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Archive for July, 2002

I know I really like a place when it’s difficult to leave and that’s exactly how I felt as I prepared to check out of the historic Weasku Inn in Grants Pass, Oregon. In fact, I found it so hard to leave that, after checking out, I set up my laptop in the Great Room downstairs, which bought me a few extra hours at this historic lodge before hitting the road again.

This must be how the many celebrities who frequented the inn during the 1930’s and 40’s felt. It’s just not an easy place to leave, especially if returning to the hustle and bustle of Hollywood life. Zane Grey, Bing Crosby and Walt Disney all stayed at the inn during this period of time. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were also frequent guests and, after Carole Lombard’s death, Clark Gable spent weeks in seclusion there.

I arrived in a somewhat frazzled mood, with a lingering headache from travel, and was not the most cheerful guest to arrive at a registration desk. But I was greeted cheerfully by the enthusiastic and friendly front desk staff. No employee blues here. And why should there be? The Weasku Inn place is a slice of paradise. My brittle road nerves began to relax immediately.

I had the good fortune of having the upstairs of the small lodge to myself for the evening, as other guests had reserved cabins. I took Room #5, just at the top of the stairs. It was rustic and elegant at the same time, with a twig headboard and oatmeal, honey and almond bath products. A side window looked out across the garden and down toward the river. Though the room had all the comforts of modern amenities – television, phone, hair dryer, iron – they were unobtrusively placed, helping maintain the historic feeling of the inn. With the other rooms vacant, I had the sense of having the entire lodge to myself. I had a cozy retreat upstairs, as well as a spacious main floor of common areas. It was ideal.

Seated in one of two Stickley sofas, in front of a massive river rock fireplace, I watched as other guests checked in and headed toward the Rogue River, where cabins sat on the edge of the property. Though the cabins were spacious, I preferred my smaller room in the lodge, as it allowed me to remain in the original building, surrounded by the same log walls that have been there since the inn was built in 1924.

After settling into the room, I ventured back downstairs, where a buffet offered complimentary chilled white wine and hors d’oeuvres. I fetched a soda for myself and built a small cheese and cracker feast, which I carried to a table in the Rainbow Room, named after Rainbow Gibson, who bought the inn from the original builders and owners in 1927. There, I jotted down some notes and looked out across the deck and through the many pine trees, joined periodically by local feline friends, all named after former celebrity guests – Zane, Walt, etc.

There were several restaurant options in the area, but I decided to take a run into Grants Pass, where I grabbed something quick from a grocery deli before returning to the inn to enjoy a quiet night in my room.

After an exquisite – and diet-destroying – continental breakfast the next morning, I wandered the grounds. From the lower level of the property I could look out at the Rogue River. The area between the river and the lodge itself provided rustic wooden benches in many corners, places to rest, read or write.

So many details at this inn added up to provide an amazing lodging experience. Pitchers of ice tea and ice water were set out in the daytime, wine, cheese and crackers in the late afternoon, cookies and milk during bedtime hours, not to mention the expansive breakfast buffet that awaited guests in the morning. Baskets of fresh fruit were available at all times. In addition, the accommodating hospitality of the inn was every bit as wonderful as refreshments, successfully striking the perfect balance between service and privacy.

I was surprised when handed my bill at check out to find that my only charge was the exact room rate itself. Not only was the usual sales tax missing, which the state of Oregon does not charge, but even the normally charged hotel tax was not on the bill. It turned out the Weasku Inn was just outside the county limits and therefore not required to charge a lodging tax.

As far as my personal preferences in lodging go, there was nothing lacking at this Rogue River retreat. Local calls were free. Movies were available from a video library, including, of course, numerous Clark Gable films. It was quiet and peaceful, filled with comfort, an easy place to relax and enjoy the peaceful side of life.

I left with a book on the history of the inn, a handful of cookies and a souvenir coffee mug. It was not an easy place to leave. But, as always, the road called.

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From a bench along Main St, I sat and studied the black cars of the McCloud Railway Company. The train sat silent and deserted, as I had arrived in McCloud, CA, on a quiet, Sunday evening. Only a hint of activity surrounded me, a few people taking walks, a local resident opening the door to his car.

The signs for the railway company proudly offered “Train Rides: 4:00 – Open Air Excursions, 6:00 – Dinner Train.” The Sunset Dinner Train is one of McCloud’s interest points, running Thurs, Fri. and Sat. during the summer season and Sat. only during the remainder of the year.

I had come to this small Northern California town, however, for what sat behind me, the historic McCloud Hotel. Now a National Register Historic Landmark, the hotel spent the late 1980’s and early 1990’s empty and condemned. During this period of time, the stately guest house that had once provided housing for lumber mill workers sat as an empty shell of the building it had been when first built in 1915.

Thanks to the efforts of Lee and Marilyn Ogden, who purchased the property in 1993 and reopened it two years later, visitors to the Mt. Shasta area have an excellent lodging option in this meticulously restored historic hotel.

I was checked into the hotel by Lee, who was juggling a multitude of tasks behind the front desk, yet still managed to extend a warm welcome.

My room faced the front of the building, with large windows that let in a glorious amount of light. Beautifully decorated in soft tones, with a queen bed, small sitting area and private bath, it was everything I needed and more. Downstairs common areas offered books, games and plenty of seating areas, all surrounded with rich woodwork and historic décor.

I arrived after the hotel’s complimentary wine and appetizer hour, served from 4:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon. But I had plenty of time to enjoy the warm ambiance of the lobby during the evening.

Not wanting to venture far from the comfy lodging, I grabbed a quick bite for dinner just down the block, returning to the hotel after that for a peaceful night of reading.

The next morning ushered in stunning weather and the hotel’s complimentary full breakfast – often served in the indoor lobby or dining room – was being served in the north garden. I grabbed a small table in the patio and took a deep breath of the morning air.

A carafe of fresh orange juice soon appeared on my table, along with a steaming cup of hot coffee. A dish of fresh peaches accompanied the beverages, with light cream that was whipped with sugar and cinnamon. Not to be upstaged by the first course, an entrée of Apple Layered French Toast with ham and berry syrup soon followed, spruced up with an attractive orange and strawberry garnish. It was all delicious, made even better by the warmth of the sun and serenity of the garden.

There are always small delights that are unique to each visit at an inn. I watched a tiny chipmunk scurry across the patio, sneak into the building and exit just as quickly. I listened to the animated conversation at a nearby table from guests who were in town for five days of square dancing at a large dance hall in town.

McCloud grew up as a company town for the McCloud River Lumber Company, established in 1896, which handled vast resources of Ponderosa and Sugar pine in the area. The decline in lumber activity over the last century has made way for tourism to build.

Aside from McCloud itself, Mt. Shasta – the city, not the mountain – is just twelve miles up the road. Summer seasons in Siskiyou Country offer a wide variety of outdoor activities and winter opens up a snow-filled scene of its own. Burney Falls offers excellent hiking and photographic opportunities. Fly-fishing, rock climbing and hot air ballooning are all possibilities, too.

I didn’t have enough time in McCloud. I would have enjoyed taking a ride on the Sunset Dinner Train, to see the area’s outstanding scenery from a restored 1916 dining car. And a relaxing afternoon in the McCloud Hotel’s lobby would have been enjoyable, as well.

I stopped briefly in the small city of Mt. Shasta, just to look around and, admittedly, to pick up some homemade blackberry cobbler at the Black Bear Diner. But it was time to move on to Oregon, so I drove north on Hwy 5 and crossed the border into California’s northern neighboring state.

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Muscatine, Iowa is known as the “Pearl of the Mississippi,” named after the large industry of pearl buttons made from mussel shells, which flourished here in the early 1900’s. There is a Pearl Button Museum, a Pearl City Station and a Pearl City Perennial Plantation. But without a doubt, the biggest pearl in Muscatine is a home-away-from-home by the name of Strawberry Farm Bed and Breakfast.

I’ve had good experiences before at B&B’s, usually comfortable and always unique and interesting. But rarely have I had the warm, welcoming hospitality that I received here, not only from the Reichert family, the proprietors, but from the entire town.

Arriving a few days into July, I was greeted warmly by Linda, who guided me in from across the river with superb directions over a not-so-superb cell phone connection. I was immediately offered raspberry ice tea, a welcome treat in the 97% humidity.

I had my choice of accommodations in the B&B wing of the old red brick farmhouse, as I was the only guest for the evening. Almost impossible to choose between the three beautiful rooms, I settled on The Cottage Room, decorated in soft blues and white eyelet, with an antique iron bed and an inviting sitting area in a bay window alcove.

After moving my overnight bag and laptop in from the car, I was given a tour of this remarkable house, which has been in the family since 1868. It is an intriguing building, from the first original room to the high-ceiling, rustic family room to the screened-in porch with a peaceful garden decor and swinging hammock. Sophie, a friendly, perfectly-behaved Golden Retriever, helped with the tour of the house. In addition to obediently performing tricks, Sophie had secretarial responsibilities, I was told. It was clear she took pride in her job and was just as hospitable as her human co-workers.

Not long after settling in, I learned the town had a parade planned the next day, which I was invited to attend, along with a fireworks display over The Mississippi River after sundown. With this opportunity to take part in a small town 4th of July celebration, I arranged to stay for two nights and hunkered down for a comfortable evening, finding myself soon fast asleep.

Morning found me sleep-walking, as always, towards the scent of fresh-brewed coffee, which was poured into a white mug with a strawberry print on the side. I tiptoed back to my room to hover over my caffeine infusion. It was not long before the aroma of homemade baked goodies floated up the stairs, enticing me back down to a setting at the porch’s picnic table that could rival anything in either Gourmet Magazine or Martha Stewart Living. From fruit medley to assorted scones and breads to a scrumptious omelet, (courtesy of Linda’s husband, Karl,) it was a feast. I devoured every last bite and headed into town to do some exploring before the festivities began.

I took advantage of the morning to wander along both main and side streets, armed only with camera and journal. There are photo opportunities everywhere in Muscatine, from the historic houses overlooking the river to the barges carrying grains and other goods up the Mississippi. I spent a good hour sitting by the river, watching people, boats, a duck with ten ducklings and other magical images of Muscatine life and then returned to accompany my new Iowa family celebrate the holiday.

The parade was everything a small town America parade is expected to be. Floats passed by with young princesses waving, children marched along throwing candy out into the crowd, politicians running for office waved and shook hands and antique cars and tractors meandered through the streets, followed by a marching band, baton twirlers and a variety of equestrian units.

There was a remarkable amount of patriotic color on display, from crepe paper, balloons and flags on cars to the sparkly red, white and blue headgear worn by a dog, obviously proud to be an American canine.

Between parade and pyrotechnics we waited in line for popcorn, arriving at our reserved front-row seats just as the first burst of color lit up the sky. It was a spectacular display, much due to the hard work of volunteers, including Linda and Karl’s son, Nathan, who helps organize and pull off the show each July.

By day’s end I was convinced that I had met everyone who lived in Muscatine and that I, too, surely lived in this wonderful heaven-on-earth. After a splurge back at the house on “Moose Tracks” ice cream and homemade hot fudge, I took in another night of peaceful sleep and another morning of delicious coffee, melon and berries, fresh blueberry coffee cake and banana nut bread. Instead of Omelet a la Karl, I had Quiche a la Linda, equally delicious. I reluctantly loaded my belongings into the car, as I knew I couldn’t linger yet another day. I needed to continue west.

Checking my calendar, I was oddly surprised to find it was July 5th. Though I knew this rationally, the sense of escape I had felt during my stay had given me the feeling that I had fallen into a different dimension of time. I made a mental note that July 4th was a great time to visit Muscatine and to step into a scene of pure American tradition. I was assured that any day of the year was a good time to visit, though the shooting of a working antique canon on the front lawn would have to substitute for the parade and fireworks.

As with many places I find on the road, it was not easy to leave. My time in Muscatine, IA, was an unexpected find on a very long road trip. And, thanks to the top-notch hospitality of the Reichert family at Strawberry Farm Bed and Breakfast, a thoroughly enjoyable stop along the way.

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“You’re staying at Jim Martin’s rustic place, ALONE??” the clerk asks me in semi-horror as I place bread, pasta, bottled water and fresh fruit on the counter by the register.

“Have you seen it?” I ask, getting what I know will be a negative shake of the head in return. The clerk follows with a story of a couple who had relayed their dismay after staying there, having to actually hike to an outhouse in the middle of the night! I just smile. Adventure has always been tempting to me. This was one I wasn’t about to pass up.

I’ve arrived in New Plymouth, Ohio, for a night in a 200 year old cabin in the Hocking Hills area. I gaze up the trail, preparing for what I hope will be one trip only of hiking in with necessary items from the car. There is no driveway to the cabin, but there is a meadow where the car can spend the night. I park backwards, so my front-wheel drive can more easily pull out the next day, in case of rain during the night. I pull what I need in clothing and toiletries from the car, repacking it into a small duffel bag and balance it with the grocery bag from the store. A third bag holds a flashlight, my journal and pen, a camera and a small coffeemaker, grinder and coffee beans.

I begin my short hike toward the cabin, past a lake with water lilies, where I hear the echo of frogs croaking, along with an occasional splash. As I approach the half-way mark up the trail, I see the shadow of a structure in the distance that looks like a page from a history book. Across the water and just through the pine trees is the two-story log home that Jim relocated and restored from Gatlinburg, purchased from the woman who had grown up in it. It is rustic and intriguing and my heart beats a little faster in anticipation. I rearrange my bags of supplies and continue on. Walking closer I see the large porch in front, rocking chairs placed conveniently for gazing out into the woods.

I enter from the rear of the building, as the front door is locked not by a modern lock, but with a board that inserts across the back. As I step inside the one room cabin of hand hewn logs, I know immediately that I’ve entered a time of years gone by. Every item is reminiscent of the past, from the antique stove to the large wood table in the center of the room. There is no running water, but there is electricity, so I place the groceries in the old-fashioned refrigerator and take out a container of bottled water. The kitchen provides a pump and sink, but I’ve been warned the water is not drinkable. I decide to play it safe and use bottled water, even for boiling pasta and brewing coffee.

Climbing the stairs to the loft, I find a comfortable double bed, an additional set of bunk beds, quilts, old chests and rocking chairs. I am apprehensive only about the 200 yr. old “bathroom,” which is a short distance from the cabin. The trail to it is wide enough for daylight, but I am told this is snake country, bear country and whoknowswhatelse country. Yet, opposed to the couple who had reviewed this cabin to the store clerk, I find the history and authenticity interesting and educational, which is why I purposely chose this cabin over a much newer one with first-class amenities.

Setting my flashlight by the back door, I settle in for the evening. Pulling a heavy pot and a bowl from the selection in the kitchen cupboards, I succeed in fixing pasta and sit with my meal, curled into a rocking chair on the porch. Evening descends with a hush across the woods. Fireflies twinkle in the shadows of the nearby trees and a sense of immense calm washes over me.

As night falls, I move inside and spend the evening writing and reading, finally deciding to brave a trip to the outhouse, which turns out to be exceptionally tidy and much less primitive than I had feared, even sporting dried flowers and framed pictures. Shower facilities are shared with another cabin on the property and located in building nearby.

Like a true pioneer woman, I bolt the wood slats before climbing up to the loft. I anticipate some nervous sleeping, being not only isolated but in an apparent time warp, but to my surprise I sleep soundly. There are no raccoons scurrying around on the roof or any other wildlife that I can hear. In the entire stay at this quaint cabin, the wildest creature I encounter is a small gray tabby kitten who shares the porch with me. Morning arrives and I am grateful once again for electricity, as I pour myself a mug of fresh ground French Roast. Check-out time is not until noon and I remain until the last minute to enjoy this unique lodging, as well as the peaceful surroundings.

I will admit that this cabin is not for those travelers who seek only luxury in accommodations. They won’t find a Jacuzzi tub, fancy bath soaps, goose down comforter or room service within these sturdy log walls. But the beauty of the Hocking Hills area makes this a spectacular getaway and the lesson in history is fabulous. I depart very thankful for my chance to stay at this retreat from the modern world.

Yesteryear Log Cabins offers a chance to take an inside look at a simpler time in life, surrounded by nature. Catch and release fishing is allowed in the cabin’s private lake. A fire ring and outdoor picnic table are also provided. There are many nearby state parks to explore, including Old Man’s Cave, located on Route 664, where I stopped to take an easy hike and admire the breathtaking scenery. For a longer expedition, the six mile Grandma Gatewood Trail will take hiking enthusiasts to Cedar Falls and Ash Cave. And, if shopping must be done, there are several general merchandise stores which carry local art. And yes, one is the store where I purchased the groceries, where the clerk now has my “yes-I-survived-the-night-and-even-loved-it” positive review.

Yesteryear Log Cabins
66437 State Route 56
New Plymouth, Ohio 4565
Phone: (740) 385-1952
Website: www.honeyfork.com/YESTERYEAR/index.htm

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