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Road Trip Tips: make lodging part of the journey, not just a place to stay
So, now that you've settled on a destination for day 1 of your road trip (or any successive day), you'll need to figure out where you'll be tucking yourself in for a night of well-deserved rest. We will say that camping is always an option, and if that's your cup of tea, we couldn't encourage it more highly. For the purposes of this article, however, we'll be focusing on slightly more sophisticated options -- hotels and bed & breakfast venues, namely. Let's say you've settled on staying somewhere in the wild, wild west of America for a few days. To get more specific, let's focus our attention on one of the wild's most adored locations: Deadwood, South Dakota.
Obviously, Deadwood is coated in history. Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down on the very streets that tourists from all walks of life come to visit. The old architecture still covers the town, and the gorgeous Black Hills that surround it assist in ushering you into an era that still thrives scores after the west was won. That's fine and dandy during the day -- you'll have no issues finding a copious amount of things to do in the area while the sun's up -- but what happens when the moon sets up shop, your gambling budget is whittled down to nothing and your entire family is clamoring for a place to rest? For many, they simply wheel over to the nearest hotel with a "Vacancy" sign lit, plop down a credit card and call it a night. Essentially, the lodging is not only an unimportant part of the experience, it's one that's immediately forgotten once check-out time comes.
There's a better way, and it's to find a venue that enhances one's stay in an area. Believe it or not, finding a place that does this is far easier than you might imagine, particularly with the Internet putting a world of knowledge just a few clicks away. If you're in a historic town, one of the easiest ways to find a venue that ties in with the surroundings is to search for historic hotels, B&Bs, hostels, etc. Something that'll take you back in time and give you a better grasp on where exactly you're at. In the Deadwood region, there's no shortage of lodging options that have been standing for decades, and by and large, few have changed. But on our recent trip to the area, we wanted to see if a modern player could integrate itself into the landscape in a way that would be transparent to the traveler. We wanted to feel as if we were in Deadwood, but with all the amenities of a hotel that opened its doors to the first guests just a few short months ago. It's not an easy thing to accomplish -- numerous hotels in the area looked markedly out of place given the aged surroundings, but The Lodge at Deadwood caught our eye.
Unlike some of the historic downtown hotels, The Lodge is set just outside of town. Still surrounded by the gorgeous Black Hills, the venue was established to be all-inclusive if you'd like. There's a full scale casino on the property, a restaurant, meeting rooms and plenty of opportunities to mingle with other travelers. The good news is that a car still isn't required to enjoy Deadwood proper; a trolley makes its way out to the property on a regular basis, though we certainly appreciated the ample (free!) parking available given the whole "road trip" thing. We never felt detached from downtown Deadwood even though we were a mile away, and that's precisely the point.
The design of The Lodge at Deadwood was carefully chosen; the deep wood timbers that make themselves visible are indicative of the region, and the gorgeous views continually remind you of the special place that you're in. Unlike some of the older options in the area, though, everything here was supremely modern. From the HDTV nestled on the wall to the high quality, western-themed bedding to the deep brown / black color schemes to the exceptionally clean gaming floor, there's little question that this place has delivered modern day touches to a place steeped in history, all without losing touch with what makes Deadwood, well, Deadwood.
Get with the times
Now, let's say your headed to a place with just a few more locals than Deadwood. Like... Minneapolis. No question, the city positioned between NYC and LA has a deep amount of history behind it, but what makes this city so special is just how modern it is. It's artsy, it's edgy, it's sophisticated, and it's continually relevant. Regardless of whether you keep with the latest fashions and trends in your home town, you can totally get away with posing in a place like this, and let's face it -- half the fun in a road trip is doing your darnedest to become a local in as many places as possible. To that end, we sought out one of the most lauded boutique hotels in the downtown area to reside in for 24 hours, and if you're looking to plant yourself right smack dab in the middle of everything, there's hardly a better place to head than Le Méridien, Chambers Minneapolis.
Of course, staying at a place like this will require a larger-than-average outlay of cash, but who said city living was cheap? We're trying to find places that integrate with the feel of the locale, remember? It only took about ten steps through the door for us to feel immediately more cosmopolitan, surrounded by downright astounding works of art (many seen in the gallery below), a gorgeous eatery and dozens of viewpoints into the city streets below. Located on Hennepin Avenue, we were able to dash our car for the evening and enjoy the best The Mill City had to offer, and honestly, your night's stay effectively includes a pass to a modern art museum. The installations that were scattered about during our stay were nothing short of jaw-dropping, and even the LCD-based piece above the retro-styled cigarette machine demanded a few moments of your time just to take in its simplistic brilliance.
The room itself felt like a direct reflection of the bustling, chilly city below. Adorned in white and red accents, the highlight of the room was a bathroom that included its own LCD, twin white sinks and a massive shower, the latter of which featured a rainfall head that was utterly magnificent to stand beneath. And the art doesn't stop at the lobby; the actual shower protrudes out into the room on one side, with a coated glass that looks like a continually changing rainfall painting from the outside looking in. Again, a touch of brilliance you won't find at your everyday chain hotel. The basket of fresh fruit was also welcoming, and the bed was undoubtedly the most comfortable I've personally ever slept on. Yeah, it's $300+ a night, but at least you'll encounter a few things that are quite literally nowhere to be found at more mundane establishments.
It's all about the culture, man
Not in the mood for historic nor modern? You're not quite out of luck. Another aspect to seek out when selecting a lodging venue that'll consistently be remembered as an integral part of your trip is to find one dripping with culture. Many times, these places will indeed have been around awhile, but more often than not, they'll be off the beaten path and of the bed & breakfast variety. One key element that B&B owners can control more readily than hotels is culture, design elements and accessories. When looking to spend a few days deep within the Black Hills of South Dakota, we stumbled upon a hundred-year old facility that had been hosting families, workers and wandering bodies for decades upon decades: the Hisega Lodge. Overlooking a babbling brook some ten miles (by road; it's more like 40 by any other measure) from Rapid City, this warm and welcoming B&B was decorated with images from its early days and dressed up with age-appropriate furnishings by its proud new (since 2007, anyway) owners.
The Hisega Lodge has room for 22, but it's just as intimate with only a couple. Providing a quiet respite from a long, activity-laden day on the road, we immediately forgot our cares and escaped into a world far, far away from this thing we know so well as "reality." The inn was carefully maintained as to not remove the old world charm, and all the quirks of a century-old mountain home aided in the experience: gently creaking floors, sloping porches and unpredictable ceiling heights were all here, and all helped to make it one of the more memorable B&Bs we've had the opportunity to stay at. The lodge was originally built as a vacation home to be used by multiple families at once, all looking to escape to the beautiful Black Hills. Suffice it to say, it's still succeeding in doing what it was built to do. The homemade breakfast feast was astounding in both taste and beauty, and moreover, we were made to feel like family by a couple who adore the Black Hills just as much as anyone lucky enough to meander through them.
Stop staying with no purpose
In case you've missed the message, there's simply no reason to not think carefully about the places you choose to stay when you head out on the road. With a small amount of research into the history, culture and "known-fors" of a given location, you can easily find hotels, hostels, B&Bs and other lodging options that do more than simply provide a bed. Unless you're a hardcore nomad, you'll be sleeping somewhere reasonable each and every night of your road trip -- shouldn't you make each night count just as much as the days?
The venues mentioned here offered complementary media stays, but the views expressed and venue choices are entirely my own; images provided by Dana Jo Photography]