Most times, lodging choices are simply means to an end -- they are the jumping-off and sleeping places for fantasy and adventure. Yet it's possible they can be the ends in and of themselves; they are the journey and the destination.
If the typical Western dude ranch is, well, too typical, try a Native American tour. Spend a long weekend at a Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, where the accommodations are tipis and the cowboys are tribal people.
Don't expect high-fallutin' furnishings or mints on your pillow. High fashion on the high plains has a different definition. Tipis do come in different styles -- Cheyenne are raised more upright with shorter pole extensions than Crow tipis, for instance, which are lower set and have very long poles coming from the "ears" at the top.
The Cheyenne tipis are made from canvas fabric (fireproofed) and comfortably sleep 8. Surely, the Old Ones would have appreciated the opportunity to rest (as guests here do) on airbeds zipped to sleeping bags. Other than that slight modernization, it's the same millennia-old soul-transporting experience of sleeping in the fresh open air of a tipi, peering through the tipi ears and gazing at the constellations while the coyotes sing.
Daily activities at the Cheyenne Reservation tipi camp range from horseback riding, cultural tours, ethno-botany walks, and tipi-raising to fishing, roping, arts workshops, traditional meals and powwows.
Out on a Limb
Ever wonder how the wind sounds when it whispers and wails up where eagles nest? Here's your chance to listen in while living 50 feet up in a 200-year-old Western red cedar.
Cedar Creek Treehouse is situated high in the canopy of the lush temperate rainforest surrounding Mount Rainier National Park. A mammoth tree trunk grows straight up through the floor of the kitchen, and disappears through the ceiling of this Earth-friendly mountain retreat. Cedar Creek also boasts a 100-foot-high observatory in a nearby fir -- accessed by a rainbow-colored bridge that leads to an 82-foot spiral stairway. It's not exactly the same as standing on the summit of the 14,410-foot mountain in the near distance, but it's close enough.
Another treetop option is A Teton Tree House on Heck of a Hill Rd. near Jackson, WY. This multilevel arboreal retreat is all but hidden on a forested slope ablaze with fuchsia fireweed. Maybe climbing 95 steps up into the bowers and bagging this lodgepole pine guesthouse may leave you exhilarated (if breathless) and contemplating an ascent of the Grand Tetons themselves.
Dark and Stormy Nights
Out on Rose Island, beyond the reach of the utility lines of Newport, RI, is a restored lighthouse that was home to keepers and their families for more than a century. In 1993, after years of disrepair, the light in the tower was relit. Now listed on charts as a private aid to navigation, as well as on the National Register of Historic Places, the historic Rose Island Lighthouse attracts overnight keepers from all walks of life.
Everything in the lighthouse, even down to the pitcher pump at the pantry sink, has been painstakingly restored. The lighthouse, which serves as a museum during the summer, is fully furnished with pots, pans, dishes and utensils -- just as if its keepers still lived there. The wind produces enough pollution-free electricity for compact fluorescent bulbs. Fall and winter weekends are the best times to visit, since you can stay for multiple nights. Even though New Englanders say, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute," keep in mind that rough surf and fog could strand you for an extra day -- at no extra charge, of course -- so be prepared for an adventure.
Comfy and Convivial
For centuries, yurts have been the dwelling of choice for natives of the Mongolian plateau, and for good reason. The round, peaked-roof canvas-covered huts are warm and cozy. For a long-weekend yurt experience much closer than Mongolia, but every bit as remote, trek to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. Here, yurts dot the Banadad Ski Trail, a 27-kilometer groomed ski trail through rugged wilderness.
Each yurt is equipped with a wood-fired stove, dishes and utensils, pots and pans, gas stove with oven, dining area, sleeping bags, and bunk beds. The Tall Pines yurt even has a wood-fired Finnish sauna. You choose the level of self-sufficiency; your yurt can be staffed by a hut host, who tends to the cooking and camp chores. Or you can yurt on your own, in perfect solitude, providing your own meals and firing up your own sauna.
Located in the 4-corner region where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet, the owners of Kokopelli's Cave Bed & Breakfast have created a 1-bedroom dwelling carved into 65-million-year-old sandstone and situated 70 feet below the Earth's surface.
The entrance is reached by trekking down a steep path. A short ladder at the bottom of the path lands you on the front porch of the cave dwelling. The interior of this 1,650-square-foot cave is furnished Southwestern-style and features a fully-appointed kitchen, cascading waterfall-style shower and flagstone hot tub.