Rodeo, New Mexico
January 28, 2007
The famous Glacier Reds were part of a fleet of open-topped touring sedans introduced in the 1930s. The drivers were called "jammers", and the buses seated about 20 passengers. The canvas tops could be rolled back for stunning open-air views. Thirty-three remaining buses in Glacier were retired in 1999 due to old age. But partly because of public outcry and with the help of the National Park Foundation and Ford Motor Company, the red buses were restored! Now shiny-red with black highlights, much to everyone’s delight, the sleek classic buses began running again in 2002. They’re bi-fuel, running 93% cleaner than before, on propane or gasoline.
We next passed Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria (now you know what jammers are), but it was already closed for the season. Lake McDonald Lodge’s main building and cabins remain open through the end of September. Built in 1913 in the Swiss chalet style, it faces the lake, since guests always arrived by boat before the road was built.
It was first called Lewis Glacier Hotel, after owner John Lewis. Famous Western artist Charlie Russell used to hang out here and entertain the guests with his stories. The main restaurant is Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, in his honor. The Great Northern Railroad bought the hotel in 1930, and its name was changed to Lake McDonald Lodge.
Entering the lobby, many eyes are watching from the countless horned and antlered heads lining the walls at all levels. I’ve always thought hanging heads of game as trophies rather macabre, but one finds this in so many Western establishments it’s almost de rigueur. The lobby ceiling is open-beamed all the way to the top, and unusual painted hanging lanterns provide subdued light. The stairway steps are cut from logs, and there’s a big stone fireplace at the other end of the lobby.
Outside in back (which is really the front), steps lead down to Lake McDonald and the historic DeSmet. Built in 1930, the DeSmet has spent her entire life on Lake McDonald transporting visitors. In summer, there are five tours a day, lasting one hour. The 57-feet long wooden boat carries 80 passengers. A pretty white boat trimmed in turquoise, the DeSmet lies moored at the dock between tours, alongside smaller boats.
That evening we return to McDonald Lodge to enjoy bison burgers and beer at the Stockade Lounge. We’d considered eating in Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, but higher prices, longer waits, and the fact that the lake view from the lounge is every bit as good if not better, decides us in favor of the lounge.
From journal Summer’s End, Glacier West