June 20, 2020

Remembering the Mingus Mountain Inn

Mingus Mountain Inn, 1949.
In the 1920s cars were far less dependable and, as a result, service stations were more numerous and spaced closer together. Particularly the tops and bottoms of mountains were excellent locales for a motorist to take the necessary precautions of checking his water and brakes before traversing the steep grade.

It was from this need that the Mingus Mountain Inn was born on Forest service land in 1925. Yet the Inn was far more than just a gas station; it also provided light groceries, camping and hunting supplies, and a sit-down restaurant.

Situated on the new and highly scenic Highway 79, (now known as 89A,) the Inn was part of a larger Prescott National Forest recreation area on the mountaintop that still exists today.

The Inn in its early years.
In the beginning, the location was both perfect and popular. In July 1925, the Arizona Republican observed: “The recreation area in the Mingus Mountain District is growing in popularity (as a) summer resort (and) is being used more and more by Arizonians." Desire was high to keep improving the recreation area, particularly with roads and campsites, and it was the Prescott’s Elk’s Club that partnered with the Forest Service to accomplish this.

For people driving through to Jerome, the Mingus Mountain Inn was a must stop to obtain gas, water and refreshment.

Meanwhile, starting in the 1930s, it was the philosophy of the Forest Service to expand recreational facilities as much as possible. This even included the development of six winter snow-sport parks in Arizona: Snowball (first called the “Hart Prairie” area); “Williams East,” 8 miles east of Williams; Indian Creek, 6 miles south of Prescott; Springer Mountain, 9 miles northwest of McNary; and the Mingus Mountain Inn.

In 1938, “the ski-bug really bit in Prescott and Flag,” the newspaper reported, as “two ski clubs were formed." "Several carnivals were staged…[with] perhaps 100 active skiers in the state.”

In January, 1941, the paper reported “skiing and bobsledding courses [were] open at Mingus Mountain…with an average depth of snow of 8 inches.”

That year the Prescott Ski Club held a meet on Mingus Mountain February 10. Downhill and slalom races were run for both men and women in advanced and intermediate divisions. “Some exhibition jumping and high speed running completed the program, which attracted about 500 persons to the area,” the paper reported. It is hard to imagine where they all parked.

Other skiing events that year included relay races and an obstacle race “for novices on the gentle lower slopes of the mountain… As an added attraction, 6 teams of the Prescott Ski Patrol (staged) a toboggan rescue race.”

However, by 1954, there were no more reports of skiing conditions on Mingus or elsewhere in the Prescott National Forest. It became clear that less and less snow was accumulating each year and operating days became few and far between.

The decision to develop snow parks in the forest would end up being regretted by the Forest Service. Safety issues were an incessant problem. One supervisor recalled: “they had to call four ambulances the last day the snow play area was in operation.” 

After researching and visiting the old location, this author found that snow sports on Mingus are all but an impossibility. Nature has completely taken back the area—the brush is chest-high and as thick as molasses with an occasional full-fledged tree dotted about. Still, the vista is beautiful. (Pics at conclusion of the article.)

Of all the winter sport parks created, only Snow Bowl survived.

During the deepest depth of the Great Depression, the Yavapai County PTA held a meeting at the Inn and found that 60 children in the district were unable to afford their school lunches. Other Yavapai County groups used the Mingus Mountain Inn for meetings as a more central place between the eastern and western halves of the county, but there is only scant evidence of this.

The Mingus Mountain Inn made the papers again in 1935 when in June, a large 160 lb. mountain lion began to make the recreation area its home. It was hunted for three days before being culled. The hunt was called for by the man in charge of the biological survey of the area.

Unfortunately, little else is known about the first two decades of the Inn’s existence. Forest Service records for that time period are lost and newspaper reporting was scanty. The Prescott newspaper published nearly nothing about the Inn considering it more a part of Jerome. Indeed, the Inn’s phone number had the “636-” Jerome exchange.

A September 1946 advertisement offered the Mingus Mountain Inn for sale. It then featured a cafe, bar, fountain, service station, and a 50 x 50 foot dance floor. The asking price was $25,000 (about $314,000 today.)

A 1947 US Forest Service map of the Inn shows a broad turn-out off Highway 89A, a lodge building, 6 cabins with parking for each and an area for the gas pumps and service.

In 1948, Dan Morgan bought the Inn and made several improvements including a new bar having obtained a license to sell hard liquor. Morgan also installed a place for busses to park. Indeed, the drive was so scenic and popular that busloads of people would ride just to admire it. Morgan also constructed outdoor restrooms and a “new $9000 building,” the paper reported. He also drew up plans for for 5 double unit cottages.

A November 1948 ad described the Inn as serving American and Chinese dishes as well as mixed drinks. Unfortunately, serious illness forced Morgan to put the Inn up for sale again after little more than a year.

It was bought by Flagstaff residents Lorraine and Jack Budd in the summer of ’49. A few months later, in November, a small plane crashed into Mingus Mountain in the late morning “about three-quarters of a mile south of the Mingus Mountain Inn,” the newspaper reported.

Dazed and bleeding, the 21 year-old pilot crawled for 3 hours to Hwy. 89A where he was picked up by a passing motorist and taken to the Inn where he was transported to the Phelps-Dodge Hospital in Jerome for emergency treatment. After being stabilized, he was transferred to the Ft. Whipple hospital.

Curiously, much like the owner before them, one of the Budds also became ill—again just over a year later—and the Inn was one again put up for sale for $50,000. Threatie Stroope would become the next owner and it seems the bar may have been discontinued as it was no longer featured in any advertisements.

In 1950, the senior class of the Verde Valley High School had a “Weiner Roast and Dance” there in mid-June. Twenty-one students were chaperoned by a husband and wife.

A 1952 Arizona Republic ad for the Inn was directed to deer hunters. Food, beverages, cabins and beds were highlighted. But by May of 1953, the Inn was for sale again. Stroupe had difficulty finding a buyer and eventually, in April the following year, traded it to Mr. & Mrs. John Johanston in exchange for the Phoenix Motel at 1605 W Latham.

The new owners immediately announced that “the Inn (was) being redecorated and added facilities (were) being provided in preparation for the forthcoming vacation season.” However, that year the downhill skiing portion of the snow park was closed forever.

However, as automobiles became more reliable, the original business plan for the Inn became more untenable. Instead of most cars stopping to check their rides, they instead just passed by. The scenic route had lost its novelty and busses no longer made the trip for sight-seeing. In December 1957 the Johanstons put the Inn up for sale for a mere $18,000 citing “Good reason for selling reasonable.”

Forest Service records failed to identify the name of the new owner, but the Arizona Republic announced in 1961 that the new ownership would construct a scaled-down snow park for sleds and toboggans. 

In 1964 a notice appeared in the paper offering the Inn for sale “to settle estate.” It further revealed that the Inn included a service station, restaurant, two small apartments, and a bar, but had no liquor license. The new owners, Jimmie O. & Geneva Baker, wanted to rectify that.

The Forest Service gave its opinion perspicuously. In a memorandum dated June 8,1967, Zane G Smith wrote the Bakers that considering the dangers of the mountain road at night, the Forest Service was disinclined for a liquor license to be granted, but that it should be up to the county supervisors. “If the sale of liquor is necessary to make this a profitable enterprise,”  Smith wrote, “then it is highly questionable that the ‘resort’ is justified for public enjoyment of the National Forest environment and outdoor recreation.” The Bakers did get a license, but only to sell beer and wine.

Water availability also came into question as Smith suggested that the County Sanitarian check its potability. Soon water would have to be hauled from Elks Well.

Still, the Bakers were both ambitious and optimistic. The following month they submitted plans to improve the Inn. The plans would provide for two buildings: one would house the restaurant; the other would be a “Trading Post” offering light groceries, gifts, snack bar, and two small rental rooms that shared a bathroom. However, these upgrades never materialized. Instead Baker redecorated what he had. “Most of the furnishings in the Inn are historical and date back to when Jerome was a thriving copper mining town,” Baker told the Republic. “Baker (also) took 5994 1967 pennies and stuck them to the mahogany top of the bar.”

Unfortunately the Bakers suffered marital problems. “She and her husband are in the process of a settlement and when it is finished, HE will no longer be involved in the contract,” District Ranger Paul Nordwall wrote.

Mrs. Baker planned to sublease the trading post and gas station and work on the restaurant and living accommodations herself. She said that she had funding of $250,000 from doctors to expand the number of cabins to 20. “Hopes for expansion are grandiose,” Nordwall noted. He further doubted that there would be space for them on the permit grounds.

Leach Pond
Additionally, this would require much more water, which was already scarce. Jeanne also desired to expand the lodge restaurant to be able to seat 100. Since the Inn’s waste water was poured into a leach field, the Forest Service feared that all this expansion would flood it causing waste water to spill everywhere. 

Turning away from this idea, the newly remarried Jeanne Foster, wrote the Forest Service desiring to sublet the trading post and gas station and focus her attention on the restaurant. When no sub-lessor could be found, she decided to try to sublet the restaurant and concentrate on the Trading Post. She “stuffed (the place) with her antiques and her art collection,” the newspaper observed. 

“I've been in the restaurant business most of my adult life,” Jeanne said, “including a stint with Howard Hughes once. But I don't cook. I just collect recipes and then teach the kitchen staff how to prepare them.”

In November 1970, the Yavapai County Farm Bureau held its meeting at the Mingus Mountain Inn.

One popular presence during Jeanne’s tenure was her singing dog Coco. “Coco is an old blue tick hound—and Jeanne’s constant companion,” the newspaper wrote, “who used to entertain the patrons with a single long version of Christmas carols in front of an antique windup Victrola at the Inn.” 

In fact, Coco was so admired that someone abducted the canine in December, 1970. “Jeanne glimpsed the culprit’s car as it roared away from the abduction scene. But there'll be little joy at her Inn if the hound isn't returned,” the paper foretold. Whether or not Coco was returned is still a mystery to this author, as there was no follow-up article.

August 17, 1971 saw another tragic airplane wreck “600 feet east of Hwy. 89A at mile post 355.8. “The crash site was at the bottom of a pocket between towering peaks,” the paper described. Rev. & Mrs. Paul F Hoy’s “bodies were burnt beyond recognition.” It was around 10AM when Jeanne heard the crash. She immediately called the Forest Service before heading to the crash site, but there was little she could do.

In 1972, Jeanne spent $26,000 remodeling, but put the Inn up for sale in June 1973 asking $75,000. It would stay on the market nearly a year and a half.

The restaurant menu from the early 70s.
It stayed essentially the same for 10 years with occasional price increases.
On July 5, 1974 two Forest Service officials met with (the once again remarried) Mrs. Jeanne Crouch and her husband at the Mingus Mountain Inn and they were discouraged by what they found. “When we arrived at the Inn, a café open sign was noted next to the antique shop,” one recorded. “We proceeded in the direction indicated and found the door locked. We asked Mrs. Crouch why the café and store were currently closed and she replied that they could not afford to pay someone $2.00 an hour to serve an occasional tourist or passerby who wanted nothing more than a drink of water or soft drink.

“We attempted to explain what the forest service expected under the terms of the permit, but it is doubtful that she understood. She has visions of a large tourist oriented complex catering to a specific group of people, and not necessarily the general public.

“On several occasions during the meeting, Mrs. Crouch stated that there was not sufficient demand for operating a small restaurant, store and service station. She implied that they would lose money if they attempted to operate such a business.”

The Forest Service officials warned Jeanne that if the restaurant and store did not remain open during regular business hours, “consideration would be given to revoke the permit for breach of requirements.” 

Finally in late November 1974, Jeanne formed a kind of “rent-to-own” agreement with two couples: Mr. & Mrs. Gary Guelker and Mr. & Mrs. John Hoffman, all of Phoenix. However, the contract with the Forest Service remained in Jeanne’s name.

“Gaulker and his parents are long-time restaurant operators in southern California,” the paper related, “while Hoffman has been in the administration end of the food business, working for Del Webb Corp.” It was planned to serve the same type of cuisine. 

Jeanne moved to Phoenix to retire, but  on January 25, 1980, she was back before forest service officials to discuss the situation at the Inn. It seems the two Phoenix couples could not make a go of it and Jessie Heald was now the sublessor. 

When rent was missed, Jeanne locked Heald out of the Inn, but a court ruled in favor of Heald, allowing entrance. Heald took the opportunity to strip the Inn of its valuables including “lights, stoves, and other fixtures.” These were actually the property of the Forest Service and Jeanne was responsible for the actions of her sublessor. Jeanne sued Heald for $50,000 and decided to move into and once again run the Mingus Mountain Inn.

At this point the Forest Service was wary. “The operation has worsened more since 1975,” a report disclosed. “If this permit is not terminated we will again start the same rebuilding process that has been going on since 1965.” The report further stated that “the structures are beyond normal repair and are considered a hazard and an eyesore. The water system is also substandard in line with the state's safe drinking water act. Charred wood adjacent to lighting fixtures indicate that installation was inadequate or of the wrong type in the restaurant. (This) could have burned the restaurant down.”

Although it was believed “that the traffic is no longer there to sustain a profitable operation,” Jeanne would give it one last try. An ad in the Daily Sun in August 1980 offered what was left in the Inn for sale in order to raise money to remodel.

The restaurant was now serving French cuisine and the General Store offered “discount prices on designer jeans, leather luggage, chain saws, gifts, etc.”

Menu of the French Cuisine Entrees

However, the Inn was only opened sporadically during this time and failed to open its doors at all in 1984. This led to vandalism and the increased deterioration of the facilities. The Forest Service noted that it did not receive any complaints about it being closed, while citing 10 serious violations. “In summary we do not wish to reissue a permit for a resort on Mingus Mountain because: 1. The public need for commercial services no longer exists at this site. 2. No profit-making opportunity exists at this site.”

As 1985 drew to a close, so did the existence of the Mingus Mountain Inn. A notice appeared that the Forest Service was “soliciting bids for salvage rights to usable materials contained in 2 buildings and one shed. These buildings, located on Mingus Mountain, were previously known as the Mingus Mountain Inn.” Sealed bids were to be delivered by December 18, 1985.

After being completely stripped of everything valuable, the Inn was purposely burned to the ground January 9, 1986. However, the walls were made of concrete block and the Forest Service had no equipment to safely knock them down. So the Prescott Army National Guard was called in to use its “D7 Crawler tractor” to both level the walls and bury all the debris. This was accomplished a couple of days later.

Generally the Forest Service was happy, if not relieved. The Mingus Mountain Inn had started to become a headache for them in 1965 and it progressively worsened as the years passed. 

Katherine Bolander, widow of the Prescott National Forest Supervisor at that time, Don Bolander, wrote the author and revealed that “in Don’s retirement scrapbook there are some humorous pictures of Don standing in front (of the Inn), watching the fire burn. One has a caption that says: ‘What Mingus Mountain Inn?’”

Today the location consists of a paved parking lot, picnic tables and restroom facilities.

Author's visit to the location of the old ski-slope:

Looking down from the top of the old ski-slope shows how thoroughly Mother Nature has reclaimed the spot. As I stated in the article, the brush is chest-high and thick as molasses.

This is the vista looking to the right from the top of the ski-slope.

An abandoned waterline, once used by the Inn, is almost camouflaged on the forest floor.


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