Abandoned motel finds new life

The Warrior Motel is one of the abandoned motor courts around Bryson City and Cherokee, NC.  Now, a local shop owner has purchased the property and operates out of the front of the motel.

The Warrior Motel is one of the abandoned motor courts around Bryson City and Cherokee, NC. Now, a local shop owner has purchased the property and operates out of the former front office of the motel.

There is something about roadside motor courts that call to me. I’m not talking about motels, your Best Westerns or your Holiday Inn Expresses. I’m talking about a motor court. The kinds of places that had neon signs shouting at passing travelers to stay the night. The kind of place that advertised their water gardens and had a family-run diner on the lot. The kind of place you stopped when you were driving your spanking-new Mustang along Route 66 on your way to California.

If you want to see these today, you have to get off the interstates and hit the blue highways. Many of the remaining motor courts left standing are abandoned and in disrepair. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear them. They whisper, “I used to be a cool cat. People had a groovy time in my water garden.”

So I’m a little rusty on my 1960s slang. But you get the idea. Beyond the cracked pavement and busted gutters, you can see it: An old-school muscle car roars into the lot, chrome gleaming in the sun. A mother in her cat-eye sunglasses slathers on oil poolside while Junior and Joanie splash around. A road-weary salesman in a rumpled suit slurps coffee in the diner. The glory of the American Road trip at its height.

They just don't make signs like this anymore.

The sign for the Warrior Motel will get your attention. It features a brave holding a tomahawk that used to move back and forth. Behind that, you’ll see where the water garden used to be. There is still an umbrella shrouded in weeds marking its place. The pavement is cracked and growing a weed garden now.

For an abandoned motel, the entire property is really in remarkable condition. Although, to be fair, the motel is no longer abandoned. It is also no longer a motel. A local shop owner has set up in what used to be the front office. She carries antiques and random wares – including some nice pieces of furniture and a fantastic chandelier I would have bought if I had somewhere to hang it.

My picture isn't great, but if you look closely, can you can see that white spot on the right? That's the remaining umbrella where the pool used to be.

My picture isn’t great, but if you look closely, you can see that white spot on the right. That’s the remaining umbrella where the pool used to be.

According to one blogger who visited the Warrior Motel in 2010, it was abandoned in 2006. But even looking at another visitor’s photos from November 2014, the property still wasn’t in as bad condition as I would expect. You could tell that animals were coming in and out of the open doors, but overall damage really wasn’t that bad.

Comparing my photos with the November visitor’s, I can tell that there has been a hefty amount of cleanup. Some of the rooms are still full of beds, but some of them have been cleared. I’m curious to see how the current owner of the Warrior Motel continues its restoration. I didn’t ask what her plans were for the place, but I hope whatever she does, she leaves its character in tact.

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Day of Wyoming storms precludes disaster

This photo is a freeze frame from one of my favorite lightning strikes from the Wyoming lightning storm. We didn't know it at the time, but this storm on our first night was a precursor of things to come on the trip.

This photo is a freeze frame from one of my favorite lightning strikes from the Wyoming lightning storm. We didn’t know it at the time, but this storm on our first night was a precursor of things to come on the trip.

Before there was the blowout, there were the storms, We didn’t know it on day one of the trip, but storms were about to become a major part of our life. After we landed in Denver that first day, we needed to cross about 1,026 miles – about 15 hours of driving – to get from Denver to Glacier National Park. We decided to spend Saturday knocking out about half of that drive time.

Our fist pit stop: Sheridan, Wyoming.

Our fist pit stop: Sheridan, Wyoming.

We covered about 435 miles and landed in Sheridan, Wy. that night to sleep. Along the way we saw some beautiful scenery and watched a storm come from the mountains and blow across the highway in front of us. (You can see more pictures in my flickr account.) But the best part of the day was driving into the lightning storm.

Of course at that time we didn’t know that driving in and around storms was going to be a recurring theme of the trip, but watching the lightning show was truly a beautiful sight. I made a video montage of the best shots I was able to get, complete with commentary from Lacey and I, and a sample of our playlist from the trip.

I just want to note that trying to catch lightning on video is like trying to play Whack-A-Mole.  The lightning strikes felt like they were surrounding us – really they were on three sides. Just when I’d think I’d have a good idea of where the most activity was, it would all switch up. We watched the storms for hours, but I only got about five or six decent shots of actual lightning bolts.

There were white markers around the battlefield to mark where soldiers fell. This group was in a line that ended in the walking path.

There were white markers around the battlefield to mark where soldiers fell. This group was in a line that ended in the walking path.

Day two of the trip dawned bright, clear and full of promise. We left Sheridan early and stopped at the Little Bighorn National Monument, the scene of Custer’s Last Stand. The area, like the rest of the state, is undeveloped and it really isn’t hard to look at the landscape and imagine what happened that day. The trail leading visitors around the battlefield and the markers that show where soldiers and warriors fell also help illustrate the scene. Plus, there is a tour guide who can be heard around the entire battlefield. So even if you aren’t in the tour or don’t want to hear it, too bad. You’re getting the story anyway.

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument sports a new memorial to the Plains Indians. Its still under construction and when complete the walls inside the circle will showcase various native symbols and carvings.

The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument sports a new memorial to the Plains Indians. Its still under construction and when complete the walls inside the circle will showcase various native symbols and carvings.

A new project that I’m excited about is a memorial for the Plains Indians. The metal cutouts of Native Americans on horseback are already there but there are still carvings to be done on the stone walls inside the circular monument.  I’m excited to go back and see it when its complete.

After we got through all the fun times of the day, we were ready to put the hammer down and knock out the remaining seven hours of driving we had left to get to Whitefish. That was about the time I saw the tire going away from the car and, well, you know the rest of that story.

Karaoke-hiking (and other bear safety tips)

Aside

Elk have quite the sense of humor accompanying their size and general dangerousness. I lifted this picture from Yellowstone National Park's Facebook page August 30.

Elk have quite the sense of humor to go with their size and general dangerousness. I lifted this picture from Yellowstone National Park’s Facebook page August 30.

There has never been a better time to visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. The summer crowds are dying down, the dog days of summer are behind us, the elk are in rut, the bears are about to hibernate and the wildfires are blazing. That’s right folks, Lacey and I are getting an earful on the daily from our respective parents about the dangers of this trip, why we need to be careful and the best ways to go about doing it. (Nevermind we’re almost 30 years old and smart enough not to chase after wild animals.)

So I thought I’d do a little research. What exactly are the dangers lurking in these unassuming national parks? How can we protect ourselves? Here’s what I found: A little common sense goes a long way.

See a bear off in the valley? Don’t go running after it with camera in tow. Is an elk camped on the side of the road leisurely munching grass? Take a through-the-window shot and keep it moving. Does that big bison look like he couldn’t move fast enough to harm a fly? Think again.

First off, the National Park Service is almost as worried about our safely as our parents are. It kind of mars the park image when someone gets mauled. So Yellowstone has put together bear safety videos and Glacier has its own safety page chock full of information. My takeaway:

  • Avoid an encounter with a bear. Hike in groups and make a lot of noise. Lacey and I intend to sing. It’ll be a karaoke hike.
  • If you do encounter a bear, know how to react, If it charges you, you need to defend yourself. If you just startle it and it starts acting a little like its trying to make a big show, just back away. Don’t try to out-alpha it.
  • Know how to use your bear spray — and what it’s limitations are. Its not insect repellent, as the park service is quick to point out. Think of it more like super-mace. You don’t want it anywhere near you.

Yellowstone also provides a nice elk safety video — basically don’t walk up to them or park your car next to them.

So, Toni and Sandy. Your daughters are armed with cutting edge National Park safety technology. I think we have a 99 percent chance of survival in the wild, wild west.

We will have pictures!

This time, I will have pictures from something other than a BlackBerry and cheap Wal-Mart point and shoot.

This time, I will have pictures from something other than a BlackBerry and cheap Wal-Mart point and shoot. Still, this shot of “The Mittens” from Monument Valley in 2010 isn’t bad for a BlackBerry.

Remember the time I said 2013 may be the year I start posting more regularly? That was a good idea. Too bad I’m failing miserably at it so far. I mean, I’ve been working — a lot — and keeping busy with life projects in general. Life projects including working on that Montana respite that I take off for in approximately 23 days, 8 hours and 11 minutes. I think everyone Lacey follows on Instagram has been in Montana this summer and every time I get on Twitter there are about 500 tweets of pictures from Two-Medicine Lake, some mountain or other or something else breath-takingly beautiful that I just can’t wait to see. But the best part of this trip: Barring some unforeseen disaster, I will actually have pictures — and good ones at that. Lets recount some of my camera misadventures, shall we?

Flash back to 2010. I have recently purchased my first DSLR, a Nikon D5000. Its something of a reward to myself for just being me. So, I’m in the Scripps Program and just loving that I can use my fancypants camera at press conferences instead of the point and shoot our office had for us to use. Then, one day, I’m showing my family around DC when I walk off and leave my camera on a tour bus. I literally watch it drive away into the sunset. Even though I called the bus line almost immediately, of course no one ever saw it or turned it in. I replaced it some months later with the same model and haven’t had any mishaps since then, unless you count the time I dropped it down some steps on a miniature golf course in Panama City Beach a few years back.

Go back a little further to the summer of 2010. I had a point and shoot camera that had served me well and set off with it on the infamous Gypsy Trip. About a day and a half into the trip the battery dies and no matter what I do, I can’t get the thing to charge. On top of that, I have some kind of weird battery that can’t be found anywhere but on Amazon and so I am just out of luck. Rather than spend precious vacation funds on a camera, I bought a $40 off-brand something or other from a Wal-Mart somewhere along the Oregon Trail between here and Colorado. It took pictures, but that’s really the best thing I can say about it. I had a lot of issues with picture storage on that trip as well. Basically the whole excursion was a technological nightmare.

So this time, I’m going to be prepared. I’ve got backup batteries for my DSLR and video camera, back up memory cards, an external flash drive and  chargers for the car and wall outlets. Come what may – I’m getting good pictures from this trip. And if all else fails, Lacey is kind of an awesome photographer. I’ll just rip off some from her.