THE SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARK LODGES #1/ The Great Circle

THE SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARK LODGES #1

Nov. 9, 2011

THE GREAT CIRCLE

I submit that one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World has to be “The Great Circle” (by far the greatest concentration of magnificent national parks in the world).  Although I have been making pilgrimages to them ever since my parents introduced them to me during my growing-up years, it took Ken Burns’ landmark PBS National Park Series to crystalize their significance to me.  Up to that series, I had more or less just taken these national wonders for granted. Same for the legendary hotels and lodges that grace them.

Shortly after the series had aired, we received a telephone call from our traveling partners in crime, Bob and Lucy Earp of Tennessee.  Bob asked, “Did you watch the Ken Burns PBS National Park Series?” When we said “Yes,” he followed up by asking us what we thought of it.  When we answered in the superlative, he asked what we thought of the idea of visiting the Northwest national parks and lodges after the 2010 Zane Grey’s West Society convention in Gold Beach, Oregon.  And so it came about that we took in half of the Great Circle (most of them are national parks, monuments, or forests; some are national wonders we took in along the way).

So early summer of 2010, we loaded up our rental Lincoln (with the deepest car trunk in the industry), and headed out, visiting Crater Lake and staying in Crater Lake Lodge, followed by Oregon Caves National Monument and the Oregon Caves Chateau.  Those two were followed by Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge; Mt. Ranier National Park and Paradise Inn; Lake Chelan, North Cascades National Park, and Stehekin Landing Resort; Leavenworth and Enzian Inn; Olympic National Park and Lake Quinault Lodge, also Lake Crescent Lodge; we visited the northern loop of the North Cascades National Park, followed by Grand Coulee Dam; then Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful Inn, also Lake Yellowstone Lodge; Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Lake Lodge; then Glacier National Park and Glacier Park Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Prince of Wales Hotel; and we visited Lake McDonald Lodge.

Should you be interested in vicariously traveling with us and visiting each of those parks and lodges, you can scan back through our archived blogs starting August 4, 2010 through February 9, 2011.

In late spring of 2011, we completed the Great Circle by visiting the Southwest National Parks.  We will begin that trek next Wednesday.  We will be visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reefs National Park, Bryce National Park, Zion National Park, North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Death Valley National Park, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, the Loneliest Road in America (Highway 50), and Great Basin National Park.  In each blog, we will cover the story of how the park or monument came to be preserved, how the lodge or hotel came to be constructed and preserved, and our reactions to each park and lodge.

When we did the Northwest Parks, they were generally uninterrupted; this time there will be more breaks for other topics, but sooner or later, all will be chronicled for our armchair readers.

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.

OREGON CAVES CHATEAU

We got up early, loaded the car, bade goodbye to the Zane Grey Society members who were staying at Crater Lake Lodge en route to Gold Beach; then, reluctant to leave both the lodge and the lake, we headed down the serpentine route to our first stopping point, the legendary Beckie’s Restaurant in Union Springs.  Since all four of us had eaten here before, breakfast here trumped even the one in Crater Lake Lodge.  The little rustic restaurant, legendary for its pies, is known even in Europe.  Outside we could hear the creek tumbling down to the Rogue River.

After one of the best breakfasts of the trip, we followed Zane Grey’s beloved fishing river all the way down to Grants Pass; there we connected with hwy 199 (the Redwood Highway) and angled down to Cave Junction; here, we veered left and began the long climb to Oregon Caves National Monument.  We’d first heard about the Chateau while watching Barnes’ PBS Series on National Park Lodges; then, after reading her commentary in her Great Lodges of the National Parks, we were intrigued enough to take a “look-see.”

There was so little traffic on Highway 46 that we wondered if we’d made a mistake.  We really began to wonder when we reached the last segment of corkscrew road that wound up, up, and up into the heart of Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.  Finally, we reached what appeared to be the end of the road—an almost deserted parking lot.  We decided to walk in, not knowing whether it would be worth the effort.

Lodge

Then we saw it—like something out of a dream: Oregon Caves Chateau.  It was so quiet—all we could hear was the soft wind in the old growth forest (defined as being at least 250 years old) and the cascading waters of Cave Creek flowing out of the Oregon Caves, tumbling over the great retaining wall into the Chateau’s pond; then gurgling its way through the dining room, and on down the ravine below.  Above, a deep blue sky so rare in today’s industrialized world.  The shaded lower parking lot was full.

It seemed like a national park lodge—yet, it didn’t.  Perhaps it was the old growth forest that made it such a magical place—almost primeval.  We entered the hotel from the parking lot into the chateau’s fourth floor.  Though there were people inside, voices were hushed.  It was almost as though we were in a great Gothic cathedral—perhaps we were; reminding me of lines from William Cullen Bryant’s “Forest Hymn”:

“The graves were God’s first temples. . . .
  As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
  Fit shrine for humble worshiper to hold
  Communion with his Maker.  These dim vaults,
  These winding aisles, of human pomp or pride
  Report not. . . .  Thou fillest the solitude. 
  Thou art in the soft winds
  That run along the summit of these trees. . . .”

THE STORY OF THE CAVES AND CHATEAU

In 1874, Elijah Davidson discovered a cave entrance while hunting high up in the Siskiyou Mountains.  As word spread of the wonderland hidden within, adventurers came from far and wide, each exploring with candles or burning branches to light the way.  Vandals came too, ripping out stalagmites and stalagtites just to prove to their friends that they’d been here.

For here in what the Poet of the Sierras, Joaquin Miller, would later label “the Marble Halls of Oregon,” deep in the heart of Mount Elijah, were caverns such as “Paradise Lost,” with calcite flowstone and drapery formations in a room 60 feet high.  The largest room—about 250 feet in length—was created by underground streams.

Through the years its fame would grow.  In 1906, the Siskiyou National Forest was established; and in 1909, with a stroke of his pen, President William Howard Taft established the Oregon Caves National Monument (the nation’s 20th).  But the first road didn’t reach it until 1922.

Unlike most national park lodges, the plans for this one were drawn by a local contractor rather than a well-known architect: Gust Lium of Grants Pass.  Lium, far ahead of his time, envisioned a chateau that would be an integral part of the landscape, so natural it would seem to have sprouted from the gorge into which Lium wedged it.  It would be a refuge from the outside world, anticipating Frank Lloyd Wright’s later Fallingwater House at Bear Run, Pennsylvania.

Construction began in September of 1931.  Lium and his small crew constructed a stout structure anchored to a reinforced concrete foundation.  Building materials were local: redwood, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, madrone, and white oak, as was the limestone and marble.  The exterior is slathered with Port Orford cedar bark.  The first floor housed the furnace, sprinkler system, machine shop; the second, storage and employees’ dining room; the much larger third floor housed dining room, ballroom, coffee shop, and kitchen; the fourth floor lobby, unlike most other park lodges, is only one story high—instead of looking up, guests look out into the old growth forest (indeed, they feel part of it).  The roofline is as jagged as the mountains themselves.  Everything was hand-crafted—even the furniture, the largest surviving set of Monterey furniture (a line that once graced the mansions of celebrities such as Will Rogers, Walt Disney, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry.

The hotel opened in May of 1934.  Thirty years later, in December of 1964, after a record snowfall, suddenly a freak rainstorm blew in.  According to Barnes, then-manager Harry Christiansen, looking out the window of his second-floor apartment, suddenly noticed a trickle of water coming through.  Sensing disaster, he ran, followed by a deluge, a 48-inch-in-diameter log chasing him.  When the storm subsided, the two lower floors had been filled with tons of rocks, gravel, silt, and logs.  The entire foundation had slipped.  It looked like the end.  Next week, he told his board of directors in Grants Pass, “I’m sorry, gentlemen, ladies—it’s too bad, but the chateau is gone. . . .  I wouldn’t give you a nickel for the place.”

But the directors disagreed: They insisted he bring the chateau back to life.  Gust Lium, then in his 80s, was called back to direct the reconstruction; he and his crew “gently moved the mammoth structure back into place.”

Six months later, on May 26, 1965, the Chateau reopened.  Lium had accomplished a second miracle.  Only months later, he died.

* * * * *

We wandered through the Chateau almost in a daze, castigating ourselves for our failure to book rooms.  How could we leave such a pardise without fully savoring all it had to offer?  After extensive rambling, I sat down on a sofa next to the massive double fireplace.  Off to the side a gleaming grand piano.  The only light the flickering flames, the chandeliers with their fragile parchment shades, and the subdued light muted by the giant trees.  A couple came in, hand-in-hand and very much in love—What a place for a honeymoon!  I sank into a reverie.

Then it was time to go.  But none of us in the car found words easy to come by—each of us vowed to return.  And stay.  Lucy sighed, “Coming back must be a blessing for another time.”

For the Chateau is the very antithesis of crowd–magnets like Old Faithful and El Tovar.  And herein lies its uniqueness.  Barnes sums it up in these words: “Oregon Caves development is a lesson in ‘less is more.’  This small canyon, cut into the Siskiyou Mountains by Cave Creek, accessed by a twenty-mile-long, winding, two-lane road, is unlike the panoramic settings of other great lodges.  It is an introspective experience to stay in Oregon Caves Chateau.  Here, a cocoon-like setting pulls visitors into nature’s fold, much like descending into the caverns.”

(This section: Barnes, 74-81).

Before leaving, Connie got serious about national parks: she purchased a National Park Passport in the Oregon Caves entrance building designed by Lium to match the chateau. The Passport can be stamped with place and date just as is true with regular passports.  Thanks to it, we’ll now have a record of each park visit from this point on.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002). [By all means, get her book!]

“Cave Echoes,” Vol. 22—The Centennial Edition (Washington, D.C., The National Park Service, 2009.

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 (Wahington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).

* * * * *

Next week, we’ll move on to Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge.

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).