GATEWAY — With each turn, Colorado 141 becomes more striking and surreal. I am driving the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway, north out of Naturita. I’m a few miles from the Utah border, somewhere south of Grand Junction. It’s all red rock, orange rock, grey rock, and an impossibly blue desert sky.
The Dolores River has been sculpting this landscape with snowmelt from the San Miguel Mountains for 70 million years and the results are jaw dropping — and thrilling to drive. It’s the kind of scenery that swallows up the pavement in front of you, making you ponder the audacity it must have taken to even consider building a highway here.
I love visiting the corners, edges and borders of places. On this day, I am biting off a chunk of western Colorado that I’ve never been to before, slowly swerving downstream, alongside the Dolores. I pull into lookout point hundreds of feet above the river.
Just below, attached to the sheer rock face, are the jagged wooden remains of Hanging Flume, an ambitious 1887 mining scheme that channeled water along the canyon face for miles. It was built by crews of men dangling from ropes, and it operated only three years before it was abandoned.
Farther on, the road and river flatten a little and I fully expect to be flung into some flat, treeless plain around the next curve. Instead, the rock features keep getting larger and more impressive as I enter Unaweep Canyon. There, under an enormous, soaring red-rock fin formation, I find Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, another grand, audacious project in the middle of canyon country.
Gateway Canyons Resort is the creation of entrepreneur John Hendricks, founder of the Discovery Channel. It started in 2005 as The Dolores River Inn to accommodate guests visiting his classic car collection in the Auto Museum. Eleven years later, the project has grown into one of the premiere luxury resorts in the state.
Still, the design is subtle. As I pull up, I don’t even recognize the complex of low-built, adobe buildings as a resort; I have to poke around to find the reception area, where I check in and receive a tour. The property, like the surrounding geography, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, let alone knew even existed in Colorado. The rooms are enormous, some with private Jacuzzis and fire pits in private back patios. There are multiple swimming pools and restaurants, a spa, a helipad and the Driven Experiences auto fleet; guests choose from activities that include shooting, rafting, horseback riding, yoga, off-road vehicles and luxury car rentals.
For my part, I spend a relaxing, tranquil weekend on the edge of the state. There is some soaking under the stars, a visit to the stables and shooting range and some fine dining for good measure (dry aged bison rib eye, anyone?).
But when it’s time to go, I’m eager to get back on 141. I’m continuing north on a road I’ve never traveled, and I can’t wait to see what I find.
If you go
Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa is open year-round and offers various seasonal packages, including a $499/night Thanksgiving Celebration deal, and a 4-day all-inclusive “Yoga is My Gym Retreat” with power, flow and guided meditation classes led by NFL yoga coach Gwen Lawrence (Nov. 3–6, $2392; call 312-961-3280 or visit www.myretreatsunlimited.com).