There are certain places—show-stopping hotels, Award-winning restaurants, local dive bars, or incomparable vintage shops—that are worth planning your whole trip around. Vermejo Ranch and Reserve in Raton, New Mexico, is one of those places.
For more than a century, people have traveled from hundreds or thousands of miles to be hosted at the exceptional ranch on this giant slice of wilderness in northern New Mexico—Vermejo.
Beginning in 1908, guests stayed in a 30-room hunting lodge flanked by two opulent sandstone mansions of a hospitable Chicago businessman. In the roaring 20s, American presidents, the elite of the business world, and the beau monde of Hollywood were members of Vermejo as a private club. In the 70s and 80s, the American oil company Pennzoil owned the property, hosting executive hunting retreats and letting the opulence slip into hibernation.
Everything changed with the arrival of American media mogul Ted Turner and his then-wife Jane Fonda. In 1996, the couple purchased Vermejo, and Turner began to convert its nearly 600,000 acres of cattle ranch and fracking fields to an unfenced, wildlife-rich wonderland. Accessible only by car, the ranch is just under five hours from the Denver and Albuquerque airports, and just under four hours from Colorado Springs. The nearest town is about 45 minutes away.
Today, Vermejo is a luxury destination for safaris, adventure, and feasts of cumin-crème fraîche corn tamales, bacon-wrapped elk tenderloin, and fine wines in the rustic central lodge. But it is also an ecological reserve with a host of active conservation programs, including the rehabilitation of at-risk native trout and ferret species, and the repopulation of free-range elk and bison.
The conservation work at Vermejo is currently reliant on both guest stays and on funding from the larger Ted Turner enterprise, but in the future, Vermejo will transfer into a conservation trust, and it will be up to the ranch and reserve’s hospitality program to keep these efforts alive. Every overnight stay helps ensure the land will never be broken up or sold, and that it is protected in perpetuity—ecotourism that isn’t just about having a small footprint, but making a lasting impact.
Why it’s worth the trip:
Vermejo is like a personalized, luxury National Park experience. Three and a half million guests visit Zion National Park every year, while at Vermejo—three times the size of Zion—guests number just a few thousand. The landmark architecture and period decor of the guest houses are sights to behold, and the noteworthy culinary program, helmed by the former executive chef of Denver’s beloved Little Nell, is fueled by local ingredients.
You’ll like it here if:
You love the great outdoors, and after a long, full day of adventure, you’re pleased to return to a world-class wine list and a hot shower in a pristine, white-tile finished bathroom the size of an entire Brooklyn apartment.
Double occupancy room rates start at $1150/night in the off-season, which covers three meals per day and two daily activities. Choose from horseback riding, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, skeet shooting, sporting clays, five-stand, and archery. In the winter, activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing join the mix.
For generations, Vermejo has been a hunting and fishing lodge, and that legacy is kept alive by the sportsmen and sportswomen who come to aid on-site ecologists and conservationists in culling the bison and elk herds to a healthy and sustainable scale, or to cast a fly on one of the property’s 19 fishable lakes. There are also those guests who don’t care to shoot a gun or play catch-and-release—luxury nature travelers who come for the fresh air and stunning vistas. Mingle with all of them over a cocktail by the fireside.
What to bring:
All your Pendleton, your reusable water bottle of choice, your hiking boots and, if you plan to ride, your cowboy boots too. It’s a desert climate (warm and sunny during the day; chilly at night) so layers are a must.
Visitors in early spring will find it is the season when elk shed their antlers. For guests with a sharp enough eye to spot one amidst the tall grasses and snowmelt, it’s finders keepers.
While you’re in the area:
Ghost towns! Check out the forgotten charcoal kilns in Catskill and meet the wild horses roaming the now-abandoned mining town of Koehler. Speaking of ghosts, don’t miss lunch at the exceptionally haunted, Wild Western saloon at the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. But first things first: Go get outfitted at Solano’s Boot & Western Wear in Raton.