Grandview Hotel

on our way back from the Tusayan ruins (about which more to come), I took driver’s prerogative and stopped at several vistas to snap pictures and admire the Canyon. one of those locations was the site of the former Grandview Hotel, one of the first lodging options for tourists at the Grand Canyon.

in 1886, a rancher named John Hance opened his land up to visitors. thought to be one of the first non-Native American residents of the Grand Canyon area, after failing as an asbestos miner, Hance developed trails and took groups of visitors down into the Canyon. he sold his ranch to a couple of miners working around the point in 1895 to focus on guiding and serving as postmaster. he died the year the site became a National Park and was the first man buried in the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery.

while successfully extracting copper, gold and silver, from claims just below Grandview Point, miners Ralph Cameron and Pete Berry improved the hiking trail into the Canyon by partially following an existing Native American path and employing mules to transport goods and people along the route. Cameron and Berry capitalized on the growth in tourism, developing services for visitors including a lodging at both Grandview Point and farther along the rim near what is now the Bright Angel Trailhead.

between 1892 and 1897, Berry and his wife, Martha, put his share of the mine profits into a rambling, rustic lodge they named the Grandview Hotel. they aimed for an “authentic” Southwest quality, using Ponderosa pine for construction and featuring Native American crafts throughout the lodge. when the Santa Fe Railroad completed a line to Williams in 1901, the Berrys offered free stage transportation to their hotel to encourage visitors. they sold the Grandview property the following year, however, to a mining company from Chicago and set up a new hotel on their homestead property nearby.

competition heated up in 1905 when the Santa Fe Railroad built the extravagant El Tovar Hotel across from their new depot (and which still stands today at the heart of Grand Canyon Village). the Berrys struggled, eventually dividing and selling their property in an effort to foster a community to rival the growing Grand Canyon Village. the venture failed but when Santa Fe offered to buy their property, the Berrys refused, opting instead to sell to William Randolph Hearst in 1913 pleased with the idea that a wealthy man had thwarted the corporation that put them out of business. Hearst closed the hotels, however, maintaining the properties as a family retreat in the short term; the Berrys served as caretakers for the property until their retirement in 1919. when Martha and Pete died, in 1931 and 1932 respectively, they were buried in the Grand Canyon cemetery along with John Hance.

despite leaving the Grandview and Berry properties as family retreats, Hearst did harbor aspirations of developing a grand tourist resort on the land, which the budding National Parks Service, which assumed supervision of the Park in 1919, found troubling (I wonder how much the railroad lobby had to do with that …). the Parks Service successfully concentrated tourist services management under the aegis of a single concessionaire — the company responsible for the Santa Fe-owned hotels. after this, while Hearst retained ownership of his property, he let the buildings fall into disrepair before finally dismantling the Grandview and selling some of the beams. in 1941, the Parks Service gained control of the Hearst property through condemnation; he did not take lightly to this challenge and waged a typically searing (though ultimately unsuccessful) campaign against the government in the press. the Parks Service finally dismantled the Summit Hotel in 1959, though some of the mining structures left from the Hearst property remain as historical artifacts on Horseshoe Mesa.

Rabanal and the casa rural

of all the types of potential accommodation available along the Camino, it took us 24 days to stay in a casa rural — basically a B&B — but it was worth the wait. the place I’d tried to book (fancier and farther up the hill) didn’t have a record of my request (which didn’t come as a surprise) so we headed back down the hill ad tried the first non-albergue we could find. the room they offered us overlooked the main road (along which the Camino began its final ascent towards our next set of mountains) and a ruined building with mountains in the distance. a wonderfully peaceful place to rest with spectacular view.

after our standard shower-nap program, our location dictated that either of our food options required a steep climb back up the hill; our fatigued feet opted for the easy way to start (downhill) and delaying the greater exertion for later. immediately next to our casa rural stood a tiny church whose door stood open to entice peregrinos to enter. inside, beyond an alcove with a history of the church written on panels, and through metal bars designed to keep unsavory characters away, stood a remarkably impressive, gilded altar. dazzling in the sunlight that filtered through the open door — in a tiny church in a tiny town way off the beaten path in remote León. in a church that wasn’t even the village’s primary church! the wide-ranging influence of the Catholic church, sneaking up on you in the most unusual places.

the village dates from the period of Roman mining of precious metals in the nearby hills though its location on the Camino — approximately one day’s walk from the popular starting point of Astorga — enhanced its viability. ** an aside: in order to receive the Compostela in Santiago, one needn’t complete the entire Camino Frances (departing from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles). you technically only need to walk the last 100 kilometers (from approximately Sarria), about which more later, though many people complete it in stages. most commonly, people complete it over three years and walk St. Jean to Burgos one year, Burgos to Astorga another, and then Astorga to Santiago. ** in the 12th century, the Knights Templar maintained a garrison in Rabanal tasked with protecting peregrinos heading over the mountain towards Ponferrada, a Templar stronghold. while Rabanal catered strongly to peregrinos, it was merely one of several small villages along the Camino up the mountain to do so, and some itineraries had people continuing on to the nearly-deserted town of Foncebadon instead. after walking through as part of a steady stream of peregrinos, I can’t quite imagine spending the night in such a ghostly shell of a town-that-once-was.

a peregrino’s dream at the Parador

although the film “The Way” inspired us to book a room at the Parador San Marcos (for two nights!), we opted against the palatial suites seen in the film. after traveling on a budget for so long I, for one, couldn’t quite imagine splashing out more than 300 euros a night on a room (or more than 600 euros on a suite) — a spectacular room with views of the plaza, I’m sure, but what an expensive view…

even without the period furniture and amenities of a suite or plaza-facing room, our digs were pretty great. the Parador in Santo Domingo offered some of the period touches — square windows covered by thick wooden shutters, sturdy wooden furniture with decorative draperies, tapestries on the wall — and the one in León still had our most desired features: comfortable beds and a nice big bathtub that filled with steaming hot water. it also had a private-enough balcony overlooking a tiny courtyard and a governmental building — after walking for 20 days straight and covering more than 336 kilometers all we needed or wanted was someplace comfortable to rest and recover from our aches. and to sleep in as late as we wanted. that was fabulous, too.

highly satisfying and relaxing, our experience at the Parador was also interesting; they book rooms for plenty of peregrinos, to be sure (and even once offered free dinners to the first 10 peregrinos to arrive every day which, eventually, they had to relegate to a separate dining room because of “offensive odors”), ready for a little luxury after (perhaps) 20 nights in albergues with varying degrees of comfort or amenities, but it’s also without question an upscale (5-star) hotel aimed at wealthy travelers and business people. valet parking, pricey meals, concierge service, guests lounging in reception wearing designer labels of the understated, old-money school.

I don’t know why it struck me, but standing behind us as we checked in was a young-ish couple who clearly looked like they lived a roving rock-n-roll (in the I-play-in-the-band-on-tour vein) lifestyle who seemed very much of the old-money line. perhaps it was the parents who joined them, ready to pay for four nights’ accommodation, as we headed off to our room that exuded that vibe. like I said, quite the change from where we’d stayed the preceding nights — at a family-run guesthouse, in the last room to be had in town, at one of the only albergues in town. these non-peregrinos with whom we shared the hotel were having a monumentally different experience of Spain than us. in conversation, we learned that rock-n-roll couple was headed on to Santiago that same day — picking up their rented, valeted car and driving to the city that we were still nearly two weeks from reaching. it’s actually rather hard to convey how, at the time, such a means of reaching Santiago boggled my mind. “You’re just going to drive?! Who does that?!”

in a way, then, maybe it was better we got a view of the Junta de Castilla y León from a simple cement balcony with wrought-iron furniture, stepping out of a nice, comfortable, well-appointed but not overwhelmingly upscale hotel room. if we’d gotten one of those snazzier, rock star rooms that Martin Sheen books for himself and his traveling companions I wager I’d have felt out of place; a hostel-bunk-sleeping, backpack-wearing, own-food-making, modern-day rambler wholly out of place among those who have people to fetch cars and bags — not unlike how I felt staying at the resort in Key West where it seemed almost as if everyone was speaking a foreign language (one that came from one’s relationship with money).

El Burgo Ranero

tree-lined sendas — welcome to us if not our guidebooks
the walk between Terradillos and El Burgo Ranero was one of the rougher stretches we covered — we opted for the “alternative” — more popular, less strenuous, though less scenic — route out of Terradillos and nearly missed out on a place to sleep as a result despite the fact that our calculation was supposed to prevent that possibility. we opted for this route because, unlike the alternate destination of Calzada de los Hermanillos, there were four albergues and two hotels and all manner of amenities. sure, the guidebook bemoaned the “improvements” of a gravel senda and the proximity to the highway but following this route cut a couple kilometers off overall route even if it made this day longer. 
one of the few distinguishing features of the Camino stands just outside Sahagún — a forest, now a municipal camping ground, is the site of the Field of Lances from the campaigns of Charlemagne. essentially, the night preceding a battle, Charlemagne’s troops planted their lances in the ground in preparation for battle; when they arose the next morning the lances of those fighters who were heading for their heavenly reward had been covered in bark and leafy branches. needing the lances for battle, the soldiers cut them off at the ground and, after the battle, a grove of trees grew up. some 40,000 Christians died in the battle.
beyond this forest it was mostly wide-open farmland. wool was a major business in the region as early as the 10th century; merino sheep were introduced from North Africa and proved highly resilient in the face of Iberian weather changes. the herds, sometimes as large as 40,000 sheep, were owned by nobles and military orders and tended by local villagers. the migration of these massive herds posed some difficulties that required a degree or regulation as early as the 13th century. a network of paths snaked throughout Castilla, León, La Rioja, north and south; herders were contracted for a year to tend and travel with the herds. nowadays most of the land has turned into agricultural fields instead of grazing, but sheep still sometimes put in an appearance.
there’s not much to El Burgo Ranero, apart from the albergues and attendant peregrino-related services. this day we almost stopped for the night at the preceding town — Bercianos del Real Camino — but after finding the only hotel booked and that municipal albergue didn’t allow access to the facilities until after 1 p.m., we decided to push on in spite of fatigue and shin splints. we’d left a bit late from the albergue (compared to everyone else, at least …) and sat for quite a while in Bercianos debating our options, which brought us into the small, rather desolate town much later than planned … only to have difficulty finding the lodging options (a couple of albergues and two small hotels) … and discover that all the beds were taken … almost. we studied the town map at the outskirts of the city with an Aussie and Scot and still took the wrong road through town; when we found the right one, the guys we’d followed were told “oh no, all the beds in town are taken,” so we went in search of one of the hotels … only to head further in the wrong direction. but that additional delay (ending up at a cemetery outside of town) probably saved us from trekking an additional 8km to the next town to find lodging. we made it back to town and actually went into the bar that served as reception for a hotel/albergue to ask for a room; the young woman whom I posed the question to initially said “no, we’re booked up,” but an older woman (the manager probably, her mother possibly) told us to wait and she headed off to check in the book. she returned with good news and sent us off with the first young woman to their second property. as it transpired, the double room in the albergue building had been requested by someone … someone who hadn’t yet showed up by 3:30 p.m. and who had been told to call if they wouldn’t arrive to check in by 3:00 p.m. the guy who checked us in seemed rather incredulous when the young woman brought us in and explained the situation — “but what about the other guests?” he queried in Spanish, “shouldn’t we wait for them to arrive before giving their room away?” “well,” she replied, “[so-and-so] said they’re here … and they’re ready to pay…” and he shrugged, took our credencials and signed us in. to our immense relief and gratitude. it was even a private room instead of bunks in the sheds out back (which was less shocking than it sounds)!

Palacio Guendulain

I hadn’t intended to mention our accommodations in Pamplona, but looking back through our photos I am reminded of how spectacular it was — character, comfort, and spectacular location. it was built in the 18th century by the Viceroy of Nueva Grenada and served as a family residence in the heart of old town for over two centuries. in 1845, Queen Isabella II took over the mansion for several days, converting it into a royal residence. more recently, the current Count of Guendulain had the mansion converted into a luxury hotel, as he resides in Madrid and presumably doesn’t need the whole place to himself (especially when it makes for a handy business proposition). there’s an 18th century carriage housed in the lobby on the first floor, as well as a collection of classic cars in the interior courtyard. while not the most comfortable beds we slept in or the most modern bathroom we got to enjoy, the bed and tub were quite comfy and the view into the interior courtyard was quite remarkable.

laundry time!

if you want to see more pictures, check out the Hotel Palacio Guendulain website. pretty remarkable.