Half Moon Bar Lodge with Mike Ross
Interview with owner of Half Moon Bar Lodge in Oregon, Mike Ross.
What compelled you to purchase and become the new stewards of the historic Half Moon Bar Lodge? (and why the Rogue River is significant to you).
Oh boy… So much for leading with a soft and easy question!
I was ready for a change in life and wanted to do something that mattered. After spending most of my career creating and selling things. I wanted to create and share river experiences with people. I guess you could say that rivers have been the leading geologic influence in my life.
Time spent on the river changes people for the good. I think the semi-primitive experience of floating down a river canyon offers (maybe forces?) a perspective accomplished no other way. We connect with the water, the rock, the sky. We can feel erosion for the first time.
Ben and I looked at the lodge together in 2018, both of us felt like this was a project that mattered, and that we could accomplish. This property has been significant to humans for thousands of years and was ready to be loved. We had the ability to accomplish these tasks, the timing was right. I'm not sure we had a choice!
Prior to purchasing the lodge, it sat empty for a decade. How did you come up with the inspiration and idea for what you’ve created at Half Moon Bar Lodge?
One of the most exciting challenges for me was designing a space for people that feels in balance with the canyon. Floating a river is adventurous because we don't know what's around the corner, and when we do it's often magical. I've tried to honor and cultivate that emotion from the way you get your first glimpse of the property, to the feeling you get when you walk into the main lodge. This Discovery theme is carried through to things like a multitude of garden gates and the art you discover in the rooms.
I also needed to be true to our roots, we are a 1960’s fishing lodge. We needed to preserve every bit of the original construction as possible. The main lodge room is fundamentally the way it was built with original hand peeled poles and beams. By incorporating our hand built tables and selecting nice leather furniture, we have a space where people don't feel like visitors, they feel like it's their space. I guess you could say, we built it to be shared.
Half Moon Bar Lodge has developed an exceptional culinary and craft cocktail reputation! How do you incorporate this experience into the guest stay at Half Moon Bar?
Our recipe? That's a family secret. It starts with the table. My family always sits down for dinner together. By serving family style and passing plates, we immediately create an experience that is not a typical experience in today's world. We serve in courses to slow things down and leave room for conversation, giggles and maybe I will have some more wine.
Our meals are simple proteins and the freshest and best vegetables we can find. Then we obsess about how we cook it, and how we season it. We make our own breads and desserts and jam and we know our beekeeper. Our maple syrup comes in mason jars out of a van from a small family operation all the way across the country. It's so hard to do simple things well, but once you get a taste…
At Half Moon, we have the Space Bar. Drinks are named after astronauts and our signature drinks come in an original Apollo program collectible glass from the 60’s. We have a really nice top shelf selection and have fun with it. It was joyful to incorporate a space theme into our bar, and again, it's fun to watch people discover what's around the corner.
Can you speak to the importance of incorporating the history and culture of the Rogue River, surrounding wilderness area, and lodge into your guest experience?
This is something we are not good enough at, yet. The land our lodge sits on had been occupied for thousands of years before we showed up. We can only imagine what the native community looked like by reading a few seemingly non-relevant books about how they were massacred.
We start by admitting our ignorance, and our willingness to learn. I think that we have a lot of room for educating ourselves so that we can share it with guests. I am excited about the discussions I have had with some of the ROW staff, and guides and hope we can resume these conversations in this next season.
What do you most enjoy about working with ROW Rafting groups?
The problems. By the time ROW Trips get to Half Moon most of the little problems have been worked out. So we get the big problems, which are way more interesting to solve!
I was away from the lodge and a guest got locked out of a room that had no key. Staff reached me by phone and a ROW guide offered to break down the door… Much discussion ensued and we came up with the solution of drilling out the lock, which worked great and was easier to replace than a door.
Operating a wilderness lodge has so many components, and sometimes a problem. I know that every ROW team member has been selected because they are capable, calm, and can break into your house as needed. I think we have cultivated a trust and a partnership where we can work through the problems that surface, and that gives me confidence as an owner. An interesting side effect of solving problems together is that friendships blossom. Every week our team looks forward to having our problem-solving friends show up!
Can you share a surprising or unexpected fact from the Lodge’s history?
Before my time here, the Half Moon water source was a spring across the river. The water was collected and piped into a tank that was 80 feet up a tree. The pipe had to be removed from view of the river after the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed. At that point, the owner's hand dug a well that we continue to use today.
What kind of conservation efforts are you working on at Half Moon or in the greater Rogue River Wilderness?
Great question. Conservation starts with consumption. We take a critical look at every item that is purchased for the lodge. For us, it's not just purchasing something, it's the 5 times it is handled from the store to the truck, from the truck to the boat, to the tram, to the 4-wheeler, to its home. So we purchase the best quality and the longest-lasting materials for any project.
We added over 40 solar panels and a battery system that produces about 90% of our electrical needs all year long. This has resulted in a drastic reduction in diesel fuel consumption and a lot fewer trips to get diesel.
We make a lot of what would normally be purchased, we use our own logs for lumber, our berries for jam, our pears for sorbet, and our watermelons for margaritas!