It may not have as much tourist appeal as a five-star rating by Conde Nast, Fodor's or even the Mobil Travel Guide. But lodgings at Utah's Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks have won high praise - from congressional probers.
The U.S. General Accounting Office, a research arm of Congress, rated them as the best lodgings among 10 National Park Service units that it evaluated nationwide.That was part of a study on whether Park Service standards for lodgings are adequate, and how well such lodgings rate when evaluated by industry standards for private hotels and motels.
The GAO found that some - such as in Death Valley National Park - are deteriorated and need expensive repairs, and would essentially fail private industry standards for safety and comfort.
But at the other extreme were the lodges, cabins and motels at Bryce Canyon and Zion, on which the GAO lavished praise - even though it noted their rooms lack air conditioning and television sets (which it said is in "accordance with park policy.") For example, the GAO said rooms at Zion "were in excellent condition," and at Bryce were "in very good condition." It said lodgings at both parks are operated by AmFac Parks and Resorts, with prices ranging from $83 to $122 a night.
It found public restrooms at both to be extra clean, the grounds well landscaped and maintained, the housekeeping nearly impeccable and no unaddressed repair or maintenance problems.
It noted a couple of areas where the lodgings wouldn't meet private industry standards, however. That included lack of television sets, air conditioning and notepads in rooms. Some also lacked windows or peepholes so guests could see who may be knocking at their door.
But the GAO said all that was in accordance with park policy - which differs from private industry standards.
It also noted that many other parks nationwide didn't come close to doing as well as Bryce and Zion.
It said the worst of those evaluated was Stovepipe Wells Village at Death Valley National Park - which is also operated by AmFac Parks and Resorts, like lodgings at Bryce and Zion.
It found the exterior needed paint badly and many rooms had broken windows, door handles, screens or shower fixtures. Some rooms lacked dead-bolt locks, telephones and alarm clocks. Some had large holes in bed linens.
The GAO said the contractor was in the process of renovating rooms at Death Valley to fix such problems, but "the room rates charged to guests are the same whether they stay in a renovated room or not."
The GAO's report devoted some extra space to why room conditions may be better at Bryce and Zion than at other parks.
For example, it said the contract at Bryce requires the contractor to set aside 8.5 percent of gross revenues for improvements to facilities. The contract at Zion requires that 10 percent be set aside.
"The concessioner has reinvested these funds into improving the lodging facilities," the GAO said.
The GAO said managers at Zion and Bryce are also experienced, and have trained their staffs well. And concessioners at both parks had close working relationships with Park Service officials who oversee their work - and inspect lodgings regularly.
The GAO noted that the Park Service's concessioner specialist reported that Bryce Canyon "did not receive a single guest complaint letter about lodging in 1997."
The GAO also said that at Zion, "the concessioner's staff are well trained and receive enough benefits that allow the core of the staff to remain on the job year around, with is different from the situation at seasonal parks."
The report was presented to Sen. Craig Thomas, chairman of the Senate Energy Subcommittee on National Parks, for use as it reviews whether to push for improved standards at national park lodgings.
Other parks that were evaluated in the study include: Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelly, Ariz.; Lake Mead in Nevada and Arizona; Mammoth Cave, Ky.; Mesa Verde, Colo.; Shenandoah, Va.; and Yosemite, Calif.