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Archive for May, 2003

I approached Durango, CO, from the east, having driven in from Taos, NM, with several stops along the way. From the earthship settlement outside of Taos to the Tierra Amarilla hand-spun and dyed yarn, the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad to the mineral pools of Pagosa Springs, it had been an intensely interesting, but tiring day and I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

The Strater Hotel is without question one of the more spectacular historic hotels in the U.S. Its ornate Victorian design and rich red brick structure make it a living postcard of a building. Sitting right in the middle of scenic Durango’s main drag only adds to its attractive stature.

The history behind the Strater is a tale of business fortune, both the good type and the bad. Henry Strater came from Cleveland determined to see Durango move forward from being a mining town to being a prosperous force in the west. Bringing his pharmacy practice with him, he managed to obtain financing – telling some tall tales about his age in the process – and pulled off the construction of the hotel. It became a huge success, attracting both visitors to the area and local who took shelter there in the cold winter months.

Strater ran into trouble, however, when H. L. Rice, the proprietor he hired to run the hotel, began charging him high rent for his pharmacy’s location. Angry over the situation, he built the nearby Columbian Hotel, hoping to bring about the downfall of the Strater Hotel and teach H.L. Rice a lesson in the process. Unfortunately, both hotels were taken down by the silver panic.

After a bank repossession and some years of hard work by then new owners Charles Stillwell and Hattie Mashburn, the Barker family entered the picture, picking up the Strater in 1926 and nurturing it into the fine lodging establishment it is today. Passed through several generations of Barkers, it remains in the family and is now run by Roderick Barker. Detailed restoration has been done, with particular care to the intricate woodwork. An impressive antique collection is housed within the hotel, which boasts 93 unique rooms.

I arrived later in the evening than I would have preferred, weary from travel and exploration. I took a classic room, the most basic offered at the Strater. Hardly basic in any way, it was decorated with antiques and featured small touches such as a clever bath amenity holder shaped like an old-fashioned bathtub.

I had stopped for something to eat while en route, but couldn’t resist stopped into the Diamond Belle Saloon, packed with old west historical ambiance and lively music, as well. Author Louis L’Amour often stayed in Room 222, directly above the saloon, saying the music helped set the mood for his writing. Though the saloon also offers food and spirits – of more than one type, it’s said – I was content to just soak up the energetic atmosphere before retreating to my room for the night.

I was awakened by the sound of a steam engine and jumped up to look out my window in time to see the Durango-Silverton train pulling up behind the hotel. Smoke billowed from above the engine and passengers waved to enthusiastic onlookers. I had a birds eye view from my upper floor window.

Without the option of staying a second night, I downed a cup of coffee in the hotel lobby and set out to explore the Main St, or as the case is in Durango, Main Ave.

Durango is one of those perfect towns that is not too big, yet not too small. There are enough shops and cafes to keep visitors browsing for a full day. If shop-hopping is not a preferred activity, the options in the area are essentially endless, both in terms of outdoor activities and day trips to surrounding areas.

My time was limited and I had one particular destination in mind. I returned to the hotel, reluctantly checked out and took Hwy 160 west, through the town of Mancos and over to Mesa Verde National Park, a distance of approx. 65 miles.

I knew I wouldn’t have time to see all that Mesa Verde has to offer, but I was determined to take a few hours out of my day’s drive to see the famous cliff dwellings. They did not disappoint. Dating back to A.D. 600 – 1300, there are 600 cliff dwellings within this national park, including several areas available to view during guided tours or by individual viewing from designated areas.

I did my best to see what I could in the very inadequate time I had available. I left Mesa Verde and the Southwest Colorado area with a stash of photographs and an intense desire to return in the future.

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On a quiet lane, south of town, I arrived at American Artists Gallery House, a hidden retreat with a foliage-laden adobe wall. The peaceful surroundings and views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains would have been reason enough to head out of town to this bed and breakfast. But I would find excellent hospitality was an additional blessing.

I was welcomed with much fanfare in the front courtyard by George, a resident peacock. This fine feathered friend blended right in with the striking turquoise trim on the inn.

Innkeepers LeAn and Charles Clamurro greeted me inside the front room, a common area filled with Southwestern art and open to all guests. Not only was the open-hearted hospitality immediately apparent, it was clear LeAn and Charles possessed a wealth of knowledge about the Taos area. Whether for a rundown on outdoor activities or insight on the history and artisans in the area, I’d hit the jackpot for information.

The accommodations offered at the inn ranged from small, intimate rooms to spacious Jacuzzi suites. But I knew where I was headed. The “Garden Gallery” would be perfect for me, a small, southwestern casita tucked away in the rear of the garden. It was quiet, private, cozy, comfortable and absolutely adorable. Not to mention extremely affordable, as B&B’s go. I admit to searching it out specifically to book this particular casita, in order to be able to recommend it to others as an inexpensive option to standard lodging or high-priced inns. But what I found was the best of both worlds: luxury and economy all wrapped up in one gracious package.

Surrounded by calm, soothing, artistic decor, I had a queen bed, hand-painted writing table and chair, private bath and, best of all, a kiva fireplace, set and ready to add warmth to the chilly night. Metal kokopelli figures danced on one wall. A window looked out into the garden, facing a private corner of the property, framed with an umbrella of cascading lilac. It was ideal, a perfect, peaceful retreat.

Following what would turn out to be an excellent dinner suggestion from Charles, I headed south, away from town, taking a left and heading up a dirt road through sagebrush covered landscape. There wasn’t a building, car or person in sight and I questioned whether or not I’d been confused about the directions. The road climbed and curved and climbed a little more, until I finally saw the hillside restaurant come into view.

The Stakeout Grill & Bar sits high above the valley, peering out from its 7200 ft. altitude location above Rio Grande Gorge State Park and far beyond. The views were extraordinary and arriving just as sunset approached was an extra blessing. From my outdoor table, I watched wispy clouds glow in deepening coral hues, silhouetted by whitewashed adobe arches surrounding the patio.

I decided to splurge on dinner, given the exceptional surroundings. Though the menu featured many steak and seafood options, I ordered Ravioli Porcini – cheese-filled with mushroom sauce and dusted with porcini mushroom powder – with coconut gelato and coffee to finish off the meal. I lingered over dessert a long time, watching the staggered outline of the sagebrush landscape grow sharper against the sunset until both brush and sky blended together into darkness.

The road back to the highway was deserted. Gravel crackled under my tires and eerie shapes of desert nature seemed to pop up in my headlights without warning. I reached the main road, turned towards town and drove back to my Garden Gallery casita, where I lit the fire and relaxed into the night.

There were so many outstanding features about my stay at American Artists Gallery House that it’s hard to pinpoint one as a favorite. But as B&B’s go, it would be worth a trip here just to be able to take a seat at the breakfast table. Charles’ culinary skills guarantee there’s no chance of starting the day with a non-descript meal. Homemade scones, fresh squeezed juice and entrees fit for the pages of Gourmet Magazine are what guests will find at the sunny, breakfast table.

Being somewhat of a loner, I find morning visits with other guests can sometimes be a little unnerving, especially before a caffeine infusion. Not so at this bed and breakfast. The innkeepers’ easy, relaxed manner and obvious love for the Taos area immediately put guests at ease. Over coffee and outstanding breakfast cuisine, conversation flowed freely and comfortably.

It was difficult to leave, but a reservation a few hundred miles up the road called for me to pack my bags and move on. I would have to wait until another visit to take advantage of local horseback riding or hot air ballooning, which LeAn and Charles can easily arrange for guests. Taos is rich in opportunities for exploring, whether for art, history, culture or outdoor recreation. This bed and breakfast was a perfect choice for a traveling home base, with something to offer for everyone, reasonable prices and top-notch hospitality.

After saying goodbye to LeAn and Charles, I headed for the town plaza, where I browsed shops and galleries and took advantage of photo opportunities. I picked up a quick lunch at the Apple Tree, a popular restaurant with both indoor and patio dining. Still fighting the urge to linger, I finally hit the road, heading west on Hwy 64.

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It was on dusty ground, next to a small, flowing river, as I watched dogs splash in the water and chase and nip at each other’s tails, that I really began to feel the rich history of the Taos area. Nestled against the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, this high mesa was home to Tiwa-speaking Native Americans long before it became a popular haven for artists and ski-enthusiasts.

At Taos Pueblo, I paid my entrance and camera permit fees and walked the guide-led tour with a group of visitors. We were offered historical information by our guide, then allowed to walk freely, to explore the thousand-year-old pueblo and to browse through small shops, where pottery, jewelry and other handicrafts are sold by artists.

Most of the housing at Taos Pueblo is grouped into two buildings, one on each side of the small river. Both the North House – called hlauuma – and the South House – called hlaukwima – stand tall against the dramatic mountain background. Additional, smaller houses are scattered around the larger structures. Formed of adobe – a mixture of earth, water and straw – these buildings are believed to have been built sometime between 1000AD and 1450AD.

I stopped first to talk to Marilyn, who sat in the shade not far from the North House, a table of fresh baked goods next to her. Each plastic-wrapped package contained two cinnamon-sugar cookies, which she had baked earlier that morning. I bought some, chatted for a bit, then nibbled on one of the cookies, as I moved on.

Though the Taos Pueblo structures were originally built without windows and doors, entered only from above, over time additional openings have been added. Now many of these roughly-framed doorways are painted with rich colors of blue, green, red, orange or deep rose, forming a sharp visual contrast to the earthy brown of the adobe walls. Signs hang by many of the open doors, announcing the residence and shop of a Taos Pueblo artist.

Drawn into one such dwelling, I met up with an artist who goes by the name of Sunflower, who held a brush steadily in her hand, drawing fine lines on a small piece of pottery. In the corner, the embers of an earlier fire glowed in a kiva fireplace.

I asked Sunflower if it was difficult to draw the precise lines that the traditional pottery requires. She told me it was really just a matter of practice. She finds it soothing to work on her artwork, likening her mornings by the fire to someone curling up with a book on a relaxing afternoon. This is how she spends most of her mornings, and it was clear from our conversation that she enjoys her work.

In another shop, Juanita Martinez showed me her storyteller dolls, proudly posing next to a display case for a picture. Many of the Taos Pueblo natives are not comfortable having their pictures taken, but I found by asking that some are quite willing. For Juanita, this photo request isn’t new. Several published articles featuring her work were taped near the display case, including a couple in German and Japanese. I purchased a small clay ornament of a rabbit, sculpted by Juanita’s daughter.

I spent a good amount of time visiting with artists and observing life in the pueblo area. Even with roaming tourists, who are allowed to visit from 8:00 – 4:30 daily, there was still a variety of regular pueblo activity to view. Two native residents patched a rooftop, carrying buckets of adobe mixture up and down a side ladder. They smiled, but waved a signal to me that they preferred not to have a picture taken. Tribal elders, who work from offices just outside the ruins of the old wall, walked in pairs and small groups, folders of paperwork tucked under their arms.

Children played in the open area in front of the church of San Geronimo, named after St. Jerome, the patron saint of Taos Pueblo. This church, built in 1850, stands not far from the ruins of the original church, which was built in 1619, destroyed in 1680, during the Spanish Revolt, rebuilt, then destroyed again in 1847 by the U.S. Army, during the War with Mexico.

I finally drew myself away in the mid-afternoon, leaving the rich culture of Taos Pueblo and heading back into the town of Taos itself. A phone call to my next lodging stop confirmed that they were ready for me to check in. I packed my new pottery ornament and remaining cinnamon-sugar cookie into my car, then headed over to the inn.

Taos Pueblo Tourism Office
P.O. Box 1846
Taos, NM 87571
(505) 758-1028

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I arrived in Taos, NM, late at night, in the midst of a rather furious thunderstorm, though it passed quickly. I knew there were many vacancies in town, having checked availability in advance. But the weather slowed my travel more than I expected and by the time the lightening and rain subsided, I had only a few choices for lodging.

It was thanks to the kindness of Manka Lewis-Smith, at the historic Taos Inn, that I ended up safely tucked away for the night in Room 204. This charming room, actually a suite, was larger than I needed. But Manka, whose patience is to be commended, placed me there after we ruled out a couple other rooms – one for noisy proximity to the lobby and another because guests had previously checked in, then changed rooms.

In any case, my hideaway for the night was extremely inviting, in spite of it being out-of-season for use of the kiva fireplace. Though traditional in appealing adobe structure, the viga ceiling in this room was high, which gave it a wonderfully spacious feeling. Artistically decorated with hand-painted mirror frames and tin holders for bath products, this was classic Taos style – rustic, yet filled with modern amenities such as a television and phone. It was a welcome relief after the rainy roads. The convenient location, just 1/4 block north of Taos Plaza, was another plus.

Originally named The Hotel Martin, the Taos Inn opened in 1936, named for Dr. Thomas Paul (Doc) Martin, the county’s first doctor. Well-loved by the community, Dr. Martin devoted his life to setting broken bones and delivering local babies, both in the building now known as Doc Martin’s Restaurant and by saddling up horses and heading out on house calls. He was known for accepting unusual form of payment for his services, such as goats, chickens or even a sack of potatoes.

His wife, Helen, was an admired batik artist and, with her husband, did much to contribute to the growing arts in the Taos community. This tradition is continued in the regular “Meet the Artists” lecture series hosted by the inn.

The Taos Inn is actually a group of adobe houses, clustered around a courtyard, in the middle of town, one of those being Dr. Martin’s original house and office. The Taos Society of Artists was founded in their living room, by Ernest Blumenschein. Greta Garbo, Anthony Quinn, Thornton Wilder and D.H. Lawrence were all guests, as well as many others, including Robert Mitchum, Peter Fonda and Robert Redford.

After getting settled in, I stopped back into the lobby to enjoy a bit of music in The Adobe Bar. Originally an outdoor plaza, this now-enclosed, festive gathering place is worth seeing just to enjoy the tall vigas and stained-glass cupola, built around an original well. But it’s also known for live jazz and flamenco entertainment, offering tables and chairs clustered around a kiva fireplace, or up narrow stairs, from a balcony overlooking the lobby. Outdoor tables in front of the inn offer other seating options.

I slept well and woke up to calmer weather and peaceful skies. Breakfast is not included with lodging at this inn, but is available in the restaurant. I had fruit and muffins with me, so I combined these with hot coffee from the lobby and enjoyed a simple morning meal the patio outside my room.

I packed up and thanked Manka for her excellent hospitality. After a little writing time in the lobby balcony and a delicious, spicy chile relleno in Doc Martin’s restaurant, I headed out to explore. (Inside hint: There are live phone jacks inside the balcony wall, for online access. This is a nice bonus for business travelers.)

I wasn’t leaving Taos yet, as I’d planned to spend a couple days in the area, before making the final stretch to California. I looked at my options for the new day and night. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to discover one of my favorite B&Bs of all time, as well as a little history and some of Taos’ eateries and shops.

Taos Inn
125 Paseo del Norte
Taos, NM 87571
(505) 758-2233

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I knew I was in for a good dosage of mileage when I left Hardy, Arkansas. I had Oklahoma and Texas to cover before reaching the Southwest states. And I still had half of Arkansas to tackle, as well.

I zoomed through the Ozarks, westbound on 412. Stopping only in Yellville, AR, for a BBQ pork sandwich at Front Porch Restaurant, I reached Eureka Springs in the late afternoon. This popular Victorian town was fairly jammed with tourists, not at all unusual for a weekend. Many browsed the shops along the main downtown streets. Others relaxed on upstairs patios and decks, sipping drinks and listening to live music.

I stopped in at the 1905 Basin Park Hotel, which was fully booked for the night. I had expected this, and had planned to drive on, but was grateful for the opportunity to look around and take pictures. After some time wandering the streets and admiring the turn of the century architecture, I drove west to Tulsa, OK, for the night, continuing on the next morning across Oklahoma.

In Weatherford, OK, I took a detour off I-40 to stop in at PBar Farms, a 100 acre farm that offers field trips, concerts and a cornstalk maze aptly named, “The Maize.” It was far too early for their season, but visitors this coming fall will have a chance to walk through 300,000 cornstalks. According to PBar Farms’ website, this maze offers 95 decision points and 3 1/2 miles of twisting pathways. Murder mysteries and hayrides are also offered.

With plenty of daylight left, I blasted across the rest of Oklahoma and into Texas, stopping again along the Interstate in Groom, TX. This small town boasts the “Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere,” which I took a look at under rain-threatening skies. Or, I should say, took a look “up at,” as this illuminated white cross stands 190 feet tall (with a width of 100 feet). Online research indicates another cross, more recently built, in Illinois, which stands eight feet taller. Still, it’s quite a sight from the road, not to mention from a nearby standing position. Designed and sculpted by Mickey Wells of Amarillo, the cross took eight months to construct and weighs 1250 tons. It is run by the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries, who take donations, but no official admission fee.

Moving on to Amarillo, I couldn’t resist stopping at the The Big Texan. I’ve yet to stop in when a customer is attempting to win the “Free 72 Oz. Steak,” which is only free if consumed within an hour. (Better have $54. ready if you try, but don’t finish). The menu, mounted on a plank of wood with a wire handle, offers smaller portions, however. I decided to pass on the rattlesnake. (From the menu: “Warning: Very little meat, lots of bones, your gripes and complaints will get you a live one!”) Instead I settled on a Little Texan Sandwich. The 5 oz. meal, served with waffle fries, was about all I figured I could handle. Definitely a slice of Texas, this stop. Also from the menu: “This establishment ain’t no franchise or chain – thank God. It has always been owned by the same Texas family since 1960. Relax and enjoy yourselves.”

I spent the night in Amarillo, then headed west into New Mexico. I pulled off the road in Tucumcari, wanting to see one of Route 66’s claims to fame, the Blue Swallow Motel. I had more mileage to cover, but was enchanted with this nostalgia-filled lodging. It might not be difficult to find a room with a queen bed along the way, but a queen bed and garage? This is what the Blue Swallow offers, for an extremely reasonable price of $29.95. Built in 1939, guests have a choice of 11 rooms, including a suite ($57.95) with two queen beds, a daybed, bath, and a darling small kitchen (fridge and microwave, plus table). Fairly new owners (since 1998) Dale and Hilde Bakke have done a great job restoring the property. Clean and economical, with a chance to get your history kicks, as well.

I drove on from Tucumcari, and, as the sun started to lower in the horizon, took another impulsive turn. With a few days left before I needed to be back in Los Angeles, I decided to make the most of my last week on the road. I exited the Interstate and headed north.

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Northbound from Belvidere, TN, I stopped by another gristmill-turned-inn, Ledford Mill in Wartrace. This 1884 mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is up a quiet country road and surrounded by lush greenery and waterfalls, along Shipman’s Creek.

I’d only driven a short distance and wasn’t ready to stop for the night, but had a chance to visit with owners/innkeepers John and Mildred Spears, who call themselves the “Accidental Innkeepers.” Looking originally for a residential property in the area, it just happened that Ledford Mill, already an inn, came on the market. They loved the property, scooped it up, and continue to offer lodging in unique guest rooms, which are built around the mill’s mechanical parts. I was able to see each room, all artistically rustic and elegant at the same time. Their Gift Shop is pretty cool, too. I’m putting this on my wish list for future lodging.

I continued north into Nashville and found lodging at a La Quinta Inn, still my favorite chain for a reasonably-priced room with work desk, breakfast and noon check-out included. To go with my chain room, I grabbed a table at Cracker Barrel and scarfed up some BBQ pork, turnip greens and cornbread. Took notes, looked over my map, sipped “unsweet tea” and watched a grandfather and grandson play checkers on a giant board on the outdoor porch.

By noon the next day, I was out of Nashville and headed west, thinking I’d follow I-40 along into Arkansas and either head to Hot Springs or turn north again around Little Rock and backroad it into Eureka Springs. Instead, in my typical impulsive way, I left the Interstate at Rte. 13, drove 19 miles north, past Hurricane Mills and Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, caught Interstate 70 and turned west again.

With this move, I ruled out Hot Springs, AR, and began to hear the Ozarks calling. Westbound, I crossed the Tennessee River and passed through the small towns of Sawyer’s Hollow, Bruceton and Hollow Rock. Near Atwood, intersecting highways took some zig-zags and I did a few about faces before finding my way to Cades, then Trenton, and eventually on into Dyersburg, where I picked up Rte. 412. Seventeen miles later, I crossed the Mississippi River and wound my way through a small portion of Missouri, finally arriving in Arkansas, The Natural State.

Still afternoon, I figured I had plenty of time to coast along mountain roads and make my way over to Eureka Springs, a quaint, though often crowded, Victorian town in the northwestern section of the state. Yet, driving slowly into the Ozark foothills, I was instantly taken with Hardy, an old railroad town on the Spring River, 16 miles south of Mammoth Spring and the Missouri border. Here I stopped to walk along Main Street, which is lined with antique shops, cafes, antique shops, an old malt shop, antique shops, a pottery factory and a few more antique shops. This is Antique Heaven for those who treasure the old and older, with a little of the not so old mixed in.

It was clear that Hardy was a town worth a little lingering time, so I wandered on down to 108 Main St., where I arrived at the door of the Olde Stonehouse Inn, which had an inviting porch and the front door propped open. I poked my head inside and was greeted by Ruth and Willard Bess. This wonderfully kind couple turned out to be inn-sitting parents of the regular owners/innkeepers, Greg and JaNoel Bess, who were out of town until the following day.

In spite of my impromptu arrival while the official innkeepers were away, I managed to get a room for the night. This due mostly to Ruth and Willard’s kindness, their ability to reach their son by cell phone, and my offer to skip breakfast, so they wouldn’t need to worry about the fancy morning meal that this inn usually offers.

I took Leah’s Room, a spacious Victorian style corner accommodation with private bath, private door to the front porch, in-room phone (not always available in B&Bs) and luxurious sheets, comforter and pillows in tones of rose and burgundy.

I grabbed something quick to eat just up the street at the market, since I was now beyond the typical early closing times of small town eateries. Then settled in for a quiet evening and a night of restful sleep. Little did I know my adventures in Hardy were just beginning.

Morning greeted me with the smell of fresh brewed coffee, which I poured into an Olde Stonehouse mug and carried to my room. I had expected to fend for myself with breakfast, but the kind innsitting parents had other ideas.

Just across the street from the inn, The Corner Booth, a former filling station, serves Belgian waffles, country eggs with bacon or sausage, and other morning meals. Ruth and I headed over there and grabbed a window seat, where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and the unusual Victorian decor of the cafe, which is packed with stained glass, dolls, lamps and other interesting knick-knacks. It was a great start to the day, a chance to absorb local ambiance and to watch the town through hugh, wide windows.

Gray skies gave way to a heavy downpour and, after finishing our breakfasts, we made a mad dash for the inn. Ruth went on to tidy up the place and I spent some small town time on the front porch, listening to sounds of falling rain and passing trains.

Shortly before noon, innkeepers Greg and JaNoel Bess arrived, returning from a trip to the east coast. Through their warmth and kindness, I was pursuaded to stay another night, to explore the town and to enjoy both visiting with them and meeting friends who might stop by to visit.

I spent the afternoon exploring the town of Hardy, starting with a stop at Pepperfiends, an eatery Greg had highly recommended. My chicken burrito, made with “Arkansawlsa,” from Pepperfiends outstanding hot and spicy salsa, hot sauce and chutney collection, was absolutely outstanding. Bright red chairs and painted tables – white with red chili peppers around the edges – were surrounded by shelves filled with jars of spicy treats. A Route 66 sign hovered on one wall, maracas and chili peppers were hanging on others. A sarape and sombrero framed the front door, leading out to a small front patio with five outdoor tables.

Pepperfiends’ owner, Jeffrey Richards, reputed to be quite a character, wasn’t in at the time, unfortunately. I would have enjoyed meeting him to tell him how much I enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere of this clever cafe. It may be the first time I’ve ever regretted an eatery not being a chain, knowing I couldn’t just pop in for another great meal once I returned to California. The good news, though, is that the many of the hot products can be ordered through their website. I may need to get a shipment of Hometown Honey Salsa or Quesa Blanca – Pepperfiends’ famous white cheese sauce – to get me by until my next Hardy, AR, visit.

Moving on along Main Street Hardy, I browsed through many quaint shops, including The Green Rabbit, Hardy Pottery and Flat Creek Dulcimer Shop. Memory Lane and Barnett’s Trading Company gave me a look at some of the antiques that shoppers can find in this town.

I couldn’t resist a stop at the Old Time Candy Shoppe, where I picked up some maple nut candies for the road.

The Hardy Malt Shoppe was an especially cool step back in time. Outside, a yellow and white striped awning, park bench, lamp post and neon sign marked the portal to the days of old-fashioned ice cream parlors.

Inside, hula hoops dangled from the ceiling and black and white checked floors stretched out below yellow and red booths.

Owner Ernie, formerly from the Monterey area of California, has created a nostalgic spot to listen to oldies and sip on a vanilla malt, which is exactly what I did, surrounded by poodle skirts and old 45s.

Between my lunch at Pepperfiends and my dessert at The Hardy Malt Shoppe, I decided it was time to go back to the inn for an afternoon rest. I walked back to the Olde Stonehouse and relaxed into a comfy living room couch, surrounded by soothing, rich reds and natural woods.

The main living room at the inn is a perfect example of the guest-friendly atmosphere that Greg and JaNoel Bess have created. In conversations with Greg, he pointed out his feelings that running the inn is as much about re-socializing people as it is providing pampering accommodations. He cited the tendancy these days for people not to gather as much as they used to at locations such as community centers or post offices. He sees the main room of the inn as a place where guests, as well as family and friends, can relearn this lost art.

For me, this came to manifest itself in the most delightful way. Not long after settling back into the inn’s cozy atmosphere, the front door popped open and in sauntered a sandy-haired guy, who waved a few hellos around the room. Grabbing a nearby hat and taking a seat at the piano, he pounded out a few energetic chords, which brought others out to listen.

From the very first notes, it was clear this wasn’t just someone playing around at the keyboard. This was foot-tappin’, head-noddin’ music, the kind that sneaks through your skin and right into your bones and has you dancing along before you even know it. I soon found out it was my luck to have my visit coincide with this impromptu drop-in by Jason D. Williams, well-known rockabilly musician and friend of the Bess family.

The surprise concert didn’t stop there. Graciously, Jason invited us all over to his place for dinner. Before long we were seated before a feast of lasagna, salad and garlic bread, home-cooked by his wife, Jennifer. Pre and post-dinner music continued, as Jason popped by his grand piano frequently and pounded out everything from ragtime to classical, blues to Brubeck.

Just outside, dozens of bird feeders hung from porch beams and tree branches on a wooded slope, which stretched down to the edge of a lake. Music is only one of Jason’s loves in life. A devoted naturalist, Jason showed me some of his bird reference field guides and discussed activities such as “turtle fetchin’,” where he seeks out turtles crossing roads and helps them to the other side. In talking over birding in particular, Jason’s voice softened as he said, “It will be the greatest passion you’ll ever know.”

We finished off the evening with apple pie and ice cream, gratefully thanked Jason and Jennifer, and headed back to the inn. After a full day and exciting evening, the luxurious bed in my Victorian-style room looked fabulous. I slept soundly.

Before leaving the next morning, Greg and JaNoel whipped up a delicious gourmet breakfast, just part of their pampering offerings for inn guests. Over coffee, we talked about the Murder Mystery Weekends that Olde Stonehouse puts on once a month – more often, upon request. These are wildly popular and well-received by guests, who often find they enjoy their assigned roles more than they expect. Greg told me a few of the inside secrets to these weekends, but, of course, I’m not going to tell them here. You’ll have to go find out for yourself.

I left the Old Stonehouse Inn with great memories and a renewed sense of community. I don’t think I had realized I’d been missing it until I found it again. But then, that’s exactly what Greg hopes guests will discover. Re-socialization, he calls it. I call it a perfect weekend, filled with important life lessons to carry on down the road.

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On a flat rock surface, I sit just inches from the water’s edge, watching an old waterwheel rumble and turn. Set against red, painted wood and natural brick and stone, the wheel works to grind corn, while I relax and listen to the sound of cascading water. To my left, a wide, flat veil of a waterfall spills into the stream. A persistent bird chirps from a branch above and another answers, with a shorter, deeper call. A third joins in with a crisp, sharp tweet. Warm sunlight filters through the trees, lighting up the leaves to a brilliant green. Ribbons of ivy grow along the building, creeping upward as the water journeys down. A sizeable dragonfly takes a seat next to me. He must be equally impressed with the view.

It is this peaceful environment that I’ve found at Falls Mill, an 1873 water-powered gristmill and museum in Belvidere, TN. Owned and operated by Jane and John Lovett, this working mill offers a chance to step back in time and see inside the textile industry of the 19th century, as well as the mill’s conversion during the early 1900’s to a cotton gin, then a woodturning factory, and finally a gristmill.

Inside the three-story building, the work of the day bustles along. The 32-foot waterwheel that I watch will continue to circle for hours, turning two sets of stone grinding mills and producing grain for the mill’s 85 wholesale accounts. Visitors wander inside, viewing the inner workings of the mill and taking self-guided tours through exhibits of antique machinery.

Originally a cotton woolen mill, this is also the home of the Museum of Power and Industry at Falls Mill, thanks to donations of antique textile equipment from an old Kentucky mill, as well as other sources. An 1850’s barn loom, a foot-pedaled power loom from Scotland, and an 1868 model Crompton power broad loom, used to weave blankets for WWII, are just some of the rare pieces that can be seen.

From my resting spot below the mill, I watch visitors step out onto a deck located above the 32-foot waterwheel, one of the oldest in the country, looking down over the churning wheel. For now, I’m content to stay outside, letting the sun soak into my shoulders and observing from a distance, because I have a luxury that the daytime guests don’t have. Long after the activity of the day is over, when the wheel is still and quiet and resting from its productive work, when the museum visitors have already purchased the corn grits and buckwheat flour and other mill products, browsed the country store, said their thanks and goodbyes and returned to their homes, I’ll still be there. Because I have one of the best treats offered by Falls Mill: I have the night reserved in their 1895 restored bed and breakfast log cabin.

With this thought, I rise from my resting place below the mill and walk along Furnace Creek, past picnic tables and benches, around the front of the mill building itself and past an 1836 log stagecoach inn that is currently being restored for future lodging. I pass the upper dam and falls, sauntering past an old barn and up a dirt roadway, until I arrive at the cabin.

Old-fashioned in visual appeal, yet packed with modern amenities and conveniences, this log structure is my idea of perfect lodging. Hand-hewn cedar logs form most of the structure, reconstructed and remodeled after being moved from Huntland, TN, in 1987. It is very reasonably priced and picture-perfect. Admittedly, I love many of the places I visit, but on this day I decide that Heaven is surely in Tennessee, and I have found it.

For this country-loving girl stuck in modern times, there are no compromises necessary in this cabin. I climb the stairs, admire the rocking chairs on the front porch, and enter the two-storied accommodation.

First things first, I immediately hook up my laptop to the phone line, finding local access through nearby Winchester. No backwoods roughing it here. The Internet is at my fingertips, even surrounded with country furnishings and a view of the lush greenery and woods outside.

This is just the beginning. Air-conditioning, cable TV, a VCR library, writing table, comfy couch and chairs circling a wood-burning fireplace, books, magazines, local maps and information, and a dish of chocolates waiting on a side table.

Upstairs, the bedroom offers two beds with luxurious sheets, more reading material and a convenient bath and shower. Another outside porch with rocking chairs is accessible from this level. Additional amenities are everywhere. Hair dryer, iron and ironing board, reading lamps, electrical outlets, pillows and quilts – all provided.

And then there’s the full kitchen, back downstairs, stocked with bed and breakfast offerings. There’s no chance of going hungry here. Not with Jane’s cinnamon coffee cake waiting. Or her blueberry muffins or orange bread, equally delicious.

One glance in the refrigerator adds juice, eggs, ham, and cheese to the feast, as well as Falls Mill’s own Multi-Grain Pancake mix. A bowl of fresh fruit and cereals, as well as a microwave and popcorn, guarantee easy snacking. Starbuck’s coffee guarantees I’ll be able to wake up in the morning.

I settle into the cabin and curl up on the couch. Jane and John, who clearly leave no detail overlooked, have a fire already built and waiting, with extra wood stacked to the side of the stone fireplace. I light the fire, pop a chocolate into my mouth, and read into the late hours of the night, climb the stairs to sleep peacefully, and continue my fireside reading in the morning, coffee nearby.

It’s no wonder I decide to stay a second night, spending my second day quietly roaming the nature trails and enjoying the peaceful sound of the falling water. A picnic table in a side yard, near the log cabin, provides a natural work space.

A quick trip into town allows me to feed my continuing Diet Coke habit, as well as to browse at Belvidere Market, a circa 1910 general store with a great selection of collectibles, both old and new.

On my last morning, I sit on the porch, rocking and looking across the pastoral setting. The rush of tumbling water nearby drowns out not only local traffic, but cares and worries from near and far. I listen to birdsong mix with the sounds of the waterfall. Surprisingly, I watch a hefty gray possum trot down a narrow path alongside the lawn area, out for an early morning jog.

With a collection of recipes and historical notes and a bag of Yellow Corn Grits, I say goodbye to Falls Mill and thank Jane and John for their outstanding hospitality and the effort they put into providing such an educational and peaceful retreat. It’s not an easy place to leave, even with the road calling.

Falls Mill
134 Falls Mill Road
Belvidere, TN 37306
(931) 469-7161
Open Daily (Closed Wed.)
Mon. – Sat. 9:00-4:00
Sun. 12:30 – 4:00
Closed Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day
Museum Admission: Adults – $3.00, Seniors – $2.00, Children Under 14 – $1.00
Bed and Breakfast Cabin Rate: $90. (Early reservations recommended)
Convenient to Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg.

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