Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Awesome Arizona - Winslow's Saving Grace

I've been in a Motel 6 so bare-bones that I wish they hadn't left the light on for me, endured fifteen hours in a Calais, France, room so miniscule that David and I had to take turns walking, and suffered through a rainy night in a London basement accommodation where the dozen pigeons cooing outside the window obviously had a much more restful night than David and I.*

But sometimes a hostelry is so special it makes me forget any unpleasant hotel experience I've ever had and makes me wish I could stay there for years instead of a day or two.  Such a place is La Posada--Winslow, Arizona's saving grace.

Someone told David and me it is a "magical place,"
and it is.  A long winding path flanked with gardens, some hidden with only a gate hinting at the hollyhocks and fountains within and some clearly visible formal gardens, lead to a vestibule where it's difficult to choose which area to explore first.  Should we visit the trading post, head to the gallery on the second floor, explore the sculpture hall, sit in the sunken garden or simply wander the halls that are lined with objets d'art?
Doors leading from the train walkway to La Posada say Enter in Silence and Depart in Peace.
Even after an hour's exploration, we had difficulty deciding where to go next.  If David and I had been train buffs, we might have chosen to sit out back on the veranda where the Santa Fe Railroad trains still arrive and depart on a regular basis.  But since we find history more intriguing, we were more tempted to settle into one of those leather sofas in the library to watch the documentary detailing the restoration of this remarkable place.  Or what about studying those historical exhibits in the lobby, next to the Tina Mion Gallery, which trace the development of the West?
The ballroom is now a comfortable room for a game of chess or a cozy spot to read.
No wonder we spent hours exploring this intriguing place. At check-in we were given a "Souvenir Guide and Map" for a self-guided walking tour, but even after two days of wandering, we're pretty sure we didn't see everything.
Our room overlooked the inner courtyard.
Not only does this place make you long to finish up with the pesky business of sightseeing so you can return to its warm embrace, it is also a hotel with historical significance.  Let me explain.

Travel is derived from the French, travail, which means "toil or labor."  Indeed, travel in the Middle Ages was fraught with difficulty, and it wasn't much better in the United States in the late 1800s.  Before the interstate highway system, train travel was the only way to get from point A to point B, but it was inconvenient and tedious.  No dining cars existed so, once you boarded the passenger car, that was where you stayed.  Stops in towns along the way did not have any services for travelers with the exception of a grubby diner or two.

Fred Harvey addressed the needs of these tourists by building welcoming restaurants and hotels at the train stops and, as a result, literally changed the way Americans travel.  Touring the West became popular when people  knew they could count on a comfortable bed, regular meals, and even guides and touring cars available for hire.  Suddenly, travail was taken out of travel. Truly, Harvey did as much for train travel as McDonalds did for fast food.
One of many lovely items to look at in the hallway.

Not only did Harvey have vision when it came to knowing what the public wanted, but he was ahead of his time in hiring women to do much of the work.  "Harvey Girls" staffed his restaurants and made sure customers were served in a timely fashion.  Ten years before women were given the right to vote in 1920, Fred Harvey gave the most prestigious job in his company to a woman, an architect named Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.

She created 21 hotels and buildings for Harvey, including Phantom Ranch, Hermit's Rest, and Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon, but her most spectacular creation, most people agree, was La Posada.  It cost $1 million to build in 1929, and another million to furnish and landscape.  Colter considered it the most important work of her career.

Winslow was the chosen location for this masterpiece because Harvey believed the town would be the next Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Even though this never happened, Winslow was popular for a long time due to the Santa Fe Railroad and Route 66.  But, when the train stopped its passenger service and Route 66 was bypassed, the hotel was abandoned.

When Allan Affeldt and his wife, Tina Mion, purchased the Posada in 1997, they set about restoring this hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, whose charms had been hidden by hallway after hallway of fluorescent-lighted utilitarian offices built by the Santa Fe Railway.  Still, the architectural details--the arches, the variations in ceiling heights and materials, the sweeping staircases--were still there just waiting to be rediscovered.  Allan and Tina did just that.

Much to my delight, our room had a well-stocked bookcase.  You'll find books in almost every private and public room in La Posada.
Even though trains no longer deliver dozens of tourists a day and Route 66 is an abandoned road devoid of cars, this hotel will always be a testament to the travelers who stayed here--the visitors who traveled for the joy of discovery, the people who headed West in hopes of forging new and better lives, the Oklahoma families who were driven from their homes by the Dust Bowl, the men who hoped to earn their fortunes mining for gold.  This gracious hotel will transport you to a different era, and, if you'll sit still and listen, it will tell you its stories of the people who passed through its doors.

Magic is like that.

Practicalities -
     This is such a beautiful place, packed with so much history and nostalgia, that you might expect the rates to be too high for most Tightwad Travelers, but this hotel is definitely worth a bit of a splurge.  And you don't have to splurge too much as there are plenty of lovely rooms in the $119-129 range.
Bathroom has original, restored tile.

If you're a light sleeper, be sure to ask for a quiet room as trains still roll through town, behind the hotel, during the night.

Pack light, unless you know for sure you've got a ground floor room or you enjoy hefting suitcases up stairs, as there is no elevator.

To enhance the charm of the place, there are no telephones in the rooms but you will find books everywhere!

Concierge -
     By the time we reached Winslow, David and I wanted only to travel independently, but when we visit again we may use the services of a guide named J D Allen.  She's lived in the area forever and can take people to secret places on the Hopi or Navajo Reservations, find petroglyphs no one else knows about, and custom design any tour you desire for a reasonable (reasonable compared to the prices charged at Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly.) $100 a day.  phone:  (928)-203-6310 or toll free (877)-733-6621

Restaurants -
     Our friends raved about the restaurant in La Posada, The Turquoise Room, but we were not impressed.   We loved our breakfast, though, at the Triple R's Home Cooking mom and pop place at 1308 E Third Street where everything from the biscuits to the apple butter is home made.

*Because of these experiences in hotels and for several other reasons discussed in my book, Europe on a Dime: Five-Star Travel on a One-Star Budget, I much prefer to rent vacation apartments when I travel. 

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