Cast a line for Colorado’s Rocky Mountain splendor.
Gear Up For: Rustic and remote Rocky Mountain luxury, fly-fishing, hiking, and massages in an old mining town
Get Out To: Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado
With Side Excursions To: Check out the historic mountain towns of Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton
Perfect For: Nature lovers, discerning foodies, and privacy-seeking celebrities who love pampering
I am staying in a 130-year-old log cabin named Dolores on a slight curve of a river of the same name. Dolores the cabin and Dolores the river are named in honor of Dolores the mountain, which is part of a small chain of three mountains just to the northeast.
I crank open the windows in Dolores the cabin so I can hear the rushing of water from Dolores the river just a few yards away.
Here at Dunton Hot Springs — a two-hour drive from Durango, give or take, in the middle of the San Juan National Forest — I’m surroundedby the San Juan range and 1,600 acres of aspens, pines, and spruce embedded with numerous trails for hiking, nature walks, and cross-country skiing in the winter and horseback riding in the warmer weather. Cell service here is nonexistent, but you can use Wi-Fi for calls in the dance hall, where more than a dozen original William Eggleston pri nts hang. There isn’t a television in Dolores. But I can sit on the bed, just squishy enough to be dangerous, and read Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy, one of several books on top of the chest, bookended by hefty river rocks. Tempting, but I have dinner to attend. So I try not to get too comfortable and let Dolores the river lull me into a much-needed nap.
Dolores is one of a dozen hand-hewn mining cabins built in the late 1800s for workers in the nearby ore and gold mines. For a while, this was a buzzing, raucous spot, and the town grew to 300 inhabitants. But as the mines emptied, so did the cabins. By 1918, Dunton was a ghost town.
Today, Dunton is once again booming, but in a different way. The Pony Express building is now a spa, and the town’s saloon is now a dining hall with an inviting open kitchen. There’s also a library filled with books for guests to borrow, on topics ranging from art history to popular fiction. The rest of the cabins are scattered around the property’s acreage, looking — on the outside, at least — very much the way they did when they were first built.
While it still feels rustic here, it’s also quite refined, as I find out the first night of my stay when I go to a Champagne reception near a tepee, where hors d’oeuvres include speck and soppressata from nearby James Ranch. Dinner, which follows in the main cabin, once a dance hall, is imaginative and local. A yellow and red beet salad with mandarin segments and herbed goat cheese from Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy from Buena Vista, paired with a 2015 Sutcliffe Vineyards rosé from nearby McElmo Canyon; a crispy duck breast with blueberry gastrique for the main; and a light ricotta cheesecake with a brownie crust and salted caramel for dessert.
Before I go back to Dolores, I pop into the saloon for a nightcap, taking a seat at the bar, where, carved into the wood with a pocketknife in large letters, it reads “Butch Cassidy + Sundance.” The story goes that the pair stopped in for a drink after they robbed their first bank in Telluride, in 1889, where Sundance was living at the time. No one knows if it’s really true or not, but tonight, under the influence of mountain air, starry skies, and the Old West lore of the “fallen angels,” miners, trappers, and cowboys who built and frequented the place back in the day, it’s true enough.
Whether it was the Champagne and rosé I had for dinner and the whiskey after that, the altitude of 8,600 feet, the time change, or all of these elements combined, the next morning I can’t sleep past 4:30. So I get up, slip on my Ugg boots, and walk to the dining cabin to make myself a double espresso. Or I try to. I would make a quad, even, but I can’t figure out how. My greatest challenge might not be hiking a nearby mountain or fly-fishing for the first time, but mastering the coffee machine.
I spread out my yoga mat next to the centuries-old Turkish rug on the floor of Dolores and for the next hour salute the sun until it finally comes up. I have coffee, the real kind. I eat some of the best granola ever while sitting on the deck of Dolores, watching a family of geese on the bank on the other side. The mom eats and feeds the babies while the dad keeps watch. They eventually make their way along the side of the river, tiptoeing carefully along the edge so the babies don’t fall in.
There’s a hike right behind the main cabin, an easy two-hour loop up the mountain with trails marked “Fall” or “Winter.” I try winter, but there’s been so much rain and snow lately that the trail is either completely covered with water or muddy, so I go back. I see two deer on my way down. When they notice me, they disappear, swiftly leaping to safety among the trees without making a sound.
There’s another trail nearby, the 1.25-mile Geyser Spring trail, just down West Dolores Road, in the San Juan National Forest. It’s easy, mostly flat, and leads to a sulphur geyser, which your nose will guide you to as much as the trail. The rotten-egg smell intensifies as I get closer, and in this way it’s not unlike Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. But this geyser is tiny, about the size of a hot tub, which, with a temperature of 82 degrees, it sort of is.
This afternoon I’ve signed up for fly-fishing. I have never fly-fished, but I have cat-fished with my grandfather using a bamboo pole baited with a piece of chicken skin, and waited for hours while iridescent dragonflies lit upon the water’s surface. Fly-fishing is a whole different deal. Part of the adventure is apparently the donning of the outfit itself. After several tries and try-ons, I’m in waders up to nearly my shoulders and clunky rubber boots that swallow up my feet and legs.
And so, with my own personal guide at my side, on an S-curve of the Dolores just down from my cabin, I stand in the mud on the riverbank and learn how to flick the rod just so in order to release the fly so it’s airborne before its delicate fall into the river. There’s been so much snow and rain this year, the river’s full and muddy. The water is brown rather than clear and my guide tells me that the fish can’t see the lures, so we probably won’t catch anything, anyway.
When he suggests we cut this adventure short an hour later, I can’t get out of my waders fast enough. Besides, I don’t want to be late for my appointment at the Pony Express spa for an hour-and-a-half lavender massage.
That evening, I have dinner in Dolores, because as much as I like the main cabin and the outlaw bar, I don’t want to get out of my robe. You can pretty much do anything you want here — take naps, read, go on walks, ride, fish, or whatever else — and there’s someone to help you do it. I thought it would be nice to have a little light dinner so I ask for a bowl of soup. Here’s what I got instead: corn soup with roasted chanterelle mushrooms, topped with roasted corn kernels and ricotta with thyme and chile oil. House-made focaccia with a drizzle of olive oil on the side for dunking. A chunky heirloom tomato and feta salad with green olives and a light lemony vinaigrette. Plus, a dessert that my description cannot do justice to, so I’m just going to say that maple caramel sauce, some ice cream, and an apple cake were involved. Oh, and I ate it all.
The week before I arrived, Jared Leto was here. So were Natalie Portman and her husband, Benjamin Millepied. Penélope Cruz and her sister before that.
Celebrities come here for the same reasons we all do: for privacy and tranquility, with a little adventure on the side. Day hikes. Fly-fishing. Mountain biking. Skiing in the winter. Horseback riding in not winter. All followed by soaks in the property’s natural hot springs, six pools of reddish waters laced with iron, manganese, and lithium.
But there’s something more about Dunton’s appeal, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but it has to do with the unique spirit of the place itself, the West itself, the tamed/untamed wilderness itself. It’s something that you can’t replicate, because what makes Dunton special is where it happens to be in the world — in the shadows of these three magnificent mountains and adjacent to a national forest that goes on for miles — and the unique combination of its Old West heritage and New West elegance.
It manages to be so comfortable that when you first walk into your cabin, like I did in Dolores, you feel like you already belong here, and the place is completely yours, whether you’re lounging on your comfy bed waiting for your second dessert to be delivered (not that I would know anything about that), taking a walk in the forest among the fluttering aspen, or throwing one back at the bar in the spirit of Butch and Sundance. From where I sit on my riverfront deck with coffee in hand and ducks in view, the West has never been so welcoming.
Dunton Hot Springs, 52068 County Road 38, Dolores, Colorado, 877.228.4674.
From the April 2018 issue.