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Archive for June, 2008

From the outside, the building looked like any other downtown structure, nothing that would draw a second glance from anyone driving by. I stood by my car and glanced around. Had I made a mistake? Could this actually be my lodging for the night? I was puzzled. But the address was correct and a small sign indicated I was at the right place. I was fairly certain there was a different story within the building’s walls, so I threw my overnight bag on my shoulder and headed inside.

As deceiving as it was from the outside, stepping into Destinations Inn was like stepping into another realm, one of luxury and imagination. It took no more than five seconds inside the elegant lobby to completely forget I had just been standing on a nondescript Idaho Falls sidewalk.

Built in 1905, the building that is now home to Destinations Inn has housed many businesses, including a grocery store, clothing shop, office building and an Eagles Lodge. Run down over time, it was purchased in 2004 by Rob and Teresa Bishop, who took eighteen months to not only restore the building, but to turn it into luxury lodging. Outside this building: everyday city life. Inside: another planet altogether.

Clever in concept, the inn offers not rooms, but “destinations.” A visit to the accommodations page on their website leads not to a list of room descriptions, but to a map of the world. With a click of the mouse, guests can transport themselves to fourteen enticing locations around the world.

The hardest part is choosing between all the tempting options. If magnificent bouquets of rich-hued flowers and a French sidewalk cafe table sound appealing, go to Paris. For east-coasters nostalgic for the Big Apple, they’ll find the Times Square skyline, Statue of Liberty and a red-curtained bed on Broadway awaiting them in New York. Would-be archaeologists might opt for a sphinx mural and hieroglyphics, accompanied by a full-sized sarcophagus, in Egypt – don’t worry, there will be shelves inside, not a mummy. And anyone with dreams of sleeping on a canal bridge under blue skies and bathing in a Venetian gondola can find what they’re looking for in Venice.

I was fortunate to be able to see almost all of the “destinations,” as I had arrived early and the inn allows tours during afternoon hours. Walking room to room, each seemed more amazing than the last. To say the interior design was done with attention to detail would be a monumental understatement. Furniture and linens were unique to each theme and were matched in details right down to sconces, faucets and light switches. Wall murals picked up regional colors and geographic scenery. Color, lighting and music were carefully chosen. Sounds of “Guantanamera” floated across bright orange yellow and green bedding and pillows in Rio de Janeiro. Hearing “Wipe Out” upon walking into Hawaii was enough to make a traveler want to hop up on the room’s surfboard and ride a wave.

Additional features vary between “destinations.” Visitors to Thailand will find an aromatherapy steam shower, while those vacationing in Athens will have both a massage table and fireplace. Arabia offers a cedar sauna and guests in New York might have a personal message displayed digitally in Times Square.

I’m a log cabin sort of gal, so I chose Alaska and it didn’t disappoint. I stepped inside to find a whimsical moose welcoming me with an upbeat musical tune. Log walls and earth-toned bedding set the Northern Exposure tone. Luxury surrounded me in every direction, from the jetted jacuzzi tub with chromatherapy mood lighting to the projection television screen set to drop from the ceiling by remote command. Chilled sparkling cider and decadent cheesecake awaited my arrival – standard procedure for all guests. A gas fireplace stood ready to provide evening warmth.

I took advantage of the inn’s video library and stocked up on movies for the evening. With the projection screen, jetted tub, fireplace, sparkling cider and cheesecake all waiting, I wasn’t about to go anywhere in Idaho Falls that night. Luxury, relaxation and escape were all waiting for me in Alaska.

A knock on my door the following morning at 8:30 – times are chosen by guests at check-in – signaled the arrival of a continental breakfast, which is included with lodging. I found coffee, fresh juice, a cinnamon roll and a granola/yogurt parfait all beautifully presented on a tray outside my door. I enjoyed breakfast while curling up on the bed, sketched out my plans for the day and milked every last second of my Alaskan vacation before check-out time.

Unique to the experience this inn offers is not only the fact that returning guests can “visit” different destinations on subsequent visits, but that Idaho Falls locals can “travel” to exotic lands without really going anywhere at all. So complete is the sense of being transported to faraway lands that a guest could live only five miles away and still have a world-travel adventure. Without needing a passport or having to pay baggage fees, why not?

I’ve made a mental bookmark to keep Thailand in mind for a future visit, as the soothing pale green, taupe and rose colors seemed as relaxing as the lily pond that surrounded the sitting area. Then again, crossing the drawbridge to enter England looked appealing, too, as did the lush foliage and rainforest sounds of the Congo. I’m not worried about it, as there’s a destination at this inn for just about any mood or desire. I’ll just have to see where my next flight takes me.

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I thought I was headed for a century old log cabin, at least that’s what I had jotted down in my notes. It sounded like a good addition to my historic cabin accommodation collection, so I made a quick phone call and arranged to meet Susan McAllister, who, with her husband, Colin, owns and runs Trail Creek Camp.

I’ve found in traveling that there are a couple types of directions that can be given. I call one city directions, which basically follow rights and lefts, street lights, street names and turns. And then there’s the other kind, which I call the directions to Trail Creek Camp. I scribbled down frantically while pulled over at the side of the road. Simply put, they went like this:

Take 89 up past Emmigrant, and go about five miles, or maybe seven. When you reach a bunch of green trash cans, take a left. Go a mile or more, maybe a little less and turn again at a blue house. At the Y, turn again and go up the hill and down. Go about 2 miles or 3, or maybe not 3 to the T and take another left. Go another mile or so and look for tepees. Keep going another mile or so and then turn again and go up a hill to the cattle guard and then go up a hill again and then down the other side.

Now, I’m pretty good with directions when I travel, but these gave me quite a tour of the countryside and an outstanding tour it was, at that. Only fifteen miles south of Livingston, MT, the rural scenery makes it feel as if the nearest city is hundreds of miles away. There’s little wonder why this area is called Paradise Valley. With blue skies that seem to go on forever and the majestic Absaroka Mountains reigning above, this slice of the northern Rocky Mountains is nothing less than breathtaking.

After a fair amount of meandering and backtracking and meandering some more, I arrived at the Home on the Range Cabin. Hand-hewn and updated with plenty of modern amenities, it sat high on a hill, with scenic vistas in every direction. A large front porch promised to be a peaceful sitting area and the spacious interior with two bedrooms, a large living room, full kitchen, washer and dryer and nifty extras like DVD and CD players made the cabin more than just a comfy place to spend a night. A large family would do well to take advantage of such a perfect home away from home while settling in for a week of hiking, fly-fishing, river rafting and all of the opportunities afforded visitors in this area.

Susan and I got talking about the property, which extended down the hill and spread across twenty acres. Trail Creek tumbled its way through the flat meadow below, which was dotted with small structures and teepees. I learned there were other available cabins and the more we talked, the more I became curious to see what had been created on their land. She gave me trail directions to reach the meadow area, and I set off to explore.

I headed down the path and found the other cabins, each unique and hand-created by Colin. Over a period of several years, the meadow has been transformed into a maze of pathways and rustic accommodations, woven between hidden sitting areas and whimsical touches of birdhouses and garden art. Susan met me as I was taking it all in and told me that many guests had referred to Trail Creek Camp as magical. I could see why.

The meadow cabins were vacant that evening and I was offered a choice of the Home on the Range cabin at the top of the hill or one of the meadow cabins along with one additional detail – the meadow had neither electricity nor running water. Kerosene lanterns were provided for light, bottled water for drinking and composting outhouses for other needs.

Not being one to pass up an adventure, I decided I would go for the Moose Meadow Cabin, an isolated single room structure with a double bed, futon and a writing table. Sitting alongside Trail Creek, it would allow me to hear the tumbling water just outside the cabin door.

On the front porch, Susan gave me a lesson in lighting the Coleman lantern, which I picked up with difficulty. In retrospect, I praise her admirable teacher’s patience.

Breakfast is normally served with lodging at Trail Creek Camp, but I had arrived with an impromptu phone call and there were no other guests. Susan left me with a thermos of hot tea, a loaf of bread and a generous serving of brie. I had blankets and a jacket, though it was only slightly chilly. I was also armed with reading material, but suspected I wouldn’t end up reading, even if I succeeded in lighting the kerosene lantern.

Left on my own, I decided to cruise up to the Buffalo Jump Lodge, normally used as a common area, but without other guests on the property that night, it was mine alone. I could see how it would be perfect for groups, or just for guests meeting and visiting, with a kitchen for food preparation, shelves of books with local hiking and nature information and a couch and wood stove for warmth and ambiance. I built a small fire in the wood stove and spent the evening jotting down notes by firelight.

A flashlight led me back to my cabin and successfully helped me cross a narrow wooden bridge over the creek without taking a late night swim. I did manage to get the lantern going, but the tranquility of the meadow soon washed over me and I turned the lamp off and fell soundly asleep.

The thermos of tea was still hot the following morning. I poured a mug and took a walk around the grounds. I took a peek inside one of the teepees, which had twin cots and a small table to hold a lantern. Another small cabin, the Magpie Hut, sat not far from the Buffalo Jump Lodge.

Guests of Trail Creek Camp are also offered a complimentary pass to Chico Hot Springs, a mineral springs resort not far down the road. I was familiar with the resort from a previous trip and couldn’t resist a chance to visit again. I left a note of thanks to Susan for her hospitality, packed up my things and headed out.

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