A Peace of the West

Words by Sarah Cait Sawyer

Photos by Will Campbell

 

I would love to invite you to close your eyes, take a deep, slow inhale, and as you exhale, to let your mind drift away to the incredible place that I’m about to share with you. Now, I realize that open eyes are a necessity for reading this; so all I will really ask is that, wherever you are, you’d pause for a moment to take that long, slow inhale, and truly slow down as we escape to a special place. A place that, should you have the chance to visit, will steal away your heart.

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Truth be told, while a 72-hour trip sounds nothing less than brief, I’m confident I could fill pages upon pages with details of this gem of a destination that would make you see no other option than to slam this magazine closed and find the quickest route to Crawford, Colorado. I’m limited to just a few pages here, but the result may be the same. 

The earth practically glows during every season on the slope of Saddle Mountain in the southwest part of the state. Situated along the Gunnison River, the terrain varies from vibrant green in the spring and summer, to burning yellows and reds in the fall, to piercing white in the winter. The geography is what every visitor notices first when they pull through the gates of Smith Fork Ranch. 

Now, one should be warned that the car ride from Montrose Regional Airport, where security doesn’t open until noon, is beautiful, but a heavy dose of Dramamine is a solid choice for those prone to motion sickness. That being said, the landscape of the ranch almost immediately brushes any unsettledness away. 

The next thing you’ll be swept away by? A couple of the biggest smiles, clothed in Wrangler button-downs and legit cowboy boots, running out to greet you. Honestly, the staff might be more excited to see you than you are to have finally arrived. After spending a few days at Smith Fork Ranch, I know that the reason for their authentic, brimming joy is they are fully aware of what lies ahead for you: adventure, luxury, culinary excellence, and a rejuvenation of spirit. It goes without saying that ‘Southern hospitality’ is top notch (and I agree), but places like this convince me that we’re not the only ones doing the ‘best’ job at making others feel right at home.
 

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I was recently challenged by a nugget of wisdom from a close friend. He shared something along the lines of “Whatever adventure you take, do something that challenges you. Physically, mentally, it doesn’t matter, but pushing limits equals growth.” For someone like me who is always on the go, slowing down is a real challenge. This stillness, in the most gentle and serene way, reminded me of how very small I am and how very big the God I believe in is. When I see the photos I took with Spanky, the horse I had the privilege of being paired up with for a mountain ride, I think about that complete stillness. The panoramic, breathtaking views have a permanent space in my mind. They are a reminder of perspective, and man oh man, the peace was nearly overwhelming. I took that breath of fresh air home with me, along with plenty of selfies with ol’ Spanky. Seriously, I miss that guy. 

Now, the good news is that if horseback riding in what feels like another world doesn’t jive with you (I’m only judging you a little bit), there are more activity options at Smith Fork Ranch than you’d probably ever guess. Hike. Fly fish. Shoot sporting clays. Have a mountainside, open-air massage (yes, really). Garden. Cook. Rest. It’s all there for you. 

While these options are all fantastic, and some certainly require a higher level of energy, I’m going to assume that my unending appetite during my time at the ranch had more to do with the smells. Yes, you read that correctly: The smells! Aside from the crisp mountain air, which you’ll wish you could bottle up and take home for a humid summer day, the scents of delicious, garden-sourced, made-from-scratch food floated through the property with every (and I mean every) passing breeze.

One of the most vivid memories I have was mid-afternoon. I was relaxing in a rocking chair in the pavilion with a good book in hand. I remember there being tons of insects buzzing all around, but oddly enough, they were the furthest thing from nagging. As a woman raised in Georgia and currently residing in Alabama, I found this absolutely bizarre. (I’m telling you, this place is magic!) My attention was stolen from my new buzzing friends as one of those infamous breezes floated through. There it was. The smell of fresh, baking bread filled my senses as I closed my eyes and inhaled more deeply and slowly than I ever have in any yoga session. Thankfully, I knew that we’d soon be gathering for an early evening supper, so I was able to control myself and avoid embarrassing everyone on the property (including the horses) with a ravenous bust into the kitchen. 

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Everything, and I mean everything, that you will taste at the ranch will leave you beyond satisfied.

From the select breakfast choices in the cozy Dinner Bell Cook House to the best burger-and-fries lunch you’ve ever had, to the exquisite, seasonal dinner entrees curated especially with guests in mind, it is all perfection. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth homemade marshmallows that await you beside the campfire after dark. Chef Marcus Parrott and his team know what’s up. 

When Marley and Linda Hodgson took over Smith Fork Ranch in 2002, after making countless memories on guest dude ranches with their own family, they built more than just a luxury resort. They built a haven that cultivates community when you need it most or moments of solitude when life has you in a whirlwind. A place, and a staff, that will meet you right where you are. I hope you’ll take a trip to this treasure of a place in the wonderful state of Colorado. I hope you’ll bring your family or that you’ll travel there alone if that’s what your soul needs. I hope you’ll explore the wine cellar, sleep in a little too late on plush white linens with the windows cracked open, and enjoy a glass of Pendleton Whisky around a campfire with strangers who will become friends. I hope you’ll find a little while to challenge yourself. I hope all of these things, but I know that you will leave better than when you arrived.