Explore, Discover, Breathe a very fitting description of the evolving Gateway Canyons Resort, a true jewel in the making.
It is the arrival that is thrilling - from the plane prior to landing in the narrow green valley surrounded on all sides by the Grand Mesa and long steep slopes - called the Books, I was looking for the vineyards I came to see, but I was mesmerized by the topography. Once on the ground, Grand Junction airport is small, but efficient. Randy was outside waiting to take us to the property, but to give us a feel of the locale, we did go through the town and he proudly pointed out the sites. There is a great deal of interesting art lining Main Street in this small but vibrant town. Then we headed out of town and crossed the Colorado and the Gunnison Rivers where they converge, thus giving the name to the town of Grand Junction.
The hour long journey to Gateway took us through five distinct topographical landscapes. It was remarkable. From the Grand Mesa, to sandy dunes, and starting our climb to nearly 9,ooo feet. Randy was quick to point out our first desert big horn sheep within minutes of going into the Unaweep Canyon, then as we continued upward he pointed out the East Creek, the Driggs Manson and eventually the West Creek. After the Umcompahgre Plateau, we went down the other side dropping 5,ooo feet, we came into a lush small valley surrounded by five incredible canyons and the confluence of the West Creek and the Dolores River (which is saline). There rests Gateway Canyons Resort at 4,5oo feet. Gateway Canyons Resort is built to meld into this landscape.
I was expecting the Palisade, as that is the photo you see on the brochure, but what the brochure fails to prepare you for is - the 360 degree panorama of all five stunning canyon walls of rock that surround you. It is visually over-whelming. We were so lucky that that evening the casual Pinto Bean Cafe was hosting a BBQ dinner and lecture on geology by Jeff Brame. And after seeing all of the rock formations you just had to know more about it and we rushed to attend. Jeff had trained all the staff at Gateway on the geology of the surrounding landscapes so that they could answer guest's questions. Gateway has a program called Third Thursday Series, where experts come to lecture after dinner. They also do more in-depth seminars as well, such as: landscape photography, painting, writing, and wellness plus more. I must say that I was fascinated by the geology and now know about Wingate sandstone, Jurassic sediment rocks (nothing to do with the dinosaurs though there is plenty of evidence in the area), the uplifts and the LaSal Mountains as well as, the millions of years of change and salt beds that cause the amazing sinking erosion in Sinbad Valley.
There are currently three styles of accommodations available, the Dolores River Inn, the Canyon Casitas and The Kiva Lodge . The Kiva deluxe rooms are large and lovely with great style and touches of the western ambience highlighted with the textiles on the bed pillows and gas fireplaces.The room is well appointed and comfortable with a full wet bar, coffee maker and refrigerator and a large outdoor terrace with Jacuzzi and lounge chairs with a majestic view.
But it is the out-of-doors that calls you; you just have to get out into the scenic wonder. Gateway is all about the out of doors and all that you can do. Hiking trails wind around stone canyons in every direction, plummeting down with vibrant red layered backdrops, the trails are well marked and easy to explore. But there is so much offered at Gateway, biking, ATV, off-road jeeping, riding, kayaking, besides hiking the wonderful trails. Even in the dark of the night there is a showing of stars that could stand up to any planetarium. You can make it as physical as you want, but you have to get out exploring. Even though there are indoor spa treatment rooms, one has to experience the well placed Tee Pees and have a massage amid the Cottonwood trees and along the Dolores River. Hearing the leaves rustle and the river flowing over the rocks, it adds to the tranquility you seek from a massage.
The next morning we went to Summit School Ranch - Amy Wilkinson runs this 500 acre equestrian center with both passion and love. She could easily pass as a horse whisperer. There is so much offered here you could space out several rides as well as lessons in Spanish Riding - yoga on horseback, driving instruction with a Belgian team, pack trips with the donkeys and a brilliant children's birthday party idea -Paint the Horses! Learning how the American Indians traditionally painted their horses. I opted for a two hour trail ride in this awe-inspiring landscape, Josh our leader had us up to the tree line for even better vistas and then into the white bark Aspens and finally high enough to be in the pines. There is a beautiful pavilion tucked into the mountain - perfect for a lunch or rest stop. Josh Thibadeau was extremely knowledgeable, capable and definitely passionate about his horses and surroundings.
Back at Gateway we chose the off-road jeep experience instead of the ATVs -- a consideration of time and saddle weary buns. Oliver took us up John Brown Canyon to another of the Hendricks's ranches - this was a cattle ranch and mining areas, but the grand finale was experiencing the breathtaking views over the Sinbad Valley. After a very physical day, I did not feel the least bit guilty by indulging at the Paradox Grill where Gateway Canyons hosted a wine dinner that night with Whitewater Hill Vineyard's owner and winemaker Nancy Janes. Executive chef, Terry Allen, paired five of her wines with items like Buffalo Carpaccio and Herb crusted Game Hens. I also noted that Nancy's White Merlot would be wonderful with a picnic on any one of the outdoor treks in the area. Paradox Valley nearby gives its name to the main restaurant as to the fact that the river runs unusually perpendicular to the valley. The restaurant serves a nice wide variety of fare, hearty meats, southwest and wonderful cornmeal fried oyster shooters! Outside tables were wonderful for full vistas night or day.
Speaking of food - September is the month when Colorado apples, apricots, and peaches are abundant in the local farmer's markets and some are tempted to use them for making wine. But there are plenty of grapes grown, with a very competitive wine industry. And I was at Gateway to experience Colorado wines, yes that is right, Colorado has a thriving viticulture business. As a matter of fact, I was attending the 17th annual Winefest. Colorado vineyard and winery owners have built the states wine industry to the point where it is getting national attention, with vintners from all over the country buying Colorado grapes and Colorado-made wines, scoring medals at several national and international competitions, therefore, I needed to explore. The industry has also made Grand Junction and Palisade--the region of the state best suited for growing grapes-and a tourist destination.
This year's Winefest was celebrating with 45 wineries in Colorado, 18 being on the Western Slope (actually there is a total of 72 in the state). This very well run event that takes place in Palisade (as it seems to have out grown other locales). It is truly a day in the park with jazz music, restaurant tastings, wineries, art and wine paraphernalia, but mostly for people to sample Colorado wines and purchase them..you are given a handy six pack carrier bag at the entrance. There are also seminars, blind tastings and chef demonstrations. For a wine lover I was introduced to many interesting wines. Though, I was probably one of the few "spitting" I did lots of sniffing and sipping. I found four winners that I would go out of my way to buy. One was the Whitewater Hill Vineyards Cabernet Franc (which by the way is private labeled for Gateway Canyons), Verso Cabernet Sauvignon, and Alfred Eames Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir and his Sangre Del Sol (Meritage). If you have the opportunity - do yourself a favor and add them to your repertoire or to your wine list.
If you have the opportunity don't miss a meal at Grand Junction's 626 on Road restaurant and winebar - it has fantastic creative American cuisine with a well thought out wine list and a team that really excels. Gateway Canyons also offers a winery tour via shuttle with a box lunch for guests. Actually there is so much to do and experience you really need a full week to enjoy it all and especially if you were going to add in one of the multi-day seminars. And do not to over look John Hendricks's Auto Museum..another reason to go to Gateway. The museum is state of the art, as well as holding a meticulous collection of American autos. Walter Cronkite's introduction hits home when he says how the auto (only 100 years ago) so dramatically changed the world. And now within the same century another now is certainly the internet, it too allows travel to places beyond our imagination.
On my last day I was able to drive the Colorado National Monument Park's 23 mile scenic drive along the rim of colorful panorama deep sheer-sided canyons and high towering rock formations. This again is more mouth-dropping vistas. Besides being extremely proud of our National parks system -- this gem is so close to Gateway it should not be missed! Certainly already thinking about going back..as I know in short order there are going to be so many other offerings with the new learning center and Mission Bells amphitheatre. I need to go whitewater rafting, fly fishing, and take a landscape photography workshop. And on to Moab and to look for dinosaur tracks.
As they say -- so much to do and so little time. Currently Gateway is part of the Noble House Collection.