- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) - In the highest reaches of the Black Hills, an unusual treehouse is beckoning those who long for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings back country backdrops of Rivendell, Minas Tirith, Isengard and Edoras, or for those who wish to walk in the footsteps of Orcs and who one day hoped to knock on the door of a Hobbit hole and pay a friendly visit to Bilbo Baggins.

Just 7,568 miles from the tiny town of Matamata and the New Zealand movie set where many of the memorable scenes in Lord of the Rings movies were filmed on a family farm, motel owners Gordon and Audrey Mack have fashioned their own little slice of Hobbiton in the tree tops next to their well-appointed vacation home outside Deadwood.

The treehouse is one part of an opulent Black Hills vacation rental property that features a furnished country house and the treehouse that together sleep up to 16 people. The combination of the two rent for a base off-season price of $595 per night with a 3-night minimum, Gordon Mack said. Holidays and special events command higher prices - as much as $1,700 per night during this year’s Sturgis motorcycle rally, he said.

Gordon, 49, returned home to Deadwood, where he and his wife operate the Cedarwood Inn on Sherman Street, with an idea that slowly evolved into what he describes as the only Hobbit treehouse in the world.

“It really all started when I went to my brother in law’s place and saw the small treehouse he had built for his kids,” Gordon recalled. “It took me back to when we were children and building treehouses.”

Gordon and his wife bought the 3,700-square-foot country home called Chateau de Soleil (House of Sun) in 2012 to use as a vacation rental. The idea for the treehouse came later.

“I told Audrey we should build this so we could rent the house easier,” Gordon said. “In reality, I just wanted to build a treehouse.”

So Gordon began building his fantasy treehouse last fall, the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1VF4eaa ) reported. His progress hit a grinding halt when he fell from a ladder and broke some ribs in the early stages of construction. Undeterred, Gordon called retired mailman Tony Goodson to assist on the project until he could mend.

“Without Tony’s help, this never would have turned out the way it did,” Gordon admitted.

What started as a simple treehouse evolved into a $70,000 project and an exquisite cabin built in two Ponderosa pines 16 feet off the ground, with an attention to detail that would even make Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson proud.

“It all started with the round door,” said Gordon, a welder by trade.

After having a Minneapolis company produce the cold-rolled steel he needed, he was able to fashion six round windows and even invent roller shades that wheel into place, as well as hand-cranked circular shades that block out exterior light.

From the artificial grass “growing” on the rails of its elevated walkway and its leaf-lined soffits, to the top of its crooked chimney, Gordon and Tony created a festive and fun environment that makes visitors want to forgo the lavish country house in favor of this intimate visit to the Land of the Long White Cloud and a peculiar place called Hobbiton.

Above the arched entryway leading to the treehouse, a simple sign written in “Elvish” says, “Speak, friend, and enter,” alluding to the Lord of the Rings riddle that stumped Gandolph and which Frodo eventually solved to gain entry to the Mines of Moria.

Inside, the decor wraps guests in green and blue accents, as well as wood, metal and memorabilia. The mask worn by Sauron in the films, as well as the gauntlet with the gold ring on which the series is based, stands in a corner, its lighted display case crowned by a massive eye entirely fabricated by Gordon.

The multi-colored Pergo floor looks like a watercolor painting, tying together what otherwise might appear to be a mish-mash of colors.

The mantel and hearth of the electric fireplace feature ground steel accented with welded rivets, while the vessel sink conjures up a massive green leaf. A giant cottonwood slab forms the coffee table. The branch handles of all the cabinets came from Tony’s apple trees in Spearfish. Hairy Hobbit feet (actually comfortable slippers) peak out from the railing of the overhead loft.

“If I had figured the customization, the total hours, and I would have had it built by someone else, it would have cost more than a quarter-million dollars,” said Gordon, who spent two weeks on the front door alone. “I had a contractor look at it and he said he wouldn’t have built it for less than $200,000.”

Gordon and Tony said the vacation home and its bonus treehouse were evidence of an increasingly popular trend toward alternative accommodations.

“Everybody today has stayed at a chain hotel,” Tony said. “Now they want a unique experience that they will remember.”

While Gordon said the project, finished last spring, took an inordinate amount of time and money, his greatest satisfaction has been watching his guests’ reaction to the place.

“I’ve been out here a few times when people were checking in,” he said. “A van pulled up with a bunch of kids and they wanted to do nothing but get in that treehouse. The kids say, ‘This place is mine. The adults have to stay in the big house.’ One dad said it was better than Disneyland for his family.”

Though he admitted his wife might have other plans for him, Gordon said he and Tony were anxious to tackle their next big project - an elevated tree hot tub as a companion to the Hobbit treehouse.

“It’s nothing compared to the tree house which was 50,000 or 60,000 pounds,” Gordon said. “This will only be roughly 10,000 pounds. Piece of cake.”

“No boring allowed, right Gordie?” Tony said, laughing. “You’re only here once. Why not?”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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