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Review: Devil’s Thumb Ranch 11 February 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Reviews, Travel.
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Let’s about hotels for a minute or two—nice hotels—and Devil’s Thumb Ranch in particular. It wasn’t until recently (within the last year or so that), that I realized lodging wasn’t just about what was cheap and close to the highway or whatever/whomever you were visiting. Back when I was six or eight, we spent a couple nights at Tan-Tar-a, a Missouri resort, in the dead of winter. It was cheap in the off-season, I guess. My dad got food poisoning from some tacos. Then, when I was about the same age, we took a long spring weekend at the Greenbriar, where even little boys needed to wear dinner jackets and the activities guide listed “falconry”. These constituted my two stays in a “destination hotel.”

The Red Roof Inn was more our style.

Places like Devil’s Thumb Ranch just outside Tabernash, were not. Too bad, because you really can’t ask for much more than “5,000 acres of raw Colorado,” though admittedly, it’s a tagline that needs a little work. Devil’s Thumb is the sort of place you go if you think most outdoor adventures ought to begin and end within easy walking distance of a large, well-stocked bar. If that’s your style, then you’ll also appreciate the bajillion-square-foot spa, the miles of cross-country skiing trails, the stables and the general lack of cell-phone service. Don’t expect to check e-mail. These are the things Devil’s Thumb offers.

The decor is “raw” and “Coloradan” in as much as any four-star resort hotel can be either of those things. Wood abounds. Dark stains impart a closeness in an otherwise enormous building, and a central stone fireplace soars three stories. Cowboy hats hang from every vertical surface, but thankfully, no one has yet thought to include a bear carved out of a stump. For everyone’s sake, I hope it remains so.

Checking into your room, you may or may not find a TV, a fireplace, a bathtub or a chair that fits a normal-sized adult. This is also raw, in the sense that you, like the pioneers who first explored these parts, will never know quite what to expect from your environs. You can, however, count on a bedside document detailing just how “green” Devil’s Thumb has made your visit. I don’t remember the exact language of the card but it goes something like, “At Devil’s Thumb, the way we figger it, bein’ green ain’t just for kicks; it makes plain good sense.” So they cut a hole out of the center of your soap to prove that point. And they picked up a civil-war era barn from Virginia and trucked it out to Colorado so they wouldn’t have to build a new one. Your guess is as good as mine.

The effect of all this is as you’d expect: rustic and relaxing. Absent the go-go mentality of a ski resort, Devil’s Thumb offers something more along the lines of bucolic bliss. You can feed the horses if you want. You can snow snowshoe. And at even given time, you’ll rarely see more than a few other people. It’s that kind of place, set sometimes literally in the shadow of the Indian Peaks, where no matter what you’re doing, you feel you’ve arrived, and that you’re no longer obligated to do anything else. It’s about being there to be there—not about spending the night and moving on. I sense it”s this quality that makes the place something of a wedding factory through the year. Well, that and the two bars.

If you want to go elsewhere, though, Winter Park is a completely reasonable drive, and the town of Fraser offers a little more dining selection. But I imagine, though, that if you’ve picked Devil’s Thumb, you’re not about to leave until your stay is over. Why would you want to?

The Deets:

Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Location: Tabernash, CO

Cost: You’ll spend at least $300/night on a room in the lodge. There’s a “bunkhouse” down the road which sounds a lot like a hostel and goes for about $100 + tax.

Activities: Spa, cross country skiing including rentals and lessons, snowshoeing,  horseback riding, hiking, game rooming, marrying, drinking, cigar smoking

Eat and drink: Two restaurants, both pricey. Two bars with a decent selection of wine and beer. Reasonably-priced coffee shop.

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