Thursday, November 19, 2015

Roaming the Rooms at Snowbird Mountain Lodge

            My cozy room came with earplugs.  Floors creaked beneath me.  Footsteps pattered above.  I didn’t mind.  I had lots more rooms.  Steps away was the massive living room/lobby lined with books, games and a blazing fireplace.  Sunny porches adorned with fancifully painted totems were outside; hammock swayed on verandas.  A smiling Buddha statue and fluttering prayer flags invited serenity along the walking path.  Further on was a thriving garden and clucking chickens, a firepit stocked with wood and s’more fixings, and overlooks situated perfectly to watch the sunrise or sunset.  I spent an afternoon reading in a scenic gazebo, nestled in an upholstered banquette, warmed by the push-button fireplace.  Charmed guests wrote “My heart slows down and I have time to reflect…” and “the very essence of relaxing vacation, this is at least our 15th time here…” 
         Snowbird Mountain Lodge is on the Register of National Historic Places and was built by Arthur Wolfe, a Chicago travel agent (1922-42) who brought adventurous groups to the Great Smoky Mountains.  Like the poet Joyce Kilmer, Arthur Wolfe had never seen a “poem as lovely as a tree” and relished bringing visitors to the 3,600 acre old- growth forest established in Kilmer’s memory in 1936.  But getting there was an arduous ordeal by train and bus over unpaved roads.  Arthur envisioned a lodge where travelers could shake off the road dust.  So he determinedly built one above Robbinsville, North Carolina, opening The Snowbird Lodge in 1941.  It’s had nine owners since, mostly former guests so impressed that they bought the place.  Elmer and Gladys Smith bought it from Arthur in 1953.  They added an ice maker which was such a sensation that schoolchildren came to see it on fieldtrips.   They also added events and hikes which continue to be a big part of the lodge’s attraction today.  Robert Rankin, the current owner since 1996, says, “All of us have been caretakers of the Lodge, preserving it for future guests so they will be able to enjoy her special
treasures as we do everyday.”  Robert and his retrievers are welcoming hosts, offering trail maps or complimentary mountain bikes, fly rods, canoes or kayaks.  In addition to the 15 smaller rooms in the Main Lodge, there are six premium rooms in the Chestnut Lodge and the secluded Wolfe Cottage with private hot tubs and fireplaces for the numerous honeymooners and anniversary celebrants.  Over half of the guests are repeat customers.  One young couple had come on the suggestion of their parents who’d vacationed there as a young couple themselves.

            There is plenty to do nearby but Snowbird also offers many optional activities at no extra charge.  There are naturalist-guided hikes, yoga, music and art workshops, birding, fly fishing and paddle sports and a variety of culinary and holiday events.  I joined about a dozen guests on hikes led by Kathy and Joel Zachry.  The information about the flora, birds, history and wildlife enriched the trip tremendously.  They also gave informal talks each night on their specialty:  bears.  I was surprised to learn that there are two bears per square mile in the Smoky Mountains and that “They have very little interest in eating us…of course there are always exceptions to that,” Joel said. 
    On a ten mile hike, I chatted with chef Frank Davi.  He’s responsible for each guests’ three daily meals including a picnic lunch and a four-course wine dinner.  “I grew up in a garden family,” he said and cooked in a pizzeria before going to culinary school.  His father was a pastry chef and his Sicilian grandmothers, who didn’t get along except in the kitchen, nurtured his love of cooking.  He fondly recalled making maccaruna (a hollow pasta) with them. “My job as a kid was to grab the pasta as it’s made and put it to dry over broomsticks.”  Today his signature dishes are “anything with my grandmother’s tomato sauce.”  As we gingerly hiked the rocky trail, he enthused about “playing with colors in the kitchen” and described how to roast beets.  “Let the beet be the star of the show, keep it simple.”  Later I admired the vibrant beets artfully arranged with grilled squash, sliced mozzarella, mascarpone and Tasso ham in a salad with fresh pesto.  It preceded the main course of fresh trout, a lodge favorite.  “I was not prepared for such a great meal tucked back here in the hills,” wrote a recent visitor.
At Snowbird there’s time to relax completely, eat sublimely, and reconsider trees through a poet’s eyes:

“…A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.”

If You Go:

Snowbird Mountain Lodge is open February through November yearly.
Joyce Kilmer, poet
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest