Exploring SW Colorado
August in Colorado = a perfect vacation for a foodie and her fly fisherman husband.
Our vacation was decided when we were introduced to a place where guided peach orchards meet guided fly-fishing trips. Three nights at the lodge of Black Canyon Anglers (near Delta, CO) and three nights in Ouray (a town known as “The Switzerland of America”) would make for an amazing trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary!
Where there are orchards, there are wineries. Where there are wineries, there you’ll find me. After leaving I70 at Glenwood Springs (and a side trip to pay our respects to Doc Holiday’s grave), we headed southwest for about an hour and a half, taking in the landscape of mountains and rivers. At the town of Paonia, we got into the heart of orchard country and stopped for a little wine-tasting at three wineries: Stone Cottage, Azura, and Black Bridge (I know that sounds like a lot but they were so close together, I couldn’t choose!).
Stone Cottage Cellars
Azura Cellars & Gallery
Black Bridge Winery
The views from Stone Cottage and Azura are breathtaking, and although the two are just around the bend from each other, they have completely different vibes. Stone Cottage is simple and rustic, charming and quaint. We sat down with two other couples who arrived shortly after us and small talk came easily.
Azura gave me the feeling of being in Italy. Of course, I’ve never actually been to Italy (Foodventurous 2017?), but for whatever reason, this is how I imagine it. The modern art mixed with the russian sage, the tiled roof, and the hummingbirds bombarding each other to get to the perfect flower drew me in. At the end of our tasting, our server asked “Would you like to try our Chocolate Merlot Sauce?” Oh boy! Dessert!
Black Bridge is best described as a “country market”: welcoming, peaceful, and relaxed. A river runs along the edge of this orchard/winery/market and the grass along it is dotted with picnic tables and Adirondack chairs just begging you to grab some food and come sit down. As we walked to the market, we were greeted by the owners asking us if we wanted to try a fresh peach sundae. Oh boy! Dessert! AGAIN! On Sundays, they have free ice cream with fresh peaches, a drizzle of their own Ripe Peach White Balsamic Vinegar and their Merlot Chocolate Sauce. Amazing!
I love consumable souvenirs. Two bottles of red, a bottle of chocolate Merlot sauce, a bottle of ripe peach white balsamic vinegar and a glass from the first two wineries. I’ll get to those peaches soon.
ORCHARDS, TROUT, ORGANIC GARDENS & HOPS
From Paonia, we only had to drive about 30 minutes to get to Black Canyon Anglers, a fly-fishing guide service and lodge. As I mentioned earlier, this is where trout and peaches meet. Not only is this an amazing fly-fishing lodge, it is also an organic farm and orchard.
On our first full day at the lodge, we took a guided fly-fishing, white-water rafting trip down 14 miles of the Gunnison River. A 45-minute, half-paved, half off-road drive followed by a 45-minute hike down into the gorge followed by about 7 hours of rafting and fishing (yes, at the same time), produced some incredible catches (the “small” one is mine), incredible scenery and one incredibly tired me.
Throughout the rest of our stay, we had plenty of opportunities to wade and fish the rivers around the property and plot our “the one that got away” stories.
Carin, the organic farm produce manager, gave us a tour of the gardens, greenhouse and orchard. We watched as she checked plants for insects or disease and listened as she talked about new heirloom varieties they were trying and tasted the produce as we walked. Call it an appetizer for what we were going to experience at the evening meals in the lodge.
The dining area of the lodge overlooks a large portion of the property that runs along the river. If you’re not admiring the view you can admire the hand-painted collage of the property that spans one interior wall. And, if that’s not enough beauty for you, just wait until the food starts arriving!
In the morning, a continental breakfast is waiting, complete with whatever is fresh from the farm. For us, it was peaches and nectarines, as well as fresh hard-boiled eggs.
In the evenings, a four-course meal is prepared by Bill, the lodge chef. He takes the time not only to serve us, but to explain what we are having, how it was prepared and where the ingredients were raised/produced. A few of my favorites were:
- braised lamb – tender but with those crispy edges
- fresh salad greens topped with edible flowers – a new experience for me
- flourless chocolate cake – a bowl of fudgy goodness
What did I take away from these meals? Besides a full and happy tummy? Next year, I will plant nasturtium (the yellow edible flower that added beauty and spice to the salad) and I will spend more time investigating new varieties of vegetables to plant in my garden. Oh, and that I will need a bigger garden!
As if organic gardens, a greenhouse, chickens, sheep and several thousand fruit trees weren’t enough to manage, we also got to witness the harvest of the farm’s hops fields. The vines climb about 20 feet from the ground to a suspended wire up thick ropes. The ropes are first cut at the ground and then cut near the top of the wire and loaded still wound around the rope. The mile and a half walk to watch this process was worth every step … except the one when I almost stepped on a snake.
After our 3 days at the lodge, we packed up and headed a little farther south to our next destination: Ouray.
On our drive to Ouray, we stopped for lunch at The True Grit Cafe in Ridgway. This John Wayne classic was filmed in this town and surrounding area. We took in the view from the patio over the entrance while taking in some shrimp tacos and peach sangria! I’m not a big fan of old westerns but when you live near the hometown of John Wayne, it’s only right to pay tribute. My husband tried to convince the waitress that people who live within 30 miles of The Duke’s birthplace get a 10% discount. She didn’t think he was as funny as I do!
When we reached Ouray, a small town nestled in a valley of the San Juan mountains, the lure (get it? that’s a fishing joke) of the waterfalls, hot springs and mountain air welcomed us. We stayed at Box Canyon Lodge which backs to the mountains and has its own set of hot spring fed hot tubs. As the name suggests, it is also conveniently close to Box Canyon Falls … a fantastic place to do a little hiking, experience the thundering falls and take in a spectacular view of the town below. A few blocks down main street and a brief hike away is stunning Cascade Falls. Box Canyon is impressive for its complexity and noise, Cascade Falls is stunning in its simplicity and the ability to sit and view the flow of the water from the top of the cliff to the stream below.
Now, back to the food.
Probably our favorite spot to eat in Ouray was The Timberline Deli and we never got past breakfast to try any of their other food! A beautiful patio area, stuffed french toast, peanut butter donuts, and “the best breakfast sandwich” my husband has ever had (and he took the time to tell them so).
And then we ran into ol’ John Wayne again. The Outlaw restaurant and “legendary home of John Wayne’s hat” provided three reasons why it should be mentioned here:
- San Juan Mountain Trout sautéed with lemon-butter and white wine
- A very talented piano player
- Mud Pie
In case you are wondering, we did share and finish that massive piece of pie. Don’t judge us … we’re celebrating!
This remote area of Colorado provided the two of us the quiet, relaxing getaway we wanted. As a final souvenir from our trip, we were able to hand-pick a box of peaches so we could enjoy the flavors of Colorado while dealing with our post-vacation recovery.
I think it’s obvious (in shear word count alone) that we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of our trip. Reliving it here has been so much fun for me. As I was writing, I realized that this was a true Picnic Life Foodie vacation. After all, it was filled with simple (fresh) food, good company (my favorite travel companion/husband and the wonderful people who served, entertained, and guided us), and a comfortable place (I gotta get me one of these)!