Accommodations that are out of the ordinary
Stay at one of these out-of-the-ordinary places, and you are sure to bring home lasting memories. Accommodations are often quirky. Some require strenuous effort to arrive at the front door, others an inquisitive mind, or the ability to overcome your fear.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Fla. A scuba dive 21 feet down brings guests to the entrance of this lodge in a tranquil lagoon off the Florida coast. The wet retreat was once a research laboratory used to explore the continental shelf.
Compressed air keeps the water out of the open entrance on the bottom of the capsule. Two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a hot water shower are inside. A communications control center connected to the lodge 24/7 monitors delivery of fresh air, water, and power. An unlimited supply of air tanks for dives is included in the price.
A 42-inch round window in each bedroom offers a view of the angel fish, parrot fish, barracuda, and nurse sharks that swim past. Arrangements can be made for a pizza delivery or a chef to prepare and serve a gourmet dinner.
Key Largo is an hour south of Miami and home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first undersea park. 305-451-2353, www.jul.com, from $375 per person per night
Kokopelli’s Cave, Farmington, N.M. This bed-and-breakfast is 70 feet below ground. Finding the entrance, which is reached via a narrow sloping path cut into a limestone cliff face, can be challenging. Guests meet at “cavekeeper’’ Lindy Poole’s house for the 5-mile hike to the cave, but adventurous overnighters prefer to take a map and try to find it themselves. In 14 years only three people have been successful, Poole says.
All guests are given maps and walkie-talkies for the hike out. “If they get lost they call me and tell me what they see, like the three-legged rock, and I can get them back,’’ Poole says.
The cave was intended to be an office for geologist Bruce Black, but it was too difficult for customers to get to. In 1999 Black began to use it as a 1,650-square-foot, one-bedroom inn. Plush carpeting, hot and cold running water, a well appointed kitchen, and a flagstone hot tub await discovery. There is also a small outside deck overlooking the La Plata River 280 feet down. Monument Valley and Mesa Verde are nearby. 505-326-2461, bbonline.com/nm/kokopelli/, $260 a night, $300 for up to 4 people. Closed December through February
The Featherbed Railroad, Nice, Calif. Transformation of the nine vintage Santa Fe and South Pacific Railroad cabooses into an inn began in 1988 when the original owner assembled his rail car collection. Today Peggy and Tony Barthels are the enthusiastic owners of the full-size train set.
Each 40-ton car is decorated around a unique theme. For example, the detailed woodwork in the Orient Express caboose replicates the luxury of the legendary railroad. Some cars feature cupolas, which offer views of the 30-mile-long lake across the street.
Kayak rentals, boat tours, and other activities are available at Clear Lake next to the inn. The county has 27 wineries. 800-966-6322, www.featherbedrailroad.com, $129 to $220
The Lodge at Cloud Croft, Cloudcroft, N.M. Does a vacation on a mountaintop in a historic resort surrounded by a golf course and 215,000 acres of national forest sound appealing? Does it matter if it is haunted?
The resident spirit is Rebecca, a chambermaid who worked at the lodge in the early 1900s. Her lumberjack lover found her in the arms of another, and shortly thereafter she disappeared. Now tales of tables moving unassisted, spontaneous fireplace fires, and other odd incidents occur. Non-believers can check out a journal of guests’ haunting experiences.
White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns are nearby. 800-395-6343, thelodgeresort.com, $115 to $335
Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Clewiston, Fla. Guests stay in chickees on the 2,200-acre Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation on the edge of the Everglades. The free-standing traditional Seminole huts made of cypress and dried palm leaves are elevated above the swamp. The steps deter the wild hogs, rattlesnakes, and alligators.
Restrooms are a short walk from the 30 chickees, which are not air conditioned and have no running water.
Daily airboat rides, swamp buggy eco-tours, and shows about the flora and fauna in the swamp are offered. Traditional Seminole stories are told nightly around a campfire. Activities are priced separately. 800-GO-SAFARI, swampsafari.com, $35 for two per night; dorm chickee is $65 per night for up to 12 guests
Jailer’s Inn, Bardstown, Ky. Reserve the room in the freestanding stone building at the back of this inn and you will feel like you are doing time without a trial. The surrounding stone wall, the iron bars on the windows, and the thick steel door that keeps guests inside were used from 1874 until 1987. The original 1819 jail is now six modern guest rooms. Bardstown is to bourbon what Napa Valley is to wine. Several distillery tours and museums celebrate the bourbon heritage of the community. 800-948-5551, jailersinn.com, $80-$145
Arcosanti, Cordes Junction, Ariz. Guests are welcome at this 4,000-acre desert experiment at the end of several miles of a gravel road winding past desert cactus. Despite the brown landscape, life here is all about living green.
Construction of the ultra-modern campus began in 1970. The project was intended to be a prototype where architecture and ecology work together to reduce man’s impact on the environment. The village is the dream of Italian architect and founder Paolo Soleri who still hopes what he refers to as “arcology’’ (the blending of ecology and architecture) will spread worldwide.
Every building has been designed for energy efficiency. An example is the outdoor auditorium with terraced seating where a cascading waterfall powers electricity for performances.
Fewer than a hundred people live here, far less than the 5,000 Soleri had planned. World famous Soleri bells are made and sold here and continue to finance the ongoing initiative. Phoenix is an hour south and Sedona an hour north. 928-632-6222, arcosanti.org, $30 to $100 (some private and shared bathrooms)
Jim Winnerman can be reached at email@example.com.