In Praise of Old Hotels — Part 6: Tourist Stops

A COUPLE OF FINE TOURIST STOPS

Santa Fe, New Mexico and Cody, Wyoming both thrive on the tourist trade. Santa Fe has a long history of travelers coming and going and Cody is a popular stopover for travelers heading to Yellowstone National Park. Today, Santa Fe is not wild west but shows a more refined and elegant side even though it has a rough and tumble history linked to the Santa Fe Trail. Cody is wild west through and through and seems to magnify this aspect…it practically rolls in it.

THE IRMA HOTEL, CODY, WYOMING 

The Irma Hotel was built by Buffalo Bill Cody and named for his daughter — that would be Irma. It was opened in 1902 and has been a local landmark ever since. The saloon on the ground floor is famous for the cherry wood back bar which was a gift from Queen Victoria…who died in 1901 and never visited the saloon.  The place is popular with bikers on their way to Sturgis or other western motorcycle rallies.

Buffalo Bill’s ownership ended in 1913 when he sold it to his wife to keep creditors from taking it. Eventually the hotel passed into other hands and was expanded. Apparently some rooms are restored and furnished with antiques but we stayed in a more “modern” room that was spacious but looked like an old Howard Johnson’s room. I wasn’t impressed with the room but we were here during the busy summer season. The place was pretty crowded. I assume the restored rooms are much better.  Here is a room we didn’t see.  I expected to see a mechanical bull in the room but it was fine.

 The place really is as theatrical as Buffalo Bill. It could be described as a saloon with a hotel attached. The saloon was crowded and seemed to take up most of the ground floor of the building. we were hard pressed to find a place to sit but everyone was having a good time and the beer was cold.

 

One of the features of the hotel is the theatrical reenactment of a wild west gunfight out in the street. Tourists take their places on the covered sidewalk as the lawmen and outlaws face off and eventually shoot each other.  This is quite a cliché but the hotel guests seem to eat it up.

We also went out to Stampede Park to see the Cody Night Rodeo, a nightly rodeo during the summer months. I’ve been to a few rodeos and this one was pretty good but, like everything else in Cody, it was a little over the top…but the real thing.

 

HOTEL ST. FRANCIS, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO

In the heart of Santa Fe, down by the plaza, sits the 1920-era Hotel St. Francis. It is reputed to be the oldest hotel in Santa Fe, which surprises me a little considering the long history of travelers coming to this place and the fact that Santa Fe was the seat of government way back under Spanish and Mexican rule.  Hotel St. Francis is about a block away from the city plaza and the Palace of the Governors and a similar distance from the Basilica of St. Francis.

The hotel is more Mediterranean in style than southwestern or pueblo but the color scheme seems to fit in with the local buildings and the Santa Fe ambiance. There are other hotels that feature the pueblo style if that is what the traveler wants. The hotel furnishings are sparse in comparison to some other historic inns or hotels. A lot of the furnishings seem to be made by local craftsmen.

 Rooms are small but comfortable — one doesn’t come to Santa Fe to sit in their room so the size isn’t a problem and is a reflection on the era when the hotel was built. We stayed a couple days and the room was adequate. We spent almost all of our time out walking around town and I don’t even recall eating at the hotel. There are great restaurants and pubs within walking distance.  We did have a few Irish Coffees in the hotel bar one evening and it was very nice and an intimate place to just relax and reflect on the day’s activities.

The hotel is a little “upscale” and I had the feeling that the staff felt that they were, too. They were polite but not exactly friendly. I came away with a mildly negative impression of the place but I think it was mainly due to the staff because the accommodations were fine and the location was perfect for exploring downtown Santa Fe.

As I said, if you are wanting more of a traditional Santa Fe (Spanish Revival) style there are other places. The La Fonda is a block or so away and worth a visit.. The La Fonda also dates to the 1920s and was owned by the Santa Fe Railroad and operated by Fred Harvey. We had lunch there and it was very nice.  I will add that to my list of historic hotels at some point.

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