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Reliving Mission 66 in the New Canyon Village Restaurants

Canyon Village is embracing its funky self.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts continues its revamping of hotels and restaurants around Yellowstone. With the old cabins mostly removed and new, energy-efficient lodge units completed, the concession company turned its eye to the food service and gift shop area that run along one side of the horseshoe-shaped service area at an area the locals abbreviate as just “Canyon.”

The remodel meant to recapture and highlight Canyon’s “Mission 66” origins, Xanterra spokesman Rick Hoeninghausen said recently, as well as updating food service and dining options available.

Gone is the old-school cafeteria, with its hot turkey plate of meat, mashed potato, stuffing and green beans. Say hello to “fast casual” bowls, wraps, salads and noodle dishes where the customer chooses protein, veggies and extras that are then assembled to order, Chipotle-style.

There is also an assortment of cold prepared food ready to go, which included sandwiches, fruit cups, beverages and yogurt. There’s also a new bar and a redesigned dining room for which reservations are accepted, Hoeninghausen said.

The company tries as much as possible to secure its food from sustainable sources within a 500-mile radius of the park, Hoeninghausen said, which isn’t always possible due to the gargantuan quantities required to serve multiple-millions of guests each summer.

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And prepare to dine in a décor that some have described as “early George Jetson,” brought to you by mid-century modern design. What’s not to love about orange and turquoise as a color scheme?

The mid-century national park style, where the pilot project was Canyon, is known as “Mission 66.”

Mission 66 was a 10-year plan to upgrade national park facilities in time for the National Park Service 50th anniversary in 1966. After the end of World War II, more and more Americans decided to “See the USA in their Chevrolet” as the old advertisement went, and the parks weren’t ready for the sudden increase in visitation (sound familiar?) according to the website mission66.com.

The parks needed more restrooms, parking and information for visitors, so the new visitor center was invented—large and inviting, with interpretive displays, small auditoriums and interpretive staff.

The new and improved visitor centers replaced tiny information stations, many of which were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal works program. Picture the small museum at Fishing Bridge—a two-room cabin, log-built, with barely room enough for an information counter and a few displays.

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New parks were added, too, including the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Maryland and West Virginia; Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.; Canyonlands National Park in Utah; and the Edison National Historic Site in New Jersey, according to mission66.com.

Also new at Canyon this year is the relocation of the front desk. Next door to the gift shop and dining area, the front desk was moved to the lobby of one of the new lodge buildings. The former front desk area is now the Activities desk, for arranging horseback rides, bus tours and such, and the space includes some retail items, too.

Of course, some people love to hate the Mission 66 style, which looks a little kitschy to our 21st-century eyes.

A couple of years ago, when the old, dilapidated Frontier cabins at Canyon started to come down, to make way for the new, sustainably sourced, more energy-efficient lodge buildings, the Mission 66 look came up during the remodel.

Tobin Roop, Yellowstone’s chief of the Branch of Cultural Resources, sympathized with those not enamoured of the Mission 66 style.

“The recently historic is hard,” he said.

About Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney is a former Yellowstone tour guide and snowcoach driver. She lives in Livingston, Montana, where she covers the park and other news for the daily newspaper, the Livingston Enterprise.

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