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View from Telluride’s Town Park

A Drive Through the Splendor of the Rockies

By Andrew Harper

The Hideaway Report | March 3, 2014

Having taken several recent trips to central Colorado, I decided on this occasion to head farther west and to explore some famous national parks that I hadn’t visited in years. Our itinerary formed a rough ellipse, from the airport at Grand Junction to near the 
border of New Mexico and back north through eastern Utah. This route took us through an extraordinary variety of stirring landscapes, from red rock mesas to snowcapped peaks.

Rockies Map

Gateway Canyons Resort

We began our journey by driving through Colorado National Monument before connecting to state Highway 141, part of the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. This well-maintained road becomes increasingly dramatic as it winds southwest along a gorge bounded by ever-taller canyon walls, ridges and mesas. Colorado National Monument - Photo by Andrew Harper In the middle of this splendor, towered over by the immense sandstone Palisade, stands the recently renovated Gateway Canyons Resort. Since 2011, this 60-room property has been managed by Noble House, the same company that runs Little Palm Island and the WaterColor Inn. I hoped Gateway would be the equal of these fine resorts, and in many ways, I found the property very appealing. Memorable views extend in every direction, though inexplicably few of the accommodations orient themselves toward the Palisade. We happily explored some of the hiking trails behind the property with an Adventure Center staff member infectiously passionate about his work, and later took a trail ride with a rodeo barrel rider who led us through sweeping meadows and picturesque stands of cottonwood and aspen.

But our stay, alas, was not free of problems. Most annoying, the trail ride required four conversations to arrange: the concierge, the front desk, the Adventure Center and finally the stables. At a resort charging between $500 and $1,600 per night (not including an outrageous 10 percent resort fee), it was irritating to be passed from one staff member to another. Our accommodations did little to assuage the sense that our pockets had been picked. We opted for the year-old Kayenta Lodge as opposed to a room in the original (and less expensive) Kiva Lodge next door. Our Kayenta Premium Suite (201) had the best aspect of any room in either building, and was located on the second floor with a balcony, warmed by a gas fire bowl, facing the Palisade. A double-sided gas fireplace inside kept the living room and bedroom cozy. As impressed as I was by the impeccable housekeeping, evidence of cost-cutting could be seen everywhere, from the plastic soaking tub to the faux-leather ottomans to the ugly carpet, obviously chosen for its ability to hide stains. There was no turndown service. And though it was possible to arrange for room service, in practice this involved going to the restaurant to place an order for delivery, since the suite lacked any menus. The cuisine also proved to be uneven in both the formal restaurant and the casual pub.

In general, service was unfailingly warm and engaging, but the staff members seemed to lack training in luxury hospitality, and the accommodations did not live up to their rates. I very much enjoyed the activities and the beautiful surroundings, but overall, the resort is a poor value for the money.

AT A GLANCE

LIKE: Magnificent natural setting; elaborate Palisade swimming pool; flawless housekeeping.

DISLIKE: 
The 10 percent resort fee; the complex and inefficient system for arranging outdoor activities; the less-than-luxurious room furnishings.

GOOD TO KNOW: Auto aficionados can rent exotic cars at the on-site Driven Experiences center.

Gateway Canyons Resort 86 Kayenta Deluxe, $670; Kayenta Signature Suite, $800. 43200 Colorado Highway 141, Gateway, CO. Tel. (970) 931-2458.

Hotel Columbia

Aspens in Telluride - Photo by Andrew Harper

Driving southeast for just over 100 miles, we came to Telluride, a former silver mining town, at an elevation of 8,750 feet. This is now one of Colorado’s most dramatic ski resorts, overlooked by 14,000-foot mountains. Ideally situated at the edge of the historic center, the Hotel Columbia is a contemporary 21-room property that houses COSMOpolitan, one of Telluride’s best restaurants. Despite its in-town location, the hotel is convenient for skiers, as the free gondola leading up to the ski hub of Mountain Village is right across the street.

Before our arrival, the efficient concierge had confirmed dinner reservations, as well as a 4x4 excursion. The staff further endeared itself to me at check-in. Unprompted, the friendly woman at the front desk confided that she thought the $20 per-day parking fee was too high, and changed it to $10. We ascended to our top-floor Premium Hot Tub Suite, which at first glance seemed very appealing, done in muted tones of gray, beige and brown. The spare, dormered bedroom had a gas fireplace and a balcony overlooking the gondola; the travertine-clad bath provided a spacious shower stall. I didn’t care for the slanted ceilings of the living room, but it offered a variety of comfortable seating choices, including a leather-upholstered sofa. Most remarkable was the suite’s mountainview terrace, with a table and chairs and a four-person Jacuzzi.

It was bliss sitting in the hot tub with glasses of wine, watching the sunlight soften and dim on the mountains. Regrettably, this experience was marred by the sloppy housekeeping. The area surrounding the Jacuzzi was dirty, as was the wall of the shower. And later, as we were attempting to go to sleep, we became painfully aware of the room’s inadequate soundproofing. We checked out of the Hotel Columbia with few regrets.

AT A GLANCE

LIKE: Convenient central location adjacent to free gondola up to Mountain Village; notable restaurant; glorious mountain views from our Jacuzzi terrace.

DISLIKE: Poor housekeeping and maintenance; insufficient soundproofing. 

GOOD TO KNOW: The front desk is not staffed at all late at night.

Hotel Columbia 84 Premium King, $565; Premium Hot Tub Suite, $765. 301 West San Juan Avenue, Telluride, CO. Tel. (970) 728-0660.

Cresto Ranch

I was confident that our next stay would go more smoothly. Our last visit to Dunton Hot Springs had been delightful, and I looked forward to trying out its new luxury tented camp, Cresto Ranch, set four miles to the south. This eight-tent property occupies a tranquil expanse of meadow, forest and mountain, and overlooks a fine trout stream. On arrival, we were escorted to “Brook,” a River Tent, and before unpacking, we sat listening to the sound of the rushing water. Mountain Tents purport to have “spectacular views,” but trees can obscure the panoramas. “El Diente,” at the far end of the row, offers the best combination of privacy and views, while “Brook” is the most favorably sited River Tent. Inside, the tents exhibit rugged good taste, and staying in them requires little sacrifice of comfort.

Inside, the tents exhibit rugged good taste, and staying in them requires little sacrifice of comfort.

Ours came with a pine-framed king bed (twin-bedded tents are also available), cowhide rugs and pine nightstands topped with elegant glass lamps. In back, the tent opened to a full slate-floored bath, complete with hot water heater, shower/tub combination and vanities topped with quartz counters. The landline telephone and Wi-Fi dispelled any lingering sense of roughing it.

We took our breakfasts and lunches in what used to be a farmhouse, decorated now with a woodburning fireplace, communal dining tables and plaid sofas. The weather was warm enough to sit at the picnic tables outside. Dinners were at Dunton, where we enjoyed dishes such as Colorado venison with Gouda polenta, and Puget Sound scallops over forbidden rice and green beans in a well-balanced curry sauce. Staff members provided transportation between the two resorts, allowing us to indulge in the surprisingly good Colorado wines from Sutcliffe Vineyards, which paired with the various courses.

Throughout our stay, the staff were engaging and clearly took pride in their work. A summer visit to Cresto Ranch is exceptionally pleasant, but I would not recommend braving the tents during the spring or autumn, as their gas fireplaces might prove insufficient to ward off the chill.

AT A GLANCE

LIKE: Pristine surroundings; plush tents; delicious food; friendly and motivated staff members. 

DISLIKE: Tent heating may be inadequate for early spring and late fall. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Cell phones receive no 
signal here, but long-distance calls from the tent’s landline are complimentary.

Cresto Ranch 90 Mountain or River Tent 
$1,400, including full board. 52068 Road 38, Dolores, CO. Tel. (970) 882-4800.

Sorrel River Ranch

Turning back north, we drove through otherworldly red rock landscapes up to Sorrel River Ranch, close to both Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The road leading to the property winds along the Colorado River, already forming a canyon that presages the glories farther downstream. Church Rock, Utah - Photo by Andrew Harper Accommodations occupy nine buildings along the river, and though the vistas from the Mountain View Rooms are pretty, trees and other buildings can obscure the rock formations, making the River View suites the best choice. For maximum privacy, opt for a second-floor suite with a balcony (Suites J1-J8), or to avoid stairs, select E1, E2 or H1-H4, which all have riverview patios and minimal foot traffic. Suites C1, C2 and A1-A4 are closest to the swimming pool and the main lodge with its two restaurants and bar. Our bright River View Deluxe King Suite had warm wood floors and wainscoting, and a beamed ceiling inspired by traditional latilla and viga construction. Other touches left us in no doubt that we were in the American West: horse heads emblazoned the amber glass chandelier over the copper-topped dining table, as well as the light fixture over the sofa and rocking chair; steer horns hung above the log-framed four-poster king bed; and elsewhere, framed Remington prints decorated the walls. In the tiled bath, dual vanities faced a claw-foot tub ringed with startlingly powerful jets. Outside, we enjoyed morning coffee in the comfortable wooden chairs on the patio, taking in the mesmerizing views of the Colorado backdropped by red rock formations.

Scene from hike near Sorrel River Ranch, Utah - Photo by Andrew Harper

As fit the pattern of the trip, the service did not quite live up to the ranch’s glorious setting. Many of the staff were interns and their lack of experience was painfully evident at times. Of greater concern was the inconsistency of the resort’s restaurants, the only ones around for miles. Nevertheless, I have many pleasant memories of our stay. The unforgettable “Ridge Top Ride” took us into the mesa- and pinnacle-punctuated landscape behind the resort. And an afternoon in the spa proved relaxing and therapeutic. There is no better base from which to explore the geologic wonders of Canyonlands and Arches national parks, but until Sorrel River Ranch increases its service and culinary standards, it cannot be recommended unreservedly. 

AT A GLANCE

LIKE: Glorious views of red rock landscape; unforgettable trail rides; fresh and spacious accommodations; efficient room service; excellent spa. 

DISLIKE: The hit-and-miss cuisine; the many undertrained staff members. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Corner accommodations such as H1, H4, J5 and J8 have more windows.

Sorrel River Ranch 87 River View Deluxe King, $530; River Spa Suite, $570. Mile 17, Utah Highway 128, Moab, UT. Tel. (435) 259-4642.

 Sneak Peek

This article appeared in The Hideaway Report, a monthly newsletters exclusively for members.

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Andrew Harper Photo Our editors write under the Andrew Harper byline so they can travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who they are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.

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