Another offering in an occasional series about travel and travel photography.
TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: The Marriott Ranch: Hume, VA
At the age of 19 and as a devout Mormon, J. Willard Marriott, Sr. undertook the obligatory missionary work of his church for two years, assigned to New England. On his way home after completing his mission, he passed through Washington D.C. during the sweltering summer months of 1921. While there:
- “… [H]e walked from Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument, toiled up the steps to the top, walked back down again, and strolled over to the Lincoln Memorial. Everywhere he went tourists and pedestrians sweltered and sweated in the sultry, humid air. On the way back to his hotel, he just stood there in the street watching the crowds, he couldn’t get over it: a push cart peddler would come along the street selling lemonade and soda pop and ice cream, and in minutes he would be cleaned out and on his way to stock up with another cartload”.
Marriott was a brother of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity at the University of Utah and of Alpha Kappa Psi. After graduating from Weber College in June 1923 and later, the University of Utah in June 1926,Marriott remembered his experience in Washington, D.C. and decided to look into a venture there.
From the Marriott Ranch website:
“In 1951, the founder of Marriott International, J. Willard Marriott Sr., discovered a beautiful piece of the Blue Ridge foothills that reminded him of his boyhood days on the family farm in Utah. After buying the property, he meticulously began to restore the primary historic buildings, their surrounding grounds and continued to purchase contiguous parcels of land including Fiery Run Ranch, creating the 4200+/- acre Marriott Ranch.
Over the following years, J. Willard would bring the farm always known as “Fairfield” back to life with a modest herd of registered Hereford cattle, a large group of black-faced sheep and through the breeding of quarter horses. J. Willard, an avid horseback rider and outdoorsman, would spend as much time as he could at his Fauquier County property and wrote in his diary, “A beautiful place, hard to leave…”
The Inn at Fairfield Farm is a historic Virginia Bed & Breakfast located near the center of the Marriott Ranch’s 4,200 acres. Guests staying at the Inn at Fairfield Farm are welcomed with a complimentary tray of delicious cheeses (4 – 6 P.M.) along with an assortment of refreshing beverages. In the morning, a memorable hearty country breakfast is served, generally between 8 – 10 A.M.
The seven comfortable guest rooms located in two unique buildings along with scenic views help our guests relax and enjoy what the Marriott Ranch has to offer.”
We arrived at the Inn at Fairfield late on a Saturday afternoon (also known as The Marriott Ranch in Hume, VA), as ominous deep blue-black clouds of a gathering storm swirled around the ranch as far as the eye could see. The 60 mile trip from our home in Old Towne Alexandria had taken more than 2 hours. Although our destination, Hume, VA was new to us, the trip through Fauquier County, VA was not. We had lived near Warrenton, a sleepy southern city (once the seat of The Confederacy) on the road to Hume, for nearly 7 years, before returning to civilization in Alexandria.
It was familiar territory.
Once voted ‘One of The 10 Best Rural Counties to Live In in America’, Fauquier County has experienced considerable growth and development since then, particularly in the northern regions, nearer the suburban counties bordering Washington, DC. That development has yet to reach the western areas of Fauquier County, which retains it’s simple, primitive beauty, born of rolling hills, horse farms and unobstructed views of the Blueridge Mountains.
The 4,200 acre Marriott Ranch lies at the foot of that mountain range, only 18 miles from scenic Skyline Drive.
Once inside the Inn, we were greeted by Caroline, the concierge, a pleasant young woman dressed in jeans, a blue denim shirt and work boots. She checked her laptop, checked us in, showed us to our room and gave us the 10 minute tour. She then left the building and us alone. Literally. This was the Friday before Christmas. Clearly not a peak time for visitors. We were there as a gift. As odd as the timing may seem. it was perfect for us.
Except for the permanent staff (2) and a caretaker, we were completely alone at The Fairfield Inn.
We settled in, refreshed ourselves and confirmed our reservations for what we anticipated would be the highlight of the weekend; dinner for two at The Inn at Little Washington. Once an average dining experience at a quaint country inn, a meal at the Inn at Little Washington is now the stuff of legend. The Inn’s culinary curriculum is the province of Patrick O’Connell, a true artiste’ with an avocado, or any perishable fit to eat. And if not fit to eat, fit to photograph. O’Connell approaches food preparation much like David Lynch approaches film making, creating things that are unique, strange and exciting all at once. At $450 a couple, to start, the experience could easily disappoint.
It does not.
Even for an ascetic non-dairy eating, vegetarian, tree hugging type like me, this was an event to remember. It made my wife proud.
The 20 minute trip from Little Washington back to the Marriott Ranch was uneventful. But the gathering storm was getting serious. High winds, heavy rain and dropping temperatures meant we were in for an eventful night at The Inn at Fairfield Farm. Fortunately, we were exhausted enough to sleep through the night and miss the excitement of falling trees, flying shingles and power outages.
We fully expected to be alone at breakfast, but a family from Bakersfield, CA arrived during the night. They had come to visit Elizabeth, the resident horse trainer and keeper of the hounds. Fox hounds. Over a traditional Southern style breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage, biscuits, coffee and orange juice, they filled the time with stories of Fox chases, runaway horses and driven Hound Masters (or is it Hunt Masters…) reveling in the thrill of the hunt. So that’s why people flocked to the ranch during the hunting season. Fox hunts in the tradition of landed gentry. ‘Full Cry’ and all that. If Fox Hunts are your passion, this is your place.
Breakfast done, with time to spare before checkout, we packed our gear and set out to have a look around.
Experienced travelers will know that a stay at a Marriott today is a rather spartan experience. It all started here. Clean, simple, utilitarian. Add WiFi and a soft pillow and that’s the Marriott of today. Not too far removed, in style, from the Inn at Fairfield Farm. What you need, but little more. The single concession to modernity at the Inn is the Common Room, where you’ll find a few board games, magazines (notably ‘Wine’ and ‘Virginia Horseman’ ) and a flat screen connected to satellite TV. With the exception of updated appliances, much at the Inn is like it may have been when J. Willard bought the place.
We stopped on our personal tour to chat with the ‘housekeeper’. She shared that, although J. Willard loved to spend time at the ranch, he never stayed in the Inn. Instead, he kept a trailer on the grounds, where he would camp on his visits. Even when Ronald Reagan visited, J. Willard camped in his trailer. Clean, simple, utilitarian. It all started here.
J. Willard was clearly an admirer of photography. Family photography and images of himself. Framed black and white images of Marriott, alone and with his considerable family, adorn the walls of the Inn. Little else does. The first floor Library is an historical gallery of photographs taken over a stretch of many years. Reagan on horseback, Marriott on horseback, everyone on horseback. The family portraits are well done. Traditional poses, as you might expect, but composed, lit and captured in a timeless fashion.
I looked up. Time and light was fading.
If I was going to capture any images of this place and this visit, it would have to be now. I had a Nikon camera and a couple of lenses packed. Always do. Realizing that travel photography can often be a victim of circumstance, I decided to turn this shoot into an exercise. A teachable moment in travel photography. I would shoot like the average traveler might. One lens. One setting. Usually Auto, right. This could be a challenge. The skies had gone Gothic, as had the look of the day. Rain, wind, grey skies.
Go for it.
Twenty minutes later I was done.
I chose the 50mm 1.4G. Great all around lens and perfect for low light. Nikon pro bodies, like the one I was using, don’t have an Auto setting, so I shifted into Program mode, which is professional jargon for Auto. It just sounds better. Shooting in Program mode is like listening to elevator music. All the highs and lows are compressed into an average mid tone that offends no one, but neither does it excite. The camera decides what’s best for the image. Usually f/5.6 and a shutter speed that will render the image with 18% grey as the target tone. Safe, but bland. But I pressed on. I tried to recall the last time I shot in Program mode. I could not. My first choice is Manual mode, then Aperture, then Shutter for action (AV and TV for Canon shooters), but for this exercise Program mode it would be.
Vacation shots and final tour done, we packed our gear and headed home, as the winds rose and the rain began to fall again.
Travel Photography: The Marriott Ranch in Hume, VA