At a Colorado Resort, High-Speed Action, Jurassic Adventures & Plenty of Curiosities

October 8, 2019
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Edging the Colorado/Utah border and cradled in the shadow of the awe-inspiring Palisade rock formation, Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa is one of the few resorts in the world situated at the convergence of five majestic canyons.

When I check into Gateway Canyons Resort, set along western Colorado’s Dolores River, I already know I am in for a weekend of adventure. Set on 500 acres of land, the resort offers an extensive list of activities for adrenaline junkies—from hiking to mountain biking, horseback riding and geology tours. There’s even a Curator of Curiosity— Zebulon Miracle is his name and that’s his actual title at the resort. I am not really sure what he does but the, er, curiosity is killing me.

I arrive after lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon settling in. Surrounded by the vast lands of the Uncompahgre Plateau, Piñon Mesa and La Sal Mountains, there is literally not a bad view to be had from anywhere on the resort grounds. I am happy to just sit by the pool and later in the restaurant patio, watching the breathtaking red rock change in color as the sun moves across the sky.

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After breakfast the next morning, I meet up with Mr. Miracle himself. Zebulon’s role at the resort is to introduce guests and visitors to the natural and man-made wonders of western Colorado—and there are plenty. Not just pretty to look at, this part of the state has a rich and colorful history of outlaws, of old homesteads and mining sites, some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in America, and intriguing rock art carved into the sandstone some thousand years ago. I sign up for a hike to check out the latter.

On the way there, we zig and zag along one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever taken, with the Dolores River on one side, the towering red rock walls all around, and the occasional abandoned ranch and home serving as punctuation marks along a landscape that is otherwise empty of man-made structures. Zebulon is a gifted storyteller, and along the way he brings to life the saga of John Brown, who on one November night in 1911 killed both his daughter and her husband, whom she was trying to save by stepping in front of the bullet her father shot at him after the two men had a row.

Though not terribly challenging, the hike is beautiful and at the top we are rewarded with a stunning view of the winding road and the murky green Dolores River. We pause for the obligatory edge-of-the-cliff photo, a snack and water, and for a chance for Zebulon to tell me a bit about the 300 million year-old rocks that surround us, the dinosaurs who roamed here, and the tales of the area’s first pioneers.

I learn that while Colorado is well known for gold and silver mining, the region around Uncompahgre Plateau has more high-quality uranium than anywhere else in the world. For half a century, the mining of radioactive materials (uranium, radium and vanadium) was one of the strongest industries in the area. During the first part of the 20th century, families moved to the region and entire communities were formed in what became Calamity Camp, where they built stone and wood cabins. The industry became obsolete almost as fast is it boomed, when the government decided it no longer had a use for radioactive materials, but you can still see some of the remains of Calamity Camp today.

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Chatting along the way, we finally arrive at our first sample of rock art, evidence that a possible village site can be found in the area. Faded by wind, water and the passage of time, the carvings of animals, the sun, and humans are hard to see at first, but once Zebulon points one out, they all come into focus.

Back at the resort after lunch and the requisite lap in the pool, I check out the Auto Museum, which houses the private car collection of resort owner and Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks. Among the 60 awesome cars is a one-of-a-kind 1954 Oldsmobile F-88. “What I wouldn’t give to drive it,” says another visitor to no one in particular. I admit I’m no car aficionado, but even I get goosebumps looking at all those vintage models.

As I’m walking out, a museum staff mentions the Driven Experiences. Turns out Hendricks owns another fleet of cars—a couple of Jeeps, a Cadillac SRX, a Ford Mustang Shelby GT, a Corvette Z06, a Bentley Continental GT and a GTC, a Porsche 911, Mercedes SL 550, and an original Tesla Roadster, one of just 100 that were produced when the company launched. For a price, guests actually can take those out for a spin.

I’m ready to put my credit card down and rent the Porsche when I realize that I don’t have a copy of my car insurance (a must if you plan to do a Driven Experience). Instead I settle for an off-road tour on an UTV. Unlike an ATV, the thing I drive has a steering wheel, a hard top, windshield, and cab enclosure. Despite my initial hesitation, I end up loving the entire experience: the heat, the loud engine noise, and the dust as I drive to the top of a mountain and back down again at sunset. I’m still kind of rattling when I get back to the resort, and treat myself to a Swedish massage to work out whatever kinks all that bouncing in the UTV produced.

In the end, what I loved most about my weekend at Canyons was the variety. Experiences come in many speeds and altitudes and sometimes you have the chance to do them all.

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