DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

BLOG #12, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #10

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK

March 21, 2012

 

 

Death Valley (one of Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die) may be summed up in three superlatives: “Hottest,” “Driest,” “Lowest.”  In July of 1934, a temperature of 134E was recorded at Furnace Creek Ranch—at that time, that was the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth.  Later, a site in Libya recorded a temperature of 136E (two degrees hotter).  It is the driest area in our National Parks system (average rainfall, less than two inches; some years, none at all).  Its Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level) is the lowest place in North America.

 

The name, of course, is part of the mystique.  Apparently, it dates back to 1849 when a wagon train of pioneers en route to California chose this valley as a route through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  But rather than a route out, they got instead lasting heat, hunger, thirst, and “awful silence.”  One man died; the rest were found by a rescue party, and climbed out over the Panamint Mountains.  One of these, more dead than alive, upon reaching the summit, turned for one last look and, with deep feeling, muttered, “Good-bye, Death Valley”—and the name stuck.

 

 

The valley is 120 miles long and over 60 miles wide.  Surprisingly soaring up from the deepest spot in North America, are peaks such as Telescope Peak (11,049 feet), representing one of North America’s greatest vertical rises.  In the winter, these mountains are often snow-capped.

 

In spite of its hostile climate and scarcity of water, “desert rats” (most prospectors or desert wanderers) have long haunted these silent reaches.  Over 10,000 abandoned mining claims can be found here—gold, silver, lead, zinc, mercury, copper, salt, manganese…and borax.  Interestingly enough, a young graduate of the University of California, Stephen Tyng Mather, early on became sales manager for Pacific Coast Borax.  A born advertising genius, Mather generated a flood of publicity glamorizing the early days of Death Valley, and branded his product as “20 Mule Team Borax.”  Over 100,000 copies of his Borax recipe book was distributed and sold within one month!  Before long, Mather started his own borax company, and quickly became very wealthy.  As fate would have it, however, in a 1914 letter to his good friend, Franklin Lee, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Mather groused about the condition of America’s national parks.  Lee zinged a letter right back, challenging him with these words, “Dear Steve, if you don’t like the way the national parks are being run, why don’t you come down to Washington and run them yourself?”  That’s all it took—and today Mather is considered to be the father of our national park system, now the envy of the world.

 

Mather never forgot Death Valley; no matter how many other great scenic wonders he managed to save for posterity, he kept pushing for its preservation.  Zane Grey’s blockbuster desert novel, Wanderer of the Wasteland (set in Death Valley), a media trifecta (magazine serialization, book publication, and movie) helped Mather’s cause no little, as did the advent of that long-running radio show (later movie series), Death Valley Days, memorably hosted by none other than  Ronald Reagan.  In 1933, President Herbert Hoover (formerly president of the National Park Association) signed a bill giving it National Monument status, with an area of 1,600,000 acres. Yet mining continued even after that time.  Not until 1994 (61 years later), when President Clinton pushed through the Desert Protection Act, did Death Valley at last become a national park (at 3,396,000 acres the largest national park in the lower 48, and roughly the size of Connecticut).

 

FURNACE CREEK INN

 

By late 1926, Pacific Coast Boraxt was building Furnace Creek Inn, the type of upscale resort Mather favored because he felt it would enhance the park’s status with the general public.  The company had great plans for the resort (designed by Los Angeles architect Albert Martin), and saw to it that rail service into the basin was arranged for.  According to Christine Barnes, the process was a bit involved: the underutilized Tonopah and Tidewater railroad lines transported arriving guests from Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroad stops to the Death Valley Junction; there they would climb aboard the Death Valley Railroad cars for the twenty-mile journey through the Funeral Mountains to Ryan, where the tracks ended.  Motor coaches would take them the rest of the way (Barnes, 52).

 

 

Martin’s Spanish Revival hotel was built on a low knoll at the mouth of occasionally running Furnace Creek, but received its water supply from nearby Travertine Springs.  Furnace Creek Inn officially opened on February 1, 1927.  As time passed, the complex continued to expand.  By 1928-29, more and more tourists were finding their way here.  A nine-hole golf course was completed in 1929, as well as an exquisite freshwater swimming pool.  Daniel Hull, renowned landscape architect, had been brought in to complete the masterpiece that is the inn.

 

 

VIPs began to arrive—including the likes of Clark Gable, John Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando.  Today, it and the nearby Furnace Creek Ranch are operated by XANTERRA Resorts.

 

OUR MEMORIES

 

Once again, in this all too short a journey we call life, we woke up in the venerable El Tovar Hotel.  Since it would be a long day, the alarm clock rang at 6:15 a.m.  Luckily, we landed the NW window table and were served by our favorite waiter, Noah.  A scrumptious breakfast of French toast, coffee, and splitting a to-die-for cinnamon roll.  By 8:15 a.m., Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, were ensconced in the Lincoln Town Car and “On the Road Again.”  Our route took us west through Kingman, Arizona, 93 through Las Vegas to 95, then up to Death Valley  junction on 190.  The temperature kept climbing, and climbing as we descended into the deepest valley in America.  In reality, it is not really a valley at all because 2,000 years ago this was a great lake 600 feet deep.  Even though this was still a spring May day, it was already 98E when we checked in at Furnace Creek Ranch.  One of our trip’s major disappointments had to do with our inability to stay at Furnace Creek Inn, reason being that it is open only during the “relatively cool” winter months.   The rest of the year it lies fallow.  But at the Ranch, we were pleasantly surprised by the spacious, comfortable, and cool rooms.  Afterwards, we drove up to Furnace Creek Inn, and walked around the Shangri-la where we’d hoped to be staying. The palm groves were hauntingly beautiful, as was the turquoise Mediterranean pool.  The lawns, shrubs, and flowers were verdant.  The inn was everything we heard it was—at least from what we could see.  Some day, we vowed, we’ll return and stay here.  Then back to the Ranch for dinner, ice cream, and early sack-time.  It had been a long day.

 

 

Next morning early, we headed up to famed Zabriski Point for sunrise, then back for breakfast.  We quickly discovered that meals at the Ranch, because of the continual influx of tourist groups (by bus, auto, and motorcycle), was semi-cafeteria style—necessary because of the off the street clientele.  But the food was good.  It felt no frills Old Westy.  Afterwards, we drove to a place I’d dreamed of visiting all my life: Scotty’s Castle.

Because it is nestled in the hills about 3,000 feet above the valley floor, it is about nine degrees cooler there.  After strolling through the visitor center, we joined a tour group, and were lucky enough to snag a marvelous guide.  I’m sure you too have discovered that, in traveling, the guides make all the difference.  As we moved through the lovely castle, our guide brought to life the fairy-tale story behind its building :a talented westerner known as Death Valley Scotty, who had ridden with Buffalo Bill for twelve years in his famed Wild West Shows all across America and Europe; but Scotty was also a desert rat, a miner, and a con man who sold shares in nonexistent or non-producing mines.  One of his victims, Albert Johnson, a millionaire, overlooked being duped and built a castle that cost several million dollars to construct, then let Scotty claim ownership of it, supposedly built from the fortune made in his nonexistent mines.  Johnson and his wife had no wish to claim ownership, they’d just listen to Scotty tell tales and let him bask in the adulation of his devoted public.  Oh there’s so much more to their story and to the castle!  You’ll just have to come and explore it for yourself.  By the time we got back to the ranch, it was 105E in the shade.

 

We mixed with pilgrims from all over the world, including a large cavalcade of Brazilian motorcyclists.  We were told that even in the blistering heat of summer, visitors come anyway, seeking to experience one of the iconic extremes life has to offer.  After supper, we retired early, for tomorrow would be another very long day.

 

SOURCES

 

Atchison, Stewart, Death Valley: Splendid Isolation (Mariposa, CA: Sierra Press, 2002).

 

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks (Bend, OR: WWW West Inc., 2002).

 

Parker, Stanley W., Death Valley’s Scotty’s Castle (Wickenburg, AZ: K.C. Publications, 2010).

Schultz, Patricia, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die (New York Workman Publishing, 2003).

 

Southern California & Las Vegas Tour Book (Heathrow, FL: AAA Publishing, 2009).

 

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

 

ARCHES AND CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARKS

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS AND LODGES #3

ARCHES AND CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARKS

For Nov. 30, 2011

It snowed all night.  We were up early, ate breakfast, then shivered as we scraped off the snow and ice from the car.  Turned on the news, and it confirmed our suspicions: Don’t even try to make it through on Interstate 70.  It’s closed.  So it was that after we’d packed the car and taken photos of the snowcapped Stanley, we headed down Big Thompson Canyon.  Northern route it would be.  A pattern developed that would remain a constant: snow at higher elevations, rain in the lower.  To save time, we cut across at an angle on Highway 287; only it almost cost us more time as the snow got so deep, the Lincoln not having snow tires, we barely made it through.

Then it was out onto Interstate 80 in Wyoming; turned south on Highway 13, via Baggs, Craig, Meeker, and hit Interstate 70 at Rifle.  From there on, it was clear-sailing.  At a service station we learned we’d made the right decision: without either 4WD or snow tires, we wouldn’t have made it through Eisenhower Tunnel or over Vail Pass.  I-70 was indeed closed.

As we drove west on I-70, it was obvious that the Colorado River was running high.  Shortly after we entered Utah, we made a snap decision: veering south at Cisco Junction rather than the usual Crescent Junction.  Were we ever glad we did!  Highway 191 out of Crescent Junction to Moab is so-so, but the Hwy 128 Scenic Byway is breathtaking!  One of the most spectacular river drives any of us had ever taken.  We hit it late afternoon when the colors were at their best.  Towering up above the Colorado River were great bronzed cliffs, among them the Twin Fisher Towers, 1500 feet higher than the river.

Moab has become the jumping-off place for all of South Utah, a far cry from what it was during the uranium boom of the 1950s—then it was a wide open boom town honeycombed with bars.  Back even further, Cassidy’s Wild Bunch frequented it, and Zane Grey made Moab the scene for many of his novels!  Many westerns have been filmed in this vicinity since then.  Today, tourism is king, and the town has become the outdoor centrifuge for 4-wheeling, mountain-biking, hiking, white-water rafting, canoeing, horseback-rides, and cross-country skiing.  Besides all this, it is also the hub for the twenty plus national parks and monuments in this magnificent desert country.  We stayed at the Best Western Canyonlands.  There are no historic park hotels in this part of Utah.  If we’d learned one lesson from our Northwest Park Loop of 2010, it was to slow down.  One day is too short a time to experience such national park wonders.  Two days is too, but still better than one.  Besides, if you stay two nights, you don’t have to repack every night—which really gets old on a three to four week trip.  So it was that we stayed in Moab two nights.  We also learned that, other than Moab, there are precious few motel or hotel accommodations in that part of Utah.

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Two people started the ball rolling here.  In 1922, Alexander Ringhoffer, a prospector, was so impressed with the wild beauty of the area that he persuaded Frank Wadleigh, the passenger traffic manager for the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, to come and see for himself.  He in turn contacted Stephen Mather in Washington, D.C.  When Mather came here and discovered for himself “the world’s largest collection of exquisite red stone arches—over two thousand of them—, “he was convinced they ought to be saved.  He then enlisted the support of Dr. J. W. Williams and Lawrence Gould, who in turn put pressure on Utah Senator Reed Smoot.  But Interior secretary Herbert Work balked, for Interior was downsizing rather than adding.  In 1929, President Herbert Hoover and Interior Secretary Ray L. Wilbur stepped in and, by executive order, established Arches as a national monument. 

President Eisenhower reduced it in size, but President Lyndon Johnson increased it again.  In 1971, President Nixon signed a bill making it a national park.  In 1998, it was increased in size in order to bring in Lost Spring Canyon.  Even so, at 76,519 acres, it is relatively small in area.

Nevertheless, people throng here from all over the world.  Few indeed see all 2,000 arches, but most see the park’s two crown jewels: the iconic Delicate Arch, which park officials claim to be “the best-known arch in the world”—it even graces Utah’s license plates.  Probably only Monument Valley’s Rainbow Bridge could challenge its worldwide preeminence.  The other must-see is one of the world’s longest natural spans at 306 feet, Landscape Arch.  But since it is only eleven feet wide (12 feet at its center), arch buffs fear for its future.  For they remember that Wall Arch had stood here for thousands of years: in fact it was already curving gracefully when the Egyptian pyramids were under construction over 4,000 years ago.  Yet, on Aug 5, 2008, Wall Arch simply collapsed.  Then there’s Skyline Arch.  Until 1940, a huge boulder blocked half its opening, then suddenly, after no one knows how many years of slow erosion undermining the boulder’s support, gravity won: the giant stone tumbled out of the arch, and Skyline Arch instantaneously nearly doubled in size. 

Other favorites tourists search out include The Three Gossips, Double O Arch and the Fins in Devil’s Garden, Double Arch in the Windows section, The Three Penguins, Surprise Arch, The Eye of the Whale, Balanced Rock and Chip-off-the-Old Block, Pine Tree Arch, North Window, Turret Arch, Sipapu and Kachina Bridges, Owachomo Bridge, etc.

Arches is a place to return to, again and again.

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Nearby Canyonlands National Park, at 387,598 acres, is over four times the size of Arches.  Though it is the largest national park in Utah, it is the least developed, the wildest; a landscape characterized by famed explorer John Wesley Powell as “a wilderness of rocks…with ten thousand strangely carved forms in every direction.”  Powell also named such popular attractions as Cataract Canyon, the Dirty Devil, and the Labryinth.

During the 1950s and 1960s uranium prospectors ran roughshod over this area.  Bulldozed roads crisscrossed the landscape.  But in 1964, no small thanks to Stewart Udall, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation for the establishment of Canyonlands National Park. 

Mel White points out that while Canyonlands does have “some paved roads leading to spectacular views, most of the park is accessible only to hikers, boaters, and mountain bikers….  The positive side of this remoteness, of course, is the solitude, beauty, and adventure the park offers to intrepid visitors.  Canyonlands protects one of the most unspoiled areas of the vast Colorado Plateau, a high desert region of stark rock formations, deep river-cut canyons, and sparse vegetation that receives less than 10 inches of rain in an average year.  Two of the West’s iconic rivers, the Colorado and the Green, come together in the center of Canyonlands National Park.  Their canyons, forming a rough “Y” shape, divide the park into three land sections.  Between the two arms of the “Y” is a high mesa called Island in the Sky, 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape and more than 2,000 feet higher than the site of the rivers’ confluence.  To the east is The Needles, a land of tall colorful sandstone pinnacles.  To the west is The Maze, reachable from the other sections only by a long, roundabout journey involving unpaved roads.  Because of the remoteness of The Maze, and time needed to reach it, most visitors spend at least three days exploring it.  Park rangers, with good reason, describe the rivers themselves as the fourth section of Canyonlands” (White, p. 350).

OUR OWN VISIT

We made an early start for we were foolishly attempting to see both parks in one day.  Our first stop was at the Arches Visitor Center.  We have learned that visiting a park’s visitor center early on reduces the risk that we’ll inadvertently miss must-see portions of the park.  As we crested at the top of a long steep hill, there in the east were the spectacular snowcapped La Sal Mountains (Utah’s second highest range).  We stopped at popular sites such as Balancing Rock, Park Avenue, Three Gossips, North Window and South Window, Double Arch, and Turret Arch. This took all morning. 

In the afternoon, we moved on over to Canyonlands.  After spending some time in the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, we walked out to the dramatic-looking Mesa Arch—a kind traveler took a group photo of us there.  From there, we stopped at Buck Canyon Overlook and Grand View Overlook.  And then we took the long side trip out to Dead Horse Point Overlook, one of the most photographed overlooks in America.  From the highest point on the Island in the Sky Mesa, you can see a hundred miles into some of the grandest scenery on the planet: the snowcapped La Sal Mountains (over 12,000 feet in elevation) to the east, the Abajo Mountain Range to the south, and the Henry Mountains to the southwest.

We were tired when we returned to our motel late that afternoon, for we’d packed a lot into one day; next time, we vowed we’d stay longer and see more within each park. 

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we will move on to Capitol Reefs and Bryce Canyon.

* * * * *

SOURCES USED

Arches National Park (Moab, Utah: Arches National Park, 2011).

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

Johnson, David, Arches: The Story Behind the Scenery (Wickenberg, AZ: KC Publications, 2010).

Johnson, David, Canyonlands: The Story Behind the Scenery (Wickenberg, AZ: KC Publications, 2010).

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

Utah’s Canyonlands Travel Region (Moab, Utah: Utah’s Canyonlands, 2011).

Utah’s National Parks and Monuments (New York: American Park Network, 2009).

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

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK TITANS

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

                                                                        –John Muir (Olin, 31)

GEORGE BIRD GRINELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOUIS HILL

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

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

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

SOURCES CONSULTED 

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

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

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

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.