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!
When we left off in Part 1…
…it was time to leave the pool and catch a bus. I throw on my clichéd jeans, flannel shirt, and fake riding boots, grab a seat by the window, and am whisked away to a real ranch operated by Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa.
Palisade Ranch is huge. Over 500 acres of land with a web of trails that provide a climb of up to 1500 feet in elevation. Packages include rides for cowgirls and cowboys of all abilities. (Thank goodness, because my ability level was pretty low.) Trail rides, as well as half-day and full-day adventures, await you in this landscape of Indian Painted Brush and Larkspur, scrub oak and succulents. The ranch offers 22 horses for its riders, which they rotate so they’re only ridden once a day.
Brian, the stables foreman, greets us. He reminds me a little of Sam Elliott with that same twinkle in his eye and his mannerisms. He’s kind and gentle and has a respect for all around him.
I’m brought to a large bay horse named Big ‘Un, and I’m a little afraid. I rode a horse once in 2001 and he wasn’t adept at taking orders. I also have foot drop in my left leg, which I somehow forget about entirely until I get up onto the saddle and realize it’s useless in its stirrup. It’s too late now, though—I can be brave.
We’re instructed on how to guide our horses. Jerk up quickly on the reigns if they’re eating; pull back to stop; left to go left; right to go right. They’re well-trained and follow the group, but some are prone to distraction. It turns out that Big ‘Un is one of the distractible ones.
Big ‘Un is me in horse form. Every chance he gets, he stops to munch on the vegetation. He can sense the exact moment I stop paying attention to him and he takes advantage of this. I quickly learn that I need to spend more time with my hands on the reigns and less taking Snapchat videos. It’s a lesson I’m grateful for, as I’m here to live in the moment, after all. Big ‘Un guarantees that I will.
We meander up into the hillside and maneuver through a couple small water crossings. Here there are true oaks, tall and shady, a break from the ever-present sun. What goes up must come down, and we start to pick our way along the rocky, dirt path. It didn’t feel like we gained so much elevation as we rode up; it’s a little scary sometimes going down. At one point, my foot falls out of the stirrup and I have to ask for help getting it back in. I’m embarrassed, but the cowboy who assists me thinks nothing of it. Soon, we are on our way again.
Back at the ranch, I dismount and a profusion of thank you’s fall out of my mouth. I reveal to Brian my initial misgivings—and the triumph I feel in having accomplished that which I wasn’t sure I could do anymore. Brian is patient and understanding and he tells me about his grandfather, who was a rancher—bay horses were his favorite. Back then, they’d ride 40 miles a day and bring 6 extra horses with them. They’d ride the horses for 1 day each, giving them 6 days of rest. And I thought driving 40 miles a day in my car was annoying!
I walk around the corner and find a fantastic feast laid out for us. Steak with a chimichurri sauce; glazed salmon; roasted potatoes with a balsamic glaze; asparagus; homemade chili with fixin’s; and so much more. We eat on the front porch, where they serve wine and Prickly Pear Margaritas in Ball jars. There, we’re serenaded by two local cowboys—brothers who also enjoy singing. The sunlight fades and the most perfect of evenings develops. On the lawn, Brian instructs members of the group on how to rope a calf. I try a few times and barely catch the end of the calf dummy. Brian, however, is a pro—he demonstrates how to catch a calf on the other side of its mother. It’s an essential skill for a cowboy, enabling them to treat sick animals and perform health checks. I’m wondering how I can apply this back home and all I can think of is that scene in 9 to 5. I sleep well that night.
I begin my last full day at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa with the Smoked Brisket Hash and Eggs: scrambled eggs, tator tots, pickled onion, tomatillo salsa, guacamole, and fresh crema. Tamara and I also split a freshly-baked croissant that rivals what you’d find in Paris. Julie shares her Banana Bread French Toast, dressed up with Nutella, hazelnuts, and raspberries. It’s like dessert for breakfast and I can’t stop eating it. I leave the table very full of food—and full in spirit. We have a great group on this trip and the conversation comes easily. I’m already starting to mourn our impending departure.
For now, adventure awaits! We’re loaded up and taken down a winding dirt road surrounded by mesas to a small building in the desert. This is the home of Driven Experiences, an adrenaline rush like nothing you’ve ever felt in your life! We’re here for Driven Pro-Baja, a ride-along in a Pro-Baja Trophy Truck on their 2-mile training course. Driven Experiences customizes their program to what the client wants—a simple ride-along, like ours, is an option, but they excel at coaching. Their team offers a fleet of safe, well-maintained trucks with more-than-qualified instructors who know what they know because they race these trucks, as well. During my ride, I talk with my driver, Jeff Humberson, about how some time behind the wheel would be useful even for the average, everyday commute—especially in icy New England, where your wheels can lose traction quickly in the winter. Humberson is the Vice President of Driven Experiences and has accumulated over 20 years of professional motor sports experience. He easily carries on conversation while sliding through corners and coursing over jumps. I can’t help but scream “Yahoo!!” in appreciation.
There is a special guest at Driven Experiences that day—CEO Andrew Hendricks. We have a pleasant chat about my local race course, with which he was quite familiar, before I realize with whom I am speaking. Andrew is refreshingly humble and exceedingly knowledgeable, which gives me confidence that Driven Experiences will go places with him behind the wheel!
After returning to our rooms to freshen up, we reconvene at Paradox Grille for lunch, al-fresco. Sunday is Bloody Mary bar day at Paradox Grille, with just about anything you can think of to snazz up your Sunday brunch cocktail. Bitters and hot sauces and bacon, oh my! Pickled asparagus, green beans, and jalapeños for substance; spices for flair. It’s all there!
We start with the yellow lentil hummus with preserved lemon, lentil chips, olives, feta, pickled tomato, and cucumber. The house-made chips are hefty: perfectly made for holding scoops of that vibrant yellow hummus. I order the Open Faced Avocado and Herb Ciabatta and am presented with such brightness! Goat cheese is spread upon half of a Ciabatta roll, topped with wild mushrooms, arugula, pickled fresno chiles, and an avocado that has reached the peak of perfection. Hot and salty hand-cut french fries round this dish out quite beautifully. Around the table, I sneak peeks at The Ugly Bunch Salad, Grilled Angus Burger, and Pork Wings. Yes, Pork Wings, but they’re not wings at all. Rather, ribs, with a black garlic and ginger glaze and charred green onion. There is nothing ladylike about them, and that makes me love them even more. We finish with an encore of the Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich from our first night at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa.
After such a satisfying meal, one would think it would be a good time to go relax by the pool—one would be wrong. Instead, I find myself signing papers for a green Bentley Continental GTC. For a short while, I borrow a little bit of luxury and take that beauty for a spin to Hanging Flume. Others surround me in a red Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe, silver Mercedes Benz SL 550, and two other Bentleys in blue and silver, just a small sampling of the fleet Driven Experiences keeps on resort for the guests’ pleasure. My Bentley glides and I soon settle in, enjoying every minute of the drive through scenic rock and brush with sunshine beating down on me, warming my skin and plastering a smile to my face. This is a Top 10 moment in my life. It’s a must for any stay at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa.
The Driven Experiences fleet aren’t the only exotic cars on site. Gateway Canyons is home to the largest personal car collection in the country. In fact, the Gateway Auto Museum was one of the original elements of the resort. Guests are admitted, free of charge, to peruse nearly 60 of the most prized historic cars in the country. Non-resort guests are able to access the collection for a nominal fee of $15. Inside is living history—a time capsule devoted to every era of automobiles since their invention. And, in a special room of her own, spins a golden glimpse of the past: a 1954 Oldsmobile F-88, the only one of her kind left. She glimmers and shines on her pedestal, demanding you stop and appreciate her.
The final dinner of this trip is an outdoor affair at Entrada. There, we’re served a tasting menu including beet salad, dry-aged bison rib eye, and lemon panna cotta, each accompanied with a wine selected specifically for that course. The sun sinks, the temperature dips, and the stars put on a showy display. We talk for some time, taking our conversations to the patio on the side by the water feature, roasting marshmallows and snacking on sticky s’mores. Bullfrogs serenade us from their hiding places, and one even joins our party briefly. It’s a magical way to close out the weekend.
I depart early in the morning to catch a flight home, but my head and heart are overflowing. Lee, the same driver from my arrival just a few days before, tries to chat, but I’m too groggy to hold up my end of the conversation. Instead, I simply enjoy listening to him speak. I absorb every last moment. A deer startles us when we’re almost back at the airport in Grand Junction. It’s almost as if she breaks the spell—a symbol of returning to reality. But I know that I can slip away for a little while any time. I just need to make the call and reserve a room at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa. It’s all so simple.
Gateway Canyons Resort
43200 Colorado 141
Gateway, CO 81522