TABERNASH, CO. - There seemed no end to it. A forest dense and vast, as old as time itself, stretching to the feet of the imposing Rocky Mountains before these daunting volcanic creations declared this domain to be theirs and forged an impassable border.
Inside this lush woodland in Colorado’s Fraser Valley, just outside of Denver, are rambling rivers teeming with fish, green glades where deer share the sweet grasses with elk and moose, and valleys hidden from the view of civilization, known only to the sun, moon and stars that look down upon them through a roof of wooden sticks.
The forest did not always enjoy the harmony and tranquility evident today. In the 1800s, Utes and Arapaho built their lodges here but fought over the verdant land for years until elders from both tribes saw the futility of war and sought to settle their differences peacefully. Legend says the tribes “buried the war devil” in a nearby mountain above Ranch Creek Valley. As a symbolic reminder of the evils of war, they left his “thumb” exposed and this rocky outcropping remains today, visible from great distances and lending its name to the sprawling ranch that occupies a significant portion of the valley.
The beauty of Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Tabernash is that its footprint in this wilderness oasis pays homage to the environment, treading as lightly as possible on the land while still affording visitors the rustic western experience they long for.
Above: The outdoor splendours at Devils Thumb include fly fishing in the crystal clear rivers running through the expansive property.
The original ranch homestead was built in 1937 by Margaret Radcliff and served as a dairy until the brothers Yager — Dan, Louis and George — took over and began operating as Devil’s Thumb Ranch vacation property. It remained both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972, when it became known as more of a cross-country skiing destination, but without many guest amenities.
The ranch’s fate changed again in 2001, when current owners Bob and Suzanne Fanch thwarted developers who were intent on building residences and a golf course. Instead, the Fanches moved ahead with their vision of creating a special reserve where visitors to the valley could still have an authentic Colorado experience celebrating the soul of the West.
To house expected guests, they built 15 ridge-top cabins with plenty of space for privacy. In 2007, a 52-room main lodge was added and one year later the ranch’s smaller spa got its own homestead in a nearby meadow. More recently, in 2013, the 35-room High Lonesome Lodge, barn and wine grotto completed the accommodations. For an intimate gathering space, the Broad Axe Barn, a conference centre and events venue built from a reconstructed Civil War-era barn, rounded out the additions.
The activities visitors can choose from include horseback riding through the meadows, creeks and hilltops; zip-lining above stands of sturdy green giants; mountain biking and hiking that could comprise a foray into the many trails of the Arapaho National Forest; or a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, only 45-minutes from the ranch. For young guests, there is the option of a two-hour, half-day, or full-day excursion to the Cowpoke Camp while mom and dad can relax, fish, hike, mountain bike or attend the spa.
Above: Reminders of the Old West are everywhere at the ranch.
Fly fishing, a Colorado staple, is a cherished pursuit on the ranch, where anglers can fish on Ranch Creek and part of the Fraser River — both meander through the ranch property.
In the spring and early days of summer, the creek and river rush through the ranch in a spectacular display of the power of water. Trout reaching the size of a tennis racket frequent these mountain runoffs.
In the winter, recreation options still abound. There are frozen lakes to skate across and thrilling hills to sled down, cross-country and snowshoe trails, horseback and sleigh rides. And only minutes away is Winter Park, one of America’s premier downhill ski resorts. A bit further up the road is Grand County, where five quaint towns beg to be explored. The area also is the western gateway for Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive over the park’s Trail Ridge Road reveals elk and moose grazing, some with young calves trailing closely behind their mothers, breathtaking vistas of lakes and hillsides and even an abandoned ghost town called Lulu City.
The former mining settlement boomed for only a brief five years, beginning in 1879, before miners and settlers deserted it for more promising digs.
Colorado’s two largest lakes are here — Grand Lake and Lake Granby — one and two respectively in size. Lake Granby offers more than 75 kilometres of scenic shoreline, ideal for fishing, camping and hiking. Locals insist that at certain times the spirits of Native American women and children can be heard moaning, lamenting their deaths due to those early tribal wars. Fact or fiction, it makes for an interesting campfire conversation.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, guests who fill their days with a variety of adventures can find relaxation in Rachel’s Pool, a geothermal heated pool and hot tub that is anything but ordinary. The pool is shaped like a natural pond to blend in with the landscape, emphasizing the Fanch’s efforts to merge with their surroundings rather than intrude upon them.
Above: Guests enjoy great grub and lots of natural eye candy at this dude ranch.
Dining experiences at the ranch are varied, filling and delicious. There are no less than four restaurant options, beginning with Heck’s Tavern, located in the main lodge. Its signature dish is the ranch-raised Wagyu beef. The Ranch House Restaurant and Saloon sits rather unpretentiously on the edge of a sweeping meadow with the Continental Divide 1,500 metres above and worn pine floors below. It’s located in the original homestead that was built on the ranch in the 1930s. Here is served what the ranch calls New American Mountain Cuisine: fresh ingredients from nearby farms, ranch-raised Wagyu beef, Rocky Mountain trout, elk and Colorado striped bass.
John Ls’ Wine Cellar and Grotto Suraboza are upscale eateries aimed to provide an intimate and elegant private dining experience. The Hallowed Ground Coffee Shop serves freshly baked breakfast pastries and breads from the onsite bakery, as well as a full selection of coffee, latte, chai, juice, beer and wine along with soups and sandwiches.
The ranch also has two restaurants in Winter Park — Caffe Giocondo, a casual Italian street café, and Volario’s, which mixes Spanish influences with Northern Italian mountain cuisine.
City slicker or dyed-in-the-wool cowboy, Devil’s Thumb Ranch will meet every vacation expectation.
For more information about Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa visit www.devilsthumbranch.com
. / Note: Special packages are not available through Internet reservations. Call 970-726-5632 for assistance in booking a package.