The Dinosaur goes to the Vermilion Cliffs

We had a family gathering at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument the week before Christmas.  It was only a short trip, and normally, I would not write a log about it, but we stayed in a place that’s worth talking about; the Lees Ferry Lodge.

Since the rains had set in, and it looked like we were going to be in the storm all the way to Page, Arizona, Patsy and I decided to leave a day early and go to Kanab, Utah for the night.  This is not a very long drive, but the rains added miles and miles to the journey.

In Kanab, we stayed at a Holiday Inn that didn’t have a restaurant, but there was Grandma Tina’s Famous Café across the street.  I asked the front desk person why it was famous.  He told us it was because of her sauce, so naturally, we had to try that.   However, since it was too early for dinner, we went across the street to another place called the Three Bear Cottage where we had some very good ice cream.  The place was decorated with all sorts of kitsch; bears, Christmas villages, a Crèche with bears, and so forth.

When it was late enough for dinner, we went to Grandma Tina’s Place.  The sauce she has an old family Marinara that has been handed down in her family for generations.  It was pretty good, certainly worth trying if you are in Kanab.

By the time dinner was over, the rain had turned into a gentle sprinkle, so we wandered around for a while, checking out the town.  We wandered into a combination coffee shop/outfitters store and book shop next to the motel.  I found Bill Bryson’s book, the mother tongue (lower case is on purpose).  The book is about the vagaries of the English Language, and how things got the way they are.  I felt mildly excited to have found the book.  Later on, I learned that just about everybody else had already read it.

The next morning, the motel was taken over by a bus load of tourists who all wanted breakfast at the same time we did, so we didn’t linger over coffee.  Meanwhile, the rain had gone back to torrential, and while we didn’t want to rush it, we did have to get a move on so we could be at Vermilion Cliffs by noon.

Outside of Kanab, the rain got even harder, and we looked around to see if there were any arks or animal processions nearby.  However, when we crossed the Arizona border, the rain slacked off… Arizona is a notoriously dry state.

We arrived at the Lees Ferry Lodge, the place I wanted to tell you about, just before noon.  The lodge dining room and bar are in a central building, with wings of rooms on either side.  All the buildings are faced with sandstone slabs, and there is a peeled log railing around the porch, so the place looks pretty rustic

There was a white dog lying on the steps.  It seemed friendly enough, but had a detached attitude.  If we had had a conversation, it would have gone something like this:

Me:  Hey dog.  How’s it going?

Dog:  Um hum, yep.

Me:  You sure are a pretty dog.

Dog:  Um hum, yep.

And so on.

The lodge is furnished with pine tables and benches, the kind you expect to find in a place called a lodge.  We already felt comfortable when we came in, but then I notice they had around 100 different beers on display!   I knew this was my kind of place.  We were greeted by Maggie Sacher, one of the owners of the lodge, and another woman named Charlie, who is also a co-owner, and whose dry wit kept us amused the whole time we were there.

We sat around, drinking coffee and talking until the others showed up.  I swapped some war stories with a Vietnam Vet who called himself “Scary Larry.”   Well, he had war stories, I was in during peacetime.  Anyway, we drank a lot of coffee while we talked.

Now, as some of you know, I am a coffee snob, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the coffee was better than what you normally get this far out of town.  Charlie kept our cups filled until I waved her off from mine.  We got to talking beers, and she got me to try a Xingu Black Beer, a Brazilian dark brew that had plum and coffee overtones.  Good stuff!

When some of the others arrived, we all sat down at tables and talked.  Since it was noon, we ordered some onion rings to have something to munch on.  We didn’t want to order anything substantial since we were supposed to have lunch together when everyone got here.  Charlie brought us out two heaping plates of the best onion rings I have ever had.

Finally, when all the family was gathered, we had lunch.  The choices of sandwiches and soups were another pleasant surprise. Understand that this is some fifty miles or so out of town.  Usually places like this will have okay food, maybe some burgers, but nothing special.  The Lees Ferry Lodge is the exception.

Patsy and I had roast beef sandwiches with green chilies and Jack cheese.  The sandwiches weren’t glopped up with mayonnaise or sandwich spread, so they were pretty good; so were the fries that went along with them.    Charlie convinced me to have another beer, this time something called Moose Drool Brown Ale.  Once again, it was a dark beer, but this time with vanilla and nut flavors.

After lunch, we all took a drive out along the Vermilion Cliffs.  The rain kept coming, but just in little spurts, otherwise it was just cool and breezy.  The Vermilion Cliffs are just as the name says, and are something spectacular in an area full of spectacular scenery.   When you look out at the vast openness, out toward the volcanic necks in the distance and the colorful striped hills we passed along the way, words like spectacular and awesome are somehow not sufficient.

Dinner that night was another treat.  I have always had this fantasy that I would find a back country place with great food.  The Lees Ferry Lodge fits that daydream.  The food was excellent, complete with soup, salad, great baked chicken, asparagus done right, and a choice of pasta or a baked potato, or both if you were so inclined.  I wasn’t, but I picked up my extra calories with a Black Magic Stout that lived up to its name: black and stout.  The stout was full of chocolate and coffee flavors that fit well with our dinner.  I realized I had a problem: there were some 93 beers left that I wouldn’t have time to taste.  Oh well.  I consoled myself with a slice of Red Velvet Cake, and maybe a sliver of dark chocolate cake.

After dinner, I had a chance to talk to Maggie Sacher, and learned a few things about the lodge.  For one thing, it is not just a lodge, per se.  She is involved in the Condor Release program, and the field crews from the project live at the lodge.  Tours of the release sites, with field biologists leading the tours, can be arranged through the lodge. The tours are capped off with dinner, a bonfire evening, and talks.  There are also class rooms for environmental classes and a conference room on site as well.  You can see Lees Ferry Lodge is not just another pretty place.

Maggie said that the lodge opens in the spring when the weather changes, and closes in the fall as the weather turns cold.  However, family packages and tours, like ours, can be arranged almost year around.  She told me that she has a set of Russian tank binoculars available for sky viewing.  I would have like to see them, but given that we were still socked in by the rain, there didn’t seem much point in hauling them out.

The lodge sits nearer to the Colorado River than we realized, because Maggie said they had a river trip to count birds, coming up this spring.  She is not doing the river tours after this, but if you wanted one of those, Maggie could probably put you in touch with the right people.  The Lees Ferry Lodge flier/book mark also talks about boat parking and trout fishing, so like I said, the river had to be closer than I thought.

The next morning, Patsy and I rolled in for coffee. Charlie was there, along with Greg the cook, another co-owner.  We talked books for a while, comparing favorite authors and genres.  Greg said that he mostly read non-fiction, but he did enjoy Nevada Barr, C. J. Boxx and a few other names that got tossed around.  Charlie told us about her favorite authors as she kept us supplied with coffee and funny asides

Kristin and Tom, our daughter and her husband came in.  We all had coffee and chatted about the scenery, the rain, and the beers.  After due consideration for how early it was, plus some advice from Charlie, I didn’t start singing “99 Beers.”   We did talk about turning the song into a Gregorian chant however, but gave it up as a too complicated task for that early in the morning

After a fine breakfast, it was time to go.  Our trip back home was about the same – rain and drivers who either knew the road and could drive it, or didn’t understand the term ‘hydroplane’ and drove like the laws of physics didn’t apply to them.

We heard on the news that they were losing houses in Littlefield, a town near St. George, so we were worried about roads being closed and getting back home safely.  As we passed over the usually small Santa Clara River, we saw that it was in full spate.   The houses in Littlefield were being swept away by the Santa Clara, but we didn’t see any wood or debris on the water.

The trip through the Virgin River Gorge was about what we expected.  I drove the speed limit while being passed by cars and trucks that threw water up on our windshield.  As you can tell, despite the rain and the scary drivers, we made it home okay.

If you are looking for a place that is interesting, with good food and a great selection of beers, I would highly recommend the Lees Ferry Lodge as a destination.  Their motto is “Come for the view, stay for the fun.”  Maggie could also say, “Come for the view, stay for the Condors.”  Good food, good beer, good people to talk to, what more could you want?

Until next time, be well and happy.

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