Seeking serenity? We offer even more recollections of places and experiences in the West that quiet the mind and calm the spirit.
Gazing Artfully, Fort Worth, Texas
Between the modernist building designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson and the Remingtons and Russells on view inside (about 400 pieces by them alone and wonderful works by many more artists), you’re in a dream intersection of Old and New West at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. You’ll discover stunning 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculptures as well as one of the country’s great collections of American photography. Wherever you wander and stop to gaze — at a masterpiece or at the panoramic views of downtown Fort Worth from the museum’s lovely grounds in the city’s cultural district — you can be immersed in Western reverie for hours on end.
— Brandy Minick
Going Wild(life), Jackson, Wyoming
A trip to the National Museum of Wildlife Art really puts you in touch with wildlife — inside its walls and out. Built to blend in with the landscape, the museum has animal bronzes scattered around the property. Inside, the amazing permanent collection includes thousands of works depicting wildlife in all kinds of styles and mediums — everything from frontier-era paintings by Albert Bierstadt to outsider art by Bill Traylor to contemporary animal portraits by John Nieto. The artwork can excite you and lull you at the same time. But my favorite thing for delivering tranquil moments is viewing “the Sleeping Indian” (Sheep Mountain) and the National Elk Refuge, which the museum overlooks. There’s a live webcam trained on the refuge. If you’re lucky, you might see elk, coyotes, foxes, moose, bald eagles, raven, red-tailed hawks, ermine, marmots, swans, and even wolves.
— Heather Truong
Surrendering Spiritually, Taos, New Mexico
The town of Taos never fails to transport you to a calming parallel plane, and El Monte Sagrado accentuates that feeling. The name itself — “the sacred mountain” — sets the tone for something special and magically mystical at this “living resort” and spa property. You can’t help but deeply connect with nature in a spiritual way here. The vibe is both grounded and floating, homey and hallowed. Waterfalls and wildflowers, leafy trees and earthy adobes, sacred circles and super happy hours — if there’s such a thing as finding the cozy zen of walking the natural path, this is the place to experience it.
— Matt Russell
Glamping Gloriously, Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota
It takes only as long as getting your suitcase stowed when you arrive at Under Canvas Mount Rushmore to start feeling the shift. You’re staying on what was originally a gold-mining settlement in an upscale prospector tent less than four miles from Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Under Canvas has other locations in the West; this one is situated in Black Hills National Forest among ponderosa pines. You can head deep into the Black Hills and explore Custer State Park. Or you can unwind in the pine-scented joy of your lantern-lit tent and lounge on your deck with a glass of wine and a binocular view of Mount Rushmore lit up at night. Whatever you choose, you’ll be breathing deeper and feeling peace pervade.
— Jodi Corbell
Paddling Away, Vail, Colorado
You’d think nearly an hour in the hands of a professional masseuse would be the epitome of tranquility. My press visit to Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail had included a recharging 50-minute massage at the hotel’s Vail Spa as well as a relaxing but action-packed guided fly-fishing trip via Gore Creek Fly Fisherman and some incredible meals at the hotel, German food at Almresi Vail and Italian at La Nonna Ristorante Vail. Just sitting on the patio of my lushly appointed room and enjoying the night breeze was calming. But it was during some time-killing post-hike canoeing that I felt the closest thing to zen someone wound as tightly as me can enjoy.
That morning, we’d made a 6-mile round trip hike from Piney River Ranch at the foot of the Gore Range up to Piney Falls, where we had a snack and enjoyed the view and refreshing waterfall spray. The trail is rated as moderate, but even at the high altitude, not even the low-altitude dwellers in our group seemed to struggle too much to enjoy the scenery and the steady stream of dogs passing by in both directions — about one canine for every three or four humans on the well-trafficked path.
After lunch and a quick tour of the spacious yurts being used for a wedding party, we had some time left. Another writer and I borrowed a canoe and took it out on the little lake. The water had been glassy smooth and clear when the sun was still low in the sky, but the wind had picked up a little by the afternoon. We paddled in an aimless, roughly clockwise circumnavigation of the lake, not talking, just enjoying the quiet and the beautiful blue sky and the wares we’d purchased on the edge of town. No itinerary action items, no place to be for a while, just the gentle lapping against the hull and the splish of our paddle blades cutting the water’s surface as we glided across the lake.
Distant voices broke our reverie. We turned and saw a dozen or so people in formal attire about 100 yards away at the edge of the lake, all watching us. Just past them, a photographer behind a camera on a tripod cocked his head and raised his palms in a Dude, what the hell? gesture. Oblivious, we’d floated into the background of the wedding party’s photo shoot.
We cackled and then leaned into fast, efficient strokes, each paddling as hard as he could when not doubled over with laughter, almost in tears, giggling and riffing about how furious they must have been, how many of their tightly scheduled minutes we’d wasted by just drifting into the shot. One of us checked his smartphone clock and saw we needed to go, so we piloted to shore, tossed a line to a waiting canoe-rental employee, and clambered onto the dock. It was time for our next activity.
— Jesse Hughey
For more information about about Vail, Colorado, vail.com.
Trekking On, Santa Fe
The first time we hiked the Borrego-Bear Wallow-Winsor Triangle Trail — or “the Bear” as I nicknamed it for my hiking partner, my Australian shepherd, Rose — I knew it was a keeper. Just 15 minutes outside of Santa Fe, tucked off of Hyde Park Road on the way up to the ski mountain, the Bear was like stepping off into a mystical world of tall trees and sweet silence, which was only occasionally interrupted by great whooshes of the wind, depending on the season.
From the trailhead at the parking lot, the trail — a triangular loop of three different trails — immediately dove deep into a forest of aspen and fir. Easy for a while, the path dipped and curved, eventually crossing Tesuque Creek; even though there was a bridge, for Rose and me this part of our hike meant navigating logs or large rocks to get to the other side. If it was fall, the broad leaves of the white-trunked aspens blazed golden yellow against the crisp blue sky and trembled in the mountain breeze. It felt like walking through a landscape that could only be imagined by an artist using colors too saturated to be real. In the winter, we happily tromped along the trail in snow and ice. In spring and summer, blankets of wildflowers spread in wide, open meadows alongside the creek.
If you asked Rose, she would probably tell you the creek was her favorite part, because that was where the big pine trees were. She’d bring me a pine cone, drop it at my feet, and then bark until I did what she wanted. I’d throw the pine cone into the water, and she’d run down after it, nosing around while standing in water that nearly covered her. Then she’d come back with it so we could do it all over again.
Toward the end of the trail, there was one steep, relentless climb, with switchbacks and altitude that no StairMaster could replicate. I hated it. I loved it.
It was everything, the Bear — a whole world of hiking, from challenging to breezy, all in an hour-and-a-half loop. It was our little escape, just the two of us, usually with the trail all to ourselves. We never worried too much about why it was called Bear Wallow until the time we saw a sign at the trailhead warning hikers that a black bear and her cubs had recently been spotted. I remember that was a pretty good pine cone-tossing day.
— Ellise Pierce
Hiding Out, Sonora, Texas
As someone who’s lived in the state all her life, it’s possible I’m a little biased when I say there is nothing quite like the Texas sky. The five hours it takes for me to drive from Dallas to Sonora remind me of this fact as the sun beats down and the miles of roads ahead of me disappear into bright, bright blue.
Arriving at JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa in the Texas Hill Country is like entering a bubble of luxury and hiding out from the rest of the world. The rustic main lodge and private villas sit atop a hill overlooking the pool, which adds a blissful running-water sound effect, and thousands of acres of rustling trees stretching from east to west.
In the morning I step out onto the porch of my villa with a cup of hot coffee, listening to the crescendos of the birds as the world awakens. That sky I love so much is a hazy blue and gold gradient, and the winds sweeping in from northern Mexico make me wish I had grabbed my sweater — even in late June. At night, the walk back from a full day of food and excursions is under a blanket of stark indigo studded with millions if not billions of white stars. I pause. I can spot the moving shadows of deer prancing across the property. Inside the villa, the bright, milky light of the moon cascades onto the floor from the skylight, wishing me a good night.
— Taylor Presley
For even more escapes …
Photography: Images courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, National Museum of Wildlife Art, El Monte Sagrado, Dreamtown Co., Piney River Ranch, Santa Fe County, JL Bar Ranch
From our February/March 2021 issue.