due to the 250 feet of rich volcanic soil), she exclaimed, “This must be what Paradise is like!”  It has been called “Paradise Valley” ever since.  John Muir later declared it to be “the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld.”  It was also one of the favorite spots on earth for Stephen Tyng Mather, founding father of our national parks.  Mather first climbed Mt. Rainier in 1905; he returned in 1915 to oversee the first road into Paradise Valley (Duncan and Burns, 240).

Mount Rainier

            Ernest, the protagonist in Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face,” lived so long in the shadow of that great rock outcropping that his own face came to mirror it.  Just so, Washington’s highest mountain (14,441 feet); so vast that it makes its own weather, is so dominating that its image is indelibly etched into the subconsciousness of all those who live within sight of its great white mass shouldering its way into Washington’s sky, reminiscent of Mount Shasta’s dominance of northern California.  The sixth recorded person to climb it was John Muir (in 1888).  As Muir viewed the wholesale annihilation of Washington’s old growth forests by the voracious logging barons, he felt the Glory of the Northwest was certain to be ravaged as well.  He marshaled the forces of the newly formed Sierra Club, the National Geographic Society, and Northern Pacific Railroad tycoon Louis Hill.  It paid off: in 1893, President Benjamin Harrison made the mountain the centerpiece of the newly created Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1897, Congress expanded it into the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1899, with President William McKinley’s backing, it became our fifth national park.

Paradise Inn

            But Mather wanted a hotel in Paradise Valley worthy of its mountain.  In 1916’s short summer season, that long-desired hotel was rushed into being.  Great Alaska cedar logs were hauled in from an 1885 burn-site.  The exterior was shingled with cedar. Two massive stone fireplaces anchor the 50 X 112 foot two-and-a-half-story great hall; later, a wrap-around second-story mezzanine would be added for structural support.  The 51 X 105 foot one-and-a-half-story dining hall is almost as grand as the great hall.   A fifty-foot stone fireplace fills its north wall.  The most enduring furniture was crafted by German-born Hans Fraenke, a local contractor; every year for seven years, found him the first to arrive in the spring and the last to leave in the fall.  He hand-crafted (with an adze) the furniture to last—and it has: such things as a 1,500 pound table made of Alaska cedar, two larger than life throne chairs, a fourteen-foot-high grandfather clock, a mailbox made out of a large stump, and perhaps the piece de résistance, a standard piano transformed into an impressive work of art.  Architect Laurian Huffman submits that it is this combination of soaring roof line and oversized furniture that makes you feel like one of the Seven Dwarfs entering Fantasyland because you become so small in relation to them. (Barnes, 56).

Hand-carved Grandfather Clock

            Barnes notes that, “Over the years, alterations and decorative painting have changed some of the details of the great hall, but it retains the grandeur of its early days.  Light streams in from the dormer windows high above the mezzanine, highlighting the repetitive structural framework with posts, beams and trusses that mark the architectural structure of the great hall.  Iron rings grip the cedar poles, added to reinforce the splitting timbers, and a system of cables and metal bracing helps support the building against the onslaught of heavy snow.  During the 1920s, additional cedar beams were added to create a permanent brace against the snow.  The snow!  It is one of the snowiest spots on earth: 640 inches the average (sometimes, up to 900 inches!).  It has been a constant war every year with Mother Nature to save the lodge from crushing levels of the white stuff.  Not coincidentally, units of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II were taught here how to survive winter combat.

THE REALITY

            A million people find their way into this valley every summer; many of them were in the parking lot; fortunately, we had lodge reservations, otherwise we would have had a tough time finding a parking space.  Even though it was almost July, the snow was so deep it was impossible to explore those famed fields of wild flowers still imprisoned in their seeds.  Many visitors sat on the outside deck, drinking in Mount Rainier to the north and the also snowcapped jagged Tatoosh Range to the south.

Custom Piano

            Inside, we entered an island in time.  Around us on chairs and couches were people from all over the world.  Just across from us was an intergenerational family I shamelessly watched: three adorable little girls who clearly had their doting grandfather totally under their little thumbs; their lovely young mother lovingly running fingers through her husband’s hair—a seraphic look of utter bliss on his face; the grandmother alternating between reading, looking fondly at her granddaughters, and staring at the crackling fire in the great stone fireplace on that end of the great hall.  Other tableaus could be found everywhere in the long room.  A pianist plunked away on the monster piano—almost always someone was either taking his picture or speaking to him—he played for hours (songs old and new), applause and baksheesh keeping him rooted to his chair.  Quite simply, it was America as it used to be.

            Later, in the dining room, we lucked out with a window table and stared up at the mountain.  Each waiter sported a badge identifying her/him by state or country of origin.  Later on, I’ll dedicate an entire blog to them—how they are rising above the recession to see and experience the world.  Dinner took a long time for no one—anywhere—was in a hurry to leave that enchanted room.

            Afterwards we listened to a ranger speaking about wildlife in the park, we ascended the stairs, found a table, played a game, and devoured the huckleberry pie and ice cream a dimple-cheeked beauty from Eastern Europe brought to us—she got plenty of exercise serving all of us on the four sides of the long mezzanine.

            The icing on the cake was a serendipity.  Hearing there would be a total eclipse of the moon that night, I took a long walk.  On the way back, perhaps the brightest golden moon I’ve ever seen gradually rose above the eastern hills—its radiance was almost unearthly!  Photographers were already bringing out their cameras to set up for the 2 a.m. eclipse.  I cravenly opted to return to the lodge and sleep instead.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Park I (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002).  [Her entry for Paradise Inn is a must-read].

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009. [There is much about Mt. Rainier in the book].

“Mount Rainier,” National Park Service brochure.

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

“The Tahoma News,” May-June 2010.  National Park Service handout.

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009). [Features a most informative section on Mt. Rainier].

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next Wednesday, we move on to Stehekin and Lake Chelan.

CRATER LAKE LODGE, CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK

Finding a rental car with enough trunk room for four people—for a month—was no easy task. Finally, Budget came through with a Lincoln Town Car (the only full-size auto with enough trunk room).

In mid-June, Connie and I picked up Bob and Lucy Earp at the Portland Airport Hampton Inn. We collectively gulped as we looked at all their luggage (from Tennessee) and ours (from Colorado). How in the world would we ever get all that in? We did—but it wasn’t easy.

Finally, with Bob in front with me and Lucy in back with Connie, we looked at each other: would our friendship stand a month together in the same car? We bowed our heads and prayed that God would grant us His protection and blessing. Out of our battery of resource books, we read out loud the lead quotation in Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns’ National Park opus maximus:

One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made.
That this is still the morning of creation. That mountains, long conceived, are now being born, brought to light by the glaciers, channels traced for rivers, basins hollowed for lakes.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. . . . The whole wilderness in unity and interrelation is alive and familiar… the very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly. . .

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in
and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.

This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest . . . in our
magnificent National Parks—Nature’s sublime onderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.

—John Muir

With that inspirational preamble, we drove off. I-5 South was predictably boring; but things got more interesting after we veered off onto Highway 58 at Eugene. Keeping us company for some time was one of Zane Grey’s most beloved fishing rivers, the North Umpqua. It was late afternoon before we hit the snowline. By the time we nosed the car into the Crater Lake Lodge parking lot, it was clear we wouldn’t be able to drive around the crater—too much snow!

By now, the lodge was an old friend: Connie and I first came here in 1962; our son Greg did too, but didn’t see much, since he was still in the hopper. The last time we visited it there was so much snow we had to tunnel our way through. But this year had been a light winter.

It is America’s deepest lake (almost 2,000 feet deep), and one of the ten deepest in the world; its beginning rocked the West: 7,700 years ago, towering Mount Mazama erupted with 100 times the magnitude of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, blowing ash and pumice over what is today eight western states and three Canadian provinces. The resulting caldron (six miles across), over millennia, gradually began to fill with water from rain and snowmelt—no streams feed into it or drain it. Snow is heavy, averaging 44 feet a year, thus its summers are short. It has been documented as the clearest water in the world, with perhaps as deep a blue as exists on the planet.

THE LODGE OREGONIANS WOULDN’T LET DIE

Most of our national parks were blessed by single-minded visionaries obsessed with saving them for posterity; this proved true for Crater lake as well: in 1870, a fifteen-year-old Kansas boy, William Gladstone Steel, idly thumbing through newspaper sheets that had been used to wrap his lunch, chanced to see an article about a mysterious “sunken lake” in Oregon. Not only did he vow to see it some day, he kept his vow. Fifteen years later, in 1885, the now thirty-year-old man stood on the lake’s rim—awestruck. Right then and there, he made another vow; to spend the rest of his life on its behalf. No small thanks to him, in 1902, it became the nation’s sixth national park. Steel became park superintendent.

But Steel yearned for more than just national park status, he wanted several lodges of the stature of El Tovar, Ahwahnee, and Old Faithful to grace it. But that task proved to be a veritable labor of Sisyphus for a number of reasons, chiefly his failure to find wealthy backers and the short summer seasons. Finally, concluding that he’d just have to make do with what he had (the support of Portland entrepreneur Alfred L. Parkhurst, architect R. H. Hockenberry, and builder Frank Keyes), plans to construct a lodge of some 77 rooms were set in motion.

Sadly, however, so underfunded was the project that they were forced to cut corners—but it was either that, or nothing. One of those cost-cutting decisions resulted in their foregoing strong roof trusses. Predictably, the roof collapsed during the blizzards of 1913-14. But the lodge bravely opened its doors anyway, in its unfinished state, in 1915.

And the people came. The late teens and Roaring Twenties spawned an explosion of automobile travel, and Crater Lake Lodge became a popular destination—at least when snow melted early enough. But always it was a battle to keep it open. Ownership changed hands again and again. In 1959, plans were made for its razing—but somehow it survived until 1984 when the National Park Service recommended that it be demolished, and a new one constructed away from the rim. And they had reasons: “The truth was that the old lodge was a dump. The roof sagged, the bathrooms were spartan, light fixtures dangled from the ceiling, and the wind whipped through the walls”. . . . As time passed, “it would kind of move and creak and groan with the snow in the winter . . . so heavy that the roof was kind of flattening out the building and the walls were bowing.” (Barnes, 90).

But then the people of Oregon stepped in to save the beloved old derelict. In 1987, the Oregon legislature passed a resolution to save it. A state-wide campaign known as “Saving Crater Lake Lodge” was organized. But none of it arrested the deterioration. Finally, in 1989, with the central roof threatening to collapse, the lodge was ordered to close.

Then began a six-year effort to save it. It soon became evident that if it were to survive, it must be dismantled and rebuilt from the foundation up. In the ensuing process it was discovered that it didn’t even have a foundation; nor was there any solid infrastructure. $15,000,000 was spent in painstaking efforts to not only restore the lodge, but, more importantly, restore it to what it never had been: a lodge anchored by a solid foundation and a steel-beamed infrastructure. The great hall was rebuilt and the kitchen gutted, then replaced. Windows overlooking the lake were positioned so they would showcase the reason why people came here, and everything radiated out from the great hall and the fireplaces.

On May 20, 1995, Crater lake Lodge—against all odds—reopened. Barnes concluded her moving story with these words: “The essence of Crater lake Lodge lies in its memories. While the historic structure no longer bears the ragged signs of aging, the heart of the lodge remains the same. It is still a wonder of man perched on the edge of a wonder of nature.” (Barnes, 93).

* * * * *

We checked in. Our fourth floor dormer room was small, as are almost all old hotel rooms. Those who thronged early lodges spent little time in their rooms, but much time exploring the parks; in the evenings, they reveled in each other’s company in the great halls, listened to music, played board games, and dreamed by the great fireplaces.

At Crater Lake Lodge, time stood still. Here we met not only Oregonians but people from all over the nation and from around the world. Each had come to savor a long-loved artifact of a bygone world that had miraculously survived until the Year of our Lord 2010. Like us, they’d come here to escape a cacophonous modern world so devoid of serenity and peace.

As we ate our dinner by the window, we gazed out, entranced, at the breathtaking late afternoon diorama of changing colors. No one was in a hurry to leave the table. Afterwards, we walked outside again, then came back and played a board game by one of the fireplaces. Later, we crawled into our bed (small compared to our usual standards) and snuggled—we had to! During the night, the 95-year-old building talked to me. And I couldn’t help but wonder who else had slept in this same little room. What were their thoughts? One of my last thoughts had to do with gratitude: I’m so grateful this place is still here!

Next week, it’s on to Oregon Caves Chateau.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National parks, Vol. 2 (Portland, Oregon: Graphic Arts Books, 2008). These two books are must-reads for all who treasure our parks.
Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009).
White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).