There's a sign on the Pacific Crest Trail coming down from the Siskiyou Summit that welcomes exhausted hikers with, "Callahan's ahead; first beer free!"
The new Callahan's Siskiyou Lodge, reopened last August after a fire destroyed it in 2006, is a local legend, not just with hikers, bikers and skiers, but with locals from a wide region, who welcome it as a romantic retreat, a de-stressing haven and — for PCT trekkers — a place to restore much-needed carbs with all-you-can-eat piles of spaghetti.
"We're halfway between Mexico and Canada and get over 400 hikers in summer. They've just come off the hardest part, in the Sierras," says owner Ron Bergquist, who helped rebuild the lodge. "They walk in here looking bad and smelling bad. One guy may not have the price of a meal; the other has an American Express card and enough money to buy the whole property."
PCT hikers are treated to lodging on the big back lawn for $5, but guys with wives along often find she'll demand he get them a room, because every room has a Jacuzzi, laughs Bergquist.
With any dish, they get all they can eat of Callahan's signature pasta, which was started by first owner Nilde Callahan, an Italian and wife of founder Don Callahan. Bergquist and his wife, Donna, bought the place in 1996.
The hospitality for hikers continues in the morning. They can buy any dish for breakfast and get all the French toast or pancakes they can eat. Bikers on the Cycle Oregon route get the same treatment. Callahan's also holds care packages, which hikers send on ahead to replenish supplies en route.
"We look after 'em," says Bergquist.
The community and the region also have looked after Callahan's, lending enormous support for basically starting over after the fire, which destroyed everything, even the much-loved, double-sided fireplace covered by Don Callahan with fascinating rocks from the Mount Ashland region.
The price tag? $4 million.
The rock-covered fireplace is back and burning. The long bar, pine-paneled walls and deck are all back, noticeably new and modern, but the reincarnated legend survives — and you have to blink twice to realize you're in the same place. Even the painting of the trademark reclining nude hangs by the bar, donated by a Klamath Falls man who happened to have the identical painting.
Starting over gave the Bergquists the chance to ground Callahan's in all the eco-friendly technologies and practices of the new, sustainable era — most notably the 16 solar water-heating panels on the high roof.
The panels save $2,000 a month in energy and, with the popular Jacuzzis, get called on to produce a lot of hot water. Instead of the old pump and well (which hampered fire fighting), water gravity-feeds from mountain springs into two big tanks. High-tech digesters allow wastewater to go on lawns instead of into creeks. Lights are compact fluorescent and, of course, all paper, glass, oils and waste are recycled.
The lodge is twice the size of the old one, has 19 rooms instead of 12 and, mostly because of the "green" water-heating system, pays about the same for utilities as in the old days.
Ron, who first connected with Callahan's while remodeling their kitchen in 1959, says, "The goal was to keep it as close to the old place as possible, all the walls and surfaces natural wood and rock — and the food pretty close to the old way.
"It's been hard — and we're very aware there's a recession on. But you don't walk away from Callahan's," says Donna Adams Bergquist. "If we had, we'd always regret it."