Upon Further Review – Is My Room in Paradise Ready?

Plowing the road to Paradise in 1954.

Clearing the road to Paradise in 1954. NPS photo.

Now that most of the country has sprung forward into daylight saving time once again, can summer be far behind? For some parks, summer is still a coming attraction, and just getting the snow off the road can be a challenge. At Mount Rainier National Park in years gone by, opening the road to Paradise was a highly anticipated annual event that created a different kind of challenge for another group of workers.

An administrative history for Mount Rainier National Park includes a glimpse into the perils of operating a hotel in a location with some really serious winter. The place may be named Paradise, but I suspect from the following account that the crews charged with opening the road after each winter's snows may have occasionally had some other names for it.

A key facility at Paradise (elevation about 5,420 feet) is the Paradise Inn, which opened for business in 1917. Constructed at a cost of $91,000 (not including furnishings and equipment), it was soon a hit with visitors, but the short visitor season was a frustration for the concessioner which operated the hotel.

It was the Rainer National Park Company (RNPC)'s perennial desire that the NPS open the road to Paradise as early in the season as possible. Late-melting snowpacks usually precluded outdoor camping at Paradise until mid-July, but the inn would attract visitors as soon as the road was plowed.

Indeed, so anxious was the RNPC to get the visitor season started in June that for several years it operated a saddle horse and baggage sled service from Longmire in order to get tourists up to Paradise Inn prior to the opening of the road. Unfortunately, the company received many complaints from visitors about the discomforts that this trip entailed.

Opening the road to Paradise was a yearly race against time. NPS road crews used a tractor, a steam shovel, army-surplus TNT, and even hand shovels to get the job done. Floyd Schmoe, the RNPC's winter caretaker in 1919-20, gave a vivid picture of this work in his book, A Year in Paradise.

Day by day the sound of the shovel grew closer, and soon from the inn we could see the clanking, stuttering machine slowly creeping up the deep trough it was gnawing through the layers of snow....

The next day was Sunday, July 4; and we celebrated it by cheering the government road crew and the weary steam shovel around the last bend. They arrived in front of the inn about four in the afternoon—and directly behind the government trucks came the big red buses of the Park Company.

The first ones were filled with college girl waitresses and maids, college boy guides, bellboys, busboys, tent boys, dishwashers, and sundry others. Then not a hundred yards behind this bus there were two busloads of tourists.

Perhaps during a trip or two you've arrived at a hotel, reservation in hand, only to be told your room isn't quite ready yet. Given the timing of the arrival of much of the summer staff and the first wave of visitors in the above tale, I can only presume the guests were a patient lot—or the desk manager was a master of diplomacy!