The End Of A Season

Late Start. Little Snow. Lots of Guests. These are the 'titles' of the 2010 winter season. With next to no early snow and a death in the family, the season started sluggishly. By month end, we actually debated closing early. However, we knew if things turned around next year, we would face an uphill battle letting the world know we really were open for business. Furthermore, the good folks in West Yellowstone (after five years of listening to us complain) put us on the map and convinced us to purchase an add. We hated to disappoint anyone who actually decided to find out where that new trail led.

And so, January faded into February and the snow just did NOT want to fall. However, business started looking up. The first week we actually sold more food than we had to eat to keep it from going bad. Maybe, just maybe February would make us enough to justify keeping the lodge warm.

Week two - better than week one. Weeks three and four - business stayed steady, in fact, at times too steady. For the first time in six winter seasons we ran out of food - TWICE - the day before we were scheduled to restock.

As February drew to a close we watched, amazed, as the people kept coming. Perhaps the most telling comment - the one which told us, more than any other, this was no accident but a real-life blessing - was the one we heard the most. "We were wondering if you were open. There were tracks, but we didn't see anyone else on the trail."

That is not the norm. Typically we hear of this group of 20 or that group of 6 who "passed us heading for the hills" (or heading back to town). Not this year.

As we continued to serve up to and exceeding 30 lunches per day, we realized we were being handed an unexpected (and undeserved) gift. While we scrambled to keep enough supplies, the crowds kept showing up at our door. As February passed into eternity and March rolled around the corner, we expected things to return to January's quiet days. After all, the first full week of March is usually 'okay' but by the second, the tap has been slowed to a trickle. Again, we were surprised.

March 1, 2, 3 - the days flew past. Where are all these people coming from? The snow is thinning. The trail is ROUGH! Why? Yet they came. You'd think we would have gotten the picture. Yet habits die hard.

Look at the books. The last two years agree. It is very slow the second full week of March. After January's slow start, what's the point of keeping the doors open. Thus we decided not to make a new Sysco order. We would just run until we ran out of food or until the usual slow down kicked in.

I am sure you can guess what happened. By the end of that first full week, the food had disappeared. No bacon. No cheese. No burgers. No pickles. I could not help but laugh at myself. Who would have guessed the first week of March would find us with as many lunch guests as the best week in February? Not me, obviously!

Well, accidents happen. Nonetheless, we went into that second full week in March certain we would see next to no one. Did we buy more supplies? Of course not. We weren't going to have anyone to feed. Right? Wrong!

The first day met our expectations. Not a soul in sight. Elk Lake back to the quiet oasis we enjoyed in January. The second day of the second full week brought over FORTY guests! Where did they come from? What were they doing clear out here? Why now? Lunch? Sorry, no food!

Put out the 'Closed' sign, will you, Dear? This is embarrising! Day three - three guests who saw the sign but decided to make the loop. Day four. Quiet. Now this is what we expected.

It all just goes to show one should one should never make assumptions. Just when we thought we had winter figured out, along comes a left hook and catches us unaware. Just when we thought our blessings had dried up, along came a bucketful and drenched us. Just when we thought the economic blues might have reached Elk Lake, the 'world' showed up.

And so the winter of 2010 ended brighter than the winter of 2009 (and I mean more than just the preponderance of gorgeous sunny days)! Oh me of little faith! Thus I pass along to all you winter guests a hearty thanks for coming to see us (many of you more than once), for helping us keep our doors open, and for rolling with the punches when the selection grew thin. You are appreciated!

Lessons learned. Blessings overflowed. The sunshine upon the still-white snow is not the only 'bright' spot in our little world here at Elk Lake!

Lady of the Lake


Why Do People Come To Elk Lake?

I suppose it seems like a straightforward question, but the answer can be anything but straightforward. In fact, it can be downright difficult to put into words.

When I try to tell people what it is about Elk Lake which has captured me, I often find myself struggling for adequate terminology. How do you put a feeling into words? How do you explain a pomegranate to someone who has never seen a piece of fruit? Elk Lake is that different, that unique. It sometimes defies my best attempts to verbalize the essence of the place.

Nonetheless, people come. People from every walk of life. People from countries across the globe. People old and young. People from the city. People from the country.

Obviously Elk Lake does not just appeal to people from a certain social status or even geographic region, but appeal to some it does. However, as perfect as Elk Lake's fans believe it to be, it is not for everyone!

In the past six years we have probably had about that many guests who really did not like Elk Lake. In addition, I have talked many more out of coming - not because we do not want to share, not because we do not appreciate the business - but as much as I love Elk Lake, I know it will not appeal to some folks.

However, to those who love it, there really is no place which compares. So, what brings people to Elk Lake? More important what bring them back (because most return and the majority of those who do not speak longingly of 'one day when. . .')?

For some it is the wildness. Granted Elk Lake is not the only place which has escaped the ravages of time, but it is one of the few which is semi-easy to access in the lower 48. Furthermore, while some places are wild now, you know that is likely to change. Given enough time and enough people, some developer is bound to 'civilize' the place.

That is one reason I am thankful for the abundance of public land surrounding Elk Lake. Forest service land. State land. BLM land. Federal wildlife refuge land. And, thanks to the efforts of The Nature Conservancy, many of the large privately-held tracts of land in the valley are protected under conservation easements. Not that I have anything against subdivisions and people moving to more rural settings, but it is nice to know some places are unlikely to change much.

Speaking of not changing - that is another reason people come to Elk Lake. I have listened to 60+ year old men (and women) talk about their childhood memories of coming to Elk Lake with their parents or grandparents. The single thread which binds all of these stories together is the inevitable comment, "It's just like I remember it!"

Elk Lake's wildness does not appeal to everyone. Wildness implies a bit of tension - perhaps running into a bear or wolf. To some people, this is not thrilling. It is frightening. However, even folks frightened at this prospect are drawn to the peace and serenity which seems to surround the area.

In a world which pulls at us from every direction, more and more people are looking for someplace they can really relax. Even during our 'down-time', the phone or the door or the fax or the TV or the internet always seem to bring interruptions. Sometimes we just need to escape the voices of our 'electronic servants' (and the rest of the world) and just relax.

With no noise or light diffusion, with no TVs or telephones in the cabins, with no paved roads, lawn mowers, or honking horns, at Elk Lake stress seems to run out of your body like water. That feeling has caused folks to return year after year, some for twenty-five or thirty years or more!

Of course there is the natural beauty. We are all surrounded by beauty of one kind or another. The beauty in a flower. The glories of a puffy-cloud filled sky. The brilliant green of a spring meadow. The color splash of a blooming tree. These and more bring beauty into our daily lives. However sometimes people just like to get away from the 'manmade' contraptions which fill their skyline. That is easy to do at Elk Lake!

Perhaps even more amazing are the stories from those who have not only called Elk Lake home - they have called Elk Lake work. The previous owners all have their unique stories to tell. Experiences unlike those of any other owner. Yet, invariably, somewhere in the conversation every previous owner has expressed essentially the same thing: The best years of my life were the years I spent at Elk Lake!

Whatever the reason, people come to Elk Lake. And, more often than not, they leave here scratching their heads. "What is it?" they ask. "What makes this place so special? Why does it draw me like a magnet?" My reply is always the same. I do not know. It is special - what more can I say? Words may not be adequate to express the feeling, but time after time Elk Lake has worked its magic. Invariably I'm looking forward to returning even before I've even left!

Lady of the Lake