Archive for the ‘Utah’ Category

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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Providence Inn

I arrived in Providence, UT, after spending the afternoon meandering along the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway. It had been tempting to linger along the canyon, but my destination was a particular inn, so I found my way through the streets of Logan and slightly southeast.

The Providence Inn has been a lot of things since it was first built between 1869 and 1871 as the Providence LDS Chapel and Meetinghouse, known more familiarly by locals as the “Old Rock Church.” Owned by the church until 1968, it served many purposes for the community, including its use for church meetings, social gatherings, dances and theatre productions. Subsequent owners adapted the building for a wide variety of uses, including the warehousing and selling of fabrics, residential housing for the elderly and, still ongoing, the hosting of weddings, receptions and other social events. The 1990’s ushered in the addition of bed and breakfast accommodations.

I had a choice of several rooms and picked The Pioneer Room, on the third floor and under the eaves of the original church building. Original exposed beams, braced with forged iron, accentuated the feeling of history in my room. The traditional decor was warm and inviting, with earth-toned quilt, rocking chairs and rustic wooden writing table. Yet the additional room features of television, phone, wireless Internet access and a soothing gas fireplace made it clear this was the 21st century.

The hospitality that greeted me was outstanding. While looking at the available rooms, an aroma of baked goods began weaving its way through the air, as chocolate chip cookies had been popped in the oven as soon as I arrived. I was given a tour of the building and shown a menu of delicious breakfast options for the following morning, to be cooked to order. Complimentary DVDs were on hand and a “Dining Card,” offering discounts to local restaurants, was handed to me along with my room key. All this was provided with welcoming smiles.

I set out to explore the town a bit, noting outstanding late 19th and early 20th century architecture in many of the homes and commercial buildings. As with many historic areas, fires have taken many structures with them. But those that remain are fascinating. The Old Rock Church itself is one of the oldest and most impressive.

I cashed in my dining card at Café Sabor, a Mexican restaurant housed in an old train station, where I ordered up some fajitas and soaked in the ambiance of the depot’s high ceiling, rich gold-hued walls and stately wooden doors. Fresh flour tortillas were being cooked on a rotating metal surface. Locals gathered over baskets of chips and bowls of salsa. It was clearly a popular eatery.

Post-fajitas, I returned to the inn and grabbed a treat from the seemingly bottomless cookie platter in the lobby and climbed the stairs to my room, where I curled up on the bed with brochures on the local area and history. As back-up, I had a stack of movies from the downstairs lobby. Travel can’t always be about research. I was prepared to relax a little.

Breakfast at Providence Inn is either delivered to rooms or offered downstairs, which is where I chose to have my morning meal. Housed in a slightly newer section of the building, a Georgian wing that was added to The Old Rock Church in 1926, the room’s cornflower blue walls with white trims were the perfect surrounding for tables with blue teapot print tablecloths. Morning sun flooded in through tall windows framed by white lace curtains. Soft piano music added an unobtrusive background. Oil paintings in gold frames alternated with collections of china plates and vases. It was elegant, yet comfortable.

Not surprisingly, the building that houses the Providence Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places. Each round of ownership over the years has added substantial improvements to the property, not only aesthetically, but in terms of structural and safety provisions. Community interest in preserving the building and its heritage has played a major factor in saving it from falling into disrepair along the way.

There’s much to draw people to visit this gracious, historic property: history, heritage, architecture and almost a century and a half of hospitality. And, if that’s not enough to bring the visitors in, I suspect the bottomless platter of cookies might just do the trick.

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With excellent, sunny weather and perfect temperatures for outdoor exploring, I meandered my way through the Wasatch-Cache National Forest today via the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway.

Only thirty-nine miles in length, the drive from Garden City, ID, to Logan, UT, has enough to offer to fill a full day (or more) with activity.

A stop at Bear Lake Overlook and Visitor Center allowed a birdseye view of the lake, highlighting its unusually bright turquoise color, a result of suspended particles of limestone in the water.

Trailheads dot the byway, giving hikers options that range from the easy Limber Pine 1.3 mile round-trip hike to the more challenging 24.6 mile Great Western Trail, part of a national trail system that runs from Mexico to Canada.  Riparian forests, glacial lakes, fossils and caves are present on Logan Canyon trails and evidence of the now-extinct Lake Bonneville can be seen on mountainside terraces.

The scenery was stunning enough that I was tempted to turn around and make a round-trip backtrack excursion through the canyon, but I had dropped into Logan with a lodging plan.  Additional canyon viewing would have to wait.

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I drove north on Interstate 15, leaving the lights of Las Vegas behind and replacing them with the rich, red geology of Southern Utah. I passed through St. George, followed a little while later by Cedar City, with plenty of time left in the day for driving. But eventually the day wore on, as did the driving fatigue. I called ahead and found an available room at Johnson Mill in Midway, UT.

I’d had my eye on Johnson Mill for a few years, since visiting a handful of restored gristmills in Kentucky and Georgia. I turned off the Interstate in Provo and followed Hwy 189 through Provo Canyon and around Deer Creek Reservoir, pulling into Midway just after seven in the evening. The office was closed for the evening, but a welcome letter and key waited for me in the front hall. I followed the innkeeper’s directions and made my way around the side of the building to an exterior entrance to the Courtyard, my room for the night.

Described on the inn’s website as “cozy,” I found it to be spacious, especially for a solo traveler. The high queen bed with step-up stool was flanked by oak nightstands bearing colorful Tiffany lamps. An oak dresser and a small sitting table with two chairs rested against one wall and an armchair was nestled into a corner by the front window. A rock wall opposite the bed held a gas fireplace and TV. The entry area offered a large closet to one side and a private bath to the other, complete with jetted tub. For a “cozy” room, it felt like a castle. High ceilings, luxurious bedding – including an exquisite duvet with embroidered birds, flowers and squirrels – and dried floral arrangements all added to the overall impression.

The grounds of the inn were equally impressive, with picture-perfect gardens, vine-covered arbors, a pond with canoes and paddleboats for guests’ use and small decks and sitting areas tucked away in various places on the 30 acres of property.

Midway is a small town and dining options for dinner were limited, but I found a comfortable table and a good individual pizza and salad combination at Café Galleria, a casual eatery with butcher papered tables and framed artwork on the walls. For a very small upgrade fee, the basic cheese pizza included in the combo was replaced with a more exotic variety, mine having roasted mushrooms, fontina cheese, caramelized onions and pine nuts.

Being the night owl that I am, I returned to Johnson Mill and sat outside well after midnight. Having a room just around the corner from the front porch turned out to be convenient, as I easily slipped into the cushioned rattan chairs by the inn’s front door and breathed in the cool night air. Garden lights illuminated the steps leading up to the front porch. A few cars cruised by on the highway, but they were infrequent and the tumbling of the inn’s waterfall upstaged the sound of the vehicles passing by.

A clever sign in the office announces that “Breakfast is served from 9:00AM to 9:10AM.” It made its point: there is one seating for breakfast, at nine. I set an alarm, to make sure I wouldn’t oversleep and woke up early, anyway, taking a seat on the outdoor patio behind the inn. Ice cold juices and coffee were available for guests to serve themselves, while the hot entrée was brought out from the kitchen, in this case French Toast stuffed with strawberry cream cheese and topped with blueberries, blackberries and whipped cream. Fresh melon slices and strips of bacon accompanied the main dish.

Over this morning meal, guests chatted with each other, coffees were refilled and plates were finished and removed. Beyond the breakfast seating area, the morning sun beamed down on a gazebo, surrounded by a pond. Swans floated across the water. Birds hopped along branches of nearby trees, chirping morning greetings. The waterfall provided background music to it all. Cliché as it sounds, it was idyllic.

Johnson Mill was a working gristmill originally, though it operated with a flat wheel in the basement area, as opposed to the decorative water wheel now found in the yard. Lani, the manager, pointed out that flour still seeps out of the exposed original beams inside the inn. The evidence was right in front of us both, in tiny white specks on the floor.

Two albums in the lobby detail the extensive renovation the owners did to turn the old mill into the elegant inn that now greets guests. Clusters of concrete were pulled from the blocked waterfall area. Retaining walls were built with bricks from the town’s old courthouse. Much of the mill was gutted and rebuilt, with decks added for larger suites. A tree trunk was inserted in the middle of a circular stairway that leads to a lower lounge area and common space. The gazebo was built in the center of the pond, with access provided by a wooden walkway. The waterwheel was brought in and extensive landscaping was done, making Johnson Mill a premium location for weddings now.

As I briefly mentioned in the last post, I couldn’t resist stopping in, on my way out of town, at The Spicy Lady, an old saloon from the 1870’s, located in Heber City, just a few miles from Midway. I’d seen a copy of their menu at the inn and I just had to find out if they really did serve kangaroo quesadillas, as their menu stated. I’d been traveling for years and had yet to see kangaroo of any sort on a menu, but it turned out to be true. The meat is flown in from Australia and touted as high in protein and low in fat. I stuck with a conservative order, though, and had the lunch special: fish tacos and green salad.

There’s more to see and do in the Midway/Heber City area, including a visit to the Heber City Railroad, which offers excursions through scenic Provo Canyon, among other areas. Hiking and biking rate high on the list of area activities, too. I wouldn’t have minded venturing out on a local trail just to explore the area a little more. But it was time to move on.

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I’ve seen a lot of unusual items on menus during my years of travel, but it took a stop in the middle of Utah to find a Kangaroo Quesadilla. I kid you not. The meat is flown in from Australia and served up at The Spicy Lady in Heber City, UT, one of the oldest saloons in the state.  And, no, I didn’t order it.

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