Enjoying Devil's Thumb Ranch in Colorado

As a writer, I appreciate a clever turn of phrase wherever I find it. The Do Not Disturb sign is among the most memorable I've seen: "Git On Now" it reads. And there's a Post-It note on the bathroom mirror that also catches my eye: "Objects in Mirror May Appear More Relaxed After a Visit to the Spa." After three days onsite at Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort and Spa, I can attest that both messages represent truth in advertising and really evoke a strong sense of place.

What's a Devil's Thumb

Devil's Thumb refers to a rocky outcropping on the Continental Divide. As the legend goes, warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes eventually settled their differences and buried the devil, but left his "thumb" exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Devil's Thumb Ranch Has it All

The resort, just 65 miles west of Denver, is located on lushly wooded, gently rugged hills at the foot of the Continental Divide near Winter Park. The property dates from the 1930s when it was a homestead and dairy. Owners Bob and Suzanne Gordon own more than 6,000 acres today, but build only what is necessary, preserving the dramatic views and timeless sense of space.

The newest structure, the 50,000-square foot High Lonesome Lodge features a wine grotto, guest rooms and meeting space. Owing to the generous perimeters of the property, this Civil War structure (which was moved from Ohio) doesn't dwarf the landscape, but rather enhances it through walls of windows that provide knockout views of the Fraser Valley. The rustic elegance of the buildings is complemented by a staff that is unpretentious, friendly and relaxed.

Our New Book

While it's tempting to do little but read and rest in a place of such quiet beauty, there are countless activities that beckon. I'm visiting Devil's Thumb Ranch in winter, so cross-country skiing -- a classic pastime in this clime -- tops my list. Instructor Igor shares this pointer as I'm getting outfitted: "Go slow. Don't muscle it." So I get Zen with the terrain, synchronizing my movements and silencing the chatter in my head, as snow gently falls. It's good advice and I feel both energized and relaxed as I return to the lodge.

At night, with $2 beer, Heck's pulls a young local crowd in addition to resort guests. The chef describes the cuisine as "Colorado chic," and the dishes are certainly elevated from the normal burger-and-fries menu at many ski resorts (though you can have excellent renditions of both if you like).

Delicious Dining

I enjoyed such creative fare as roasted cauliflower with currants, chili flakes and capers and wild game chili topped with creme fraiche at lunch and house-smoked trout scramble for breakfast. At dinner, there were imaginative and flavorful gin and rye cocktails made with unusual ingredients such as creme de violette and homemade pistachio syrup.

Even at the property's fine dining Ranch House Restaurant, jeans and ski boots are appropriate attire. A highlight of the menu is the Colorado wagyu beef. Raised right on the ranch, the meat is so velvety I could cut it with a butter knife. Perhaps an unexpected appetizer in a mountain town, pistachio-crusted abalone, was saline and silky. The impressive wine list includes a number of great wines by the glass including an inky, lush 2010 priorat, and underknown Spanish wine.

More Outdoor Activities

I also carved out two visits to the stables during my stay for morning horseback riding and the late afternoon sleigh ride. The sleigh ride is pegged to dinnertime for the ranch's steer (last night's dinner!), mules and horses.

Nikki drives the sleigh as Anthony tosses hay bales to the hungry, circling beasts, identifying each by name and behavioral antics as the sun sets over the ravishing valley. We cap off the excursion with hot chocolate and s'mores.

Ah! Spa

My last planned activity is the "altitude adjustment" massage at the spa. Kristin expertly plies my limbs and shoulders with rosemary-scented oil and lots of steaming hot towels to release any lingering tension from my physical activities at this elevation.

Afterwards as I browse the gift shop, a staffer hands me a couple of packets of the resort's handcrafted Rancher's Secret Soother Bath Salts. "Ease yourself and forget about what ails you for awhile. Relive muscle tension and soreness from wrangling cowpokes, ski poles or emails" reads the label.

My recovery continues that night as I soak in my suite's giant copper tub and relax in front my fireplace. To be sure, I could stay longer at Devil's Thumb, but I've been here long enough to know they deliver on their marketing promises. And I've saved a packet of bath salts to take back home to the desert for when I need a little Rocky Mountain high.

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Suzanne Wright is a travel writer based in the foothills of the Sonoran Desert in Cave Creek, Arizona. She has written for such publications as American Way, Arizona Highways, National Geographic Traveler, Men's Journal and Wine & Spirits. To date, she has visited all 50 states and 50 countries.

Photos courtesy of Devil's Thumb Ranch

Published: March 14th, 2014

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