By Annette McGivney | Photograph by John Burcham
As I eat my oatmeal inside cozy, pine-paneled Kendrick Cabin, I’m mesmerized by the grassland shimmering in the morning light. The view seems to stretch forever from the cabin’s picture window. High, puffy clouds cast shadows that drift like black schooners across the prairie. This sea of space is framed by the towering San Francisco Peaks to the southeast and Kendrick Peak to the west, interrupted only occasionally by a dirt road or distant homestead.
My thoughts turn to one of my favorite childhood authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder. On this weekend, I, too, am getting to live in a little house on the prairie.
Located 22 miles northwest of Flagstaff in Kendrick Park — the vast grassland that straddles U.S. Route 180 — the rustic, three-bedroom cabin is a retired U.S. Forest Service fireguard station constructed around 1960. After an extensive restoration, the cabin became available to the public in 2001 through the Forest Service’s Rooms With a View rental program.
Robert Tillman homesteaded the
160-acre parcel encompassing Kendrick Cabin in 1918. The Arkansas native grew oats, wheat and potatoes on the land, but he mainly made his living as a brick mason in Flagstaff. Tillman built a cabin where he and his wife, Ida, raised eight children. Following Tillman’s death in 1949, the cabin caught fire, and all that was left was the homesteader’s expert stonework. The property was sold and a new house built on the original foundation, incorporating Tillman’s masonry walls and fireplace. The property was transferred in 1971 to the Forest Service, which now manages much of the public land in Kendrick Park.
By the late 1990s, Kendrick Cabin had fallen into disrepair. The Forest Service spent two years restoring the property to make it comfortable for guests while retaining its off-the-grid roots. Pine flooring and rough-hewn pine ceiling beams grace the living room and bedrooms. A wood stove sits in front of Tillman’s fireplace, and lighting comes from solar power. The kitchen’s cupboard is well stocked with stoneware, and an outbuilding has been converted to a bathhouse with a propane-fueled hot shower.
While Kendrick Cabin once was a frontier homestead, it now comes with far more opportunities for relaxation than Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family likely ever enjoyed. Options include scaling cinder hills around the cabin for a front-row view of the Peaks, a walk on a watchable-wildlife trail just across the highway, and exploring hiking and biking trails at Arizona Nordic Village a few miles to the south.
The cabin’s isolation conjures ghost stories in children but is just what the doctor ordered for stressed-out adults. I discovered this retreat a few years ago and now seek to spend my summer birthday every year sitting on the cabin’s front porch in a handmade Adirondack chair, enjoying the view of sunset on the Peaks and the sweet sound of wind in the grass.