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Ski & Spa: Dunton Hot Springs

Unwind at Colorado's Luxury Mountain Resort
by Mary Gostelow
Inside the Bathhouse
Inside the Bathhouse

Sit at Dunton Hot Springs Saloon's main table any day of the year — winter or summer — and by 8 a.m. the sun has come up over the rugged 14,000-foot Wilson Range in the Colorado Rockies.

Over the table, hang two red cartwheels turned into chandeliers, suspended from a ceiling that is entirely beaten tin. The whole area of the room is about 75 feet by 20 feet. There is a pool table down one end and an open kitchen with a bar counter around the back. The bar's counter is a 100-year-old plank heavily inscribed by ghost names.

This is a ghost town, established in 1885 as the camp for the nearby Emma Mine in the San Juan Range of the Colorado Rockies. Later Dunton Hot Springs — named for local miner Horatio Dunton — became a cattle ranch run by Joe and Dominica Roscio. In 1994, Christoph Henkel, who had been looking for something in Telluride, was persuaded by a friend to take a look at Dunton Hot Springs. When he did, he put in an immediate offer and took ownership of 187 overgrown acres in flat pasture encircled by forested mountains that soar upwards. Since then, Henkel has increased his landmass to 1,400 acres.

Christoph Henkel found himself the master — he prefers 'sheriff' — of numerous dilapidated wooden huts of assorted shape and size, with rusted corrugated iron roofs from which protruded stove-pipe chimneys. He now has 12 letting cabins with a few rusty, old trucks and tractors strewn around for good measure. The houses are all wood with iron roofs and porches. They are all unique, some single-floor, others with an upper floor. Total, the resort can sleep up to 42 visitors at one time.

The Well House — my luxury cabin home for a night — is about 25 feet by 12 feet. The stone-slab floor has a sisal rug at the foot of the king size bed, made up with high-count white linens from Whitney Street. Horizontally-set wood beams form the walls, and the ceiling is wood planks. There are four windows with crewel-embroidered linen curtains and French doors leading to a small porch with two wicker-loom chairs. The lighting is intentionally rustic and soft.

I have a good shower with masses of Elemis toiletries, thick towels with DHS embroidered on them and a pair of hooded green terry robes from Cotton Palace. There is a radio, but no television, minibar or safe. However, the highlight of the quaint Well House is its own inbuilt hot spring. There is a 6-foot-long raised rectangular sandstone tub, letting in hot water near 102 degrees. When you fill an adjacent wrought iron bowl with cold water you can jump between the two baths, repeating the process as long as you like.

However, if you prefer company or are in one of the houses that does not have its own bath, there is a separate bathhouse with an indoor and outdoor pool. There are two spa houses, each neatly set out with a bed and Elemis supplies. There is also an open-sided, tepee-topped wedding chapel, set near a 100-foot gushing waterfall. For the active, the various seasons offer skiing, snowmobiling, ice-skating, fishing, kayaking and hiking.

Relaxing outside in the Hot Springs
Relaxing outside in the Hot Springs

There is a dedicated boxing house and an outside climbing wall. And if you want intellectual stimulation, one house is a two-floor library, complete with a massive range of local interest.

Downstairs are comfy chairs set on either side of a big wood fire.

There is a grizzly bear skin on the floor and on the mantel a Cape Buffalo skull trophy gained by Christoph Henkel's wife Katrin rests.

Katrin Henkel is an Old Masters specialist — co-owner of Colnaghi, in London's Bond Street, and Munich — and her many other skills include interior design. At Dunton Hot Springs she is responsible for such one-offs as the Rajasthan bed and hangings in the Honeymoon House. She also worked closely with her long-time friend and architect Annabelle Selldorf on the Henkels' own house — a five-floor wooden tower conveniently hidden from the main Dunton Hot Springs village.

It is 60-minute drive from the sleepy airstrip at Cortez past the small one-floor town of Dolores to Dolores Road — a 23-miler that starts paved and then, thanks to local pressure, continues as red sand. The winding Dolores River meanders down to the right.

After arriving, take a tour of the village and head up into the foothills of the Colorado Rockies for a memorable 90-minute hike, which involves fording several rushing streams over which beavers had conveniently been building makeshift bridges. Then visitors can go for drinks with nearby neighbors and head to The Saloon for dinner, which is always served family-style.

Chef Mario produced individual crab rillettes with avocado salsa for our trip. Thick multi-grain, home-made bread filled the gaps. We spoon creamy mash into green and white striped bowls from the Austrian firm of Gmunden, helping ourselves to boeuf bourguignon that has been cooking for six hours. Portioned dessert is a rich chocolate tart with cream. Prices at Dunton Hot Springs include all meals, though alcohol is extra.

We are waited on by the green polo-shirted, jean-clad crew that is as passionate about Dunton as the resort's owner. Not surprisingly, I sleep like a log, and as the sun comes up, I am back in the Saloon to use its excellent WiFi. There is another guest already working there... but then, as owner Christoph Henkel says, "luxury is space, and time and feeling at home."

And the breakfast, with yogurt, mango, blueberries and bananas among the fruit and home-made granola, is delightful. Make your own toast and a crew member will cook you anything to order. Dunton Hot Springs is just like home should be — paradise.

If You Go...
Dunton Hot Springs
52068 West Fork Rd.
Dolores, Colo. 81323
(970) 882-4800

~ Mary Gostelow, Kiwi Collection. Mary Gostelow is Editor-in-Chief of WOW.Travel, the Online Luxury Magazine of Kiwi Collection Inc.

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