This weekend I had the good fortune to be the guest of the Skamania Lodge as they kicked off their first in-house beer fest. (I say "first," but it was actually an experiment; I hope it was successful enough to try again.) I'll write about the beer in a subsequent post, but first, a little bit about the Lodge itself--you may be as unfamiliar with it as I was before going out there.
Skamania Lodge is located just east of Stevenson, Washington, 45 miles down the Columbia River, which beer geeks will recognize as the home of Walking Man Brewing. You can get there on either side of the river, but be sure to cross over the Bridge of the Gods in at least one direction (toll bridge, $1) for one of the best views of the Gorge.
That stretch of the river is marked by striking mountains on either side that drop down sharply to the river. The Lodge overlooks a wide area in the Columbia, accentuating the mountains and creating a visual illusion of a vast, wide body of water, almost like a bay. The Lodge was situated to take advantage of this vista, and the two restaurants, outdoor amphitheater, and half the rooms all look out onto it.
It is here where I would normally transition into the superlatives about the place's beauty and its great facilities--and I will--but let's characterize it first. Skamania Lodge is a Destination Resort, one of these modern inventions that has something in common with city states of ancient Greece. You have at your disposal all amenities necessary for a full life, set in an environment of raw natural beauty and impressive architecture. You would not be surprised to learn that 70% of the Lodge's business comes from corporate clients who use the many impressive business accoutrements--and then go off to shoot 18 holes on the championship golf course. So it is one of those kinds of places.
That said, it is a resort that downplays a generic corporate ethos and quite successfully invokes a Northwesty, woodsy look and feel. This is probably because it was originally a partnership of four groups, including the Columbia River Gorge Commission and the US Forest Service. Although it was only built in 1993, it feels older and strongly evokes those forest service lodges of the early 20th century (like Timberline Lodge). The interior features heavy use of native fir, locally quarried stone, and even old-growth timbers reclaimed from an Astoria cannery. The central great room is anchored by an 85-foot tall, half million pound stone fireplace, visible from two sides. Perhaps this central hearth, more than anything else, communicates the sense of a lodge. The furniture is mission-style, and the lamps and details evoke that earlier craftsman period. Finally, the art is well-chosen--I particularly liked the petroglyph rubbings and historic photographs. As a nice finishing touch, there's an active Forest Service office in the lobby.
The various amenities include an indoor pool and a very cool outdoor hot tub, a spa, three plus miles of hiking trails (at one of the properties two lakes, Sally and I saw a blue heron), and all the usuals like wi-fi, flat screens, etc. For full details, check the website.
If you know about Skamania Lodge, you may well know it for its feasts--Friday night and Sunday bruch buffets of such surpassing plenty that they inspired two separate philosophical conversations about the nature of hunger and satiety. My sense is that people drive down to the Lodge solely for these spreads, and it's not hard to see why. The Friday night buffet includes a seafood station (crab, shirp, lox, mussels, clams, smoked seafood), ceaser salad station, carving station (salmon, pork loin, prime rib), and a pasta and bread selection. Oh, and of course, the stunning desert station. For our feast, repeated on Saturday, the chefs had prepared the food with recipes using the beer served at the fest. My food palate is not as educated as my beer palate, but I will say that the seafood was especially nice, and the chilled dungeness crab I had on Sunday morning was as fresh as any I've had. (The dinner buffet is $33 and the brunch $29.)
Skamania Lodge is putting together different events--like the beer fest--to draw folks out during the off-peak times. If you want to spend a weekend out there, these are pretty good bets. The beer weekend would have set you back $237, but you got a night's lodging, tickets to the beer fest, and both the dinner buffet and Sunday brunch feasts included in the price. You can check the Skamania Lodge packages list for similar deals. (And, if they do another of the beer events, I'll alert you here.)
Full Disclosure: Skamania Lodge put me and Sally up for the night, fed us two massive meals, and poured our beers all for free. I was not the only member of the media there (Lisa Morrison and her husband were, too), so you may see some press elsewhere, too.