The park service will send you a list of area lodging, if you ask. We called the few places nearest the park, thinking we’d rather stay close to avoid long daily commute into the park.
The problem is, the place we picked is a dump. You wouldn’t know that from its website, because the owners don’t publish pictures of the “chalets.” Maybe that should have been a clue.
When we arrived, the innkeeper was friendly. She gave us our pick of the seven cabins. I think they were all empty. They stood in a row, lined up along a gravel driveway like so many sacks of garbage waiting for the morning pickup.
The worst thing wasn’t the decor. I’m somewhat used to the 1970s-era shag carpet and dark paneling typical of lodges near national parks. I’ve stayed in a number of dim, depressing cabins; in fact, I’ve stayed in one, in particular, twice in four years, and I’m certain the carpet hadn’t been cleaned in the interim. So I wouldn’t say I have rarefied tastes or complicated requirements, except maybe at dinnertime.
But this place was a couple lumens short of “dim,” a couple symptoms beyond “depressing.” I can describe it in a word, one not normally associated with any place you’d be likely to sleep comfortably for a night, or even pass through without a shudder. The word is “infested.”
Maybe it was only the front porch, which was screened in. Most people use screens to keep bugs out. Here in the mountains, they do things a little differently.
In fact the cabin itself was nice enough, certainly no worse than I expected, although not nearly as nice as I’d hoped considering I’d just spent $150/night on it. But to even get into the cabin, one has to run a veritable gauntlet: the fly farm on the porch.
The door was standing open. (It was a sort of Maginot Line of a screened porch.) Inside, a thousand flies were beating themselves to death against the inside of the screened windows. A pile of fly carcasses had accumulated next to the cabin’s front door. They crunched underfoot.
For color, a few hornets hovered around the ceiling.
I imagined running through this space with my eyes and mouth closed, three to four times a day for the next two days. Worse, I imagined carrying Raphael through there. And I began to wonder if my Visa card’s travel insurance, along with its lost-luggage and cancelled-flight provisions, also has an allowance for “extermination.”
The thing was, we could have booked rooms at the lodge five miles down the road. It looked nicer when we drove by. But how would we manage the innkeeper here at the Maggot Ranch, who at that very minute was waiting for us to tell her which cabin we wanted?
I ran through a few likely scenarios in my mind. None ended well. But we had to do something, so I dredged up my kindest, least confrontational demeanor, and with what I hoped was an apologetic air I suggested to the woman that “we were hoping for something a little more upscale.”
She laughed at me. “‘Upscale?!’ Not around here,” she chortled. She offered me a refund and began the paperwork to undo my reservation. I hesitated to produce my credit card. “But we may be coming back;” I offered, “can’t we just let this be for a half hour while I go look at the other lodge?”
Her answer was direct: “If you don’t like it now, you won’t like it in 30 minutes. You won’t be happy, and I won’t be happy.” I realized I’d insulted her — not my intention, but perhaps not avoidable.
The conversation went on for two or three minutes, as I tried various approaches to a less-final solution. For me, the worst-case scenario wasn’t this lodge, but rather the very real possibility of having to stay in a motel an hour up the road at the interstate.
At one point the woman asked specifically what it was that had bothered us about her property. My facade cracked; for a moment I assumed anyone would be grossed out by having to walk through a cloud of flies to get into one’s home. But I’d underestimated this innkeeper, or should I say “flykeeper;” she laughed at me a second time.
“This is the wilderness!” she exclaimed. “We get all kinds of critters here.” Critters? Flies are critters? “We get coyotes, we get raccoons, we get bears,” she began, reciting a litany of other animal types I’d better not be afraid of now that I’d come into her wilderness, “we get chipmunks, we get snakes, we get — “
“Look, I had a couple foxes run through my back yard yesterday,” I interrupted her, “but I don’t exactly let them into the house to vomit on my pillow while I sleep.” Well, I didn’t really say that, or even think it, really. But it would have been good.
Anyway, her resolve firmed. “Don’t come back” were her final words. Hard to argue with that, especially considering that it was delivered with the proverbial look that could abruptly end life upon receipt. “Hey, nice face,” I didn’t say, “go point that thing at the front porch of Chalet 1 and you’ll save yourself a fortune in No-Pest Strips.”
We found rooms down the road at the Mineral Lodge. They were not quite as “wilderness,” but they were clean and — imagine! — the front porch didn’t look like the tent in those old OFF! commercials.