Long Weekend: Colorado

First image...
A Palisade-backed casita.

Colorado Calling

Haute heli-tours, scenic spins in Bentley convertibles, and star-studded skies beckon.

Happy trails in Unaweep Canyon.
Heli pilot Al Sisson prepares for takeoff.

Article and photographs by Joel Centano

Sunrise in Unaweep Canyon can approach the surreal, especially when its effects are seen from on high. Perched in a leather seat of a Eurocopter AStar and styled with noise-canceling Bose headsets, you watch as sage-covered mesas and sandstone monoliths turn flaming shades of amber, ocher, and lava red. Below, the Dolores River starts to shimmer, ribboning its way through the heart of the canyon as the rising sun reveals an adventure resort bedecked with everything from horseback-riding trails to a pro-Baja racetrack.

Insider Information
“The list of active pursuits at Colorado’s Gateway Canyons Resort is impressive,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Russ DiTusa, “and the surrounding landscape otherworldly.”

So otherworldly, in fact, that it drew Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks here in 1995, first as a town resident and then as creator of this posh playground, which appeals as much to outdoor enthusiasts as it does to those in need of R&R. “You can also experience total relaxation here and be as inactive as you like,” says DiTusa, noting the resort’s more leisurely lures:
  • pools
  • concert series
  • spa
  • fine dining
  • stargazing sessions

The Destination

  • Where to: The former mining town of Gateway sits below the iconic Palisade formation just five miles from the Utah border.
  • Travel time: An hour’s drive southwest from Grand Junction Airport via rental car or hotel transfer along Scenic Byway 141 (think open range, granite mountaintops, blazing aspens, and red-rock canyons)
  • What to expect: Though you won’t find the bookstores and boutiques of a Telluride or Vail – the town’s largest attraction is its general store – this secluded, lesser-known setting abounds in natural splendor and high-desert adventure.
The Draws
  • Active adventures: Raft the Dolores River, climb the Palisade, and hike a host of public-use trails (“both John Brown Canyon and Salt Creek are spectacular,” says DiTusa).
  • Pick your mode of transportation: From Gateway Canyons, ride horses with temperaments ranging from mild to zesty, take heli-tours to secret fly-fishing spots, or even drive customized pro-Baja trucks on the off-road racetrack.
  • For those seeking more from life: Five-night Curiosity Retreats, hosted by Hendricks himself, invite scholars such as Deepak Chopra and Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall to shed light on subjects spanning the future of health to the origins of the universe.
  • Not to be missed: A fleet of luxury vehicles, all available for rent at the resort, means you can cruise the surrounding countryside in, say, a Tesla Roadster, Porsche 911 Carrera coupe, or convertible Bentley Continental. Later, tour Hendricks’ personal collection at the on-site Gateway Canyons Auto Museum; highlights include a 1906 Cadillac Model H coupe, along with the one-of-a-kind 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 concept car.

Plan on eating well at all four of the resort’s venues, whether it’s snacking on native fry bread at the poolside Cantina or sampling local staples such as Colorado lamb rack, broiled striped bass, and seared venison loin at the upscale Entrada. Varietals from Colorado’s flourishing wine industry (try the Syrah from Guy Drew Vineyards in McElmo Canyon) provide plenty of worthy pairings.

The Digs
“All of the resort’s 72 rooms are tastefully decorated in Southwest ranch style and include wonderful living spaces,” says DiTusa. Splurging on one of its 14 casitas, however, adds vaulted ceilings, outdoor showers, and secluded decks with fire pits. Two-story Stargazer Casitas include an upstairs den and deck from which to contemplate the sequined sky.

Best spot for sunsets? Ask your travel advisor to book the Taurus Casita. Its outdoor whirlpool provides a perfectly private view of the Palisade; watch it catch fire and then slowly fade into the starry night.

Originally appeared in Virtuoso Traveler magazine, October 2014.

The stately Palisade presides over Unaweep Canyon.