Jenny Lake Lodge
One way to experience the wonders of the Tetons of Wyoming is to strap on a 40-pound pack full of dry socks, rainwear, heavy sweaters, snakebite remedies and packets of dehydrated trail food and set out on foot for destinations bearing names such as Death Canyon. Another way is to check in at Jenny Lake Lodge at the foot of the grandest Teton of all, sit down in a rocking chair on the porch of a little log cabin all your own and contemplate the works of God and man.
Jenny Lake Lodge is run by Rock-resorts, Inc. on the precept that the soul of a voluptuary and the heart of a nature lover can coexist peacefully in the same body. Therefore, the sheets on the beds at Jenny Lake Lodge are freshly ironed pure white cotton, the blankets are electric, and both are turned down by invisible hands each evening during the dinner hour. The towels, large, white and fluffy, are changed twice a day, and the soap in the bathroom is costly Neutrogena. The mirrors are full-length, the reading lamps are efficient and the little foil-wrapped chocolate that appears on one's pillow at night is the sort of touch that experienced travelers have come to expect in the world's best hotels. To find such luxuries in Grand Teton National Park is nothing short of startling.
Also surprising is the printed invitation to a weekly champagne reception from Manager Emilio Perez, a courtly veteran of the hotel business who learned his trade at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York "when it wax the Waldorf-Astoria." If the weather is especially good, the reception takes place on the lawn outside the main lodge with Mounts Teewinot and Owens and the Grand Teton in the background, haloed by the late afternoon sun. Guests who may have spent their day on horseback or in hiking boots change voluntarily into summer dresses and sport coats for the occasion, just as if they were not on the edge of one of the vastest of American wildernesses.
June 15, 1980
When the weather is less pleasant—and it should be recalled that Will Rogers once said, "The mildest winter that I have ever experienced was the summer I spent in Wyoming"—the party moves inside the lodge, where leather chairs, tweed-upholstered couches and handwoven Indian rugs surround a large, welcoming fireplace, and an upright piano with a hymnal on its rack waits for the right person to come along.
The dining room at Jenny Lake is justly celebrated in Jackson Hole country and beyond. It might well be the only restaurant in Wyoming where a diner can begin his meal with consommè double au madère and finish it with a tarte de p‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√ë¢che. The table linen is crisp, the china is a Wedgwood design decorated with small Teton landscapes, a freshly cut flower in a ceramic vase decorates each table, and the dining chairs are made of lodgepole pine lashed together by leather thongs with seats and backs of cowhide. The disorientation that overcomes a newcomer stumbling into all this luxury might be total if it were not for the windows, cut into the varnished log walls of the dining room, that look out toward the matchless Tetons.
The Tetons are not the highest mountains in America. Grand Teton, the tallest of the seven peaks of the "cathedral group" that overshadows Jackson Hole, is only 13,770 feet. There are 38 principal mountains in the U.S. that are higher. But what makes the Tetons different, and what marks them indelibly in the memory, is that they have no foothills. Most mountains, approached as they are over a number of ridges of gradually increasing height, seem to shrink as one draws nearer. The Tetons loom larger and larger. They have been described as looking like a cresting wave about to crash onto the valley floor. Dangerously jagged, snow-topped, unrelentingly vertical, dishearteningly barren, they are so beautiful at all hours, in all lights, in all seasons, that it is impossible not to want to get closer to them, to find out what it's like up there amid all the beauty.
Miraculously, one can. By walking no more than two hours up the Cascade Canyon Trail from the edge of Jenny Lake—or to an altitude of about 9,000 feet—even a tenderfoot can sit on a rock in the sun at the edge of Cascade Creek and watch a bull moose with a mossy rack and an absurdly long face grazing in the shallows, and exchange wary glances with a golden marmot that, perched on its haunches with its tiny paws clasped across its chest, seems to wear the fur coat of another, larger animal. The creek burbles and crashes soothingly, a bald eagle sails across the face of a sheer granite wall, and almost unbelievably, skiers the size of gnats descend a glacier that is a full mile up in the air.
The human history of Jackson Hole, an old mountain man's word for a deep valley surrounded by mountains, is short and relatively meager. Little more than a century has passed since the first three settlers arrived with plows in hand and intentions of staying. Before that the itinerant population was made up of fur trappers, Canadian and American. It was, in fact, French Canadian trappers who chose the name for the mountains on the eastern edge of the valley that has stuck all these years—Les Trois Tetons, or the three breasts—which may be some indication of how long it had been since the trappers had seen a female. Even the Indian tribes of the northern Rockies—Black-feet, Gros Ventres, Crows, Shoshoni and Bannocks—never settled in Jackson Hole.
The Hayden geological survey of 1872, sent out by the government to map the American territories, explored the Tetons and Jackson Hole, but its leader, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, was much more interested in the thermal activity of the Yellowstone Valley to the north. Presumably, a mountain was only a mountain but a geyser was a wonder. Whatever the reason, in 1872 Yellowstone became the first national park in the U.S., while the Tetons had to wait until 1929.
An uneducated, English-born trapper and guide known as Beaver Dick Leigh led the Hayden expedition into Jackson Hole, and it was Leigh's Shoshoni wife for whom Jenny Lake was later named. Jenny and all six of their children died of smallpox at their homestead on the Snake River in Jackson Hole in the space of a few days during the winter of 1876. Leigh's account of the family's ordeal, contained in a phonetically spelled letter to a man Beaver Dick had once served as a guide, is now housed at the University of Wyoming's Western History Research Center and is one of the most moving personal documents the American frontier has produced.
Few characters in Jackson Hole at that time were as admirable as Leigh. More were rascals like Ed Trafton, who held up 15 stagecoaches in one day. As Beaver Dick wrote in his journal: "The law in this section is only a Bilk and god keep me a long ways from it...."
The geological history of Jackson Hole is as rich as its human history is lean, and monuments to its major events are everywhere. Jenny Lake, for instance, is a glacial gem at the foot of Mount Teewinot, only a short walk from the lodge. The lake is deep and dark, and the clouds that constantly gather and scatter around the peaks above it are reflected in the surface. The western shore of the lake is at the base of the mountains and the mouth of Cascade Canyon. The eastern shore is bordered by a low mound, resembling a manmade earthen dam and covered with a forest of pine, spruce and firs. The mound is a terminal moraine, the point at which a glacier that 9,000 years ago crept down out of Cascade Canyon stopped its advance and began to melt, depositing debris as it receded.
To the east of the moraine is a fiat glacial outwash plain where no trees will grow; beyond that is a "knob and kettle" topography of potholes, ponds and depressions created by large chunks of glacial ice that were partly buried in the gravel of the outwash.
The seven major peaks themselves—Grand, Middle and South Teton, Mounts Teewinot, Owens and Moran, and Nez Percè Peak—look as though they were tossed up into the sky from the hot center of the earth just a short time ago. And they were, geologically speaking. The Tetons are the youngest of the Rocky Mountains, only 10 million or so years old, with all of their rough edges still intact.
Summer is heartbreakingly short in Jackson Hole. It seems the wildflowers have hardly pushed through the melting snows beside the Cascade Canyon Trail before Jenny Lake Lodge closes down for the winter. The whole season is only 120 days long, and guests who arrive early in that span or leave late are likely to be treated to some decidedly unsummery weather. Nevertheless, occupancy at Jenny Lake is 97%. "Our guests don't really care about the weather," says Perez. "They come for the natural beauty and peace and quiet."
Whether walking in the canyons or fishing on Jenny Lake, floating on the Snake or rocking on the porch, whether bird watching or flower naming, rock hounding or book worming, the people who visit Jenny Lake Lodge again and again come for the privilege of living for a little while alongside a beauty that exists nowhere else. The specialty of the lodge is ensuring, almost surreptitiously, that nothing mars that time.
JENNY LAKE LODGE: P.O. Box 250, Moran, Wyo. 83013
Telephone number: (307) 543-2811
Season: June through August
Rates: $125-$195 a day, double occupancy, modified American plan
If an island can have a soul, the soul of Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, resides not at the tidy, air-conditioned Park Service Visitors Center at Sea Camp where the passenger ferry from the mainland arrives and departs on schedule, but up the narrow dirt road a mile or two at the Greyfield Inn, a sprawling, slightly dowdy, charmingly eccentric, turn-of-the-century house set at the end of a winding allèe of live oaks whose branches trail wisps of Spanish moss.
At Greyfield, wild turkeys clack at sunset, unfettered horses wander the lawns and few things occur on schedule, primarily because there is no schedule.
Greyfield guests are people who like solitude in an unspoiled wilderness followed by a hot bath and a cold drink on a creaking porch swing. They are a self-sufficient lot who face their days armed only with books, binoculars and box lunches. They bird, they shell, they fish, they botanize. They walk in the woods and they swim in the gentle Atlantic surf. And when they return to Greyfield in late afternoon, it is to a house that looks as though its residents have stepped out for a short time and will be back at any moment.
Everything about Greyfield is just as the Ferguson family, its former residents, left it. The books, the paintings, the Oriental rugs, the heavy mahogany furniture in the living room, the silver on the sideboard in the dining room, the white crocheted bedspread in the master suite, the dry skull of a loggerhead turtle on a windowsill in the library were all put in place by people who have lived there, not by interior decorators. A large portrait of Lucy Ricketson Ferguson, the inn's owner, painted when she was in her 20s, a gypsy kerchief tied around her head, a hunting knife in the leather belt at her waist, her dark eyes sizing up man and beast, dominates the west wall of the living room.
Lucy Ferguson is now 80. She was born in the old Life Building on West 31st Street in New York City on Sept. 14, 1899. "There were presses on the first four floors, and there were three apartments above that," she says. "One belonged to Charles Dana Gibson, one to someone else and the other belonged to my grandmother."
Greyfield, where Mrs. Ferguson has lived most of her life, became an inn in 1966, and since then she has moved three miles up the road to a two-story clapboard house whose walls are decorated with the skins of rattlesnakes she has recently killed and where she keeps a tapir as a pet. Mrs. Ferguson gets around these days in a new blue Jeep—"A gyp; it has no rear bumper and no hitch," she says—and she usually drops in at the inn two or three times a day to check up on things. Her summertime uniform is a bathing suit under a denim skirt, and sneakers. "Why don't you go for a swim before dinner," she suggests to hot, tired guests who have just arrived, along with the inn's groceries, on her battered little ferry, the R.W. Ferguson, after the 45-minute, 11-mile trip from Fernandina Beach, Fla.
The path to the beach from the inn is a tunnel, half a mile long, formed, as the poet Sidney Lanier put it, of "braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine." The tunnel ends in a sudden blaze of sunlight on white sand dunes. Beyond the dunes stretches a wide, smooth beach, unpeopled as far as the eye can see. Flocks of dainty sanderlings stand headed into the wind, terns swoop and dart, and low-flying pelicans, propelled by wings that seem to be all elbows, skim ponderously just offshore. Millions of shells—moon snails, baby's ears, Scotch bonnets, limpets, sand dollars, angel wings and dozens of other types—litter the sand. Few of them are broken, thanks to the gentleness of the Atlantic surf at this point on the coast and the rocklessness of the strand.
Cumberland Island is the southernmost and largest of the chain of barrier islands that begins at Cape Hatteras off North Carolina and extends to the Florida-Georgia border. The island is 16 miles long and three miles wide at its broadest point. Here, existing side by side in more or less longitudinal strips, are four distinct ecological regions—shore, dune, maritime forest and salt marsh—each with its own special society of animal and plant life. Twenty-six varieties of wild mammals and 323 species of birds have been identified on Cumberland, and their environment is rarely disturbed these days. That was not always the case. Once the entire island was a shooting preserve maintained by rich men. but that era ended in the 1920s and now even raccoons can be seen hunting in broad daylight at the edge of the marsh. A few years ago a white-tail deer, discovered by a Greyfield guest while it was eating flowers from an arrangement in a groundfloor hallway, merely looked up and then resumed its repast.
One road, a dirt-and-shell affair ambitiously named Grand Avenue, runs the length of the island under a canopy of live oak, though the only traffic is an occasional Park Service van and Lucy Ferguson's Jeep, no other vehicles being allowed on Cumberland. The road was built in the years before the Civil War when the island's plantation economy was based on cotton, rice, indigo and slavery. Without slaves that economy collapsed.
The next era began in 1881, when Thomas M. Carnegie, brother and partner of Andrew, bought land at the southern end of the island, built a vacation house the size of an ocean liner and named it Dungeness, after the plantation that had preceded it. The mansion had four stories, seven chimneys, sweeping porches and a somewhat top-heavy cupola amidships. Carnegie's Dungeness was never occupied after the 1920s, and it burned in 1959, but impressive ruins still remain, growing increasingly spooky year by year as the tropical vegetation reclaims them. Someone once said that if Greyfield had not existed, Tennessee Williams or Somerset Maugham would have invented it. Emily Bronte could have dreamed up Dungeness.
Thomas Carnegie died at 42 and his widow, Lucy, raised her nine children on the island. Eventually, she built several other houses, though none so grand as Dungeness, for her children as they grew up and married. Greyfield is one of those houses and Lucy Ricketson Ferguson is Mrs. Carnegie's granddaughter.
One almost hopes for a stormy day or two during a visit to Greyfield to have an excuse for spending some time prowling discreetly through the old house. The books to be found on the library shelves are a perfect rainy-day potpourri: William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Budd Schulberg, Robert Louis Stevenson, Grave Danger: A Johnny Liddell Mystery and Natural Light Photography by Ansel Adams.
Tucked away on a shelf in a corner of the living room is an 8-by-10-inch photograph of a slim, tanned young man wearing only a loincloth and standing ankle-deep in the surf, aiming a rifle out to sea. The late Mr. Ferguson. There is also a circa-1900 photograph of a teatime gathering on the front porch of Greyfield: several beautiful young women in summer frocks, wicker chairs, a swing, a silver samovar and a baby, about a year old, enveloped in a billowing white dress. Mrs. Ferguson. And in a drawer, where it may have lain for years or where, perhaps, it has been placed for the rainy-day entertainment of guests, is an itemized bill for $10,000 in household goods from John Wanamaker, New York, dated December 1906. It took some 30 carefully handwritten pages to detail all that was needed to set up a proper household on an island off the coast of Georgia in 1906.
The dining room, where Jimmy Carter was a guest a few years ago, is on the ground floor of the house, next to the pantry, the kitchen and the office. The meals, which are simple and occasionally very good, especially when they feature a local fish, are served buffet style from a sideboard, and guests, of whom there are seldom more than eight or 10, sit at a long polished mahogany table. There is a tiny bar on the main floor upstairs, and the bellman, if there happens to be one at the moment, will make drinks for the guests sitting on the elevated porch watching the wildlife in the cool of the evening. Otherwise, guests can mix their own.
The bedrooms, ranging in size from a large, airy, two-room suite to simple, enclosed sleeping porches, probably once children's rooms, are on the third floor and share four bathrooms. And the huge 19th-century bathtub is a luxury not to be sneezed at, even if it is down the hall.
Except for a few parcels of land that remain private for the time being, Cumberland Island became public property in 1972. As Cumberland Island National Seashore, the area will be protected from all development except what is deemed necessary for recreation by the National Park Service. For that citizens should be grateful. But the days of Greyfield as a privately owned and operated inn within the National Seashore are probably numbered, and that should be a cause for mourning, because there never will be another place quite like it.
GREYFIELD INN: Drawer B, Fernandina Beach, Fla. 32034
Telephone number: (904) 356-9509
Rates: $75 a day per person, American plan
One of the first summer visitors to discover the special quality of the air on the coast of Maine was Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As he sailed past the entrance to Northeast Harbor on the south shore of Mount Desert Island in June 1630, Winthrop noted in his ship's log, "We had now fair sunshiny weather and so pleasant a sweet air as did much refresh us, and there came a smell off the shore like the smell of a garden."
That incomparable air, smelling of cedar and spruce and of cold, deep salt water and new-mown hay drying in the sun, has been refreshing the minds and bodies of summer people, or "rusticators" as the locals used to call them, ever since. It is certainly one of the most pleasant aspects of life at the Asticou Inn, the rambling old gray-shingled hotel that has stood on a hill at the head of Northeast Harbor for 80 years. To awaken at the Asticou and watch a light offshore breeze stir the white ruffled curtains at the window, and hear from over the water the muffled jingle of countless halyards, and smell the utter freshness of the place—with perhaps a whiff of frying bacon from a distant kitchen mixed in—is to know what Governor Winthrop meant when he wrote of being refreshed. Henry James is supposed to have once said to Edith Wharton that the two most beautiful words in the English language were "summer afternoon." The great man might have revised his views if he had ever been to Northeast Harbor and had experienced such a summer morning.
The Asticou Inn opens in mid-June and closes soon after Labor Day. Much the same can be said of the whole of Mount Desert—or l'Isle des Montsdesèrts, as Samuel de Champlain named it. The island, separated from the mainland by a narrow tidal channel, is only a few miles south of the Canadian border and New Brunswick. Its winters are hard and the year-round population of villages such as Bar, Northeast, Seal, Southwest and Bass Harbors, plus Somesville, the island's oldest settlement, adds up to only 7,500. Once the natives were farmers and fishermen and timber cutters. But that was before Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School, arrived to sketch the landscape in the summer of 1844. He was so delighted by the splendors of the Mount Desert scenery, the proximity of mountain and sea, forest and pond, that he told all of his friends, and such painters as Thomas Birch, Frederic Church, Charles Dix and William Hart soon followed Cole there. After the artists came clergymen and college professors from Bangor and Boston; then the rich and the very rich from other Eastern cities, people who built grandiose "cottages" and founded clubs in Bar, Northeast and Seal Harbors. And finally, the zillionaires—J.P. Morgan on his yacht Corsair, Atwater Kent, assorted Fords, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Astors, Pulitzers, Damrosches and Peabodys.
Until about 1920, Bar Harbor on the island's northern shore was a social playground that rivaled Newport, R.I., while Northeast Harbor developed as a quiet retreat for those who used their wealth to buy serenity and elegant sailing vessels. In 1947 much of Bar Harbor was destroyed by fire, and today its streets are crowded in summer with day trippers and shops that cater to them. But Northeast Harbor is much as it has always been, a resort, preserved intact, from the days before Americans began to judge the success of a summer holiday by the color of their hides at its conclusion. Nobody lies on the beach in Northeast Harbor. For one thing, there is no beach, this being the fabled rocky coast of Maine. Furthermore, even at the height of summer the waters off Mount Desert Island are too cold to invite splashing. There are a few swimming pools about, one of them in the garden of the Asticou Inn.
Northeast Harbor has always had a mighty attraction for academics. Its three founders in 1880 were an Episcopal archbishop, a landscape architect and Charles W. Eliot, the 46-year-old president of Harvard. Before long Eliot was joined by Seth Low of Columbia and Daniel Gilman of Johns Hopkins. The late Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison, a lifelong Northeast Harbor man, tells the tale, in his book The Story of Mount Desert Island, of a very rich but slightly disreputable New York financier who asked a Northeast native about land for sale in the town. "We have some very fine people here now in Northeast Harbor," sniffed the local man, "including a bishop and three college presidents. We don't want any Wall Street riffraff!"
Eliot's first love was sailing. He had a sloop, Sunshine, built especially for Down East cruising. Morison, too, was a passionate sailor, and today' Northeast Harbor remains an important yachting center. A pleasure of the Asticou is to sit on the porch at evening, looking down past the green lawns and flower gardens to the harbor, and watch boats of every description round the headlands to moor for the night.
Some of the Asticou's guests are sailors but most are hikers—or, more precisely, walkers—because the 120 miles of trails and wide, well-maintained "carriage paths" that meander through the island's mountainous Acadia National Park make an outing there more an esthetic than an athletic experience. One park trail begins only a few yards from the front door of the inn. A guest, supplied with a box lunch from the hotel kitchen, starts up a gravel road that looks as though it might be someone's driveway. Within minutes the hiker is deep into woods of striped maple and paper birch on a trail that will rise and fall through glens of ferns and mosses and exotic mushrooms and will cross a stream only a few yards below the Aswan of beaver dams before emerging, after about three miles, in a meadow at the southern end of Jordan Pond, a glacial lake surrounded by bald, granite-topped mountains.
The Jordan Pond House, an 85-year-old institution that burned to the ground a year ago, had been the goal of island excursionists ever since the days when Victorian ladies in white summer dresses and improbable hats climbed into horse-drawn wagons called "cut-unders" and rode over from Bar Harbor for tea and the specialty of the house, popovers. Cleveland Amory, in The Last Resorts, tells of a European countess who, having visited in Bar Harbor, said, "I can never remember whether I drove over in a cut-under for a popover, or in a pop-over for a cut-under."
The Asticou Inn, too, was nearly lost a few years ago. In the mid-'60s, like a lot of other aging hotels in resort areas, the Asticou was in danger of closing. It was rescued by a group of Northeast Harbor property owners who formed a corporation, bought the rambling old place and saved, for their posterity and ours, a lovely example of a medium-sized, turn-of-the-century summer hotel. Its rooms are unselfconscious period pieces, furnished simply and comfortably with white wicker armchairs, brass bedsteads, white chenille coverlets and ruffled curtains that frame views of water the color of a Maine blueberry. The windows actually open and close, the air-conditioning is nature's own; the bathtubs are commodious, and the only TV set sits unattended on an enclosed sunporch off a downstairs sitting room.
Thursday night's dinner is a buffet, and people from all over the island come to dine and dance on the long porch overlooking the harbor, weather permitting.
The weather in Maine, without which conversation might cease to exist, is nothing if not changeable. Fog that wraps the fir tops in white and muffles the sounds of the sea is characteristic of June, but after that two days are rarely the same. The Asticou's guests take the weather in stride. A Mr. Armour of New York, 92 years old, arrives by limousine in June, stays until the hotel closes in September and walks the park trails every day, rain or shine. A judge from Philadelphia has visited the Asticou every summer since 1924.
The delights of the Asticou Inn are of another age and likely to remain so. The wonders of the sea and the mountains around it are grand and ageless and certain to remain so. Praise be.
ASTICOU INN: Northeast Harbor, Maine 94662
Telephone number: (207) 276-3344
Season: Mid-June to mid-September
Rates: $82-102 a day, double occupancy, modified American plan
Tanque Verde Ranch
Driving toward Tanque Verde Ranch from the west is like approaching the limits of the known world. The flat, ugly sprawl of Tucson recedes in fact and memory, and ahead, across the desert floor, rise mountains, ridge beyond ridge beyond ridge, to a point where the eye fails and the imagination takes over. The landscape's only colors are the tan of the dry earth, the gray-green of the vegetation and the intense blue of the Arizona sky.
Tanque Verde is an oasis and an outpost on the edge of a wilderness. Its grove of ancient cottonwoods announces the presence of water, as cottonwoods always do in the West, and birds sing soothingly in the mesquite trees that shade the low adobe ranch house. But beyond the ranch lie endless mountains that beckon from morning till night, first the low Tanque Verdes, then the higher Rincons to the east, the towering Santa Catalinas to the north. A barbed-wire fence with an unlocked gate is all that stands between Tanque Verde Ranch and the million-acre wilderness of the Coronado National Forest and the adjoining Saguaro National Monument. Riding and hiking trails radiate from the ranch up into the mountains and out onto the desert. They wind along the usually dry bed of the Tanque Verde River, climb rocky hillsides past solitary saguaro cactus and prickly pears with flamboyant yellow blooms, and arrive eventually at buttes and promontories where there is utter silence amid breathtaking vistas.
Tanque Verde is one of the oldest ranches in Arizona. Originally it belonged to Emilio Carrillo, a native of Sonora, who called it La Cebadilla, after the wild barley that then grew thereabouts. In 1862 Carrillo built a three-room adobe ranch house with walls two feet thick, gunports instead of windows and a plank floor that is thought to have been the first such domestic refinement in the state. On his land beside the Tanque Verde, a river then punctuated by spring-fed green "tanks," or pools, which have since disappeared, Carrillo set about raising cattle, protecting them as best he could from Apaches and bandits and drought.
In 1928 La Cebadilla was acquired from Carrillo's heir by Jim Converse, a hard-drinking, hard-shooting character who changed the name to Tanque Verde because he thought it would be easier for outlanders to handle, an important consideration because he was turning the place into a dude ranch. Converse continued to run cattle, as Carrillo had, but now winter-pale Easterners and Midwesterners paid good money to soak up the sunshine and the local color, a good deal of which was provided by the proprietor himself.
Converse was an avid hunter and gun fancier who always packed a .45. When the mood struck him, he would shoot at almost anything—jackrabbits from a moving car, the numbers on a cash register, even a light bulb in his own dining room as guests watched dumbfounded. One of them recalled, "He never spoke a word, just blew the smoke away from the pistol barrel and walked out."
The current owners of Tanque Verde are a family of Minnesotans named Cote, not one of whom has ever shot out the lights but who are an extraordinary bunch, nonetheless. The patriarch is Reynold Frederick Brownlee (Brownie) Cote, who at 21 was a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota and who now, at 79, is a genial host at two summer camps and a lake resort in Minnesota as well as a guest ranch in Arizona. His 44-year-old son Bob is the resident manager at Tanque Verde.
The Cotes are skilled innkeepers, and Tanque Verde is comfortable and well run. The owners are not only friendly, but they also have a wide range of interests. Bob, for instance, is a regular participant in the predawn Thursday bird-banding expeditions that are led by a retired Minneapolis banker named Chuck Corchran. Since Corchran launched the project in 1970, he and his recruits have banded and recaptured 19,948 birds and in the process have identified 200 species on the ranch.
Tanque Verde and the Cote family seem to attract and hold unusual people like Corchran. Mel Becker, the leathery fellow in charge of the ranch's string of 90 saddle horses and staff of five wranglers, is a lifelong cowboy and a onetime minor league rodeo rider. He is also a local history buff and an amateur botanist. He once set out to learn the names of all the varieties of cholla cactus. "I snapped the book shut on that one when I found out there were 95," he says.
Becker will lead a string of guests on horseback up a steep and treacherously rocky trail, all the while telling them how it was that some 720 years ago the local Indians, who were desert farmers, backed up the river to irrigate their crops and how they were finally wiped out by a 26-year drought. "They had warehousing," he says, half turned in his saddle as he speaks, "but that wasn't enough. Drought brought disease and disease made them vulnerable to their enemies."
Janice Luepke, the wife of a Tucson architect and a docent at The Arizona-Sonora Living Desert Museum, drives out to Tanque Verde twice a week to lead nature walks. In half an hour she can outline the fragile ecological structure of the Sonora desert, of which the Tucson area is a northern extension, while at the same time pointing out the yellow flowers of the creosote bush, which no animal eats because it smells so bad; the spiked stalks of the ocotillo, which are about to bloom a fiery red; and the mesquite whose tap roots go as deep as 100 feet. "Our land here in the West is very thin and vulnerable," Luepke says. "The tracks of a Jeep will remain for 100 years. However, the ground is full of seeds that lie dormant, sometimes for 10 or 15 years. When the conditions are right, they'll come up."
"We've always been nature-oriented," says Bob Cote. "We never had a bar until a year ago for the same reason we don't have TV. We think there are better things to do. We encourage the outdoor life."
Actually, there is a TV set at Tanque Verde. It is in the library of the old ranch house for use by the children of the Vast Wasteland when they are suffering withdrawal symptoms. Also, latecomer though it may be, the bar at Tanque Verde has a certain charm. It is located in a crumbling adobe hut called, appropriately, the Doghouse. The building is the oldest on the ranch. In 1857 Emilio Carrillo lived in it while his own house was being built, and later his vaqueros used it as a bunkhouse in: bad weather. Today the tennis pro acts as bartender, if he's around.
There are tennis courts at Tanque Verde, and an outdoor basketball court and two swimming pools (indoor and out), and there are wonderful steak cook-outs in a cottonwood grove, followed by dancing, square and otherwise. But most people come to Tanque Verde to ride. Becker and his wranglers lead four different trail rides every day, fast or slow, long or short, all of which are included in the daily rate. "We have 15 different all-day rides," says Becker. "One of them goes two hours upstream to a place where we can swim. Then the 'have had its' can sit by the river and the 'hell for leathers' can ride till dark."
The main attraction at Tanque Verde, for equestrians, pedestrians and layabouts alike, is the country. At first a stranger is dazzled by its vastness, and his eye tends to sweep the horizon over and over again. Gradually, though, his senses become attuned to the desert and he begins to notice small things: the squiggly track of a sidewinder in the dust at the side of a road, the flash of a red-headed Gila woodpecker nesting in a giant saguaro, a wild delphinium, tiny and bluer than the sky. He hears the skeleton rattle of dry saguaro ribs in the wind and the whinnying of horses from the corral and the howl of a coyote on a starry night. And when wakened at dawn by the songs of a hundred birds, he steps outside to watch the sun light up the mountains and the color return to the sky, and wonders why he stayed away so long.
TANQUE VERDE RANCH: Route 8, Box 66, Tucson, Ariz. 85710
Telephone number: (602) 296-6275
Rates: $86-5120 a day, double occupancy, American plan
The Indian name for the peaceful meadow at the southern end of Yosemite National Park, where the Wawona Hotel has stood for more than a century, is Pallahchun, "a good place to stop." Here forests of pine and oak border the meadow, and the nearby South Fork of the Merced River thunders or frolics, depending on how fast the snow in the high country is melting.
Wawona is a good place to stop because it lies just 27 miles south of Yosemite Valley, the geologic jewel of the Sierra Nevada. To the Indians of Yosemite the valley was summer camp. They called it Ah-wah-nee (deep grassy valley) and left it at that. In 1849, however, the extraordinary spot was first sighted by white men—two gold miners who had lost their way while tracking a grizzly—and ever since people have been trying to describe what it is like to stand in a meadow looking up at 2,000-foot walls of granite over which cataracts ceaselessly plunge. So far, prose, poetry and paintbrush have failed miserably, and film, even in the cameras of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, has only served to titillate. Yosemite remains a place that must be seen to be believed.
The first tourists came to Yosemite on foot and horseback in the 1850s. One of the earliest was Galen Clark, a New Engender who, at the age of 42, suffered "a severe attack of hemorrhage of the lungs" and shortly thereafter took to the mountains to die, which he did, 54 years later. Clark established a camp on the banks of the South Fork at the spot now occupied by the Wawona, where until 1874 he provided meals, supplies and primitive lodging to travelers on their way to and from Yosemite Valley.
The next owners of the "good place to stop" were New Englanders named Washburn, who called their place Big Tree Station. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 and the widespread publication of early photographs of Yosemite Valley caused tourist travel to increase dramatically. By 1875 a road financed by the Washburns was completed between Mariposa, a mining town in the Sierra foothills, and Yosemite. Stagecoaches passed right by the front door of Big Tree Station, and in 1879 the two-story frame building encircled by covered porches was opened. The Mariposa Gazette called the Washburns' new establishment "the grandest hotel in the mountains of California."
The hotel was soon rechristened Wawona, an Indian word for big tree, and its first celebrity guest was Ulysses S. Grant. Grant arrived so covered with dust that the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "He looked as if he had been engaged in the most hotly contested battle of the wilderness." After Grant came John Ruskin, Lillie Langtry, Diamond Jim Brady, William Jennings Bryan, William Howard Taft and Bernard Baruch, all bound for the wonders of Yosemite.
It wasn't until 1910 or so that Wawona's own bucolic charms—as distinct from the grander attractions of the valley—began to draw notice. Perhaps it took all those years for the dust to settle. Whatever the reason, in 1911 J. Smeaton Chase wrote in his book Yosemite Trails that Wawona "is the most peaceful spot that I know of in America and comes near being the most idyllic spot I have ever seen anywhere."
It is possible to fall in love with Wawona at first sight, especially if one approaches from the south. Four thousand feet up in the Sierra Nevada, Route 41 rounds a bend and there, on the left, is a grassy meadow bordered by an old, meandering rail fence. On the right, a wide green lawn dotted with towering sugar pines slopes up toward a picture postcard of a 19th-century summer hotel—Wawona. The place sparkles with fresh white paint and brightly striped awnings. Straight-backed rocking chairs are on its long porches shaded from the afternoon sun by hop vines climbing from the railings. Steller's jays dart from tree to tree, scolding, and the cool air is redolent of pine. One can sit in a rocker and watch mule deer grazing on the lawn and hear the distant plock of a single tennis ball, an almost forgotten sound from a time when one tennis court was considered adequate for any self-respecting resort.
Wawona has one tennis court (all-weather), one golf course (nine holes), one swimming pool (heated), two telephones (coin-operated) and one TV set. Its rooms, in adjacent cottages, are small and old-fashioned, with iron bedsteads, chenille spreads, scatter rugs on bare wood floors and pull shades at the windows.
Wawona's chief charm is that its antiquity is organic and unselfconscious. A photograph taken of the hotel in 1890 and one taken yesterday are distinguishable by the vehicles parked at the door. The only show-biz hokum is a turn-of-the-century waitress uniform, designed for the hotel's centennial in 1979 and still worn by the girls who wait tables, and even that is understated. In fact, it becomes quite delightful once one has caught a glimpse of 1980 hiking boots underneath the long skirt and apron.
Most national parks suffer from an overabundance of tourists, but crowding is especially severe in Yosemite. Although the park consists of 1,189 square miles, the famed valley, home of such natural wonders as Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome, a 5,000-foot-high granite monolith, is only seven miles square. Crowded into that tiny area are four picnic areas, 10 campgrounds, two hotels, including the once-elegant Ahwahnee, a post office, a complex of stores, a restaurant, a clinic, stables, a chapel, two gas stations, a visitors' center, a nature center and park headquarters. A single road loops the valley floor, and traffic in the summer can be a nightmare.
In spite of the difficulties, every American should see Yosemite at least once before he dies. Fruited plains and shining seas are fine, but the Yosemite Valley is very nearly a religious experience. The key to appreciating it lies in locating "a good place to stop." Wawona, still peaceful after 101 years, is that place.
WAWONA HOTEL: Yosemite National Park, Calif. 95389
Telephone number: (209) 373-4171
Season: Mid-April to mid-October
Rates: $18-$31 a day, double occupancy, European plan