Ken Hartke

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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.

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.

 

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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

 

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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.

 

Thunderbird

 

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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
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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.

 

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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 gunfights...no 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
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The Autumn Visitor

 

 

About five years ago, maybe six, I did something that people tell you to never -- never, ever -- do. That would be meeting someone through a casual internet forum exchange; maybe two or three exchanges and then invite them into your home…without knowing anything about them. It happened so casually and easily that I almost didn’t realize it at the time. The result being that I had a stranger coming from about 5,000 miles away who could not speak English and we would be spending the better part of a week together.  When I mentioned this to my daughter her head almost exploded….”What were you thinking?”  Okay…I get it. Maybe he is a serial killer. Maybe he’s an international fugitive looking for a place to hide out.

 

The person, I most often just called him “Denis from France”, is about my age and lives in the west of France, in Brittany, and has a little truck garden where he grows and sells vegetables in retirement. The garden is big enough that he has a smallish Farmall tractor.  He was once a high ranking police officer before retirement and has an obsession for old rock and roll music and musicians. He is divorced and has a high school age son.  I didn’t see any red flags. We had things in common --- same age, both retired, both with a criminal justice background, both single, both like old rock and roll, both have a kid. The fact that I don’t speak French and we couldn’t easily communicate didn’t seem like that much of a problem.

 

We met on the internet almost by accident. He was asking questions on a forum that I sometimes visit and I supplied the answers. The next thing I knew, he was on his way.  The deed was done and he was coming.  The town where I lived at the time, Jefferson City, Missouri, was not exactly a cosmopolitan hot spot. I don’t have a clear understanding of what French people do from day to day. I’ve never been to France. What were we going to do?  On a positive note, he was coming in October; a pretty time to visit.

 

As it turns out, Denis was going to attend a few old rocker concerts and my visit was sort of a way to spend time between these concerts and see parts of the country. He has a way of worming his way into the concert roadie brotherhood. He shows up a day or so before the concert and won’t leave so they give him something to do and he gets to hob-nob with Leon Russel or whoever. These old rock stars don’t have what you would call a security detail. If they tell him to go away he pretends (perhaps?) to not get the message and there aren’t many roadies who can speak French.

 

So, a day or so before he arrived I got a message that he was going to stay at a local motel and not at my home. Okay…whatever works will be fine.  We made plans for me to pick him up and we would go to see the local sights…such as they were. I got to the motel – one of those where the rooms open to the outside parking lot. I knocked on the motel door and it opened and a tremendous cloud of smoke billowed from the room out into the parking lot.  I almost jumped back from the door. Denis appeared through the fog. Yikes – I didn’t know someone could smoke that much and live.  We made our introductions the best that we could and started off on our adventure.

 

Denis carries a fat French-English dictionary with him wherever he goes. We spent four days together and our communication was very odd with lots of confusion and misunderstandings.  Much of our time was spent thumbing through the dictionary pages looking up words. I can't even pronounce French words in a way that he could understand what I was saying so half the time I ended up pointing to words in the dictionary. Denis was a little better with English but not much. English has words with origins in French and I figured that there would be a few words that we would have almost in common. Unfortunately, sometime after the Battle of Hastings there has been a conceptual change in some of those words. We had to resort to sign language quite often.

 

I tried some chitchat. It was slow going but we managed.  I tried to explain that Missouri was initially settled by the French which explained the various French place names but he was not impressed by that revelation. I asked if he had ever been to Quebec – of course not. Why would he ever want to go to Quebec? He also had never ventured anywhere out of France other than to the US. I mentioned that some of my ancestors were French Walloon Huguenots. His reaction to that was not good….I take it that Walloons are not highly respected in his part of France. I felt that this was going downhill very quickly.

 

My little town is in Missouri’s old German wine country so I figured I would take Denis to a local winery. French people like wine…right?  Maybe I chose the wrong winery. We sat outside in the autumn afternoon sipping the local wine along with a plate of some snacks – cheese, an apple, crackers, etc.  It was a beautiful day and I was having a good time. Denis took two sips of the wine and would not drink any more of it. The best I could tell was that he didn’t think it was very good.  It dawned on me later that perhaps alcohol was not on his list of things to drink but I would not have known given our limited communication skills. There are a few hiking trails on the winery grounds that go along the Missouri River bluff so we took off on a hike with me trying to explain about Lewis and Clark. The trail we were on ended at a place that was noted and described in their journals back in 1804. This is all hot stuff if you are from this general locality and the local history starts around 1700 but to Denis 1804 was like last Wednesday.

 

Denis had a rental car so when we were not together touring the wonderful sights he was out on his own. He met a woman in a local café who was originally from France and they had breakfast together a couple days.  He seemed happy to have that connection.

 

He was visiting in late October and everything was geared up for Halloween. Although I don't do any decorating, people in my town went all out decorating their houses and yards for Halloween. Some folks had pretend tombstones in their yards, skeletons or cobwebs hanging out of trees and witches flying on broomsticks.  I think Denis understood the concept of Halloween but was a little confused by the decorations and the weirdness (as am I, frankly).  Because much of how we communicated was non-verbal, it was hard to gauge his reaction. This was not his first visit to the US and he would usually come in October and November. I’m sure he had encountered this before but it seemed like he was a little disturbed by the craziness.

 

We were literally walking through trenches and crunching on spent shell casings underfoot while looking at displays and old military equipment. There were sound effects and flashes of light. Denis was so impressed that he called his son in France to tell him about it right then and there. At least I think that's what he was talking about. I thought things were looking up…Denis was enjoying his visit.

 

Well, what else can we do…this is October in the Midwest. I took him to a corn maze, one of the Midwest’s finest autumn traditions. He had no real understanding of what we were doing because I failed miserably at trying to explain it. I guess they don’t have corn mazes in Brittany. Once there he was mildly amused as we wandered around through a maze of seven foot high rows of corn. We could hear voices of other people lost in the corn but couldn’t see them. It took us a while to find our way out but we did and were presented with an official certificate of completion. This was a working farm where city people go to pick out their own pumpkins or apples and they have all sorts of gourds and squash. Kids can go on pony rides or hayrides. At one point Denis got excited because he saw a tractor that was the exact year, make and model of his Farmall tractor at home. I thought that he would break down in tears. I took his picture by the tractor. He seemed very pleased.

 

So, at the end of the visit he said his goodbye, in English, and I said 'Bon Voyage' and he went on to his next stop in Kansas City. I guess we managed to break through the language barrier (somewhat) but got hung up on the culture barrier a couple times. All in all it was a good experience. I lived to tell about it and so did he.

 

A few days later I got a message from Denis. He visited Kansas City and thought it had more to offer than Jefferson City. I guess I can't argue with that. Denis comes back to the US for other concert visits almost every year but he always steers clear of central Missouri for some reason.  I admire Denis and his perseverance. He knows what he likes and does what he wants to do. He has no qualms about travelling alone and that is another thing we have in common. It has been several years now since his visit and I hear from him every year around New Year’s wishing me a pleasant, healthy and happy new year. I do the same. He writes in English and I respond in French.

 

Recent Comments
Orna Raz
This is a lovely story, so typical of you. Funny my daughter had a similar reaction to yours when she first heard that I was going... Read More
Sunday, 10 January 2016 22:05
Katherine Gregor
What a great story, and what a wonderful, non-judgemental person you must be to take it all in your stride.
Monday, 11 January 2016 09:16
Ken Hartke
Gosh... you make me blush. I wanted to include a picture of the church of St. Mary, Aldermanbury, but it didn't work. Here is a l... Read More
Monday, 11 January 2016 20:30
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7 Comments

Now Where Did I Put that?

I'm always misplacing something. This Christmas it was the long-loved Christmas stockings that we always put up as part of the annual tradition. I found everything else but not the Christmas stockings. What was Santa going to do??? I ended up running out to buy new stockings. This week I spent a day putting the Christmas stuff away and, of course, I found the old stockings in a place I had searched a couple times before.  Some elf must have been playing a trick on me.

Well. this week I'm looking for an old blog post. I started writing a new post and after a few paragraphs I thought "Man. this sounds very familiar...  I think I've written about this before."  I have left a trail of blogs posts across the internet. At one time I had five blogs going at once with each one on a different topic area. I think that there are twelve blogs in all but I may be forgetting one or two.   I had problems managing so many so I've consolidated and finally got down to just a couple.

Anyway, I started searching to find that long-lost blog post. I'm sure it existed. It was not on any of my currently maintained blogs on Wordpress. It was not on those old blogs over on the Weebly site  Not on Green Room.  I wondered if it was on The Red Room...  How would I know and would it still be there somewhere?

I remember pulling blog posts off of the Red Room site during those few days before it went "belly up". That was a quick salvage job, depositing them in a humongous text file...cut and past, one after the other. At the time we didn't know how or if we could access those posts in the future.   I searched my computer and found a few Red Room files. I searched the text files but couldn't find what I was looking for.

I found a Red Room link. Hmmmm. Surely this won't work.  I'm easily distracted so I tried it just to see where it would go. It went to a new "Red Room Experience".  "WELCOME TO REDROOM" it shouts. I paused for a second and then scrolled down the page. "Redroom.com is an emerging project created especially for you. We wish to share with you our extensive knowledge of finance that will soon help you live the way you want to live, without having to worry about whether you can afford it. Discover a brand new lifestyle that will let you save money easily, earn it while doing what you like, and multiply your assets in the most efficient manner.

Join the Redroom Community right now and start living a life you deserve."

As I said, I'm easily distracted. I poked around a little. There was a page showing how to make money. I could make $100 a day as a day laborer or by selling my stuff on an on-line auction. Better yet, I could rent my stuff to people who wanted to use, but not own, the high quality stuff I had acquired.

This wasn't getting my anywhere. I moved on. About twenty minutes later I found what I was looking for on Wattpad. I had forgotten that I even posted much on that site. I might need to hire a day laborer to keep track of the stuff I misplace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
I know just what you mean! Just before Christmas, I went out to buy a pencil sharpener, because I couldn't find my old one. Then,... Read More
Saturday, 09 January 2016 16:08
Ken Hartke
Katherine -- There must be a natural law that if you misplace something and then purchase a replacement you will soon find the ori... Read More
Saturday, 09 January 2016 16:42
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