Sunday, April 12, 2009

Last Lodge on the Grand Circle Tour

We decided to have a leisurely breakfast at the Bryce Canyon NP Lodge. The original core of the building dates from 1924. The roofs are finished with cedar shingles in a wavy pattern. This recent roof finish matches the original in material and pattern. The wood siding and exposed frame are painted dark brown.

Bryce Lodge is the work of master architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood and is an excellent example of the type of rustic architecture encouraged by the National Park Service and built by the railroads. This architecture made the buildings look as if they had been constructed by craftsmen with primitive hand tools.

Changes have been made to the interior of the Lodge. The ceiling in the lobby is covered with acoustical tile, and the floor has newer carpeting. The chandeliers in the lobby are of modern design.

The dining room north of the lobby has a fireplace at its north end and exposed flat trusswork. The fireplace has an opening in the shape of a pointed arch and is constructed of random rubble masonry.

Breakfast visitors to the Lodge's restaurant have their choice of ordering from a short menu or having the buffet. I have mentioned before that I love the concept of buffets but too often hate the way they are executed, so as soon as the hostess showed us to our table, we both set off to scope out the looks of the buffet.

The first station held a large bowl of mixed fruit (two or three types of melon with red grapes), accompanied by two sweet dressings and a bowl of salsa/picante sauce. The hot food bar included eggs scrambled with bacon and cheese, plain scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast with warm vanilla maple syrup, biscuits with white pepper gravy, herb roasted potatoes, mini Danish, muffins, oatmeal (yuk), and cream of wheat. Since the $9.95 price included both beverage and juice, we decided this was a bargain and both of us decided on the buffet.

We both returned to the table with plates laden to overflowing. Chuck started (yes, started) with the plain scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, one biscuit with gravy, and three pieces of French toast.

I was no more judicious and began (yes, began) with the eggs with bacon and cheese, the plain scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, one biscuit with gravy, and a healthy serving of salsa to accompany both the eggs and potatoes.

Let me start by saying that nothing we ate was disappointing. In fact, this was one of the best executed breakfast buffets I can remember having. The sausage was mildly seasoned; the bacon was crisp and neither too smoky nor too salty; and the biscuits were light, and when eaten with a piece of sausage, the white gravy became sausage gravy.

The three standouts were the potatoes, eggs, and French toast. The potatoes were seasoned with rosemary and thyme and another seasoning that I could not identify. The scrambled eggs--both the plain and the ones mixed with cheese and bacon--clearly came from real and not powdered eggs and had none of the “rubbery egg” texture that you too often find with buffet-line eggs. And the French toast--wonderful. The bread had obviously been soaked in the egg coating so that the inside of the bread became almost custard and were lightly dusted with cinnamon. And the syrup contained just enough vanilla to be interesting without being overwhelming.

So good was the first trip to the buffet that we both made a return trip for seconds on favorites. Chuck went for a second serving of the French toast, potatoes, and bacon, while I had French toast and bacon. So enjoyable was this meal that we hope to find time for a return before we leave.

The lodge is operated by the Xanterra Corporation and also runs the lodges at both rims of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake. I usually shudder at the thought of “corporate food” but may make an exception for Xanterra’s breakfast buffets. This was the best meal we have had since arriving in Utah, and I am going to give the Bryce Lodge’s breakfast buffet a rating of 4.5 Addies.

In the 1930s, the same time that the state and federal governments were considering the tourism potential and scenic qualities of the area, the Union Pacific Railroad was considering a small expansion of a spur line from their main line in Lund, Utah, to Cedar City (about midway between Zion NP and Bryce Canyon NP). After arriving in Cedar City, Utah, by train, tourists could take motor buses on the "Grand Circle Tour" connecting Cedar Breaks, Zion, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon.

To meet the needs of the tourism industry the Railroad formed the Utah Parks Company. The company was chartered to provide accommodations at the park and monument destinations and to provide transportation to those areas from Cedar City. The railroad's influence is honored in the etched windows entering the restaurant.

Bryce Canyon Lodge is the only remaining lodging facility constructed in this region in the 1920s by the Union Pacific Railroad.

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