A Winter Love Story
by Deann McBride
Winter might just be the most romantic time of year at Vermejo. From diamond-coated landscapes that sparkle in the sun to the peaceful crunch of wildlife meandering through a snow-frosted forest, nature speaks to each of our senses in a new and quiet way in winter. Time outdoors is balanced with cozy fireplaces begging us to curl up with a warm mug and a great novel or an intimate conversation. Menus filled with delicious healthy comfort foods and indulgent spa treatments complete an idyllic setting for a winter getaway.
Let’s imagine what a long weekend in winter might include at Vermejo…
The beauty begins as soon as we turn off of the freeway and onto Highway 555, headed up Vermejo’s 40-mile-long forested driveway. We stop once along the way to take photos of a massive elk grazing on the side of the road and another time for the view of snow-capped purple mountains, flanked by an evergreen-lined highway.
Casa Grande is stunning. Even the entryway makes me feel like royalty with its intricately patterned floor of Italian marble tiles, tapestry wallpaper, and skillful scrollwork on the walls and ceiling. The luxurious details make me think I might not ever want to leave our room.
We take a moment to savor a perfectly ripened chocolatey strawberry and raise a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate our decision to enjoy a weekend of reconnecting.
It’s a quiet cozy morning in the lodge, there are only a few other guests and staff exchanging pleasantries and enjoying hot breakfast bites by the crackling fireplace before heading out for the day.
First, a wildlife and history tour
With coats, gloves, and hats in hand, we set out on a pleasant drive through fields and forests glistening with frost. Our guide stops the truck. The quiet rumble of hooves in the distance grabs our attention just in time to glimpse the movement of wild horses crashing through the trees and crossing a field as the herd grows larger and louder coming toward us. Snow sprays into the air and the chorus of galloping thunder is muted by the insulating blanket of winter, as the pack notices us and stops.
We snap photos of mares and stallions staring curiously, taking in their majesty against mother nature’s winter fashion show.
A few miles down the road, two mule deer peek at us from a thicket of bushes and we spot a golden eagle soaring overhead as our guide explains that these massive birds of prey along with their cousins, bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and others are abundant in the mountain skies this time of year.
Strapping on snowshoes to help us navigate over drifted snow, we hear the story of Catskill, a turn-of-the-century logging town as we wander through the still-sturdy charcoal kilns of yesteryear and the remains of an old cemetery.
Lunch, a massage, and a nap
After a hearty bowl of potato chowder and a turkey sandwich topped with arugula fresh from the greenhouse, we enjoy a luxurious massage and a nap in our Casa Grande suite. The antique porcelain tub looks inviting and I plan to enjoy a soak with my favorite lavender-scented bath salts later tonight.
An afternoon stroll around the Fitness Trail
Across the lawn from the main lodge, the fitness trail provides the perfect location to spend an hour getting a little exercise and a nature fix without venturing far from headquarters. We bundle up and take a brisk walk on the gentle, rolling trail that meanders over a sturdy bridge and across the gurgling Vermejo River before winding into the trees where we find a series of obstacles made from giant logs and tree trunks. There are balance beams, side hurdles, an oversized pyramid, a jungle gym and rope climbing wall to test our skills, but we decide to try them out when it’s warmer, opting to just hold hands and take in the view.
Back at the lodge as the sun sinks below the horizon, we spend a few minutes watching it from the veranda with a toasty mulled wine in hand.
Casa Grande Dinner
Tonight is our elegant dinner in Casa Grande. The table is beautifully set with linens, candles, and stemware for wine pairings, and the menu is carefully crafted to give us a taste of local specialties that appeal to our palates and preferences. From the amuse-bouche, through the entrée, and dessert, each plate is a sensual delight highlighting the flavors of the land and the season.
After dinner, we are full and sleepy, but not quite ready for the day to end, so we wander out to the campfire to enjoy the mesmerizing crackle of the logs blazing with orange and blue. Overhead, a dark moonless sky shimmers with more stars than I’ve ever seen! If I step out onto the lawn, I can even see the hazy stripe of the milky way dancing across the sky. Rotating ourselves like marshmallows over the fire, we chat about what we might do in the upcoming days of our visit.
Coffee and Yoga
Today we opt for a leisurely morning in Casa Grande, making ourselves coffee in the kitchen and sinking into the velvety blue couches in front of the fireplace in the glamorous great room. Surrounded by antique cherry wood furnishings, Ted Turner’s collection of over 10,000 books, ornately carved towering ceilings and a gorgeous Steinway grand piano, we feel like we’ve stepped back in time. Our yoga class is beginning, so we pad upstairs to the sunroom where our instructor has mats, candles, and gentle music prepared. She leads us through warming, strengthening, and stretching sequences just right to energize us for our busy day.
Although ice fishing isn’t an activity we ever thought of doing, we don’t want to miss the opportunity to try it out. Into the truck once more with to-go breakfast burritos in hand, we roll out the curved driveway. Our guide points out new mountain peaks, lakes, and valleys, that rival yesterday’s views in beauty and grandeur, and we catch a glimpse of a bobcat scampering away into the woods.
Adams Lake seems solid enough. There are patches of different colors, some snow-covered, some solid white and others translucent blue contributing to the beauty of the massive ice sculpture we’ll fish on. Our guide straps cleats onto our boots to grip the ice and I’m surprised I don’t slip when we walk out on the frozen lake. He then takes an “auger” which looks like a giant drill and makes a perfectly round hole in the ice and pitches a small tent over the top of it. The whole thing doesn’t take more than ten minutes.
Although the air is chilly, the sun is warm on my face, and inside the tent the crisp breeze is gone, tempting me to take off my hat and gloves. It would be quite dark inside, but the brightly lit lake illuminates the tent from beneath. I’m dazzled by the alien green glow coming up from the frozen floor beneath the tent. I never would have guessed how beautiful it is. You’ve got to see it to understand. Even more enthralling is the way the lake and its creatures gleam through the hole in the ice. I can see my fishing line spiraling down through the water connecting to the fuzzy white fly below. Then, the shadowy shape of a fish glides by, and then closer! It’s like watching a glow-in-the-dark aquarium through a hole in the ice.
There’s a tug on my line and a jolt of excitement and terror flashes through my body. “I think I’ve got one,” I shout as I jerk up on the mini pole I’m gripping for dear life.
“You do, you do!” My guide is already there, helping me reel and then scooping the fish right out of the icy water with his bare hands. He deftly removes the hook and tries to hand me the squirming fish. I back away and hesitate for a moment and then decide to go for it. I need photo evidence of this!
The fish is slimy and surprisingly strong. He fights his way out of my hands flopping onto the ice once before I get a firm enough grip for my partner to snap a photo. Then we gently release him back into his glowing watery home beneath the ice and watch him swim away.
Weirdly, an overwhelming feeling of pride and warmth and kinship with the fish fills me as I drop my line back in the water and gaze through the hole into the fishes’ home.
Lunch with a View
Savoring a tasty lunch in the wild is a hallmark of a visit to Vermejo. We decide to earn our meal by hiking the new Adams Lake Trail in a wandering loop around the water. There are two striking viewpoints, one that overlooks the Castle Rock Valley below, and another looking out to the peak of Ash Mountain. We stop here for a steaming mug of Tomato Basil Soup along with some charcuterie, cheese, crackers, and crudité.
This afternoon we’ve planned snow tubing for our activity, so we meet up with the activities crew at the tubing hill and take a few runs down the long trail. It’s just steep enough to pick up some speed and catch a little air on the bumps. By the second round, we’re all breathing hard, laughing at ourselves, rolling in the snow and remembering the feeling of freedom child’s play creates.
By day two, a fireside dinner in the lodge truly feels like family supper as we sit down with newfound Vermejo friends nearby and chat with the staff. We enjoy swapping stories about our days’ adventures over a leisurely dinner and roast a tableside s’more before falling into our welcoming bed, exhausted and care-free.
Sadly, we have to head home today, but we have time to squeeze in a morning horseback ride first. Our wrangler has horses chosen to match our skills saddled and waiting, and we spend an hour or so feeling like characters from an old Western riding through a rugged land that tugs at our souls. I find myself wishing I could make this moment last for a lifetime, and realize I’ve fallen in love.