Wyoming’s Legendary 100-Year-Old Brooks Lake Lodge Is ‘Where The West Begins’

It’s been re-invented and even resurrected a few times over the past 100 years, but at its core, Wyoming’s legendary Brooks Lake Lodge remains that one place historically proclaimed as “where the West begins.”

RJ
Renée Jean

February 17, 202412 min read

During Wyoming's legendary winters, Brooks Lake Lodge is a natural playground. But the only way to get there is in a snowcat or on a snowmobile.
During Wyoming's legendary winters, Brooks Lake Lodge is a natural playground. But the only way to get there is in a snowcat or on a snowmobile. (Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa)

BROOKS LAKE LODGE — No one knows quite when Mortimer the Moose came to call Wyoming’s legendary Brooks Lake Lodge home, nestled on the western edge of the Shoshone National Forest on what was once the Yellowstone-Lander Road over Togwotee Pass.

But there are photos of Mortimer going back to the 1950s, said Brooks Lake Lodge manager Matthew Tousignant. In them, Mortimer is mounted to the same massive, stone fireplace that today warms the lodge’s big dining hall, where guests gather to eat gourmet food fireside.

“He’s old,” Tousignant told Cowboy State Daily, gesturing up at the moose’s head. “He’s been here a long time. If you look at this paddle, you can see that he was actually shot there. So, he was shot in that paddle, and lived to tell the tale — until he was, well, you know.”

Today, Mortimer regards diners with eyes that seem kind and thoughtful. No telling the tales the bull moose has overheard perched above a fireplace lit by both fire and fireside stories every day for decades.

The grizzlies that almost chased a guide away, the dog named Ranger who chases grizzlies away, or the Brooks Lake trout that get away — and the ones that don’t.

Today, snowsuits and snowmobile helmets find a cozy spot just below Mortimer’s watchful gaze during the lunch rush for what is a nationally renowned snowmobile scene, with access to 700 miles of groomed trails in the Shoshone National Forest.

The gear gets a bit of warming and drying before the next adventure — and the next fireside story — begins.

Brooks Lake Lodge, at more than 100 years old, is aging gracefully, Mortimer might say to any who ask.

But there are visible signs of her age to the observant.

“If you take a step back here and look at the fireplace, you can see that it was placed on that rock,” Tousignant said, gesturing at the wall that the double-sided fireplace is set against.

“The lodge has slowly shrunk, but the craftsmanship in this lodge is still so incredible. It took 90 men 90 days to build this and, in the architectural notes, it says, ‘Miraculously, no one died.’”

  • Brooks Lake Lodge covered in snow is in its own little world, particularly in winter. The spot is so remote guests are ferried to the lodge by snowcat from a parking lot where cellphones don't have reception.
    Brooks Lake Lodge covered in snow is in its own little world, particularly in winter. The spot is so remote guests are ferried to the lodge by snowcat from a parking lot where cellphones don't have reception. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Brooks Lake Lodge tableau from a short distance.
    The Brooks Lake Lodge tableau from a short distance. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Just one of the many beautiful views accessible from Brooks Lake Lodge.
    Just one of the many beautiful views accessible from Brooks Lake Lodge. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • A 24/7 webcam at the Brooks Lake Lodge website gives anyone from anywhere a view the place and how little — or how much — snow it has.
    A 24/7 webcam at the Brooks Lake Lodge website gives anyone from anywhere a view the place and how little — or how much — snow it has. (Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa)
  • A New Year's Day tradition at Brooks Lake Lodge is an icy polar plunge.
    A New Year's Day tradition at Brooks Lake Lodge is an icy polar plunge. (Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • During Wyoming's legendary winters, Brooks Lake Lodge is a natural playground. But the only way to get there is in a snowcat or on a snowmobile.
    During Wyoming's legendary winters, Brooks Lake Lodge is a natural playground. But the only way to get there is in a snowcat or on a snowmobile. (Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa)

Logs Too Big To Hug

Brooks Lake Lodge was first called TwoGwoTee Inn, for nearby Togwotee Pass, from a Shoshone word for spear. Many logs were rough-hewn from the surrounding forest, today the Shoshone National Forest.

The very largest of the logs are so massive that few human arms could fit around them. Those were likely brought in from Oregon, Tousignant said.

“They put this lodge up with block and tackle and horses, you know?” he said.

The wonder is clear in his voice, despite the number of times he’s told the tale to visiting guests over his last five years as manager.

Fire has come for the lodge seven times, he told Cowboy State Daily, but it’s somehow still standing, and its history and heritage are still miraculously intact.

The most recent fire, in July 2019, happened during a predecessor’s tenure.

“He woke up in the middle of the night because he just felt weird,” Tousignant said. “And he looked out the door and saw that the lodge was on fire. What had happened was with this chimney, there’s a spark arrestor, and the spark arrestor was broken.”

The roof near the fireplace where Mortimer lives caught fire as a result — in the very heart of everything that’s holding Brooks Lake Lodge together.

“The Dubois Fire Department was here in 32 minutes at 1:39 a.m. from Dubois,” Tousignant said. “You took that drive. You know how long it takes. So that’s incredible. And they saved this place. It’s absolutely incredible.”

The lodge’s present owner, Max Chapman, hired preservationists to repair the historic lodge.

“If you look right here, you can see this is ancient, and it’s got all those water stains,” Tousignant said, gesturing to a section of the dining hall that’s still original. “Over here, it’s brand new. We did our best to mirror what it was. But it’s hard to fake watermarks.”

The differences are tiny. Only the most observant would notice the lack of watermarks. Or the black scorch marks near the top of the double-sided fireplace.

About That Governor

One part of the fireplace faces the dining hall, while the other faces the Governor’s Tearoom.

The tearoom is a popular gathering space for the daily social that brings lodge guests together each night before dinner. The tea honors Brooks Lake Lodge’s namesake, Bryant B. Brooks, Wyoming’s seventh governor.

“One of his favorite pastimes was having high tea,” Tousignant said. “And these buffets that are here, they’re original. And we still set up high tea on them to this day.”

Brooks was born in Massachusetts in 1861. He went to business school in Chicago, then moved to Big Muddy, Wyoming, in 1880, starting both his business and political careers.

Eventually, he filled the unexpired term of Gov. DeForest Richards in 1904. He won the office in 1907, making him the first to occupy the newly completed governor’s mansion.

Finding Brooks Lake

Before that, however, Brooks was cowboying around, exploring near Yellowstone National Park, created by an act of Congress in 1872.

The park was really the first of its kind in the world. Its fabulous features were a lightning rod. Everyone wanted to see them, and investors aplenty wanted to build around it.

The park was a tourism gold rush. Fortunes would be made, and some fortunes would be lost.

It was during an 1899 excursion that Brooks found the beautiful, 300-acre alpine lake that still bears his name, Brooks Lake.

Set within the Absaroka Range, it is ringed with a picturesque view — the Pinnacle Buttes, Brooks Mountain and Austin’s Peak, to name a few. The Continental Divide is but a mile away. Lodgepole pine completes the picture-perfect landscape.

It’s remote and otherworldly, a place that tugs wordlessly at heartstrings in a way difficult to describe.

Still, Brooks tried, writing in his journal: “Among the fir and pine there glistened a lake … what a sight! Tracks of elk and deer abound. Where I sat on my horse stretched a broad peaceful valley. I stood closer that day to nature’s heart than ever before.”

  • Another shot of the lodge's favorite moose.
    Another shot of the lodge's favorite moose. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The lodge has many cozy nooks to sit and look outside at the view.
    The lodge has many cozy nooks to sit and look outside at the view. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The governor's tea room brings guests together for a social every day.
    The governor's tea room brings guests together for a social every day. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The bar is a popular gathering spot at Brooks Lake Lodge.
    The bar is a popular gathering spot at Brooks Lake Lodge. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Scorched rock can be seen at the top of the fireplace in the dining hall's adjoining tearoom, where the lodge caught fire in 2019.
    Scorched rock can be seen at the top of the fireplace in the dining hall's adjoining tearoom, where the lodge caught fire in 2019. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Rooms at Brooks Lake Lodge are cozy with feather beds for sleeping and rustic benches for putting on one's shoes.
    Rooms at Brooks Lake Lodge are cozy with feather beds for sleeping and rustic benches for putting on one's shoes. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Remington sculptures are strategically placed throughout Brooks Lake Lodge.
    Remington sculptures are strategically placed throughout Brooks Lake Lodge. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Mortimer the Moose's view of a busy dining hall on most any day during snowmobiling season at Brooks Lake Lodge.
    Mortimer the Moose's view of a busy dining hall on most any day during snowmobiling season at Brooks Lake Lodge. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Matthew Tousignant left poses with Eloise Chapman at Brooks Lake Lodge with Mortimer the Moose in the background.
    Matthew Tousignant left poses with Eloise Chapman at Brooks Lake Lodge with Mortimer the Moose in the background. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Artifacts from winters gone by as well as artwork adorn the rustic hewn log cabin walls.
    Artifacts from winters gone by as well as artwork adorn the rustic hewn log cabin walls. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Another shot of the lodge's favorite moose.
    Another shot of the lodge's favorite moose. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)

Yellowstone Connection

Picture an alpine meadow of sagebrush and grasses, and then picture 100 men and two trucks’ worth of tools raising massive, rough-hewn log beams to a bluebird sky, with mountains all around.

That was the scene in April 1922.

The Lander Evening Post reported frequently on the progress of this new hotel that Lander businessman Eugene Amoretti was standing up near Brooks Lake.

It was to be a homestyle hotel, open by July 1, 1922, for its first guests — and, not so coincidentally, Yellowstone National Park’s first day of the season.

The railroad ended in Lander, well before Yellowstone National Park. Tourists needed a bus ride to get there, Amoretti reasoned.

His busses could take guests to his rustic hotel near Brooks Lake for a luxurious stay, then on to his hotel in Moran for another picturesque stay before heading on to the prized Yellowstone that everyone was clamoring to see.

In the early years, all went well, to rave reviews.

“Fishing is beautiful,” a Chicago Post article stated, while The Denver Post described Brooks Lake as “literally alive with trout.”

A flowery travel brochure, typical of the day, urged the “city-weary traveler” to come out to Yellowstone by way of Amoretti’s newly constructed lodges, “Out where the West begins.”

Guests dined at the Welty Inn in Dubois before heading on to TwoGwoTee Inn on Brooks Lake to enjoy the “grandeur of the view, or the pleasures of fishing and boating the lake, or mount a saddle horse and explore into the primitive fatness of one of nature’s inner sanctums.”

After that, travelers headed to Amoretti Hotel in Moran for lunch and another fine view, “nestling quietly in a cup of ethereal beauty of Jackson Lake, rimmed around with pines and reflecting in its mirror-like surface the magnificent grandeur of the towering Tetons, and Mount Moran with its glacial cravat.”

Fool’s Gold

Amoretti was born one year before Yellowstone’s creation in the Wyoming gold rush town of South Pass City.

He laid claim to being the first European born in the boom town and was a well-known businessman in Lander. He and his father owned Lander’s first bank and trading post. He was a 32nd degree Mason, a Lander town councilman and a Wyoming state representative.

For a while, it seemed Amoretti had struck tourism gold with his idea. But the bus trip from Lander to TwoGwoTee Inn to Hotel Amoretti proved tiresome for tourists, who just wanted to get to Yellowstone already.

In 1926, Jim Gratiot, one of five corporate directors of Amoretti Hotel and Camp Co., renamed Twogwotee Inn the Diamond G Ranch, repackaging it as a dude ranch — at the time, one of the largest in the country.

The stained-glass windows in the entryway at Brooks Lake Lodge still have a “G” in them, likely as part of that history. Life as an eminent dude ranch carried the lodge through World War II, after which business again fell off.

In the 1950s, the highly successful Morton Salt Co., in a period of rapid expansion, bought the Diamond G as a retreat for top-level executives. But it soon traded the ranch for a different one. The lodge went through a series of owners with different ideas for it, none of which took.

The U.S. Forest Service ultimately closed the cabin where the caretaker had once lived, due to health and safety concerns.

The Rebirth Begins

A Minneapolis man named Kern M. Hoppe bought the Diamond G in 1982, filing for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. In the application, Hoppe said he plans “major rehabilitation” of the various buildings in the complex, as well as a 1983 re-opening.

Records don’t mention Hoppe too much after that, however, and it’s not clear how much work he actually did on the lodge.

Barbara Carlsberg told Cowboy State Daily she and her husband purchased the lodge in 1987, completing a major renovation, and operating it until 2000, when they sold it to Chapman, who also owns the Snow King Resort in Jackson.

“He purchased this with his heart, not his head,” Tousignant told Cowboy State Daily. “It pays for itself, but this isn’t much of a business.”

Chapman listed the property for $12 million a couple of years ago, Tousignant said.

“Somebody showed up and they had interest in it, so he goes, well, throw it out there,” Tousignant said. “Just see.”

But, after a process was “engaged in,” Tousignant said “they weren’t the right buyer.”

At its $12 million listed price, Tousignant said a new owner would not likely make a profit on the resort.

“They would be able to pay all of the bills, and they’d have a free resort that’s fully staffed and a place to go all of the time,” he said. “This doesn’t make money. This is like jewelry. This is something very beautiful that you can have.

“And it pays for itself. You could live here year-round, you know, and you get a staff and a resort and horses and snowmobiles. You’d have to have plenty of capital to be in that position, but, you know, it doesn’t lose money.”

Stars In Her Eyes

Chapman’s in no hurry to sell the lodge, though, Tousignant said.

“He has family members who absolutely love this place, and so does he,” Tousignant said.

One of them is Chapman’s daughter, Eloise Chapman. She’s worked the past few summers as a hiking guide at Brooks Lake Lodge. She was visiting the lodge recently with college roommates.

It’s her favorite place in the world, she told Cowboy State Daily.

“Nowhere else even equates,” she said. “And I think, if I had everything I ever dreamed of, I’d end up here. That would be my hope, completely. But I’m young, and I don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m in school now still.”

Chapman is studying economics and physics.

“Having a STEM background in a business field was extremely beneficial for (my sister-in-law),” Eloise said. “And I am genuinely interested in physics and astronomy. And I mean, it’s really cool to me to think about stars, hundreds of thousands of light years away, and study something I’m genuinely interested in.”

Stars are something that Eloise and any guest can see quite clearly at Brooks Lake Lodge, where the night sky is completely unadulterated by modern streetlights. It’s amazing how large stars can seem in an unpolluted sky.

It’s just one more piece of the enduring charm that has lured guests and workers — and even owners — to Brooks Lake Lodge for more than a century, a legendary Wyoming stay that appears set for another 100 magical years.

Editor's note: Business and travel reporter Renée Jean spent a few days at the Brooks Lake Lodge in early February. Stay tuned for more stories from the historic property.

  • Nobody goes hungry or unsatisfied with the Brooks Lake Lodge's chef in charge of the kitchen. The trout that don't get away are prepared by Brooks Lake Lodge's chef for dinner. It goes especially well with an ice-cold mountain margarita. Delicious.
    Nobody goes hungry or unsatisfied with the Brooks Lake Lodge's chef in charge of the kitchen. The trout that don't get away are prepared by Brooks Lake Lodge's chef for dinner. It goes especially well with an ice-cold mountain margarita. Delicious. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)
  • Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa
    Courtesy Brooks Lake Lodge and Spa (Courtesy Photo)

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Authors

RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter