Destination: American West
Dunton Hot Springs
When we finally arrived at the front gates of Dunton Hot Springs, in Colorado, I had seen no more than four cars and twenty cabins the last forty minutes of the drive. I truly felt as if I had been transported back to the 1830s and the original mining town of Dunton—just as owner Cristoph Henkel intended.
A Western mining town-turned high-end resort, Dunton Hot Springs has an incredible sense of place—both historically and physically. In the 1800s, its collection of cabins formed a small town, and to this day, you can still walk down the road to the mines where the inhabitants of Dunton used to work. Throughout the centuries, the place had fallen into disrepair, effectively becoming one of the West’s many ghost towns, but what made Dunton unique was its incredible natural setting on 200 remote valley acres, surrounded by the San Juan mountain range, and next to natural non-sulphuric hot springs. It was the combination of remote wilderness and hot springs that drew Cristoph Henkel, of Canyon Equities, to the Dunton property in 1994. Henkel planned on creating a real-estate development, but fell in love with the setting at 9,000 feet of elevation, and seven years later emerged with a unique luxury resort set in the pristine wilderness of the lower Rockies as a legacy for his children.
Today, behind Dunton Hot Springs’s immaculate ghost-town façade lies top-of-the-line comfort. Nine surviving, authentically restored cabins from the area were joined by other restored dwellings from the same era in Colorado. The Pony Express building, for example, which houses the spa and yoga rooms, came from 1800’s Colorado Springs. By taking apart the cabins and rebuilding the foundations below, Henkel was able to preserve the original logs while adding en-suite bathrooms, radiant floors, and luxurious bedding. His wife Katrin Bellinger, who is an art collector, filled the cabins with her personal collection and pieces sourced from all over the world, reportedly because she believed that each miner would have similarly brought his personal valuables from all over the country.
Thanks to these details, each cabin has acquired its own distinct character. In Vertical Log, there is an original Native American Robe, while in Major Ross an original buckskin covers the bed. Bjoerkmans Cabin is named after the miner who built it; the general store cabin was the original general store of Dunton, and there is an authentic tipi nearby that is set up as a king-bedded room (or can be outfitted with sleeping bags for kids). Each cabin is unique and has special touches: Bjoerkmans has a sunken tub and living space, Potter house is great for families because it can hold up to ten people, and Echo has an outdoor shower.
Henkel’s wish for Dunton was to create a spot where guests feel like they are visiting the home of a friend. The food is beautifully prepared, and the chef makes a point of using locally sourced meat and produce. Food is served at a communal table in the Saloon, the center of the original town of Dunton. The fire is always burning, and guests are welcome to come for snacks, to look through the photo albums of the stages of Dunton’s renovation, or to sit at the bar (look close to see Butch Cassidy’s name carved into the surface during his Dunton stay). We enjoyed four-course meals for both lunch and dinner—quail, wild boar, halibut, and red deer—with salads and fresh soups and wine from the local Dunton-owned Sutcliffe Vineyards. For traditionalist eaters, specific food requests can be made, and the menu can be easily tailored for children. While the communal eating aspect is a unique—and fun—aspect of the Dunton stay, it’s also possible to sit at a smaller table in the corner of the main room, or have private dinners set up in your cabin (as many honeymooners do in the Wellhouse, where the hot spring can be piped right into your own private tub inside the cabin).
The property’s most unique detail are, of course, the hot springs that brought Henkel to Dunton in the first place. They do not contain sulfur (so do not have the unpleasant smell of most sulfur springs). The combination of calcium bicarbonate, dissolved iron, which gives it a distinct reddish tinge, and a dash of lithium are said to open up blood vessels to improve circulation. There are three options for soaking in the hot springs: inside the steamy bathhouse, in the outside pool with a view of the mountains or in the “source”—the hottest of the three at 107 degrees where the spring comes up from the fault line. Guests can also hike into the mountains with the intrepid, energetic athletic director, ride horses along the ridge, fly-fish or laze away a rainy day in the library that Henkel built for his wife. In the winter, a helicopter can land in the middle of town to take skiers up into the nearby mountains; others can shuttle to Telluride to ski, or snow-shoe, cross-country ski and hike through the snow around Dunton. On rainy days, there is a spa for yoga, Pilates and massages, and a boxing gym just up the road.
The town can accommodate forty-five guests, and the entire town can be taken over by a single party for family trips or weddings. Each morning during my stay, I stepped out onto the porch of my cabin to watch the “town” wake up, with the San Juan mountains rising beyond the valley and hardly another person in sight, thinking how lucky I was to experience this spectacular place. Nightly rate starting at $850 ($550 in Winter/Spring). All meals and drinks, excluding the reserve list, are included.
Getting There: Because of Dunton’s remote location, you will have to devote a good part of your day to traveling. Flights from the New York area to Denver are 3 hours 15 minutes. From Denver to Durango it’s another one-hour flight. The resort is a two-hour drive from Durango. During the summer, Telluride is the closest airport to Dunton (1h20min), but because it goes over a mountain pass, in the winter Cortez is a shorter drive (1h30min). In the winter, if you want to avoid connecting, fly into Montrose and take the four-hour drive to Dunton.
Who Should Go: Anyone who wants the glamping experience, including couples who are looking for a romantic cabin adventure and families who want to do outdoors activities from a comfortable home base.
Who Should Not Go: Someone looking for a sleek, 24-hour service hotel surrounded by people and a scene. Also, those who need to get there on a direct flight.
Indagare Tip: The resort is cell-phone free, but there is high-speed wifi in all cabins and the saloon to stay connected to the outside world.
Looking Forward: In his work to preserve the entire valley surrounding Dunton, Henkel now owns 1,600 acres, 500 of which are being developed into Cresto Ranch—a tented camp opening in Spring 2012. There will be 6-8 canvas cabins that will be put up seasonally with en-suite bathrooms and porches overlooking the river or meadow.
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