Hidden Dangers in the National Parks

K and I are spending a few days at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park.

The hotel is run by a private operator that has, our tour guide told me, a long-term concession from the federal government. That pretty much amounts to a government-run business, so I wondered what it would be like.

From the outside, the old hotel was inviting – a rambling, wood and stucco building painted lemon yellow and set among pine-covered hills. Just a few hundred yards away were the oddly beautiful hot springs that looked like the dark side of the moon.

Once we stepped inside the hotel, that inviting feeling began to evaporate.
The lobby was an undecorated box of a space, randomly “furnished” with small, cheaply made booths. One booth sold coffee and cake, one was covered with brochures, one sold souvenirs, and another turned out to be the reception desk. In between the booths, people of every ethnicity (presumably patrons of the hotel) sat at formica tables.

I took it all in, thinking, “Whoever designed this place must never have been inside a beautiful hotel.” (In fact, I wondered if he had ever been in a hotel at all.)

“Perhaps the lobby is being renovated,” I told myself. “The rest of the hotel must be fine.”

After spending 15 minutes acquiring our room key from a pleasant young woman who didn’t seem familiar with the computer she worked at, we set off for our room. I was happily anticipating a quaint mini-suite with spectacular mountain views.

My anticipation dissipated in the hallway – an eerily dim corridor that had been spray-painted with that pebbly paint that was so popular in the 1970s. Ugly, incandescent lamps illuminated the ancient plumbing that ran along the ceiling. Doors peeked open as we passed. The experience was disturbingly reminiscent of The Shining, where Jack Nicholson prowled a similarly creepy hotel.

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