Archive for July, 2011

I’ve thought about staying in Salt Lake City on past trips up and down Interstate 15. But I always seem to be on the fast track to WY or CA, depending on which direction I’m headed. In addition, my tendancy is to jog off to the backroads and skip cities, looking for historic log cabins or off-the-beaten-path country inns, so I usually bypass cities altogether.. This time, I was determined to force myself off the freeway and find some sort of unique lodging in Salt Lake City itself. I found exactly that at the Armstong Mansion.

Built in 1893 by Francis Armstrong, the Queen Anne mansion was a gift to his wife, Isabel (or Isabelle, or Isabella, depending on various historic references,) as he had promised her when they married in 1864. The magnificent home served as a popular gathering place for guests, as the Armstrongs hosted many social events. Impressive in itself for its grandeur, it was also one of only three houses in Salt Lake City at that time to be able to boast a luxurious new amenity for its day – indoor plumbing.

Francis Armstrong was born in Northumberland, England, moving later to Canada and eventually to Salt Lake City after converting to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He worked his way up from employee at several lumber and flour mills to mill manager at Little’s Lumber Mill. Eventually he purchased the mill, as well as numerous other properties and companies, developing them with tremendous success. He also became a prominant political figure in the community, holding positions on the school board and city council and eventually serving two terms as Mayor of Salt Lake City. By the time he passed away in 1899, his wealth was second only to that of Brigham Young. Isabel continued to live in the Armstrong Mansion until her own death in 1930.

The massive size of the mansion would have come in handy, as Francis and Isabel had twelve children. Conflicting historical reports also state that he took – or didn’t take, depending on the account – a second wife, Sarah Carruth, with whom he had six additional children. Only two of the six survived beyond childhood, with Isabel raising those two after Sarah passed away in 1883. Additional, contradictory research states that he did not practice polygamy, but hid polygamists in his attic when they were being pursued by U.S. marshalls.

And that’s exactly where I found myself, tucked away in the attic, in the “Cherished Years” room, a cozy nook under the eaves. The smallest of the B&B’s rooms, it had everything I needed as a solo traveler – a queen bed, private bath and a small sitting area with a window that looked out over the front garden. Much like the rest of the mansion, it was decorated in dark, Victorian colors. I found the room comforting, even for a gal not running from the law.

I’d checked in on the ground floor, helping myself to a treat from a plate of homemade cookies offered to guests upon arrival. After climbing several meandering staircases to reach the top floor – I would take a elevator the next few times – I dropped off my overnight bag, camera equipment and laptop before heading out in search of food. Walking distance from the inn I found Sawadee, a Thai restaurant. I ordered a Pad Thai Tofu dish that was excellent. Saving half for lunch the following day, I headed back to the mansion to enjoy the ambiance of the inn for the evening.

As with many historic structures, there were many years of disrepair between Isabel’s death in 1930 and a complete restoration in the 1990’s. But every inch of the mansion now is exquisite. It would be worth a visit just to view the extravagant woodwork throughout the structure. Intricate carvings highlight many walls, ceilings and stairway bannisters. It’s not hard to imagine the gala events held in the late 1800’s.

The current “Mayor’s Parlor” on the main floors now offers guests a casual place to rest, read, visit or enjoy Internet access. The same room undoubtedly served the same purpose for the original inhabitants and visitors. Minus the free wi-fi, of course. “Isabel’s Dining” room, opposite the parlor, is the morning location of a delicious breakfast offered by the inn. Under a high ceiling and amidst elegant decor – lush, burgundy brocade curtains, matching tableclothes and floral decorations – I helped myself to sundried-tomato quiche, fresh fruit, apple cobbler, cinnamon rolls, fresh juice and coffee. OK, I confess, I had a few bites of berry cobbler, too. Just to be able to report on it, naturally. And it was heavenly, as was everything else.

There are rumblings about the Armstrong Mansion being haunted, as Google searches will show. It will disappoint readers to learn that I didn’t hear mysterious footsteps in the middle of the night. Nor did I witness lights dimming or voices whispering as I walked the halls. I drifted off to sleep with ease. Yet, I will say there was…a feeling…something that cannot quite be described. Maybe it was the dark, authentic Victorian interior or the knowledge of the grand home’s rich history. Whatever it was, there was something undefinable that evoked a subconscious dip into the past.

Stepping out into the sunshine after checking out, I was immediately reminded that it was now the 21st century. There were no horse-drawn carriages to be seen, only shiny blurs of metal passing by. I threw my overnight bag into one of the latter, cranked it up, found the Interstate and headed north, Wyoming bound.


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I arrived in Cedar City early enough to enjoy a blaze of late afternoon sun on the red cliff backdrop that borders the east side of the city. In a most unusual manner (by olden day standards) I knew – from Facebook! – that there were two rooms open at The Iron Gate Inn that evening. I called ahead from St. George and booked one. I was not disappointed.

Built in 1897, the current owners, Susan and CR Wooten, have performed magic with this Second Empire Victorian building. From the original three bedroom, one bath house, a massive remodeling project in 2001 created an eight bedroom, nine bath bed and breakfast establishment, with a cottage artfully placed in the back garden, for good measure.

I was given the Emma Jane room on the second floor, spacious and elegant. The inn’s own description “Not too cluttered, not too frilly…just beautiful,” is spot on. It was perfect. The pale yellow, eggshell and taupe decor was soothing and the bed alluring with the promise of comfort. I find it hard to draw myself away from a delightful room like this, but hunger pulled me out for a bite to eat. At Susan’s recommendation, I strolled around the block to the Pastry Pub in search of a salad. I found exactly what I wanted – the Pub Salad, with romaine lettuce, chopped carrots, mushrooms, bean sprouts, French feta, assorted other cheeses and avocado, topped with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It was so outstanding that I would end up going back for another one the following day for lunch.

Back in the Emma Jane room, I curled up in the heavenly, comfortable bed and read until the cushy bedding pulled me into a deep sleep. Breakfast was served as a buffet in the dining room, with the option of eating outside in the garden patio. The morning offering – a sun-dried tomato/egg quiche with home baked apple-cinnamon muffins – proved to be delicious.

Cedar City is home to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, with an expansive schedule of daily plays. For that alone, it would be worth a trip to this area. For the experience of staying at The Iron Gate Inn, it’s worth making it a vacation destination or a honeymoon.

I didn’t have time to catch a play, tempting as it was. But I did manage a side trip up to Cedar Breaks National Monument, an easy 21 mile drive to the east. It was well worth the extra time to see the dramatic views into a red rock “amphitheatre.”

This is an area that calls for more than a brief pass-through, but that’s all my time allowed. My recommendation to visitors: Plan a few days, at least. Time your visit to coincide with the Utah Shakespeare Festival. (Incidentally, the Iron Gate Inn is a mere block from the theatre center – an easy walk.) A drive up to Cedar Breaks National Monument is also an excellent activity.

And for lunch or dinner? I’d head back the casual Pastry Pub and grab the same exact salad. Or maybe the fresh citrus salad….or maybe…well, obviously I need to go back soon.

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After a year off the road – following a nasty hiking accident last summer – I’m finally headed out again, at least for a few days. I’m Jackson Hole bound, heading to that magnificently beautiful area that continues to draw me in like a magnet.

I left Los Angeles around 8AM, heading across Pearblossom Highway to avoid city traffic. From Victorville, I took Interstate 15 northbound, passing through Barstow and Baker, across the Mojave Desert and finally into Nevada. A quick step out of the car in Las Vegas landed me in 111 degree heat. I lost no time getting back on the road, grateful for a full blast of A/C.

The stretch of landscape north of Las Vegas is scenic, the highway winding uphill, surrounded by rock formations that tower high above the comparably minute vehicles below. St. George, Utah is a feasible stop along Interstate 15, but I was in a driving mood and continued on.

Pulling into Cedar City, UT, I stumbled upon a Bed and Breakfast just a block away from the city’s well-known Shakespeare festival and here I sit this evening, wrapped in luxury and a guest of wonderful hosts. More on this in the next post…

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