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Many drivers on Interstate 80 see the sign for Elk Mountain, see the mountain and drive on.

Four miles from the exit sign and the trucks and dust and wind of the highway: Quiet.

Just through the town of Elk Mountain and on the other side of the Medicine Bow River lies the Historic Elk Mountain Hotel, a 12-room hotel and restaurant.

Some sort of hotel has occupied that space since 1905, when Elk Mountain was a stagecoach stop on the Overland Trail. For many years, the property also housed the Garden Spot Pavilion, which hosted entertainers such as Louis Armstrong and Tex Williams.

Today, the Elk Mountain Hotel serves as a stop for travelers seeking a comfortable respite off one of Wyoming's main arteries.

The hotel isn't for families, budget travelers or nightlife adventurers. Floors and walls creak and wail, settling with nurtured age. Rooms begin at $126 per night, twice what you might spend at a budget hotel in Rawlins. The only place to go out for dinner and drinks is a dining room attached to the hotel.

Owners Susan Prescott-Havers and Arthur Havers know these might deter some travelers, but they're not concerned.

Instead, they focus on attracting and keeping guests who appreciate what Elk Mountain has to offer. Cozy bedrooms straight out of another era, or a caring grandmother's home. A small restaurant for intimate parties and wedding receptions. Rich history. Deer and wildlife grazing in the yard.

"Some people just can't stand this," Arthur said. "It's too quiet. Any night life buzz around here is likely from mosquitoes."

Operation

Arthur and Susan planned to buy a hotel in their homeland of England, but the building burned down on their way to purchase it. Arthur took a corporate job in Brussels, and Susan operated a restaurant in the bustling business district there for four years.

Arthur's job brought the couple stateside to California, and they decided to look for properties again. The Elk Mountain Hotel had been fully renovated in "folk Victorian" style and was for sale.

They bought the hotel in January 2007 but didn't stay there the first night. The interstate was closed, so the couple spent the night at a Holiday Inn in Rawlins.

Susan took over the restaurant; hiring qualified chefs to come to Wyoming is difficult. Hotel guests are the prime business for the restaurant, but locals fill the 40-person dining room for holidays and special occasions.

Susan crafted a menu that rivals top restaurants in large cities, but caters to guests' tastes, whether that means a gluten-free meal or a hot plate of biscuits and Southern-style gravy.

"I chose to come here because of the hotel, but I love the wide open spaces and the people are friendly and helpful," Susan said. "I liked California, but you live on a postage stamp and your neighbor is right on top of you."

The decor reflects the history and reconstructs ambience of days past. Old portraits and antique furniture add charm to the cozy bedrooms. Music from the 1940s - just before the heyday of the music pavilion - swarms from the back of the parlor and the restaurant dining room.

One room displayed stern, black and white photos of the family of John Evans, who opened the open-air music pavilion on the property in 1920. One guest refused to sleep in that room because of the photos. Another guest removed the photos and stacked them, face down, in the bottom dresser drawer and topped the stack with the room's Bible.

Arthur and Susan replaced the photos with Victorian nudes, which they said only caused one complaint.

Struggling economy

In the offseason, the hotel relies on business and organization meetings and retreats. The third floor attic was converted to a private meeting room.

Business dropped in 2008 when fuel prices rose. Every business meeting scheduled for the year was canceled in the first week of January, Arthur said.

The couple placed signs along I-80 but guests didn't increase, except for the occasional road warrior knocking on their door at 2 a.m.

"We're really not that kind of hotel," Arthur said.

They ramped up the hotel website and travelers found them. The hotel is about halfway between Denver Airport and Yellowstone National Park. Guests leave online reviews raving about Elk Mountain: "elegant," "great hospitality" and "an ambience shrouded in charm, mystery, glamour, romance."

Word of mouth directs most of their clientele.

"If it weren't for the Internet, this place would have died years ago," Arthur said.

Reach education reporter Jackie Borchardt at (307) 266-0593 or at jackie.borchardt@trib.com. Read her education blog at trib.com/reportcard and follow her on Twitter @JMBorchardt

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