Ken Hartke

Follow author Add as friend Message author Subscribe to updates from author Subscribe via RSS
I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise I (maybe) found a more public voice.

Ghost Birds


Here they come again...heading north....primeval, ancient wanderers. This morning's flight was the first group I've seen this year...actually heard because they are so high you can't really make them out. Their croaking call seems to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. They seem early but we are already into the 70s each day. They must leave Bosque del Apache at dawn and make it here north of Albuquerque by 10:30. They might make it to Colorado by sunset if they can get over the mountains.



High cranes 2


Cranes, lost to our sight


in the sun drenched sky above,


call out sad farewells.

high cranes


They'll be back next fall


to do it all once again.


The bosque awaits.



Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Wonderful feat of Nature. I've never seen a crane. Here in Norwich, we're very luck to see murmurations of starlings every after... Read More
Sunday, 21 February 2016 12:30
Stephen Evans
Beautiful. - so graceful.
Sunday, 21 February 2016 16:10
Ken Hartke
Thanks for the comments. The cranes, when in a large flock, transcend time...they have been doing this for eons. They are like di... Read More
Sunday, 21 February 2016 16:49
640 Hits

So Now Comes The Wind

So now comes the wind —
our winter’s downhill neighbor
testing the hinges.

From beyond, somewhere
in a distant mountain place,
it comes to life.

It finds its power —
it scours the dead and dying —
it tries to take you.

But you bow your head.
You divert your swollen eyes.
It passes over.

A born acrobat,
Tumbleweed pulls up her skirts
and scatters her seeds.

It takes what it wants
leaving man and beast behind
tumbling into spring.


Recent Comments
Former Member
Ken, Is this yours? I remember those New Mexico sand storms and how they could come out of nowhere -- a peaceful day and suddenl... Read More
Saturday, 06 February 2016 18:21
Ken Hartke
Yeah Charlie ...these little poems pop out of my head every now and then. Everything here inspires me to write much more than befo... Read More
Sunday, 07 February 2016 00:29
Former Member
It didn't seem to do D.H. Lawrence any harm. -- C
Sunday, 07 February 2016 08:25
652 Hits

In Praise of Old Hotels - Part 11: Grand Canyon


I was recently on a week-long vacation to Flagstaff, Arizona as a pre-Christmas holiday. I've discovered that I enjoy going places in mid-winter when everyone is in pretty good spirits. I've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon in winter so I took this opportunity to schedule a vacation within a vacation and spend a couple days on the South Rim. I booked a night in Bright Angel Lodge in a cabin positioned close to the canyon rim.

The Canyon is not crowded in mid-December. It was cold and snowy and there were a few hardy winter back-packers and a couple dozen Chinese tourists and a few others. I have always been to the Grand Canyon in warmer weather with hordes of people. This seemed almost empty by comparison.

The drive up from Flagstaff is only about two hours. I took my time and stopped at some Indian pueblo ruins and at a few spots along the Little Colorado River gorge. We had snow the previous day and it was a pretty drive with very few other cars. I entered the National Park at the east entrance and stopped along the rim drive at several places to take pictures. I got to Bright Angel Lodge around 4 PM.

Bright Angel Lodge


BA_Hotel_1910The Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919 but there had already been a great deal of activity and tourist development prior to the park's existence. Individual developers and entrepreneurs had lodging and tour businesses but it was quite rustic. The original Bright Angel Hotel and camp was built around 1900 as a mix of tent and rustic log-cabin hotel accommodations. Ownership passed through a several hands until the Grand Canyon Railroad acquired the property along the south rim of the canyon. Tourism was picking up and in 1905 the railroad constructed the sprawling El Tovar Hotel operated by the Fred Harvey hotel chain.   The rustic Bright Angel Hotel operation, upgraded to cabins instead of tents,  continued after the National Park was established with the El Tovar Hotel serving as the primary grand hotel at the canyon.

The Santa Fe Railway, owner of the Grand Canyon Railroad,  wanted quality lodging for the visitors to the park and saw the need for improvement at the Bright Angel operation. The railroad was already heavily engaged with Fred Harvey beginning in 1876 when he opened his first railroad restaurant in Topeka. There were Harvey Hotels scattered along the railroad's major passenger routes in the west.  In 1930 the railroad teamed up with Harvey and Harvey's architect, Mary Colter, to replace the aging Bright Angel Hotel with a new Harvey-run hotel to be called the Bright Angel Lodge.  Colter had already built two Grand Canyon concession facilities:  Hopi House in 1905 and Hermit's Rest in 1914.




Colter's first proposed design was for a large stone structure but Harvey and the railroad opted for a more rustic stone and timber lodge. The main lodge building, completed in 1935, is an impressive re-thinking of the original rustic hotel.  Like the original, it is perched on the rim of the canyon and equipped with large stone fireplaces and log cabin style sections interspersed with rough stone walls.

The interior is styled as a mountain hunting lodge with large fireplaces and a soaring vaulted ceiling of timbers. The "Bright Angel" is the Thunderbird image over the main fireplace. There is a second large fireplace in what is now the History Room that is constructed with the same sequence of stone that one would find in the stone layers of the canyon.

The restaurant has been modernized but you can still see Colter's design in the rough log wall decorations and the ceiling beams. Earlier pictures show this as dark stained wood but now it is much brighter. I ate in the main restaurant (there are two) and the food was good and unusually expensive.  I had trout for dinner and my breakfast was a typical sausage and eggs. This was not fast food...plan to stay a while. There were guests at breakfast who were unhappy with the service and the food but mine was fine...just slow.

I also took advantage of the bar and had a couple beers during happy hour. Selection was limited but okay. It was a cold day and there was a constant stream of guests looking for coffee or hot chocolate. Unfortunately the hot chocolate machine broke down earlier in the day. I could have made a killing with a hot chocolate concession. I suspect that the hotel staff might be somewhat reduced in winter months and service is slower.

The Cabins, where I stayed,  were also designed by Mary Colter and are perched along the canyon rim or scattered to the west of the main lodge. These are a mix of semi-attached and stand-alone structures.

I stayed in a "partial view" cabin which is maybe fifty feet from the rim and has a nice view of the canyon. Most of the cabins do not have a canyon view. In mid-winter I would recommend sweaters and warm clothes if you stay in a cabin. There were a few cabins with fireplaces but mine had baseboard heat and was a little chilly. Considering that the cabins are eighty years old they are comfortable and in good condition. They are not as rustic on the inside as they appear from the outside. 



El Tovar Hotel



Besides Bright Angel Lodge there are plenty of other accommodations close by. El Tovar Hotel, constructed in 1905, is the grandest hotel in the park. You can imagine hotel guests arriving in stage coaches from the railroad station and being greeted by the "Harvey Girls". I didn't stay there but roamed around the lobby and the large sitting porches that look out over the canyon or the front approaches where the carriages or touring cars would have pulled up. In warmer weather that's where I would be.

There are modern hotel and motel accommodations as well. The Thunderbird Lodge offers another option close to the canyon rim and it is located between El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge. None of the canyon rim lodging options are inexpensive but there is no other place quite like this so you end up paying a premium price.




 *     *     *




Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Thanks for taking us along with you. I like your hotel descriptions.
Friday, 29 January 2016 07:15
Former Member
I no longer post on the site but I check in from time to time and always look for reports of your travels and observations. I miss... Read More
Saturday, 30 January 2016 21:07
Ken Hartke
Well -- I'm always glad to have you along for the ride.
Saturday, 30 January 2016 22:39
722 Hits

In Praise of Old Hotels - Part 12: Gallup, NM


El Rancho Hotel – Gallup, NM

During my late December trip to Flagstaff I was looking forward to stopping at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico, on the way home. I had heard stories about the place. It was a "must see" according to people who had been there. My curiosity was caught up in the anticipation of a classic old hotel. On my way west I spent a night in the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona, and at Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon. Both of those places were part of the Harvey Hotel operation and were associated with the Santa Fe Railway.


The El Rancho and the La Posada were often inhabited by movie stars when they were working in the area shooting old western films. My expectations were influenced by my stay at the La Posada and at Bright Angel Lodge. That was unfair and unrealistic. The El Rancho is a different animal.


When I write up these hotel blog postings I think in terms of classifying the places as historical or haunted or tourist hotels. They can be Route 66 "Mother Road" hotels or railroad hotels. The El Rancho fits in several categories but not easily into just one.


It certainly has history. It opened in 1937 and was built and operated by R. E. GriffGriffith, the brother of D. W. Griffith, the early film industry pioneer who directed "Birth of a Nation". I guess the Griffith boys knew this would be prime movie making territory. The hotel was designed by Joe Massaglia who later had an ownership interest in the classic southwestern Franciscan Hotel in Albuquerque (demolished in the 1970s, of course). As far as I could discover, Joe Massaglia never designed anything else. Although it was never a Harvey Hotel, the staff members were trained by the Harvey Company. The Harvey Company had a large hotel in Gallup, the El Navaho, which was designed by Mary Colter but (you guessed it) demolished in the 1950s.


The El Rancho is a rambling and rustic sort of place. It was touted as "the World's Largest Ranch House" with the charm of yesterday and the convenience of tomorrow. It intentionally looks a little rustic and scruffy like one would expect of a wild west ranch house. It has been described as having a southern plantation look to it. I can see that a little. It has been added to over the years but the three-story central part is the original structure. The place is close to the railroad and positioned on old Route 66. It is definitely a tourist hotel and I wonder about the possibility of hauntings.



My arrival was at night and the parking lot out in front was jammed. I was wondering what the huge draw was but found out that there was a local Christmas party going on. The lobby is a two-story showplace of western and movie memorabilia. You immediately know you are in the American west if you have somehow awakened from a coma. The second floor lobby balcony is almost covered in old movie star publicity shots, mostly autographed. Just about everybody from Hollywood westerns and even some Egyptian or Middle Eastern themed films stayed here. There was a nicely decorated and huge Christmas tree taking up one part of the lobby.




I was booked into the Alan Ladd room on the second floor up an impressive staircase (the elevator wasn't working). It was across the hall from the Jane Fonda room and there were a dozen other actors' names on the other rooms nearby. John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, and Gregory Peck all stayed here, among others. I could have booked the Ronald Reagan room but chose not to for personal reasons. The hallways have southwestern Indian-style murals painted on the walls.


Alan Ladd, it turns out, suffered from (terminal) chronic insomnia and probably didn't get much sleep in my room. He might have been pacing the floor all night -- it was big enough and he was only about five foot six.  I'd like to think that maybe he just read a book. 

The hotel furnishings look like they are from the movie star era. There are a few chairs made out of cow horns out in the lobby. I had furniture in my room that I suspect dated from the 1930s or 1940s. That is not to say that it was restored or refurbished, it just seemed to be original and matched some of the furniture out in the lobby. The two beds in my room were not original but were quite comfortable and I slept well. They have Wi-Fi but it is an odd system based on room numbers and service is hit and miss. I was actually curious about any reported hauntings in the place. People have reported hearing footsteps and laughter and some mysteriously moved objects. I heard footsteps and laughter but there was a party going on. I suspect it is pretty much spirit free....but maybe a little creepy.


The Christmas party was still going on as I went into the dining room to eat. The food was simple but plentiful. I had a steak and it was good. The waitress was friendly and cheerful, like those that call you "dearie" or "honey", which was nice for a change. You wouldn't get that homey treatment at the La Posada or Bright Angel Lodge. I had a good "cowboy" breakfast the next morning and got the same treatment.

The restaurant décor is sort of Mexican, sort of Western, and sort of Oriental all at once. I'm guessing a Hollywood concoction of styles. The restaurant is popular with local Gallup folks who seem to be somewhat entertained by scrutinizing the hotel guests. There aren't many movie stars eating in the restaurant these days but they seemed happy to speculate and watch me eat my breakfast. I took my time and gave them a good show.


The hotel went into bankruptcy in the 1980s and was heading for demolition when it was purchased by Armand Ortega for $500,000. He spent another $500,000 refurbishing it and got it back on its feet and reopened in 1988.  Mr. Ortega, who died in 2014, was an accomplished businessman and national park concessionaire. He operated restaurants and southwestern art gift shops and spent a lot of time at the El Rancho visiting with guests. There is a large Ortega gift shop at the hotel just off the lobby.  I left the El Rancho thinking that it needed some help. It is on the Historic Register and they obtained a grant a while back to fix the wooden shingled roof.


The place has its own style and is not easily placed in one category or another. That accounts for some of the charm of the place. There are no obvious stories of movie stars riding their horses into the lobby or tales of it once being a brothel. You are left with the notion that this is a place stuck in time but also in transition for a long time...maybe from the start. First the railroad, then Route 66, movie stars and film crews are now mostly gone, the interstate highway is across town.  It is a little off the beaten path unless you are following the Mother Road.   Improvements and additions were made and some were probably not well conceived. Maintenance costs must be very high. With the death of Mr. Ortega I'm not sure what the ownership status is or what the future holds.


Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Thanks so much for these informative posts and all the pictures. They're a lovely addition to your series and well worthy of some ... Read More
Thursday, 28 January 2016 17:44
Ken Hartke
Thanks. I'm glad people enjoy following my rambling offerings -- both geographic rambling and the wordy kind. I also post these ... Read More
Thursday, 28 January 2016 18:09
Katherine Gregor
Your hotels come across as characters in their own right, Ken.
Friday, 29 January 2016 07:19
623 Hits

Latest Comments

Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
19 February 2018
High praise! Thank you.
Katherine Gregor A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
18 February 2018
Beckett would be envious.
Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
05 February 2018
I just realized that the last two posts were plays. How true to the spirit of The Green Room!
Rosy Cole A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
04 February 2018
Interesting dynamic. Reflects the popular conception of 'democracy'. (Look at it this way, the US is...
Ken Hartke Flipping the Omelet
01 February 2018
One word: Fritatta

Latest Blogs

Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam. Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam. Amplius lava me ab iniq...
At Rise:    A man is doing something. An alien enters and watches him. Alien:       Why are you doing that? Man:        Needs doing. Alien:       H...
The Scene: A bar. The Players: Novelists, children's writers, academics, translators, journalists, biographers, and other assorted literary intellect...
  I was born only a few short miles from the Father of Waters. The Mississippi River is a constant presence in my psyche and my memories; always chan...
Very few people who have eaten my cooking realize that I am an expert cook. My topic today is flipping the omelet. (Disclaimer: my omelets don't lo...