The trackside entry to La Posada, once its "front" door during the heyday of passenger trains.
LA POSADA, A SPRAWLING hacienda-syle hostelry-cum-art gallery at trackside in Winslow, Arizona, has a singular history worth relating. Opened in 1930 as the last link in the storied Fred Harvey railroad hotel chain, the place was designed by Mary Colter, a brilliant and eccentric Southwest architect who filled its public spaces with an enormous and eclectic selection of art and antiques from around the world.
Buffeted by the Depression and the decline in railroad travel after World War II, the hotel failed to thrive, and in 1961 the Santa Fe Railway, owner of the place, cut up its interior into offices, sold the furnishings and destroyed much of the exquisite decor. In 1997 Allan Affeldt and his artist-wife, Tina Mion, took over the moldering place and began a restoration that is still ongoing.
They have largely undone the damage wreaked by the previous owner, restoring the guest rooms and public spaces to much of their former glory. As Colter did, the Affeldts and a third partner, sculptor Daniel Lutzick, have crammed often breathtaking, always interesting and often puzzling art into every nook and cranny. Much of the original wooden furniture and woodwork has been re-created and the lush outdoor gardens replanted. You can't walk to your room from the lobby without stopping to examine something new and fascinating.
The trackside doors to La Posada. In the hotel's glory days this was the front door.
La Posada's front desk anchors the gift shop.
Another view of the gift shop.
The "sculpture hall" features Native American-flavored pieces by Daniel Lutzick, and the rest of the hotel is chockablock with art and antiques from around the world. A few of them are below:
"Stop-Action Reaction" is by Tina Mion, co-owner of La Posada.
You could spend all day just exploring this hotel and its furnishings, relaxing in rocking chairs on the walkway next to the railroad tracks and watching trains go by. But there's plenty to do outside the hotel.
Winslow itself is still climbing out of the hole it fell into when Interstate 40 on the north side of town replaced famed U.S. 66 and so there isn't a lot to see in town, but the desert countryside is worth exploring by rented car.
The Winslow Dollar Rent-a-Car rate for a small car is nearly twice that of Enterprise in La Plata, but it's the only game in town. It's also a pawnshop and used car emporium, and its affable owner will take the time to draw you a map and pitch the far-flung sights.
That morning we chose not to go to the highly recommended Painted Desert and Navajo/Hopi mesas an hour north—we had only the one day in Winslow—and instead visited the Homolovi Ruins State Park just outside town. This desolate, almost featureless park is not for the uneducated and incurious, but those who take the time to learn something about prehistoric Anasazi culture will find deep fascination in its old pueblo ruins, scattered potsherds and deep religious meanings for contemporary Hopi.
An Anasazi potsherd at the Homolovi Ruins State Park. We carefully put it back, as the park demands.
We also drove 20 miles west to a crowd-pleaser, Meteor Crater, a privately owned site where with a hell of a bang a meteorite carved a crater 4,000 feet wide and 700 feet deep out of the desert 50,000 years ago. Some visitors dismiss it as a mere hole in the ground, but what a hole in the ground it is. It not only has an engrossing geological history but also a contemporary one—it was used as a training ground for the Apollo lunar astronauts.
The place, a few miles south of I-40, features a slick new museum and movie theater. It has elevators for people with disabilities and, to my delight, movie scripts for the deaf and hearing impaired. And a Subway sandwich shop, where we shared a familiar foot-longer for lunch.
Meteor Crater 20 miles west of Winslow is worth the short side trip.
Back at La Posada we napped, then took our cameras to photograph the place inside and out, including the unstaffed Amtrak station next to the hotel. The depot is a dusty, empty shell with two lone benches inside, but plans are afoot to restore it and convert it into still another art gallery while retaining it as a rail station.
Winslow depot shares a trackside platform with La Posada. Those suitcases, by the way, are ours.
The one apparently unplanned improvement we'd suggest would be for the hotel to provide someone to meet incoming trains and help guests hump their bags to the front desk. After dark it's hard for a shaky senior citizen (me) to spot and negotiate the rough ramp over the tracks to the trackside platform the hotel shares with the station, and there's a low chain barring the walkway to the hotel's entry. The mostly symbolic barrier was recently put in by the railroad, the desk clerk said, after someone wandered onto the tracks at a tragically inopportune time.
In the summers people are also going to be confused by the posted train schedules. Amtrak's summer timetable cards the westbound Chief as departing Winslow at 8:50 p.m. and the eastbound at 6:39 a.m, both Mountain Daylight Time. Arizona, however, does not observe Daylight Saving Time and so the actual local times are 7:50 p.m. and 5:39 a.m.
Knowledgeable travelers will know that, but the uninitiated could miss their trains. Worse, on our visit the sign on the wall of the station still carried the old Mountain Standard Time departures—the poster hadn't been changed when the rest of the country shifted to Daylight Time.
Part of La Posada's Turquoise Room, considered by many foodies the finest restaurant in the entire Southwest.
All these are picayune quibbles when one considers La Posada’s crown jewel: the Turquoise Room, headed by John Sharpe, nominated by no other than the James Beard Foundation as one of the best chefs in the nation. It’s hard to believe that a hotel restaurant of this quality exists in such an out-of-the-way place, but it does. Discerning foodies the nation over know all about it.
For breakfast we had an exquisite dish: Santa Fe baked eggs over black beans, corn, peppers, squash, tomatoes, jalapeno jack cheese and roasted corn salsa—a slice of heaven for just $10. (Various other baked egg dishes, waffles, pancakes and specials are also on the menu.)
Dinner was bison short ribs “simmered in lightly spiced blackberry barbecue sauce on a mound of red caboose mashed potatoes” ($22). It was remarkably tender and tasty, far better than beef.
Also on the menu: elk medallions, grilled salmon and churro lamb. All the game, the menu said, is farm-raised and range-fed, with no hormones or antibiotics. The Turquoise Room claims to be the only restaurant that serves native churro lamb every day
For an appetizer I had Hopi hummus with piki bread ($10). Piki is not pita—it’s way too light and flaky to dip into hummus. The friendly maitre 'd had to tell me to spoon the hummus onto the piki. It was delicious, even if a lot of the piki ended up in my lap.
For dessert Debby had a hazelnut brownie with coffee ice cream and whipped cream, and I a heavenly crème brulee with raspberries.
All the portions were reasonable, not hubcap-sized as they are in so many restaurants west of the Mississippi.
Debby and I nevertheless waddled happily to bed, well and truly sated.
Our bedroom, the Goldwater Room, at La Posada. Behind the green door is a large bathroom with jacuzzi.