DUNTON HOT SPRINGS, Colo. — I’m sipping a glass of wine at a bar in an old saloon, the kind you would see in a western starring Clint Eastwood. If the walls could talk, I’m sure their tales would be colorful and a bit seedy. Then I notice a signature: the name Butch Cassidy is etched into the top of the bar among other signatures written, no doubt, under the influence of alcohol. ‘‘Butch really wrote that,’’ says the bartender as I snap a photo. ‘‘After robbing a bank in Telluride in 1898 he hid out here for a while.’’
I’m hiding out, too, in a ghost town in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains — but not for such circumspect reasons. I came simply to get away, though this would make an ideal escape for any reason: the scenery, the mountains, the remoteness. Dunton Hot Springs, an 1800s mining town turned luxury resort, has that middle of nowhere feel: Tucked into the edges of the mountains, Dunton is one hour from Telluride and two from the airport in Durango — a drive that includes occasional cowboy sightings and waiting for the cows to move as you drive along an unpaved road. Spending a few days here is a true unwinding experience.
On my first night I settle into my cabin, which is named Dolores after the river that runs through here. I learn this cabin used to be called Honeymoon, a name that put pressure on some visitors — thus the name change. Dolores sits next to a brook that I listen to later that night as I fall asleep after witnessing a spectacular rainbow arching across the sky.
Dunton, the resort, encompasses the entire town. If a group of friends rented each cabin (and many do), they would essentially be renting the whole town, which comprises a dozen 19th-century cabins, each decorated differently, with exotic artifacts and antiques from around the world. Mine has a Southeast Asian motif with a stunning antique bed and Indian tapestries. ‘‘The cabins are original to the town,’’ says Christy Rossi. She and her husband, Ed, have managed Dunton for two years. ‘‘They were the homes and businesses of the miners who lived here in the late 1800s. The West was settled by people from all over the world arriving by wagon train. To keep Dunton as authentic as possible, the cabins are decorated in the same vein.’’
Dunton has been a resort only since the mid-’90s when the current owner transformed the town from rustic to rustic chic. Before this incarnation — where an Internet mogul recently held his wedding, where magazines and catalogs hold photo shoots with the western backdrop, where guests enjoy the understated yet luxurious amenities — Dunton went through a series of changes. The people who have passed through — some staying for a short time, others for years — include a guy who fled Wall Street (and is still a neighbor), hippies, ranchers, motorcycle gangs, and even naked volleyball players.
On first sight it’s hard to feel the magic. A woman I meet at dinner tells me she sent friends here and when they got to the gate they turned around immediately. But that’s what’s unique about Dunton: It’s a mini world of interior luxury set in an old world setting. Someone might be driving along Dunton Road and not think to stop. But guests who visit return for adventure and to indulge.
Indulgences include massage and yoga, activities housed in a cabin that was once a Pony Express stop; soaking in the hot springs; and the library. A gift from the owner, Christoph Henkel, to his wife, Katrin, the library is perhaps the coziest cabin of all, a place to read a book by the fireplace. Offsite and depending on the season, there is a wide variety of activities. In winter there is skiing and the scenery of snow blanketing the grounds, trees, and mountains. Spring, summer, and fall arrive with their own activities: hiking, fly-fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, rafting, archeological tours, and mountain biking. During autumn, foliage here is gorgeous: hues of yellow and red that illuminate the mountains. BoJo Post, Dunton’s guide (and an energetic force), knows the mountain trails like a child knows her favorite playground. She creates itineraries depending on guests’ wishes.
The saloon, Dunton’s meeting place, is where meals are served. The day begins at the long communal table with breakfast (local fruit, eggs and omelets cooked however you wish, homemade waffles and pancakes) and ends with the convivial atmosphere of guests drinking wine and enjoying the local, farm-to-table food of chef Carrie Eagle.
Eagle makes her rounds to nearby farmers markets to pick up the seasonal, organic ingredients he uses. One night dinner included wild mushroom soup with micro greens and truffle oil, blue prawn salad, and grilled rack of venison with roasted root vegetables and herb-honey demi-glace. Another night: butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, pan-seared halibut with saffron-vanilla beurre blanc, and grilled wild boar with cherry chipotle sauce. Wines range from regional to French to Australian; both a red and white are served at lunch and dinner.
When I ask Rossi what she finds special about Dunton, she says, ‘‘You really feel as though you have stepped back in time but with all the modern luxuries.’’
On my last night, after more fun with new friends, I walk back to Dolores. Once inside my old world cabin, I check my e-mail using Wi-Fi. Mountains and outdoor activities merged with local food and technology — it’s the perfect escape.
Tracey Ceurvels can be reached at tracey@thebusyhedonist