There’s the Old West of cattle and rifles, and the New West of designer hiking shorts and mountain bikes. Let’s visit a few lesser-known pockets of the West, where trail rides are followed by hot basalt stone massages, picnic lunches appear in wildflower meadows, as if by magic, and evening campfires are followed by opulent sleep in high-thread-count sheets.
Wyoming: The Lodge and Spa at Brush Creek Ranch
The proprietors of The Lodge and Spa at Brush Creek Ranch seem to have translated the hospitable catchphrase, mi casa es su casa, into “our fifteen-thousand acre ranch is your fifteen-thousand acre ranch.” The orientation given upon arrival includes stepping into the lodge’s spacious wine storage room, where guests are encouraged to return later to choose their own select bottle to enjoy with dinner.
Cabin suites and multi-room cabin residences made of hand-hewn Wyoming logs are furnished with Western art and Egyptian cotton towels. The attentive service includes nightly turndown.
Daily activities at this scenic spot in the North Platte River Valley include trail rides, hiking, shooting, and mountain biking. Ten miles of private waterways make the resort a fly fisherman’s paradise. Brush Creek is the only Wyoming lodge to have been honored with a coveted dual Orvis endorsement for its outdoors programs: fly fishing and wing shooting. The “Little Wranglers” program keeps kids from four to eight years old busy with pony rides, Western crafts, and visits to the buffalo pasture. Older kids will want to check out the rock climbing wall.
There’s good reason that this all-inclusive luxury dude ranch was named one of the Top Ten Family Resorts by Worth magazine. Since some families return to the property annually, management comes up with creative, new experiences every year to make each visit fresh and memorable. This year’s summer add-on is the “High Mountain Yurt Experience.” A family can be taken (on horseback) to a 700-square-foot circular tent for trout fishing and archery lessons before enjoying a privately prepared campfire dinner, and then spend the night in cozy sleeping bags on elevated cots. Brush Creek is the real deal.
The scent of piñon burning in the fireplaces and mesquite under the cooking grills lets you know that life is good at this privileged spot in southwestern Utah. “The architecture and location are fantastic,” says Pacific Heights resident Thomas Wehlen, who visited Amangiri recently with his wife, San Franciscan Eleanor “Ellie” Brigham Wehlen. This is red rock country, the part of the West where sunsets might be best appreciated not by gazing westward, but eastward—toward the entrada sandstone bluffs, which change color with the changing light.
The concrete used for the resort’s stunningly simple architectural planes was mixed from the same sandstone, so it blends in perfectly with the surroundings. Geology is a big thing at Amangiri, and it is wondrous for a Northern Californian who has never experienced that terrain to grasp geologic time by realizing the sand beneath one’s feet was once an ocean floor. Hikes to nearby caves with petroglyphs are expertly guided by young staff members, many of whom are Utah natives.
In homage to the Aman chain’s origins, the resort’s menus include Asian dishes, while ingredients are sourced as close to home as possible, including lamb and pork from third generation ranchers and beef from just over the Colorado border. A few slip-ups in the dining room service were evident on a recent visit, but part of manager Christophe Olivro’s job is managing expectations of guests who might not understand, for example, why alcohol may not be served in Utah in the mornings.
Under the visionary guidance of spa manager Anthony Andra, last month Amangiri unveiled a new spa menu and wellness program, which offer the services of a wellness coach, as well as nutrition consultations with the resort’s chef. Spa treatments incorporate Navaho practices, including burning sage. Luxury travel consultant Gwen Books (her clients include Netflix founder Reed Hastings) of Atherton says that a highlight of her stay at Amangiri was the two-and-a-half-hour spa treatment that “ended with a wrap and the recitation of an Indian message, which I found so moving that it brought me to tears.”
Colorado: Dunton Hot Springs and Dunton River Camp at Cresto RancH
Right out of a young boy’s imagination, Dunton Hot Springs is set within the remains of a 19th century mining town, where guests stay in refurbished log cabins and walk a couple hundred yards to a waterfall, in one direction, or to hot bubbling spring water pools, in the other.
But there it is, over the mountains beyond Telluride and then a few miles of unpaved road. Ralph Lauren has visited Dunton Hot Springs and used the place for photo shoots. The exclusive 12 cabins and one-tent suite mean that the place has a very private feel. Superb meals thrice daily are taken communally in the beautiful restored saloon restaurant where Butch Cassidy once drank. My tablemates included Tony Award-winning playwright Enda Walsh and his wife, British Vogue features editor Jo Ellison, who were visiting from London with their young daughter.
Down the road is a sister property, Dunton River Camp at Cresto Ranch, which opened in May for its second summer season. Situated on the Dolores River, the fly fishing camp is comprised of eight large safari-style tents with comfy beds and full baths and views of aspen trees all around.
As I lay near the spring pool one lazy afternoon, a honeymooner and his new wife were chatting nearby, unaware that they were being overheard. I’ll let that anonymous young man have the last word on the subject of Dunton: “This is the coolest place ever.”
Fredric Hamber was raised in Napa and San Francisco, and he has contributed to Cigar Aficionado and the Silicon Valley Business Journal.