Sun Mountain Lodge untouched by forest firesHotel operators are trained to expect the unexpected, but one has to wonder if anyone ever anticipated the problem facing Sun Mountain Lodge in July 2014: Maintain a world-class resort during one of the peak travel months of the year, but do it with one slight handicap: do it without any electrical power.
In more densely populated areas there normally would be backup power to rely on, but no such luck for Sun Mountain Lodge. The massive wildfires affecting Central Washington's Okanogan County had cut off power for everyone in the Methow Valley and even the area's backup power supply was affected. A resort full of people - not to mention thousands of local residents - were about to experience a serious dent in their summer plans.
The culprit in this instance was the Carlton Complex Fire, blackening about a quarter of a million acres from the town of Pateros northward and including many separate fires in the Winthrop area as well as one only five miles from Sun Mountain Resort. Guests were evacuated and the resort was without power for a week. New guests didn't return until well into August, effectively taking nearly a month of bookings off the calendar during the busiest season of the year.
Now, several weeks later, the resort has returned to normal – in fact, you might say surprisingly normal. While the Carlton Complex Fire was the biggest in the state's history, firefighters were successful in keeping it away from many places like Sun Mountain Lodge that appeared to be in serious jeopardy. Drive up to the lodge today and there is no evidence in the immediate vicinity that there ever was a fire. The views from the mountaintop setting of the resort remain intact, a 360-degree panorama that brings to mind Hitler's Eagles Nest high in the Alps. The mountains here aren't as high, but the views seem just as dramatic and, thankfully, no fire damage is visible.
Driving north along the Methow River from Pateros, there are plenty of reminders of the fires with hillsides blackened for miles and miles. In fact, in the southern part of the Methow Valley you can drive for 20 minutes or more without completely leaving the fire damage. But once you take the turn-off to Sun Mountain, the fire damage is far behind you and it is a relief once you get up on the mountain to look around and see that the Methow Valley is remarkably intact and still one of the most beautiful landscapes in all of Washington.
That's the message that Sun Mountain Marketing Director Eric Christenson and Okanogan County tourism officials want to get out to the traveling public. Yes, it was a huge fire, but no, it did not destroy the place that so many Washington residents like to come to enjoy. The scenery is just as spectacular as ever, the water just as pristine, the activities just as fun and the local merchants can't wait to see you return.
Business seemed brisk during our brief stay at Sun Mountain Lodge in late August. From our room in the lodge we had a birds-eye view of a wedding and several dozen participants who all seemed to be staying at the lodge. The outdoor pool – the one with a view to die for – was getting plenty of use. Cars filled the lot. It seemed like there was a bit of pent-up demand due to the lodge's unexpected closure.
The lodge ambiance is a big part of the attraction. Picture “northwest mountain lodge” in your mind, and you'll see something pretty close to Sun Mountain Lodge. Lots of logs and stone were used in the construction, and the design incorporates huge windows to take full advantage of what we think is the lodge's biggest asset: its view. The lodge has been around a few decades but there have been frequent updates. The subtle tans and browns and earthy tones used in our spacious room created a warm, inviting feel with the windows facing several layers of mountains stretching far into the Cascades. The room amenities are what you would expect from a luxury hotel.
The hotel's awards – including the 2014 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence -- are too numerous to mention and are bestowed not only on the lodge, but on its restaurants. We did not get a chance to sample the fine dining room, but found that the Wolf Creek Bar and Grill offered a fun, casual atmosphere with a varied menu and attentive staff. We can only imagine the Dining Room must be good indeed, with perhaps one indication being its 5,000-bottle wine cellar, and another being the Four Diamond Award from AAA that the resort has received for the past 22 years.
There are plenty of activities to keep guests busy including hiking, mountain bike riding, horseback riding and boat and canoe rentals on nearby Patterson Lake during warmer months and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and old-fashioned sleigh rides during winter. For us, the most attractive amenity was the system of trails that come right to the resort's edge – there is nothing quite like roughing it on an outdoor trail away from everything and everybody and then returning that evening not to a campsite, but to the amenities of a world-class resort. That's our kind of hiking trip.
For more information on Sun Mountain Lodge, phone 1-800-572-0493 or visit www.sunmountainlodge.com.
PHOTO CREDITS: Cary Ordway, Sun Mountain Lodge (aerial view)
RECOMMENDED LODGING: North Central Washington lodging
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