Planning for our annual trip started out with a lengthy and diverse conversation on exactly what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. The “where” varied greatly: we had just been to Roatan, Honduras in the spring so a beach vacay was out, and it was winter in South America and New Zealand, which were both bucket list trips for us. As far as the “what”, I, of course, was pushing for an epic adventure, and Molly was more in the mood for some relaxation. After an exhaustive search, we found Gateway Canyons Resort in far western Colorado. It promised 5-star accommodations with the option to explore the nearby palisades, canyons, streams and mountains which sounded like a nice compromise. We booked flights to Grand Junction, CO, a rental Jeep Wrangler, and 3 nights at Gateway leaving us the rest of the week to explore Utah or western Colorado.
We arrived at the resort smoothly and the scenery did not disappoint! The grounds were stunning and set perfectly into the idyllic Gateway Canyon, about 45 minutes southwest of Grand Junction near the Utah border. Unexpectedly, it rained every day, but mostly in the late morning, so we settled into a nice routing of getting up, eating a great breakfast at Entrada (one of the restaurants on property), chilling in the pool until the rain rolled in, and then gearing up for an afternoon adventure followed by a couple local microbrews. We spent the next three days relaxing by the pool, Jeeping, and hiking between showers.
After what I can honestly say were the most relaxing and care-free few days of my life, our checkout day approached and we were not ready to leave yet. Our original plan was to continue west to Moab, Utah, but us being silly midwesterners, we forgot that the desert was in fact, fucking hot during the summer. With the forecast putting temps well in excess of 100 degrees, mountain biking and camping in and around Moab, Canyonlands, and Arches were very quickly becoming unattractive options. This was all too much to contemplate after not caring about anything but fun for the last few days, so we booked another night at the resort and also a guided rock climbing trip since that was still on the to-do list.
To celebrate our extra day, we promptly headed to the pool and imbibed a few too many beers.
We got up early the next morning to hopefully beat the rain and met our guides at the Adventure Center on property to set out on our rock climbing excursion. They were great and had a couple locations scouted out and all the equipment we didn’t already have ready to go for us. The first location we climbed at was a fun sandstone route closer to Grand Junction. Molly and I are both avid gym climbers, but this was our first true outdoor experience. We had a blast and really enjoyed the freedom that outdoor climbing provides.
After putting up a few successful routes (and one not so successful which resulted in a nasty bloody shin for me), we packed up and headed for our next spot. We had told our guides that we wanted a varied experience, so they brought us to a different part of the valley, farther west, and told us that we would be doing some crack climbs. This was a completely new experience, and I found myself in a love-hate relationship with it. The cracks and chimneys seemed to necessitate less finesse, and more core strength and mental toughness. It was difficult, but Molly and I both had a good time learning a new skill.
As expected, the clouds rolled in and cut our day a little short before we could get into any of the bouldering we had planned for the last part of the day. In fact, Molly and I were both pretty pooped so it was a welcomed reward to head back to the resort and soak in the pool one last time.
And there we were again, where to go next? The desert was too hot, Telluride and the San Juans sounded good, but we had just dropped a boat load of cash on four nights at Gateway, plus the forecast was calling for severe t-storms every day there. After sitting in the lodge for a good hour weighing our options, we both arrived at the same conclusion: screw it, lets just go to Conundrum! The hot springs were just a few hours away and a beer and pulled pork sandwich at the Glenwood Canyon Brewpub sounded superb. It was settled, we got in the car, drove northeast, and were soon sitting at the Brewpub enjoying our beers and sandwiches.
The next morning, we got up early and headed to one of our favorite places in the world, Conundrum Hot Springs, just outside of Aspen, CO. The 9 mile hike up wasn’t nearly as bad as it was the year before and we made great time. As always, the springs were visited by all sorts of people from all walks of life and it was fun meeting some new people. Even more so, it was phenomenal to spend two nights under the stars high in the Rockies with a picturesque hot spring a stone’s throw from our tent.
As always, our time in the mountains came to a close too soon and we packed up on our last day and said goodby to one of Colorado’s greatest places and set off back down the valley. This hike, however, was not without excitement as we were caught in a severe thunderstorm complete with lighting, driving rain, high winds, and hail. Luckily, we had made it far enough down into the tree cover of the valley that lighting was not as large of a concern as it would have been higher up. We made it back to the Jeep wet, cold, and miserable, but safe and headed back to Grand Junction for a Marriott hot tub and a flight home the next day.
All in all, this was one of my favorite trips ever, and definitely the most relaxing time I have spent in the mountains. Gateway Canyon Resort is gorgeous, albeit imperfect. The resort caters mostly to corporate events, so when there are no events, the “B team” staff takes over. The upside is that we had the entire resort virtually to ourselves, the downside is that the service and food are not what you would expect for the hefty price per night (although breakfast at Entrada was always great). The Adventure Center seemed to also follow the same lines: our rock climbing guides were great and really made an effort to give us the day we wanted, instead of a generic trip off a brochure. However, there were other “guides” in the Center who were much more biased toward the touristy crowd and tried to steer us on some pretty lame “adventures”. That being said, we certainly would go back under the right circumstances.