Stay in a historic hotel when touring the Old West

Published5/10/2008 6:51 PM

While visiting a museum containing artifacts of the Rocky Mountains a few years back, I saw a rocking chair whose structural parts were made of pieces from rifles and shotguns.

The thing was old and ingenious as well as cared for, but something you don't sit in for long unless you're heavily padded.


Those kinds of eccentricities explain the Old West as much as a landscape of rugged mountains or canyon rivers. Hail to those who keep the artifacts and architecture alive for us visitors, such as the Historic Hotels of the Rockies, an organization representing a score of hotels in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico. It puts tourists in close touch with gold fever, gun fights, narrow-gauge railroads, dusty cattle drives and American Indian cultures up and down the Continental Divide.

The authenticity of these hostelries, which range from large old resort hotels to bed-and-breakfasts, can't be denied. All are on the National Register of Historic Places, which like most of us, means older than 50 years. All of them have antique furnishings and fixtures in architectural styles that reflect Victorian, Western, Southwestern, American Indian, arts and crafts, bungalow, pueblo revival and territorial.

An example: In Durango in Southwest Colorado, The Strater Hotel ((800) 247-4431, is a four-story gem built in 1887 of native red brick and hand-carved sandstone filigree. Fine dining, Victorian-style Jacuzzis and data ports with high-speed wireless access are among the accouterments.

Restoring your comforts in the Strater's Diamond Belle Saloon would seem a natural way to end a day of visiting some of the 600 cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park or riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad ((877) 872-4607) perilously high up in the San Juan Mountain and crisscrossing the Animas River Canyon far below. The hotel offers various packages in connection with Mesa Verde and also the railroad.

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In some of these old Rocky Mountain hotels the "authenticity" is stretched to an Old West pageantry with actors portraying honky-tonk piano players, bordello queens and two-gun desperadoes. But the Web site,, provides enough detail of amenities to either take it or leave it.

A warning: The popularity of the hotels, particularly because of their nearness to national parks and other attractions, demands early booking for July and August. Also, senior discounts, including those through AARP and AAA, are available.

Some other samplings:

The Hotel Colorado ((800) 544-3998,, in Glenwood Springs, Colo., was opened in 1893. Its Italian Renaissance style and its nearness to the area's famed mineral hot springs, lured famous repeat visitors, opposites such as Teddy Roosevelt and Al Capone. It attracted me and my wife a few years back because the 131-room hotel is within a five-minute walk to the Hot Springs pool, which is advertised as the world's largest of its kind, and about an hour's drive from Vail Ski Resort on I-70 along the valley floor of some beautiful red-rock canyons. Just southeast are Aspen and Snowmass. The hotel, which is near the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers, contains exquisite summer gardens.

The Irma Hotel ((800) 745-4762, in Cody, Wyo., built in 1902 by Buffalo Bill and named for his daughter, Irma, is about a one-hour drive from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. You can stay overnight in Bill's private suite for $153 plus tax. It is one of 15 suites of a total 40 rooms that existed at the time the hotel was built. Some of the original building's walls are of river rock and locally quarried sandstone. Buffalo Bill, of course, founded and operated a famous Wild West Show, which toured Europe and American cities for 30 years. The town of Cody replicates the show throughout the summer, including nightly shootouts in the street, and rodeos and Indian performances, many of them at the Buffalo Hill Historical Center nearby. The Plains Indian Museum PowWow is to be held June 21. Other events are the annual Wild West Balloon Fest Aug. 1 and the annual visit to Kirwin Ghost Town, a four-wheel drive excursion on Aug. 16.

The Plaza Hotel ((800) 328-1882, in "the other Las Vegas" in New Mexico, is the centerpiece among some 900 buildings in the colorful, authentic town's Historic District. Built in 1882, its character is Victorian throughout. Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders held their first reunion in the hotel in 1899. Guests included Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and his girlfriend, Big Nose Kate Elder.

John Hilferty's column for
mature travelers appears
monthly. He can be reached at

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