Resting in the belly of a beagle, in the cabin of a sternwheeler, or in a granary surrounded by flower gardens can give you not only a unique night of lodging, but also a chance to explore the West and have something to talk about when you get back home. In my travels over the past few years, I have had a chance to see some unique lodging, or stay in places that are truly historic.
At the Pipestem Creek Bed and Birding near Carrington, N.D., where lodging is in restored granaries (one is a 10-sided structure). The real attraction is the opportunity to explore 700-acres of prime bird habitat and private gardens. This is rural living, with an atmosphere where you can literally listen to the birds sing and smell the flowers. Among the rare bird species you may see while staying here is Baird’s sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Sprague’s pipit, LeConte’s sparrow, and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed sparrow.
Just five miles from Pipestem Creek you can have more birding opportunities at the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a 40-minute drive from Pipestem Creek boasts the largest white pelican population in North America. Pipestem Owner Ann Hoffert, has a lifelong knowledge of birding on the Northern Plains and as president of Birding Drives Dakota can give great advice on species and where you might see them.
Near Browning, Mont., I found accommodation in a Blackfeet lodge at Darrell Norman’s Lodgepole Gallery and Tipi Village. Darrell is an artist and he cooked me a fresh trout dinner while an eclectic group of friends and artists popped in and out of his gallery/home. Then he took me down to my quarters for the night. The tipi where I stayed was one of several at the site. Inside was a small fire pit, and since it was a chilly fall evening, with wind sweeping across the plains, Darrell started a fire and shared some Blackfeet stories with me before departing to head up to his house.
I had the lodge to myself and with only the light of the small fire found it cozy and relaxing. This site gives you a view of north-central Montana’s plains to the east and south, and of the striking peaks of Glacier National Park to the west. The work of Blackfeet, Choctaw, Cree, Arikara/Hidatsa and Kiowa-Apache artists, including that of the lodge owner Darrell Norman is available in the gallery. Various art workshops are held on site and there are opportunities to see Spanish mustangs or take a horseback ride or herbal walk with a Blackfeet guide.
To learn more about Blackfeet culture and history visit the Museum of the Plains Indian in nearby Browning, or attend North American Indian Days, held the second weekend in July.
Near Cottonwood, Idaho, I found Dog Bark Park, which has as the main lodging facility an oversized beagle, Sweet Willy. Stairs lead to a private deck and the dog’s belly, which is the main bedroom. The bathroom is, appropriately, in the dog’s rear end, while the head of the dog has a small loft with a sleeping pad (which is ideal for a single person or particularly for kids). The “park” itself has other oversized objects, a hiking trail, and it is all located adjacent to the chainsaw artist studio of Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin.
You might think this entire place has gone to the dogs, and to a certain degree it has. While Dennis and Frances create wildlife, fish, and items with a Lewis and Clark theme, by far most of their art has a connection to dogs. There is of course Sweet Willy, and a smaller canine companion, Toby, who is only 12 feet tall. In the gift shop are a variety of other wooden canines. You can even have Dennis and Frances make you a personalized replica of your own dog (beagles are particularly popular).
The Delta King on the Sacramento River, permanently docked at Old Sacramento, totally captivated me. The Sacramento River was the conduit for this riverboat when the sternwheeler was in service from 1927 to 1940, and served as a troop transport on San Francisco Bay during World War II before falling to derelict status. The vessel is now permanently docked at Old Sacramento.
Although some of the 44 cabins are quite small, others have nice amenities (desks, comfortable chairs, and of course views of either Old Sacramento or the Sacramento River). The Captain’s Room, which encompasses two stories and includes the original wheelhouse, will set you back at least five big bills, but it is a one-of-a-kind lodging that has a private veranda, wet bar, and queen sized bed along with a sitting area.
The secondary benefit to staying on the Delta King is its location in Old Sacramento. It is a short walk of just a block or two to reach such sites as the California State Railroad Museum, The Wells Fargo History Museum, California State Military Museum, Sacramento History Museum, and the Old Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum. ❖