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 10: Winslow, Arizona

 

mail1La Posada Hotel — I’m on the road again. I decided to give myself a Christmas present with a mid-December trip to Flagstaff, Arizona and a side trip to Grand Canyon. I might as well check out a few old hotels along the way. In the past I always sped through northern Arizona stopping only at gas stations or for fast food. This time I decided to take my time.

 

Winslow is a small town, getting smaller, and is semi-famous for the song lyrics: “Standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona…etc.  etc.” and for being close to some tourist attractions like the Painted Desert, Meteor Crater and the Petrified Forest. The Santa Fe Railroad brought thousands of tourists to Winslow each year and they all paraded through the La Posada Hotel because the hotel was also the train station. It still is but you can get to it from old Highway 66 or Business I-40 as we romantically call it now. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALa Posada is the creation of architect Mary Colter who had an impressive career designing structures in the southwest including Grand Canyon National Park. She designed Bright Angel Lodge where, if the weather cooperates, I will be staying in a few days (stay tuned). Colter also had an impressive imagination and was greatly inspired by southwestern, native, and Spanish architecture. Colter joined up with the Santa Fe Railroad and Fred Harvey and created a rambling hacienda complete with a fantastic story-line of four generations of local Spanish-Basque Grandees who ruled an imaginary cattle empire in the desert. Apparently Fred Harvey ate it all up and so did the Santa Fe Railway who paid for it all. You undoubtedly will recall the Fred Harvey hotel chain and the famous Harvey Girls that staffed the hotels. La Posada was the last great Harvey Hotel to be built, opening in 1930. It is in a Spanish hacienda style but is quite eclectic, especially after the last renovation, since the original furnishings were auctioned off. Most of what you see is inspired by the 1930s era but it is a mix of Spanish, Indian and even Chinese….almost as if some family lived here (the owners do).

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hotel was a (modest) hit and why not? People had to walk through once they got off the train and there wasn’t much else as competition. They were serving up over 1,000 meals a day in the restaurant. There was a fleet of Packard touring cars that took tourists on eye-popping drives to see the Painted Desert and the local Navajos. 

 

The hotel stayed in operation as long as rail travel for tourists stayed strong. Route 66 brought people but by then there were some roadside tourist courts and these car people didn’t need the Packards. Finally the hotel closed down in 1957 and was later horribly renovated into offices for the railroad with drop ceilings and office partitions. The furnishings were auctioned off. In 1993 the railroad decided it wanted to dispose of the place (think demolition) and it was placed on the “most endangered” list by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It seemed to be doomed.

  

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 A white-knight appeared named Allan Affeldt who wanted to save the old hotel. The Santa Fe Railroad was not very cooperative but he finally purchased the relic in 1997. It was a mess. Besides the awful office conversion and auction and general deterioration, the walls were plastered with asbestos; apparently something that was in vogue in 1930.

 

 

It is a spacious place and it’s enjoyable just wandering around. They have an indoor walking tour that points out some of the original details.  There are also several gardens that greet the visitor but since I was visiting in December I didn’t investigate. There was a little bar — the Martini Room — that I did investigate. .There is an unusual amount of public space — lounges, galleries and sitting rooms — where a guest can find a cozy spot to read a book. The registration desk/counter is at the back of a large gift shop. Many of the public rooms have been repurposed because the hotel originally opened toward the tracks but now is geared more toward the street. 

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The guest rooms are very nicely decorated and researched. I stayed in the Victor Mature room, across the hall from the Bob Hope room and down the hall from the Gene Autry room. It’s not all guys…I think Mary Pickford and Dorothy Lamour rooms are close by as is Shirley Temple. These were pretty standard rooms but there is a Howard Hughes Hideaway suite and a nice Diane Keaton room and a Harry Truman room. Hughes stayed here quite often as the head of TWA, which had eight daily flights into Winslow. He could get here pretty easily. Some rooms have balconies and some have fireplaces.

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy room, and I guess others as well, had a stocked library with about fifty books. I like that but you don’t see it very often. Based only on the size of the bed I have to assume Victor Mature was a really big guy. The bathroom was refurbished in a 1930s style black and white tile. They have Wi-Fi and almost everything else you need. The person checking in before me requested a refrigerator and they said they would bring one to her room. I don’t have one.  This is a railroad hotel which means the trains go by all the time.  Even though there were plenty of guests it is very quiet in the rooms. I brought ear plugs just in case and you should too if you are a light sleeper. The place is big and sturdy but you still know a train is going by. Like a lot of older hotels, you might be hard pressed to find enough electrical outlets for all of your electronic devices.  We bring a lot of stuff with us now.

 

I did eat in the Turquoise Room Restaurant and I can recommend it. Bring your credit card but the food is worth it. I had pan-seared Redfish with capers and Meyer lemon sauce, steamed vegetables and fingerling potatoes with an ample supply of bread. I passed on the salad and soup but had a small desert of dark chocolate gelato with raspberries and cream in a crepe bowl. The crepe bowl would have sufficed for desert by itself.   Repent!! Repent!! You glutton!

Well — I won’t have much for breakfast.

When I waddled down the hall and up the spiral staircase to Victor’s room there was a guy playing some nice classical guitar in the sitting area.

They have complementary coffee and hot chocolate in the morning with some fruit. If you are still hungry…somehow…they also serve breakfast in the restaurant. I won’t be hungry.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPainted Desert Inn (Petrified Forest National Park) — You can’t stay here but you can look. Years ago, back when there were Packard touring cars driving visitors through the Painted Desert, there was also a mom and pop privately operated “inn” perched up on one of the prime vantage spots in the Painted Desert.

 The original place, known as the Stone Tree House, was made of petrified wood stones and operated from 1924 until around 1935 when the park bought the property. There are apparently parts of the original building inside the pueblo revival structure that you see today.

 

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As the place converted over to being a national park the old inn was  rebuilt by CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers and became the Painted Desert Inn. The place is still there as sort of a relic with a few displays of what it was like back in the day and a Ranger answering questions. The CCC workers did a wonderful job and created almost everything you see including the furniture and light fixtures. It is a sturdy little place and stands as testament of what they were able to do.

 

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I’m not sure how many of today’s visitors appreciate what this was and how it came to be. It was never very big but there were not many people who would forego the convenience and comfort of the Harvey Hotels… or they maybe were of the other, hardier extreme — camping in canvas tents along the highway. The dust bowl and the depression hit people very hard and the CCC put a lot of young men to work and a portion of their pay went to their families back home. I had an uncle who worked in a CCC crew.

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Today there is an Artist in Residence program at the park and you will possibly meet him or her at the Inn. You may also see local artisans displaying and selling their creations. When I visited on a inhospitable day in the snow there were two local people — a jewelry maker and a weaver.

I’ve been here a few times now — in the heat of summer and on this cold and snowy day and I enjoy the chance to get out and see what’s what. Usually there is a different exhibit downstairs in what used to be the taproom. The Rangers are chatty and full of information.

 

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 The Painted Desert in snow – view from the Painted Desert Inn

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Wow! An impressive post, hot off the tourist trail and nicely queued for #TravelTuesday. There's a wealth of fascinating informati... Read More
Tuesday, 15 December 2015 12:19
Stephen Evans
if you mapped all these places out and connected the dots, I wonder what it would look like...
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 03:30
Ken Hartke
It would be a mess. I haven't been along the west coast much. Mostly along Rt. 66, Rockies and the east. I'm at Bright Angel Lo... Read More
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 04:14
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Jemez River -- Fall Colors

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The Jemez River flows out of the Jemez Mountains past Jemez Springs and the ruined Jemez Mission (1622) through the Jemez Pueblo lands on its way to join the Rio Grande. Jemez is the old Pueblo tribal name -- pronounced Hay-messh but spelled as if the Spanish thought it up.  I spend as much time up there as I can — it’s not far from my house and the drive is enjoyable. Every part of our country has some expression of beautiful fall colors but here, in a desert environment, we rely on the cottonwoods for the annual show. There are some aspen groves here and there up in the mountains or the high meadows and a famous and colorful stand of maples over in the Manzano Mountains but the cottonwoods are the big performers. 

We are also pretty liberal with the title “river” around here. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve been here just two years and my way of looking at it, so far, is if the stream has water in it all year long, and maybe some fish, its a river. If it has water most of the time but might go dry once or twice, it’s a creek. If it is dry most of the year and might have water briefly once in a while after big rains, it’s an arroyo. We seem to have more arroyos than anything else.

The Jemez is a nice little river with some trout but on the day I visited it was running very muddy due to some big rains and muddy runoff from the fire-damaged mountain slopes way upstream. These mountains were created by fire long ago and still struggle with it.

 

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 The canyon is a very historic area. The local Jemez Pueblo Indians have lived here for centuries after a long migration down from the Mesa Verde area where they lived for many generations. The Spanish showed up in the late 1500s and built, or more likely had the Indians build, the massive stone mission church and complex in the middle of Gisewa Pueblo. The mission church and supporting convento buildings date to 1622 but are in ruins now, surrounded by the ruins of the old pueblo. The Spanish brought the true religion, hard labor and disease. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish out for a while but when they returned in the 1690s the Jemez people were not happy to see them and there was some hard fighting and reprisals. Walatowa, the current pueblo town, sits next to the Jemez River. The tribal visitor center offers a good deal of information and history of the area.  Los Alamos, of Manhattan Project fame, was secretly tucked into the eastern edge of the Jemez Mountains and is still there.

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San José de los Jemez Mission

The Jemez Mountains are volcanic in origin. Much of the bare rock is consolidated volcanic ash (tuff). There are numerous hot springs and the remains of one of the largest super volcanoes in North America, the Valles Caldera. There is still a lot of heat down below.

One wouldn’t know about the history or geology of the place just looking at the beautiful fall colors. On some weekends the road is clogged with folks taking pictures. One really must get out of the car to enjoy and experience the colors. Walking among the trees gives a very special perspective. I was there on Halloween day and, in that context, some of the forest was a little bit spooky.

 

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This is a “Bosque” forest…growing up on either side of a stream. The soil is deep on the valley floor and the place is well watered.    

 

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This is artist country. The New Mexico artists, including Georgia O'Keeffe and Gustave Baumann, were inspired by the color and light of northern New Mexico. Rather than me running my mouth, or my keyboard, I’ll just post some pictures. If you are ever in New Mexico I encourage you to visit the Jemez Mountains any time but especially near the end of October.  There is a nice little winery up one of the side canyons.

 

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Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Spectacular post! Great info and atmosphere. You live in an enthralling landscape, full of wonderful contradiction. Thanks, Ken!... Read More
Friday, 20 November 2015 13:21
Ken Hartke
Thanks, Rosie. New Mexico is called "the Land of Enchantment" but sometimes (half) jokingly "the Land of Entrapment" because it is... Read More
Friday, 20 November 2015 18:04
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In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 9: Marfa Texas

 

Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. Now he's too rich to kill."

-- Uncle Bawley in 'Giant'

MARFA, TEXAS

We made our way to west Texas in a roundabout sort of way through the New Mexico mountains, heading toward Marfa. Maybe you have heard of Marfa, Texas, way out west...way out.  Marfa is located 74 miles from  Van Horn and has around 2,000 residents. This part of west Texas is sparsely populated with many miles between towns. As you approach town there isn't much to see other than west Texas desert and a Prada store sitting all alone out on the empty highway. In this part of the world you need a sense of humor to survive. Marfa is a place known for its art and artists, its writers-in-residence program and a theater group.  The Prada store is an example of the off-kilter and experimental creativity of the art scene...a fake Prada store in the middle of nowhere.

 

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  Marfa has another lasting claim to fame. It was the location for shooting the movie "Giant" released in 1956. It was James Dean's last movie.

EL COSMICO

Our Marfa destination was El Cosmico, a camping site just outside of Marfa. This is not exactly a normal hotel and it would not be considered old...unless you consider sleeping in a teepee as old. This is more of a "glamping" experience.

 

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We were booked in at El Cosmico for two nights. The first night in two safari tents and the second night in a teepee. The safari tents were nice; equipped with a queen size bed, side tables and a chair all on a raised wooden floor. There was a hanging pendant light as well as a reading light and a radio. The best part was the heated mattress pad. This was November and it was pretty cold at night -- down in the low 40s -- and the heated bed was great. Very cozy

 

 

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The place is rustic to say the least. The bath house provides the communal shower and toilet facility. The shower house also includes a claw-foot tub if you are bold enough to try it. There is a kitchen house where campers can cook their own meals. They also have a small store but not much else. Besides the safari tents and the teepees there are a number of vintage (1950ish) trailers. The trailers had cooking facilities and bathrooms.

While it was great fun and very comfortable in the safari tent, I opted to sleep elsewhere and made plans to stay at a local hotel the second night. This was based on a medical complication that I should have planned for and didn't...my fault, not El Cosmico's. My daughter opted to stay in the teepee the second night.

 

She had a great experience with the teepee. One really has to stay in a well-constructed teepee at least once to appreciate it. It was much larger and had a cow hide covered wooden floor and a couch/futon as well as the chair and side tables and heated queen bed. There were three tepees and about eight safari tents as well as the six or eight vintage travel trailers. I think I would consider one of the trailers for my next visit.

 

We were hoping to see a dark night sky and thousands of stars but it was a full moon and we mostly saw the moon. We could walk anywhere at night without a flash light because the moon was so bright. It is known to be a good spot to take pictures of the night sky because there is almost no light pollution and the low humidity cuts down on the haze.

 

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 HOTEL PAISANO - MARFA, TX  

 
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I already mentioned that I opted to stay at a local hotel the second night in Marfa.  The Hotel Paisano is a historic hotel on the national register, built in 1930 and designed by Henry Trost, a well known southwestern architect.  The hotel was used to house actors during the filming of the Edna Ferber classic "Giant".

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The hotel is restored (mostly) and is well maintained. They seem very proud of the hotel and its history. The main lobby is a shrine to west Texas Spanish revival.  All of the public areas are nicely kept and restored. The rooms are quite large for an eighty year old hotel and are well maintained but in need of just a little more restoration. The bathrooms are beautifully preserved from the 1930s.

 

 

My room was nice and roomy with some nice period (1930-40) style furniture. It had French doors leading out to the balcony overlooking a large courtyard with a fountain. It was a little too cold to take full advantage of the balcony but in warmer weather it would be great.

 

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The hotel has a nice and popular restaurant. The food was good and plentiful with a varied menu but the prices were a little high…but where are you gonna go…Van Horn?

 

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WHAT TO DO

 Giant posterWe were on a tight schedule -- visiting Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountain National Park and the distances are such that you have to leave early and you get back late. If we had more time there is plenty to do in Marfa. The town is small but it is artsy -- there are several art galleries and art studios. The theater company will often put on performances. You might see a movie being made. Scenes from "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will be Blood" were filmed in Marfa. There is really nothing left to see of the movie set from "Giant" but the area will look familiar if you know the movie.  There also is a local paranormal spectacle called The Marfa Lights, which you can drive out to at night and try to see. So many folks do that they have set up a designated parking lot and viewing area so people won't park on the highway and get run over.  This is west Texas, after all.

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This is my last installment of my In Praise of Old Hotels series until I get back out on the road. It might be a few months but I'll get there.

 

 

Recent Comments
Former Member
Sorry to see this series end; it has filled me with envy at times but I've enjoyed every story. If compiled into a booklet it wou... Read More
Friday, 23 October 2015 00:29
Ken Hartke
I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll be on the road again before the year is out. I've got itchy feet and always wanted to see the Grand... Read More
Friday, 23 October 2015 04:50
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In Praise of Old Hotels — Part 8: Faunbrook Inn

FAUNBROOK INN - WEST CHESTER, PA 

James Baldwin was a local millionaire in the 1860s who had the need for a fine home so he built himself a very impressive place in West Chester. The home later belonged to GOP Congressman Smedley Darlington (what a name) who was also, of course, a wealthy oilman. The house is now the Faunbrook Inn. It's not exactly a hotel -- it is clearly a house -- but the Inn is very impressive. The house is constructed in a Federal-Italianate style with three floors and a large wrap-around porch with ornamental ironwork. There is a large parlor, library, dining room and sitting room/bar on the first floor and very nice bedrooms on the second and third floors.

The rooms are spacious and furnished with antiques. Each guest room had a private bath. The house was extremely quiet considering that it was 150 years old. Apart from the sound of someone using the stairs you could not hear anything from the rest of the house...not even water running or toilets flushing. People seemed comfortable congregating in the library. The porch was also very inviting since the weather was mild and the first floor windows and doors were open. There were large windows in the parlor that converted into doors so people could drift in and out as they pleased.. We were there as part of a wedding group so there was about a dozen people mingling throughout the Inn.

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The breakfasts were excellent - French Toast strata with apples, berries and cream, apple-flavored sausage, scrambled eggs, juice and coffee...that was day 1. Day 2 was just as good and included an extra sample of the local "Scrapple" which is apparently a Pennsylvania thing -- sort of a sausage made up of butchering leftovers that tasted like bland sausage mixed with sawdust. Must be an acquired taste. The group managed to polish it all off.  I was so busy eating I forgot to ask if this was the standard breakfast or something special for the wedding guests. It seemed like it was a normal breakfast based on how it was served.

 

The wedding took place at the Inn in the garden on a brick patio next to the porch. The garden has a natural look to it but sort of a faded glory feel as if it was there when the inn was built.

What to do in the Brandywine Valley? -- Go to Baldwin's Book Barn

The thing to see close by is Baldwin's Book Barn -- a five story barn built in 1822 by the Darlington family (remember Smedley?) that was converted into a book store 75 years ago by William Baldwin (must be the son of the guy that built the Inn). It's only a short distance south of the Faunbrook Inn. A person could spend a weekend just roaming around in the stacks. Books are arranged by categories, more or less, and then shelved by author, more or less. The special first editions and rare books are on the first floor. Apparently they sell books by the foot. You can purchase refurbished leather-bound books at $300 per foot for your executive library...if you have one.  We spent about an hour wandering around. I like Joseph Conrad and got a couple of his novels while there.

 
Recent Comments
Former Member
Didn't you discover the Brandywine River Museum while you were there? Fascinating place and beautiful. Three generations of Wyeth... Read More
Sunday, 11 October 2015 21:35
Ken Hartke
Charlie -- we were sort of house bound with the wedding party so we didn't get out much. We encountered a hurricane as we were on ... Read More
Monday, 12 October 2015 00:24
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