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Mind, Body, and Soul

Experience the “Other” Colorado at Gateway Canyons Resort

By Bill Weckel | Photography by Bill Weckel and Jessica Rybarczyk

When I think about vacationing at a world-class five-star luxury resort, my mind conjures up visions of being pampered, indulging in fine food and drink, and relaxing deeply in the pools and spa. As expected, Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa delivers on all counts. One look at their website was all it took—I knew I’d be returning home to Florida relaxed, rejuvenated, and a few pounds heavier. What I didn’t know was that I’d be coming home smarter.

The resort—a Noble House Hotels and Resorts property—is nestled among towering mesas in the high desert of western Colorado. This country is not the aspen-covered, dotted-with-ski-towns, Rocky Mountains Colorado; this is the “other” Colorado. The western range of the Colorado Rockies actually looks and feels much more like Utah or Arizona. This Colorado is rough, peppered-in-scrub, red rock country. It’s like the setting of just about every old cowboy movie I’ve seen. After the early pioneers descended from the Rockies and likely thought the worst was behind them, this was the kind of land that caused them to question their commitment.

It’s beautiful, big, and wild. At this altitude, the cool nights—free from city lights—bring the sky to life with thousands of stars, interrupted by the occasional meteor streaking silently across the great expanse. It’s the perfect place to feel like you’re far, far away from everything that you need to forget, if only for a few days.


The Scenic Green Mountain Views At Gateway Canyons Resort And Spa

The resort complements the beautiful setting in every way and gives the sense that it was carved from—if not created by—the high desert. The person who built this place, I could tell, loved and respected the land. Sprinkled throughout the property are adobe-style buildings, the majority of which don’t rise above one or two stories, preserving the beautiful views in every direction.

We drove in from Moab, Utah, on a crisp, clear October morning. The fifty-mile journey over the La Sal range, which reaches elevations of more than twelve thousand feet, took us three hours. The road is mostly dirt, and its switchbacks and sheer cliffs are not for the faint of heart. We crawled the majority of it in four-wheel drive, through herds of cattle, and past signs warning travelers to steer clear of the Cold War–era uranium mines along the way. We chose this route for its spectacular views of the La Sal range in full fall color.


Exterior View Of Growing Ivy Against The Gateway Canyons Resort And Spa

The resort staff was waiting for us and greeted us by name when we arrived. They checked us in quickly and guided us to our aptly named Stargazer Casita—sixteen hundred square feet of elegance on the far side of the resort. If first impressions count for anything, our casita was exceptional. It was beautifully appointed without the smallest comfort spared or detail overlooked. It was deceptively large (judging from the quaint exterior) with a great room, a master bedroom, and a master bath. I could have disappeared for our entire stay into the master bath, with its incredible shower and porcelain claw-foot tub; it was larger than the master bedroom of my house. Both the great room and the master bedroom opened onto beautiful patios—the former covered by a pergola and featuring a gas fire pit, the latter featuring a large, beautifully tiled hot tub. Both were graced with spectacular views of the canyon’s dominating feature, the Palisade mesa. I wanted nothing more than to get into the hot tub and never get out, but that would have to wait. Lunch was waiting for us at Paradox Grille.


I should take a moment to explain something about myself. I’m not a travel writer. At least in spirit. I’m really the antithesis of one. I don’t like to be “pampered” and would prefer being in a tent or sleeping on the ground in a remote wilderness to luxuriating in a king-size bed wrapped in Egyptian cotton. And I’m not comfortable being the focus of someone’s “service.” Despite the knowledge that it’s the person’s chosen vocation, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m somehow imposing upon them or that I’m burdening them in some way. It’s just who I am. Also, I’m not easily impressed; I value substance over style every time. For me to prattle on about how wonderful my experience at a luxury resort was is surprising, even to myself. To be completely honest, there was probably some small part of me that didn’t want to like this place based solely on my own principles.

Lunch at Paradox Grille—the name stems from the valley the resort occupies—consisted of Driven Street Tacos for me and a golden beet and quinoa burger for Jessica. Both meals were delicious and left us wanting to retire back to the casita for a nap. But we had an appointment at the Gateway Canyons Auto Museum with Rudy, the resort’s managing director, so we grabbed our camera gear and set out on a search for the museum.


A Golden Rod Yellow Boattail Speedster Convertible At The Auto Museum At Gateway Canyons Resort

I’m an ex-motorhead, but with a strong emphasis on the “ex.” In high school, I had a 1968 Plymouth Belvedere GTX, a 1968 Dodge Charger, and a 1967 Chevy Chevelle SS. But that was long ago, in the days when teenagers could afford to get their hands on that kind of metal. Times have changed, and now I’m happy just to have a car that starts each morning. The thought of working on—or spending money on—a car makes me cringe. So I wasn’t overly excited about spending the next two hours looking at old cars.

Rudy met us in the lobby and introduced himself. He admitted that the museum’s curator would normally conduct the personal tour, but the position was vacant at the moment and he would be leading us through the exhibits. He also admitted that he wasn’t much of a “car guy” either. But, he’s a lifelong student of history and called attention to the fact that the history of our country, at least that of the modern era, is inextricably tied to the automobile. I couldn’t disagree.

If you’re wondering why a luxury resort in the high desert of western Colorado would be home to an auto museum, allow me to explain. The resort was created by owner John Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Communications (a.k.a. the Discovery Channel), a cable-television empire serving more than four hundred million households. Hendricks is involved in an ongoing love affair with rare, classic cars. As his personal collection grew, he created a permanent home for it at the resort. His private collection, considered one of the finest in existence, is now available for the public to enjoy.



Every car has a story and many of the models in the collection have significant provenances. As Rudy led us through the collection, he shared the backstories of some of his favorites. The red Model J Duesenberg, for instance, was the car in which Franco’s family escaped Spain. The collection is presented chronologically and spans the history of the American automobile from the birth of the industry through today. The centerpiece of the collection is the one-of-a-kind Oldsmobile F-88 concept car. Designed to compete with the Corvette, the F-88 never advanced beyond a single prototype. When the concept was abandoned, Oldsmobile’s engineers disobeyed orders to send the car to the crusher (failed concepts are typically destroyed) and smuggled it, part by part, into hiding, where it remained for decades before being discovered and reassembled. My favorites, however, were the 1957 DeSoto Firesweep and the 1932 Auburn 8-100 Boattail Speedster Convertible. To my eye, there have never been two better-looking cars conceived. The collection was beautifully restored and presented, but it was Rudy’s narrative that made the tour a truly memorable experience.

Our next adventure began when Ross, the resort’s “horse boss,” delivered us to the stables, where we saddled up and, guided by wrangler Morgan, headed into the surrounding hills. She led us on a relaxing, meandering ride through the scrub and a stand of aspens in their fall colors.


The collection was beautifully restored and presented, but it was Rudy’s narrative that made the tour a truly memorable experience.

Every car has a story and many of the models in the collection have significant provenances. As Rudy led us through the collection, he shared the backstories of some of his favorites. The red Model J Duesenberg, for instance, was the car in which Franco’s family escaped Spain. The collection is presented chronologically and spans the history of the American automobile from the birth of the industry through today. The centerpiece of the collection is the one-of-a-kind Oldsmobile F-88 concept car. Designed to compete with the Corvette, the F-88 never advanced beyond a single prototype. When the concept was abandoned, Oldsmobile’s engineers disobeyed orders to send the car to the crusher (failed concepts are typically destroyed) and smuggled it, part by part, into hiding, where it remained for decades before being discovered and reassembled. My favorites, however, were the 1957 DeSoto Firesweep and the 1932 Auburn 8-100 Boattail Speedster Convertible. To my eye, there have never been two better-looking cars conceived. The collection was beautifully restored and presented, but it was Rudy’s narrative that made the tour a truly memorable experience.


Our next adventure began when Ross, the resort’s “horse boss,” delivered us to the stables, where we saddled up and, guided by wrangler Morgan, headed into the surrounding hills. She led us on a relaxing, meandering ride through the scrub and a stand of aspens in their fall colors.

Back at the casita, we finally had some time to make the acquaintance of our very alluring hot tub and enjoy some much-needed downtime before a beer tasting and dinner. Back at Paradox Grille, we began the evening with a sampling of a dozen or so Colorado craft beers presented by the very knowledgeable and enthusiastic Tyler. Colorado is arguably one of the cradles of the American craft beer movement. Another outstanding meal followed. In keeping with the Colorado theme, I went for the Colorado elk chili rellenos, while Jessica chose the lobster macaroni and cheese. With no room left for dessert, we retired again to our casita’s hot tub for stargazing and wine.

The next day began with too large a breakfast, promptly followed by a field trip led by the resort’s curator of curiosity, Zebulon Miracle. Zeb is a true local. Recruited from the ranks of field researchers at a Colorado natural history museum, Zeb enriches the resort’s guests with his knowledge of local history, geology, and paleontology. The resort is located in what’s referred to as the Dinosaur Diamond, a unique geological feature rich in dinosaur fossils that spans an area encompassing portions of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Dinosaurs and their accompanying geology were high on the expedition’s agenda.


A Scenic View Of Greens and The Lake At Gateway Canyons Resort

Just a short drive from the resort, we were hot on the trail of dinosaurs. Zeb’s scientific experience and skills became very apparent when, in the midst of thousands of red sandstone rocks and boulders littering the landscape, he led us to one large boulder that held promise. Moments later we were running our fingers over dinosaur tracks left in the rock. And not just one set of tracks from one animal, but multiple tracks from several species. Zeb explained, in a very entertaining manner, the geology behind our find—not only what we were looking at, but also how it came to be. Many more stories followed as we scouted the trail of local cattle thieves and viewed the scene of a Wild West gunfight. As difficult as it is to choose one activity that was the highlight of our stay, our field trip with Zeb just might have been it. I’d have been happy to spend the entire day hiking with him and talking dinosaurs. But the day was still young and I had a spa visit scheduled, so we wrapped up our dinosaur hunt.

Like everything else at Gateway Canyons Resort, I’m confident the spa is world class. But I have never had a massage, and I wasn’t enthusiastic about expanding my horizons in that direction. I told Rudy that my interests lay elsewhere, and he candidly admitted that it wasn’t “his thing” either and asked me what I’d rather do. I didn’t have to think twice about it: I wanted to shoot. Rudy called the resort’s head of security and soon after, I was on the skeet range with a small arsenal of autoloading and pump shotguns laid out in front of me. In between talking guns with the range officer, I managed to put a hundred or so rounds into the canyon wall. Some of them hit the clay pigeons I was aiming at. I packed up before the twelve-gauge had a chance to get the best of my shoulder. Another good time had passed too quickly.


Horses Grazing The Grass With A Backdrop Of The Colorado Canyons At The Gateway Canyons Resort And Spa Blue Door to Hotel Room At The Gateway Canyons Resort And Spa An Outdoor Pool With A Backdrop Of The Colorado Canyons At The Gateway Canyons Resort And Spa

After freshening up at the casita, I rode my bike over to the Adventure Center. (Bicycles are the preferred method of transport at the resort, and we were provided with a large selection of very nice cruisers to choose from.) As if the resort needed any more opportunities for adventure, there is actually a center for it. This is where guests can rent exotic sports cars for adrenaline-inducing touring on the canyon’s winding roads, take an aerial tour in the resort’s magnificent Eurocopter, go off-roading in a variety of vehicles, or book a number of additional activities ranging from fly-fishing to hiking. After spending the past week in Moab, the off-road capital of the world, and finding myself drooling over the ubiquitous UTVs there, my choice of adventures was easy. I joined a UTV run to the top of one of the nearby mesas. My four-wheeler was a two-seater, but I drove solo—Jessica was back at the casita, enjoying having it all to herself. We climbed several thousand feet on a mixture of unpaved road and trails. Upon reaching the top, we visited a uranium mine and a scenic overlook of the canyon, stopping at each site for short talks with our trail guide. The drive was loud and dusty, and it reeked of exhaust fumes. In other words, it was perfect.


After a quick shower, we were off to dinner at the resort’s flagship fine-dining restaurant, Entrada. I devoured the grilled filet while Jessica enjoyed an arugula salad followed by king crab and charred corn soup. As with every meal at Gateway, preparation, presentation, and service were of the highest caliber. And again, there was no room for dessert. The food and the atmosphere—open-air, twilight dining on the Entrada patio lit by the glow of fire pits—were magical. Were it not for the casita, with its own fire pit and hot tub under the stars beckoning us “home,” we would have withdrawn to the surrounding couches and lingered far longer than we did.

With our visit drawing to a close the next morning and a long drive east over the Rockies to Denver ahead of us, we relaxed and enjoyed our starlit view of the Palisade. It was the perfect end to the perfect high desert retreat.

The “other” Colorado is a hidden gem. For sheer natural beauty and tranquility, the ski towns of the nearby Rockies simply can’t compete with the high desert. Its remoteness is a comfort. It’s rugged, genuine, and real.


Horses Grazing With A Backdrop Of The Colorado Canyons At The Gateway Canyons Resort And Spa

Jessica and I think alike and, more often than not, draw the same conclusions. With the experience fresh in mind and a long drive to reflect on it, we talked a lot about Gateway—the natural beauty, the food, our casita, and all of the activities—and western Colorado in general. There was nothing about any of it that we didn’t absolutely love. But when it came to pinpointing what made Gateway truly extraordinary, we both agreed, without reservation, it was the people. Every one of them—and I made it a point to engage with everyone I met there—was at the top of his or her field. I think that any number of people could have built that resort and chosen any number of companies to run it, but it wouldn’t be the same Gateway.

What I took away from this trip is that it’s the people who create the experience, and it’s one I’ll remember and talk about for years to come. Gateway offers unique, unexpected activities that go far beyond the typical and customary resort fare. We left feeling not only relaxed, but also as if we’d accomplished something. And, we had only scratched the surface of what Gateway Canyons Resort has to offer. I think my IQ rose by a few points, too.


— V —


To learn more about Gateway Canyons Resort, visit www.gatewaycanyons.com.



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