A Home in the Trees…

It’s like staying at Grandma’s, I think, as I pad down the hall to the bathroom. Our rough timbered room with it’s windows thrown open to the cool mountain air has a washstand, but no toilet or tub. Just like when the Old Faithful Inn opened its doors in 1904. Except for the fact that water runs into my basin now from a faucet, whereas theirs would have been poured from a pitcher. Gone, too, is the chamber pot that once stood on the bottom shelf. Thank goodness for that.

Were it a bit colder, we would enjoy steam heat from the radiator. It’s new, part of a renovation done in the last decade, but poured in a vintage mold. It is beautiful. As it is, the blanket feels yummy at night and mornings are a bit nippy, inside as well as out. Just enough to invigorate. The bathrooms we share with others on our hall are clean and bright, with white tiles and lovely appointments. Open windows again provide ventilation.

The ceiling over the lobby vaults to a height of 76 feet. The lodge pole pine, so prevalent in Yellowstone, as well the primary building material for the inn, reaches a mature height of 75 feet. Architect Robert Reamer designed the building to complement it’s surroundings. To become an integral part of the landscape.

“I built it in keeping with the place where it stands. Nobody could improve upon that. To be at discord with the landscape would be almost a crime. To try to improve upon it would be an impertinence.”

It represented a new philosophy. The primary clientele, in the beginning, were the well-heeled and elite. They were accustomed to European style resorts, even in the Americas. So that, a great hotel in Maine would look precisely like a great hotel in Florida. The Old Faithful Inn would be in the vanguard of a movement within the National Parks to create lodging that brought the outdoor experience indoors. Gracious and elegant, to be sure, but organic…authentic.

The imposing fireplace is constructed of 500 tons of rhyolite, a volcanic stone quarried just a couple of miles from the building site. It provides structural support for the vaulted lobby. It is currently undergoing restoration to unclog 3 flues filled in during a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in 1959. Only the front flue has been operative since then. But, baby, she’s a beauty! For scale, look at the photo above. Now realize that the firescreen in front of the fireplace is taller than I am. A porter has to physically go inside the screen to tend the fire. Though no fire is burning in the photograph, it roared every evening and the chairs around it were always occupied.

The Inn is filled with whimsy. Reamer indulged his boyhood dream of having a treehouse by placing a crow’s nest in the rafters. Decks that hover several stories above the ground became landings for the chamber orchestra and for folks who wished to watch the dancing in the lobby below. Most of these upper areas, including an observation deck on the roof, are now closed to the public because of fire codes. But it’s still magical to imagine climbing along the stairways to a lofty perch in the “trees”.

To reinforce the illusion of a forested interior, a special crew was sent out into the woods to find trees and limbs that had been bended by snow, twisted by the wind, or swollen and gnarled by disease, to provide accent and interest. This is one of my favorite components. I can’t stop looking at them. So very intriguing.

The corner of the inn is 1/8th of a mile from Old Faithful. At the time of its construction, this was the federally mandated guideline. Twice, I watched the geyser erupt from the comfort of the deck. Marvelous!

Most of the appointments, and many of the furnishings, are original. Room numbers, hinges and chandeliers were crafted at an on-site forge. Even the light fixtures are original, as the inn had electricity from the beginning. Arts and crafts sofas, chairs, and writing desks are the same ones used by visitors a century ago. Sometimes it is difficult to remember just what year it is….

If you go (and you simply must go):

*Plan ahead! We booked our room almost a year in advance. And there was exactly one room available at the time of booking. There are cancellations sometimes, so if you get a late start its still worth a try.
*Book a room in the old section. There have been two additions. Though they are very nice and you will still have access to the common areas, your room will be an ordinary hotel room.
*There are a few rooms in the old section that have en-suite facilities if that is important to you. They have incorporated the original shared bathrooms with claw foot tubs. But don’t be put off by the shared bathroom. We Americans think this unusual, but most of the world considers this to be normal.
*If you do not stay here, do yourself a favor and pop in anyway, just to see it. Unlike the early days, you are permitted to pay a visit even if you are not a guest. 🙂
*The inn closes for the winter (and boards up all the ground floor windows to protect against the pressure of 5 feet or so of snow pack). So, plan accordingly.

Recommended resource:

Great Lodges of the National Parks, by Christine Barnes, introduces architectural wonders of the National Parks. I am putting both the book and the dvd on my Christmas list. Barnes has several related titles like Great Lodges of the West and Great Lodges of the Canadian Rockies. I will use them for a little dreaming. And for planning…..