Disclosure: while my travel and accommodations were provided by Gateway Canyons Resort, free of charge, all opinions remain my own. Thank you for supporting the brands who help make this blog happen!
It’s mid-June 2016. I exit the tiny airport in Grand Junction, Colorado, to a blast of desert heat. This isn’t Connecticut anymore. A stylish older man stands at the curb next to a maroon Bentley convertible with a sign in his hands that reads Gateway Canyons: this is my ride. I can’t help thinking pinch me; I must be dreaming. That feeling prevails over most of the weekend.
It takes about an hour to reach Gateway, Colorado from the airport, but it seems about the perfect amount of time. Driving down Route 141, you’re able to acclimate; you breathe in that fresh air a little slower, and your pulse slows. Daily life drops away in that journey through red rock and yucca and desert sage. You’re now prepared for your stay at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa.
Located in Unaweep Canyon at the foot of the famed Palisade, there isn’t a bad view in sight. Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa was developed here by Discovery Channel founder, John Hendricks, because he believed this is “where the planet has opened up to tell its story.” The resort blends beautifully into the landscape, accentuating, rather than competing with, the astounding surroundings. It’s like it was meant to be here.
I’m given my key and escorted to room 203, a Premium Room in the corner of the Kayenta Lodge. It’s hard not to stop several times along the way to snap photos of my surroundings. Eventually, I make my way down the corridor. The carved wooden door opens and I walk into an oasis in the desert.
650 square feet of space all to myself, actually, divided into an office area/living room, large bedroom with a heavenly king-sized bed and double-sided fireplace, and luxurious bathroom, including a spacious shower with a separate tub made for soaking. A balcony connects the bedroom and living room outside, with a private fire pit brought to life with the flip of a switch. The perfect place to catch glimpses of the Palisade by day, or read a book with a glass of wine at night.
There’s no time for relaxation, though, as I’m late for cocktail hour by the Palisade Pools. I join the rest of the group, order a Moscow Mule, and practically salivate at the pool. Would it be inappropriate to jump in—clothes and all—before our dinner date? I fight off the urge and get to know the others on this trip.
We move the party to Paradox Grille, back by Kayenta Lodge. Paradox Grille is the perfect place for a bite of comfort. The cast iron sweet onion rings are more like onion doughnuts—who knew one could make them so large?—and are served with a tempting smoked cheddar fondue. The homemade salsas and guacamole with freshly-fried tortilla chips are a welcome starter after a day of travel. And then, dinner arrives. Plates filled with Skirt Steak Toastada Salad, Fried Chicken Cobb Salad, and more grace the table. I select the Driven Street Tacos—1 each of chicken, carne asada, and pork carnitas—served with cilantro-lime rice and black beans. They are messy to eat, but only because they are generously filled, which is something I would never complain about. I sip on my Desert Heat—a cocktail made with tequila, cucumber, jalapeño, and pineapple and lime juices—and savor the moment. And then, dessert! Prickly Pear and Lime Cheesecake, Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich, and Local Bourbon Pecan Pie are passed around the table, moans of ecstasy following each and every bite. The perfect ending to the first day.
The next morning, we reconvene at Entrada for an open-air breakfast. I order the Cowboy Breakfast—two eggs scrambled, game sausage, a hash brown mound like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and the most perfect Southern biscuit—and set the trend for the table. Coffee and orange juice round it all out before we embark upon our first adventure.
It’s a good thing I fortified myself because we’re destined for a UTV tour. UTVs differ from ATVs in that they have side-by-side seating arrangements, a harness seatbelt and a roll cage, so they’re a little bit safer on uneven terrain. I choose to ride shotgun instead of driving, allowing myself the opportunity to absorb it all. We pile into a 4-seater and zip off along John Brown Canyon Road, climbing the landscape. The scenery is almost alien, like the set of some television show set on another planet. I half expect men with red shirts to appear around the corner, phasers in hand. The dirt road sometimes has sharp drop-offs on the side. I close my eyes and hope the driver knows what she’s doing. And then, we’re at the top of a mesa, looking down on the Gateway Canyons Resort property. The view is breathtaking. I pause to capture the crimson bud of a cactus clinging to the nearby rocks and am told that it’s the only cactus flower pollinated by hummingbirds. Before long, we’re back in the UTVs, working our way down through the canyon. What an experience!
Somehow, I’m hungry again, which is perfect timing for our casual lunch by the Palisades pool. The Cantina offers snacks and sandwiches, as well as smoothies, beer, wine, and cocktails. I crack open a can of Infinite Monkey Theorem Moscato Wine. This urban winery is based in Denver and boasts that they offer “back alley winemaking at its finest.” All I know is that I’m feeling a heck of a lot cooler now. I munch on Fried Shishito Peppers and Edamame dipped in a piquillo pepper aioli while we chat. Before long, a Smoked Chicken Torta is placed before me, topped with house-made guacamole and chipotle aioli, with fries on the side. I devour it with gusto.
There isn’t much time to digest, however, as we’re due in the desert for a mission. Zebulon Miracle, Curator of Curiosity, loads us up into the Sprinter and we head down Route 141. What’s a Curator of Curiosity?, you may ask. Only one of the most amazing members of staff I’ve ever encountered! Zebulon is a gem in and of himself, offering an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the area, the people who lived there, the changing landscape, and where exactly to find dinosaur prints on the side of the road. Yup, we pulled over, walked in maybe 30 feet, and there they were in a rock most would pass by without batting an eye. But his trained eye knows better. He points out proto-mammal prints and the dinosaurs who ate them, then takes us in a little further to share an exciting discovery on a rock barely emerging from the sand. It’s starting to chip away, but there they are, more dinosaur prints, right under my feet. I’m literally walking on history. Zebulon believes there may be more on this rock and wants to bring in guests and enthusiasts to help him uncover this mystery. Just think: there you are, on vacation, taking part in such an endeavor. It gives me chills.
Back at the resort, the group disperses for spa treatments and skeet shooting; I slip into my bikini and relax in one of the two pools for an hour. The frozen Prickly Pear Margarita prepared for me at The Cantina is just what I need at that moment. I move to the hot tub and the bartender turns on the jets for me. This is the life.
I could spend all afternoon there—but I can’t. There’s a horse with my name on it, and a bus I need to catch to The Stables at Palisade Ranch…
Part 2 comes tomorrow!
Gateway Canyons Resort
43200 Colorado 141
Gateway, CO 81522