February 6th, 2005
|05:29 pm - a day, a day, another day|
Thursday I got to play hooky officially. A project manager from National Office was in town, and I got designated her native guide, sort of. One of the things she wanted to do was ride on the ferries, so we took a long lunch and rode the round trip over to Bainbridge Island and back. It was a pleasant trip - I like riding the ferries and don't do it terribly often, and my visitor got a kick out of everything. I wouldn't want to do it for a living, but I don't mind playing native guide every so often. I suppose I do have a sense of local pride buried in there somewhere - not so much for the civic institutions as for the countryside. Heck, I still get tickled when I remember David Lynch exclaiming over the Douglas Fir trees when he came out to do Twin Peaks.
Friday I headed down to Carson to visit the mineral baths. There's a story there; but the precis is there have been bathhouses and hotels of various vintage since the late 1800s. Until recently, what remained was the Hotel St. Martin, an attached bathhouse, and some pretty rustic cabins. If you follow this link, there is a short review with three photos.
Carson has been decaying - the grocery store next to the post office is no longer open, the antique stores have drastically reduced their hours and prices, and there are the beginnings of the feel of a ghost town about it, with a couple of odd exceptions. First is the place we stayed, the Wind River Motel & Cabins. These are "detatched" motel rooms - ours had two queen beds, plus a table and a little kitchenette. They were nicely kept up, and looked fairly recently refurbished.
The other exception is a little more complex, and a little more problematic. At the Carson mineral baths the cabins have been torn down, and all that remains of the original complex is the Hotel St. Martin. Of that only the bathhouse remains functional and open. It's fascinating, dating from about 1876; the women's bath house has individual claw foot tubs instead of a communal pool - my mother says this is the old style of baths from when she worked at Yellowstone National Park in the 1930s. But the hotel is not renting rooms, and is definitely run down. It has an odd air of having sidestepped time that I find to be a result of the huge, yet empty hotels that now loom on either side - one where the old cabins used to be, and another just down the hillside.
I would say that the days of the bathhouse were numbered because it's pretty clear that some huge conglomerate has stepped in and decided the Carson hot springs needed to be Developed. But they may have moved a little too swiftly and brought their own doom upon themselves. Apparently they went ahead and built the two hotel complexes there without making sure they had all the permits taken care of, granted, and so forth - and so they are now stuck in limbo while that gets sorted out. The next phase of construction was to be a huge spa complex, but the local government is not going to even consider granting any permissions and permits for that project until the current mess gets straightened out. So these huge empty hotels bracket the old Hotel St. Martin, and the parking lot is mud, and much of the "landscaping" is also mud, with the occasional bundle of construction materials here and there. It's sort of eerie.
My personal opinion is that whoever came up with this project is damn lucky they didn't start out by tearing out the bathhouse, because that's the only current source of revenue they've got. Oops. I'd like to see the original structures of the hotel and bath houses retained as a historical site, but I have no idea what the likelihood of that happening is. I fear that the original plans involved the destruction of the current buildings mostly because they clearly have not been structurally maintained at much more than the absolute bare minimum for continued functioning.
What the current idle state of the "upgrade" in facilities is doing to the fate of the entire project I couldn't say. I can't imagine it isn't hemorrhaging money at a frightful rate, but I also have no idea as to the depth of the pockets of the investors. In any case, it's a weird situation in a weird little town out the Colombia Gorge just past the Bonniville dam.
We got in late on Friday, so our actual visit to the baths was on Saturday. We also spent time in the Antique shop currently for-sale-by-owner (after 20 years) and only open on Saturdays. Now that was strange, for me. I kept getting flashbacks of wandering around in the basements or garages, or whatever of my aunts/uncles/relatives. It was like a farmhouse attic, or the old barn where everyone sticks stuff. There were old harnesses and tack hanging from the ceiling, exactly like the photograph my mother has of her father/grandfather's harness shop. There were books and tins and adzes and mauls and scythes. There were things I don't even know the names for, but I remember seeing in the basement long - really long - ago.
Something I noticed in passing about the stacks of dish-ware was how the matched sets of dishes still weren't identical in design. Certainly not identical like a set you would buy today. It's something I had noticed in the past but not at a level to remark it. While I was wandering through this shop, though, I realized what it was at an almost subliminal level that always sort of poked at me about these unmatched matching sets: it's the noise. The dishes that I get this from are hand-painted by actual human beings, so of course they are not going to be exactly identical the way something mass-produced would be. There's just that little bit of individuality there, tiny almost unnoticeable changes from plate to plate as a result of the human involvement in their manufacture. When I was young it was even more striking to me - I sometimes wondered why items were called 'matching' in some instances, as my modern-mechanical and tv-trained brain was drawn more to the odd little differences than the overall similarities.
Today we slept in, had ritual breakfast and came home. The drive back was very wet - apparently all of the water that was supposed to come out of the sky between November and January suddenly realized it had slept through the alarm clock and showed up today. Between the water coming down and the water being kicked up off the road it was really quite difficult to see at times. Still we made good time, and I am home and happy, and making up with the cat.