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Roughing it at Yellowstone's Roosevelt Lodge

Los Angeles Times staff writer

In 1908, a travel guide described Camp Roosevelt in Yellowstone National Park as a place that offered "the pleasures of the outdoor life with the little inconveniences reduced to a minimum."

More than a century later, our family of four certainly found this to be true of the same site, which today is known as Roosevelt Lodge. Perhaps we were most grateful for the simple way our Roughrider cabin — so named for its minimalist comforts, consisting of four hard walls, two double beds, electricity, minimal heat and no bathroom — successfully kept out the inconvenience of a black bear roaming between the various cabins at night.

But when you visit one of Yellowstone's best areas for spotting wildlife, that can happen. (No humans, particularly our 10- and 8-year-old sons, were injured in the writing of this story by said roaming bear, even during late night visits to the thankfully very clean, well-lighted and heated community bathrooms.)

Roosevelt Lodge and its cabins, as you might have guessed by now, were named for America's 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, who frequently visited the park and stayed nearby when he did. The rugged outdoorsman, who also famously led a charge of Rough Riders up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, certainly chose a good spot to take in the wondrous natural beauty of the park.

Staying at Roosevelt Lodge Cabins at Yellowstone National Park

Roosevelt Lodge Cabins, Yellowstone National Park; (866) 439-7375, Rates for Roughrider cabins start at $65 a night; Frontier cabins (with bathrooms) start at $108. Cabins are open from mid-June to early September.

We arrived at the lodge in mid-June after a couple days at the Old Faithful Inn, which is just steps away from the famous geyser of the same name. As you might expect, the geyser area of the park can get quite crowded. In contrast, the lodge and the surrounding area in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone is far less crowded, more rustic — and contains Lamar Valley, a great location to lay eyes on the park's wildlife. (Another benefit of the location, unlike other parts of the park: Our cellphones had no reception here.)

Only a few miles' drive from the cabins, we saw big horn sheep, elk, antelope, moose and, of course, herds of bison. Today, about 3,500 of these animals wander carefree through Yellowstone, and many of them graze the open fields in the Lamar Valley.

The bison can easily be seen from the roadway; on a couple occasions when we were driving through they decided to cross the road en masse. Naturally, we and all the motorists in front of and behind us stopped. You'll never be happier in a traffic jam as this. The hulking beasts can weigh well over 1,000 pounds and think nothing of brushing past the stalled cars as they take their time getting to the other side.

Roosevelt Lodge wonderfully cultivates the feel of the Old West, offering horseback riding, stagecoach trips and an Old West Dinner cookout, which we decided to do. The excursion begins with a 30-minute wagon ride — yes, pulled by two horses — through the countryside that ends in Pleasant Valley, which it is. (You can ride horseback instead of the wagons too.)

On arrival, we helped ourselves to an all-you-can-eat steak dinner with corn, beans and cowboy coffee, among other things. And there was even a singing cowboy to enhance the Western atmosphere.

The Roughrider cabins are opened seasonally from mid-June to early September. The rest of the time, you can expect to be buried in snow. Even in mid-June, the snow can fly — as it did for several hours one morning when we were there.

The cold weather raises an interesting point about the Roughrider cabins: They get very cold at night. They're equipped with small wood stoves, which keep the cabins warm when they're going. However, in the darkness of the wee hours, when it had to be around 30 degrees, they can be tough to light unless you know what you're doing. (I didn't.) If you're put off by the prospect of minimal heat and no bathrooms, you can get those amenities in other cabins on the site for an extra $40 or so a night.

Not many miles from our cabin stands the Roosevelt Arch, which welcomes visitors to Yellowstone at its northern entrance. An inscription over it reads: "For the benefit and enjoyment of the People."

Mission accomplished, Mr. President.

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