It’s not often you’ll hear the words ‘ghost town’ and ‘luxury resort’ used in the same sentence. Perhaps you might conjure up sombre images of a forgotten town left to rest in peace, a lonely tumbleweed rolling through, and once-busy saloon doors flapping carelessly in the wind.
But we like to think about it in another way entirely: what better place is there to tune in and shut out the rest of the world, venturing off the grid to disconnect, and ultimately reconnecting with yourself and your loved ones?
This is the basis of the Dunton Hot Springs resort: a former 19thC mining town nestled deep in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains turned 5-star retreat that features sensuous hot springs, quality dining, endless outdoor activity, all to an eye for a wellness getaway infused with the spirit of the Old West.
The natural hot springs at Dunton are what first drew workers to this town; their high mineral content a hopeful sign of geological prosperity underground. While industry here initially thrived, by the early 1900s, Dunton was deserted; its relatively far-flung location made transport to and from the site too great a challenge and its fortunes collapsed.
Come the 1970s and 1980s, the area was frequented by road-trippers and operated as a dude ranch. Its current owner, Christoph Henkel, purchased the town in the 1990s and preserved the remaining buildings as vacation rentals. Many of the structures, in need of new floors and roof repairs, were renovated and relocated, allowing everything in the resort today to be within walking distance.
Embodying the notion that opposites attract, the resort thrives on a careful balance of rustic and luxury, down-home and modern. Days spent outside on challenging hikes are countered by a pampering massage at the spa. Hand-hewn log lodges are kitted out with exquisite furnishings.
Everything here has been modernized and beautified but is not without vestiges of its more humble past. Upon a visit to the Bathhouse, charcoal graffiti dating back to the late 1800s still grace the walls. The 19thC saloon at the centre of the resort maintains its original wood bar and is said to be where Butch Cassidy retreated after robbing his first bank in Telluride, a moment memorialized by his etched-in autograph.
With no seasonal limitations, you can enjoy a stay at the Dunton Hot Springs year-round. The endless activities on offer make full-use of the San Juan range and natural surroundings, whether lush and green or blanketed by snow.
A day at Dunton might begin with a wakeup call from the gentle rush of nearby Dolores River as it flows downstream. As you turn to check your phone, don’t be surprised to see those bittersweet words “No Service” appear in the top corner of the screen (but of course, you can stay connected, as each of the resort’s 13 individually designed lodges is equipped with high-speed wi-fi access).
Step outside to a sprawling 1,600 acres of land fringed by peaks and forests, a sight you can admire from your secluded outdoor rainforest shower, before making your way to the Saloon for breakfast. A made-to-order breakfast from the open kitchen is sourced from regional ingredients, some even grown on the property’s farm or from nearby surroundings.
How will you spend the rest of your day? Perhaps unleash your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) and saddle up for a horseback ride through the high Rockies, or stick to your own two feet for a summer hike passing through valleys dotted with wildflowers and where you may spot moose, a bald eagle, lynx or black bear. Get your feet wet with an exhilarating river raft ride down the Dolores River, or do so literally while you fly-fish the resort’s 13 kilometres (8 miles) of private water on the West Fork. For lunch, choose your locale, whether it’s riverside or a shaded spot in a field, to dine on a special picnic assembled by the Dunton team.
If a mellow day is more to your liking, stretch it out in a morning yoga class or indulge in a wine tasting at the nearby Sutcliffe Vineyards. For history and culture, the Mesa Verde National Park is a short drive away, which highlights one of the homes of the ancestral Puebloans, who inhabited these lands from the years 750-1300 CE.
Winter in Dunton is just as appealing. Head to nearby Telluride for a day on the slopes, don some snowshoes or cross-country skis and hit the trails or make some four-legged friends on a dog sled ride and dash through the snow-covered meadows. There are even heli-ski options if you’re looking for fresh powder up on high.