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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).

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ENZIAN INN AND LEAVENWORTH

A beautiful morning in Stehekin! But rare is the journey where everything goes right. In our case: somehow, somewhere, Bob had lost his driver’s license! No small problem when you’re switching drivers every day. With only one phone on the “island,” It was difficult for Bob to set in motion a process whereby he could secure a substitute license on short notice.

Our breakfast over, we checked out and reveled in our last couple of hours before returning to civilization. But all too soon the blast of the fast boat’s horn told us it was time to go. At 28 mph, we were able to make it back to Chelan in only two and a half hours. No driver’s license in Chelan—more phone calls. Then it was back on hwy 97 through the Wenatchee Valley, the “Apple Capital of the World.” When hwy 97 turned south we joined hwy 2 on the Southern Cascade Loop.

Hanging flowers in the town of Leavenworth

Leavenworth—an unlikely success story of an old logging town that was given up for dead. A group of residents banded together and searched for ways to end their thirty-year recession. Someone came up with a break-through solution: since they were perfectly positioned near the confluence of two great national forests, the Wenatchee and Snoqualmie, encircled with snow-capped peaks, and blessed by a white water river, why not go Bavarian Alps? Why not indeed? What did they have to lose? By the early 1960s, the plan was put in motion: they reinvented themselves as a Bavarian alpine village. It paid off: Today, 1,200,000 visitors a year help fill the little town’s coffers, with nonstop festivities. This year alone, they put on the Leavenworth Choral Festival (April 10), Ale Fest (April 17), Maifest (May 7-9), Spring Bird Fest (May 13-16), Bavarian Bike and Brews Festival (June 5), Wine Walk (June 5), International Accordian Festival (June 17-20), Kinderfest (July 4), International Dance Festival (June 26-27), Wine Tasting Festival (Aug. 21), Quilts in the Village (Sept. 8 – 12), Salmon Festival (Sept. 18-19), Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival (Sept. 24 – 26), Oktoberfest (Oct. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16), Christkindlemarket (Nov. 26-28), Christmas Lighting Festival (Dec. 3-5, 10-12, 17-19), and Icefest Jan 15-16, 2011). It wasn’t easy, but we somehow managed to reach Leavenworth between festivals.

Our nephew Byron Palmer’s second suggested place to stop in Washington was Leavenworth’s Enzian Inn (he and his family always stay there when in the area). Thus it was that with all the other Bavarian motels to choose from, we checked in at the Enzian Inn. One of the reasons we so enjoy staying in national park lodges is that each is unique, a quality in all-too-short supply in today’s cookie cutter lodging age. Rarely do we find anything “different” about a chain hotel or motel. But Bob and Rob Johnson shared a dream: that they could more than compete in a chain-motel age. Together they created an inn that is not only Leavenworth’s largest, it is also the product of craftsmanship and talent in wood. It is a thing of beauty. You notice it immediately when you enter the beautiful foyer and look up at the second story mezzanine—just as is true with Paradise Inn’s. Everywhere, upstairs and downstairs, there are lounge chairs, sofas, and couches for guests who wish to chat with each other, relax, read by the great fireplace on the first floor, or play board games (there’s a wall of them to choose from—also puzzles—on the second floor mezzanine). Also an outside deck overlooking the picturesque little town.

After walking through the town, eating at an Italian restaurant (not everything’s Bavarian!), and pigging out on ice cream, we returned to the Enzian where we again played Phase Ten—Bob had the nerve to beat us. While we were playing, people gathered around the beautiful old Charles M. Stieff grand piano downstairs. Soon the evening’s performance began: not classical but music generations of Americans have loved. Applause (from both floors) followed each number. The pianist played for a full hour and a half. Every night of the year such an evening concert for the guests takes place here.

Alpenhorn at Enzian Inn

The guest rooms were just as lovely as the inn. Next morning, we went up to a ballroom-sized fourth-floor vista room, where a veritable feast awaited us–all complimentary. Hot omelets and scrambled eggs made to order, hot cereal, breads, muffins, juices, fruit, bagels, coffee, tea, pastries of every possible kind—oh, the list could go on and on. In a word, it was overwhelming—all served by waitresses in Bavarian dresses. About half-way through, Bob Johnson came in, wearing his lederhosen and cap, lugging his great Alpenhorn, mounted the outside balcony rail, and then we heard it—the whole town heard it—straight out of the Alps. Every day, either the father or the son plays the Alpenhorn twice during the breakfast hour.

I am including this segment in our lodge series because here is living proof that not all great lodges are found in parks. That here in a small Washingtown town that has reinvented itself, a father and son decided that rather than just build another cookie cutter motel, they’d build something out of the golden age of hotels, with old-timey space to relax in, in their equivalent of a great hall, a mezzanine to tie the two floors together, a fireplace to dream by, live piano music each evening, a breakfast you’d pay $50 for anywhere else, then the Alpenhorn music thrown in for good measure—all for the same price everyone else in town charges. It boggles my mind! But it works: The inn was full.

SOURCES

AAA Oregon and Washington Tour Book (Heatherow, Florida, 2010).

“History of Leavenworth, Washington (a hand-out).

“The Alpenhorn at the Enzian,” (a hand-out).

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

“Sonnenschein auf Leavenworth,” (Leavenworth, WA: NCW Media, Inc., 2010).

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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).

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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.

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TIMBERLINE LODGE

Timberline Lodge

After regretfully bidding a too-soon-goodbye to Oregon Caves Chateau, we wound our way back down to the Redwood Highway. Late evening found us at Gold Beach Resort where our 28th annual Zane Grey’s West Society convention was to be held. Two days later, my 28th keynote address had to do with Zane Grey’s greatest obsession in life: to become the world’s greatest fisherman. After five wonderful nights of listening to the waves thunder in, we re-packed the Lincoln. It was easier now that we’d shipped three boxes of our stuff back to Colorado—yet perversely the trunk remained full.

We drove up 101 to Reedsport, where we bade our adieus to the Pacific—the Oregon Coast has to be one of the world’s most beautiful stretches of sea and sand—and took Highway 36 East, feeling we had good company as Zane Grey’s river, the Umpqua, followed us. Then we were back on I-5. I recited my favorite freeway quotation: Charles Kuralt’s, “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel coast to coast without seeing anything.”

Finally, we reached our road, Hwy 26, and angled east into Mt. Hood National Wilderness. Then it was six steep miles up to Timberline Lodge. Since it was late June it was a bit of a shock to see so many skiers, for in Colorado our ski-lifts had closed for the season some time before. After checking in, we carried our luggage up to our to-be-expected small room. A TV set peered out at us with a sheepish look, as much as to say, “I know I don’t belong here, but what could I do?” More in keeping with the times, in the room were an antique telephone and fan, and an old wind-up clock. And single beds.

Mt. Hood

While the rest explored inside the hotel, I shutterbugged my way across the snowfield above the hotel. From there, it seemed like you could see forever. I didn’t know it then, but it was, without doubt, the grandest panoramic view—I could see snow-capped Mount Jefferson; farther away were Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters—we’d see during our entire trip. Snowcats loaded with tired skiers passed me en route to the lodge.

Dinner in the Cascade Dining Room was all I hoped it would be. We were lucky enough to get a window table. Afterwards, we played Phase Ten, ruined by Connie’s whupping us! Then everyone else retired, but I needed to write cards to our children and grandchildren and catch up in my journal. But there was no fire in the fireplace. When I asked why, one of the clerks at the front desk answered, “Sir, we can make one for you—where are you sitting?” Not long afterwards, I had my fire, my evening complete.

TIMBERLINE’S STORY

The lodge was born in the depths of the Great Depression. I chronicle the story of that time-period in my book, What’s So Good About Tough Times? (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook/Random House, 2001). It began on October 24, 1929—known forever after as Black Thursday—and continued its downward plunge through October 29—Black Tuesday. The free-fall continued: thirty billion lost during two short weeks. Panic gripped the nation.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year passed—things only got worse. By the time 1931 drew to a close, of the 122 million Americans, five million were unemployed; jobless rates reaching 50% in some areas. More than two million people wandered across the country as vagrants. Four hundred banks had failed and there was then no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Everywhere one looked, once proud, self-sufficient men and women had been reduced to begging for enough food so their families could survive another day. Since there were no credit cards, one either had money or one did not. Not without reason were six words seared into American consciousness for all time: Brother, can you spare a dime?

Things only got worse. By January 1932, more than two thousand banks had failed and thirteen million people were out of work. That November, desperate Americans tossed Hoover out of the White House and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now 25% of the nation was without jobs, five thousand banks had collapsed, and in that maelstrom nine million family savings and checking accounts disappeared forever. And it continued on and on, the economy not recovering until World War II in the 1940s. Roosevelt’s response was the New Deal, the Work Progress Administration (WPA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); in these programs, FDR did his best to put the nation back to work. (Wheeler, 1-3).

In the midst of this Depression, Emerson J. Griffith, WA Director for Oregon, searching for ways to put Oregonians to work, came up with the idea of building a lodge on Mount Hood, at 11,235 feet, Oregon’s highest mountain, a mecca for mountaineers, skiers, and travelers. On Dec. 17, 1935, according to Christine Barnes, the WPA approved the project. The U.S. Forest Service provided the land, and Congressional and private funding was promised. Then began the search for an architect of note. Gilbert Stanley Underwood, who’d already left his mark on Yosemite, Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon national parks, was selected. But the U.S. Forest Service’s architects determined to have their say as well. In the end, both sides agreed to make Timberline a joint venture.

The result was a central wigwam roof, with two wings; at the center would be a massive octagonal fireplace—later changed to hexagonal. Instead of Underwood’s preferred great log exterior, park architects chose a board-and-batten, clapboard, and stone exterior, typical of some of Portland’s grandest mansions. The lodge was designed to grow right out of the mountain, the 92-foot high central conical head-house fireplace looming above the lodge roofline in the same manner the mountain itself juts up from its base. Wisely, they positioned the hotel at 6,000 feet, at the foot of the Palmer Snowfield, to capitalize on its potential to thereby attract skiers. Hundreds of unemployed were now put to work.

Underwood’s two-entry concept had to do with separating two potential clientele: skiers used the ground entry, and recreational visitors used the upper. The great hexagonal chimney sports six fireplaces, three in the lower lounge and three in the upper one. Griffith and park architects concluded that blacksmithing, wood-carving, and weaving would complement the architecture; a stroke of genius had to do with enlisting Portland interior decorator Margery Hoffman Smith to bring a “woman’s touch” to the project; she it was who brought stylistic harmony to the interior. What makes the lodge extra special is all the whimsical wood carvings of animals of the Northwest, some even in the balustrades.

One of the hand carved owl balustrade on the stairway.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness all these creative people who were longing to make a difference and desperately needed the work. What no one had anticipated was the resultant explosion of creativity on the part of the artisans; the result was much the same as what made Europe’s soaring Gothic cathedrals such masterpieces: each workman, even if carving or sculpting a portion of the structure far above the ground level—if it were but a gargoyle—gave it his all as if it were to last forever. Griffith, in a telegram, put it this way: “These men indeed feel they are putting their skill into a cathedral. Coming up from the depths of despair they work with a spiritual exaltation that sometimes amazes me.” (Barnes, 69).

President Roosevelt was there, on September 28. 1937, to dedicate Timberline Lodge to the nation; the ceremony was carried live on radio. It cost far more than estimated: $1,000,000 instead of $250,000. But today, a million visitors a year flood in. Because of this, the lodge is continually re-created with craftsmen who replace the furniture, drapery, bedspreads, ironwork, leatherwork, etc., in order to preserve the original look, quality, and condition. One of these contemporary ironworkers, Darryl Nelson noted that “The best compliment they can give us is when we see someone looking at iron we just put in and they’re saying, ‘Boy, they don’t make stuff like this any more.’” (Barnes, 71).

Like most of these wondrous old lodges, Timberline went through its tough times: it was closed during World War II; after the war, mismanagement forced it to close its doors for nonpayment of utility bills. It was saved only because of the single-minded passion of Richard Kohnstamm; his son, Jeff, keeps the dream alive today. Today, when its now world-famous Palmer Snowfield that retains its snow year-round makes Timberline home to one of the most energetic ski and snowboard scenes on the planet. Here organized training camps from all over the world work on their skills all through the summer months in the longest ski season in North America. (This section, Barnes, 61-71).

* * * * *

Miraculously, this one-of-a-kind treasure of a lodge is still with us. It is different from most other old lodges in that it is urban (only minutes away from Portland); like it or not, it is loved to death by millions. If people like Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and me feel outnumbered by the skiers, if we miss the great unified lobbies of sister lodges, and the serenity that keeps them alive into a new century, we ought not to begrudge sharing Timberline with others who cherish it for different reasons than we do.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks I (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002). [Be sure and secure a copy of this book, for the “rest of the story”!]

AAA book on Oregon [an invaluable source].

“The Art of Timberline,” (Portland, OR: Friends of Timberline, n.d.

“Timberline” (Timberline Lodge brochure).

“Timberline Lodge—an Expression of Hope and Purpose” (U.S. Forest Service brochure)

SPECIAL NOTE

Next Wednesday, we move on to Paradise Inn on the slopes of Mount Rainier.

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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.