Going to Gateway

Red Rock Grandeur

Red Rock Grandeur

“Now why did you say you wanted to come here again?”  I asked my friend, Paula, as we stopped in this middle-of-nowhere place called Paradox, squinting beneath the beating sun in search of a gas station, a store or some other significant sign of life.  My head pounded fiercely by now and both our car and I were positively parched.  

“I wanted to take some pictures of Paradox Valley, you know for that contest I told you about, the one to raise awareness about possible uranium mining in the area,” Paula replied as she drove across verdant plains framed by cliffs the color of buff, sandstone and ochre.  This contrasting display of nature must be the paradox, I blithely thought to myself as my head throbbed and we rolled through this shadow of a town, Paula clicking her camera like a sniper in a passing S.U.V.

We realized by now that there was no easy way to cleave our way through these rocky walls to Gateway, our ultimate destination, normally just a two-hour plus drive northwest of Telluride.  Our detour to Paradox had proved scenic enough, but now we needed to speed up our travels.  We had no choice than to turn around and drive back to Bedrock, the little speck we passed through on our way to Paradox Valley.  

Gas Sign at Bedrock

Gas Sign at Bedrock

We both felt greatly relieved as we pulled up to the Bedrock General Store—the only apparent business in the whole area—and spotted their sixties’ era gas pump out front.  Paula took charge of gassing up while I trotted off to the outhouse, a remarkably clean wooden shack with nothing more than a finely carved barn wood seat set on a board over a whole in the ground.  Still it boasted more charm than today’s porta-potties.  Dim lighting, creaky wood floors and display cases and a rather scant selection of necessities—from tampons to real beef jerky—cultivated my already burgeoning feelings of being locked in time once inside this old-fashioned grocery store.  I payed for my refreshments and stood on the front porch and gulped my Aquafina.  The desolate, high desert-like landscape that stretched before me made it feel as though it had been days since we left the cool alpine greenness of the mountains.  It was fun to feel so far away in such little time.

“The lady inside said to take the River Road,” Paula informed me as I popped the pull tab on my can of Coke.  “It’s a dirt road but still supposedly shorter in the long run than driving all the way back to Nucla.  Plus I guess it’s quite picturesque.”

Red Rock and River

Red Rock and River from Above

We turned onto the River Road not far after the Bedrock bridge.  The full splendor of the panoramic views of the valley and its accompanying bands of rock could be appreciated  out to our left as we headed toward the canyon.  Paula clicked away, stopping periodically to capture the full breadth of the valley from just the right angle.  There wasn’t a soul out here but us and an occasional grouping of free range cattle that appeared to enjoy munching on the aromatic grasses of the valley.  Finally we joined the river’s edge at a bend where rushing water had carved its path through steep canyon walls over thousands of years.  We crept along, heads craned upward to admire the magnificent rocks in an array of hues from ruddy brown to salmon to copper, many of which were punctuated by black streaks, indelible inky markings known as desert varnish.  The river careened by boulders as big as cars; occasional outcroppings of trees furnished striking contrasts producing a fresh, visual respite amid this mighty display of red rock.  Paula clicked away feverishly, slowing to a stop every fifty yards to capture yet one more postcard view on her digital camera.  

Lots of Really Big Rocks!

Lots of Really Big Rocks!

I knew we had fifteen miles to travel on this dirt road and then another good distance to go to Gateway where I yearned to find myself poolside at a resort that I had been wanting to experience for quite some time, most especially since the past twenty-four hours.   I realized I was on one of the most spectacular drives of my life, but I couldn’t help being a bit irritated by all the stopping.  By now it felt like ninety degrees in the car (we weren’t the type to drive around with the windows closed and the A.C. blasting—at least not in this setting) and there was no letting up from my headache.  

“O.K., we’re out of the valley now,” I sputtered, in an attempt to indicate to Paula that the shots she was currently snapping would certainly not qualify for the Paradox Valley photo contest.  Good sport that she is, she got the message and sped off down the road kicking up a billow of dust that would hopefully signal to any oncoming cars that they weren’t alone on the road.  

We pulled into Gateway Canyons road-weary yet excited about being in such a lovely place amidst such awe-inspiring scenery.  Built in the adobe style, the resort exuded all the warmth and enchantment of the Southwest.  And here, too, it felt a good twenty degrees warmer than in Telluride.  We settled into our room and quickly changed for the pool.  The setting sun was slowly turning the sky pink by the time we made it to the hot tub:  Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  It felt terrific to soak and take in this glorious show, especially the play of light that beamed brightly upon the palisade, the iconic rock tower of Gateway.  It felt like we were in the middle of a western movie set.  No wonder John Hendricks, founder of Gateway Canyons and the Discovery Channel, fell in love with this site many years ago.

Gateway Canyons Backdropped by the Palisade

Gateway Canyons Backdropped by the Palisade

Margaritas followed, drawn straight from the tap of the Paradox Grille, extra delicious cocktails that struck the perfect balance between Tequila, lime and Triple Sec.  We raved over our meals of crab cakes (Paula) and fish tacos (me) as my headache slipped gradually away.

I awoke to the electronic bell-like sound of Paula’s laptop turning on.  I rolled over and pulled the pillow over my head.  It occurred to me in that instant that the only people I had traveled with most of my life (that includes sharing a room with) were my mother and lovers (including one husband!).  Girlfriends were great for day trips and such but I hadn’t tried them out much on overnights.

“Well I guess I’m too late for the contest,” Paula cried out.  “It says here that it ended early August.  I thought it was early October and that I’d get my pictures in just in time.  There are some nice shots here though.  Do you want to see the winners?”

I stumbled out of bed and hovered over her computer long enough to see an instant replay of all the natural beauty we had marveled at just yesterday.  “Well at least we were able to see some pretty impressive scenery that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen,” I said.

“That’s right!”  Paula replied with all the positivity that I had always admired so much in her.  We were indeed a fine match in the happy outlook department.

The Hollywood Gallery at the Gateway Auto Museum

The Hollywood Gallery at the Gateway Auto Museum

Our day was spent exploring the resort, hiking around the outlying area and then visiting the Gateway Auto Museum, a dazzling collection of all-American, roving works of art, assembled by Mr. Hendricks.  Paula was later whisked off (via a golf cart) to the Medicine Wheel Spa for a massage while I lolled at the pool, an oasis shaped like the curvilinear rims of the nearby canyons.  It was the end of September, but here it felt like summer.  We carted remnants of our adventures back to our room:  a small branch of marigold-colored leaves that Paula had found, a few sprigs of sage that I had gathered, a wreath of sage and other redolent high desert plants that Paula had crafted for me, my interminable stack of brochures and other assorted reading material that I always picked up throughout my travels.   

Kiva Pool Area at Gateway

Kiva Pool Area at Gateway

We eased into an even deeper state of relaxation poolside with beer and wine, the perfect accompaniment to our chitchat that ranged from lengthy evocations about the color taupe (a dreary choice for your walls, according to Paula) to lots of sharing about family and friends.  Aside from politics (which we carefully averted), Paula and I related to all in very compatible ways.  She proved to be quite the extraordinary travel companion.  As a travel writer, I also greatly appreciated her observant eye that prompted her to comment on all that was wonderful about a place as well as that which was lacking.  (Here, for example, we both noticed the need for a mirror in the bedroom, bath and shower amenities that could easily flow out of their little plastic containers and a better selection of music piped in at the pool.)

After another fine meal at the Grille, the evening ended as it had begun, stretched out on chaise lounges alongside the pool, talking and laughing like two long lost friends.  This time though we stared up at the stars and wondered from which planet we had descended.

Our second night at Gateway Canyons proved as restful as our first.  Paula and I both marveled at the quiet of the room and the comfort of the beds.  “Plus it’s the combination of the sun and all the soaking in the water,” I added.  

The next day was Tuesday which meant that both of us had to do a bit of work.  Fortunately it was early, yet we felt rushed since we wanted to attend the ceremonial opening of the Medicine Wheel Spa that takes place daily at 9:15 a.m.  Being a writer, I work mostly in silence.  As a real estate agent, Paula seems to conduct much of her business on the phone.  We were both on deadlines and locked into our own work modes rather intensely.  

“Paula-aaa,” I whispered loudly as I gestured to her to keep her voice down on the phone.  Two minutes later I indicated to her that perhaps she could take her call in the bathroom.  

“Oh sure, sure,” she nodded and gently closed the door behind her.  No sooner was I settled back into my place on the bed with my laptop did I hear this bellowing sound emanating from within the bathroom.  The tiled and very grand interior of our salle de bain made it seem as though Paula was broadcasting her real estate dealings over a P.A. system.  By now I was feeling like a royal pain in the butt, but I had to knock on the door and indicate to Paula that the bathroom phone booth setup had made the situation worse.

Somehow we managed to get out the door in time, work doings well underway, with just a few minutes to spare to make our way toward the Medicine Wheel Spa ceremony.  Four teepees set amongst the cottonwoods in the shadow of the towering palisade anchor the medicine wheel that has been carefully installed here.  Part labyrinth, part zen garden, this sacred, healing space draws inspiration from the Native Americans in its design and purpose.  I walked slowly behind Paula over stones upon which life’s most intrinsic qualities were written :   faith, love, integrity, peace and many more inspirational words passed beneath our feet as we padded along.  Susan, the spa director and the person largely responsible for this carefully planned creation, led a small group of us around until we gathered about an immense crystal at the center; here we were each “smudged” with sage.  In less than ten minutes, I felt a keen sense of self awareness and centeredness, a clearing out of sorts that made me feel better prepared for the day.

The Iconic Palisade

The Iconic Palisade

As we walked over to the Paradox Grille for huevos rancheros, I thought how most men would think that that ceremony was a bunch of hocus pocus, unless they allowed themselves to surrender to such a ritual.  I was glad that I had walked the stones with Paula.  In the past two days, we were surrounded by couples, lovers nuzzling at the pool or walking hand in hand along the beautifully maintained pathways.  I didn’t envy any of them since I was sharing my own special moments with my dear friend.

We asked for a late checkout and milked our pool lounging and soaking a little while longer.  There was one last thing to try at the Grille before leaving:  shrimp po’ boys in honor of the chef that hails from New Orleans.  We savored every crunchy bite of fried crustaceans with big sips from our especially lemony Arnold Palmer iced teas.  Truly it felt as though we had stayed at Gateway Canyons a week.

Great amphitheaters of rock opened up before us as we drove away from Gateway.  Oh, to be a geologist, I thought.  The colors ebbed from brick red to burnt sienna to our much-talked-about taupe.  With each transition toward the more muted tones, the vegetation grew in importance.  And since this was fall, clumps of sunburst yellow leaves punctuated the cottonwoods amidst their still primarily green displays of foliage.

Paula passed the driver’s wheel to me so that she could take a little nap, a true sign of friendship and trust, particularly since I’m always less than boastful about my driving abilities.  I thought about our stay at Gateway Canyons which already seemed too far back in the rearview mirror.  Next time I’d like to go to see the Discovery Theater, set to open there in less than a year, I thought.  Maybe they’ll even be conducting tours up at the uranium mine on John Brown Road, the dirt road that leads to Moab, UtahThey’re mining there already and I heard that uranium tours might become one of the resort’s latest amenities.  I’ll have to tell Paula about this—I bet she’d love to come along.

Gateway Canyons, 866-671-4733 or 970-931-2458, www.gatewaycanyons.com

Discovery Channel, www.discovery.com

Most of the first bunch of photos featured above were winners from the Saving Paradox photo contest.  You can view more and learn about this organization’s efforts at www.savingparadox.org.

You can also view great photos of the Unaweep Canyon and Delores and San Miguel Rivers by John Meyer at www.pbase.com/johnme23/unaweep.

Book Pick

“The Performing Art of the American Automobile,” by Jonathan A. Stein and Michael Furman.  This book is available at the Gateway Auto Museum gift shop; you can also call them to place an order.

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