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.

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!].

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).