The pandemic threw all of our travel plans in turmoil last year. As people started coming out of their COVID-hibernation, many wondered if it was safe to travel again. I set off on a journey to find places my clients could go where social distancing a given, where we could still enjoy without fear of catching the virus, and where we would feel like we still had an epic vacation.
Vermejo is an extraordinary place consisting of hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine wilderness, stunning wildlife, and billions of stars visible to the naked eye. Ted Turner Reserves’ Vermejo in Northern New Mexico is a destination locked in time, often described as being like a national park but without the crowds.
Vermejo has been a sanctuary of ecotourism since billionaire Ted Turner purchased the property from Pennzoil in 1996. A short time later, Mr. Turner began an ambitious conservation program that involved removing the ranch’s cattle and restoring the Bison and Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout from the verge of extinction. Their mission is to manage the ecosystem, and the hospitality and natural gas exploration sides of the business help fund their conservation efforts.
Fly into Denver, Albuquerque, or Amarillo, and make the 4-1/2 hour drive to the ranch. The scenery is so beautiful that the time seems to go by quickly! Pro tip: on your drive there, be on the lookout between mile marker 19-20 for a gorgeous view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Vermejo is the perfect jumping-off point for a high-end, slower-paced Western vacation with adventurous family and friends.
Upon arrival, you’ll drive through the gate, and a waving staff member greets you. What a warm welcome! There are several buildings on the property from which to choose. We stayed in Turner House, a recently renovated stately home built at the turn of the last century by Chicago grain magnate William H. Bartlett. The newly restored Casa Grande is the perfect option for guests wanting a bit of nostalgia, and the multi-bedroom stone cottages, ideal for families or couples traveling together!
Approximately 24 miles from Headquarters is a remote fishing lodge called Costilla. At 10,000 feet elevation, it sits near the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. Costilla Lodge can accommodate a party of up to 16 comfortably. You don’t have to buyout Costilla to enjoy this remote location. Still, if you do, a staff of 5 will take care of your party, customizing menus and activities to your preferences. For example, guests can enjoy horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking to the Seven Lakes area, and a luxury picnic. It’s the perfect accommodation for multi-generational families – travel in your bubble!
The main Lodge (called Headquarters), which houses the reception desk, a gift shop, bar, and dining areas, is where culinary magic happens (all meals are included). Executive Chef Giovanni Lanzante curated our menus with delicious game choices, including elk, venison, wild boar, bison, and antelope. One of my favorite appetizers was the smoky warm trout salsa served with blue corn tortillas – magnificent! The menu changed nightly, although a few fan favorites remained a daily choice. Will, our bartender who hails from Nashville, surprised us with his fancy cocktails, including a smoking old fashioned. Don’t miss the Castle Rock Sundowner (it was too windy for us to do this during our stay, but it will be a must next time).
There isn’t a wrong time to experience Vermejo as each season has its advantages. Designed for vacation experiences year-round, Vermejo offers a wide range of seasonal events and immersive experiences for you to explore the wonders of nature. The best time for a bear sighting is the last week of September because hunting is paused during Sights and Sounds of Autumn week, the aspens start to turn color (so the scenery is breathtaking), and the weather is perfect! The best fishing is said to be in May/June, and the elk shed their antlers in the early spring, so if you go on a hike then, you’re likely to find some treasure.
Vermejo offers unlimited natural photographic subjects. During the fall, there’s an Elk and Aspens photo tour. Expert photographers guide visitors to the best locations for capturing wildlife images during the elk rut (a time when male elk woo female elk). During our stay, I hired a photographer to take us stargazing. With minimal light pollution, Vermejo is the perfect place to witness an explosion of stars as far as the eye can see. Our guide, Kevin, took us to the shore of a lake in hopes of getting a reflection of stars on the water. He even showed us photography techniques that would enhance our photos, including shining a flashlight onto a tree, then taking the picture with a 20-second exposure. You can see the Milky Way with the naked eye out there, but with the right camera equipment and post-production skills, the result is truly incredible!
After a relaxing night’s sleep, we woke up early for a hearty breakfast in the main lodge. They sent us on our way with a full water bottle and delicious coffee-to-go in Vermejo’s signature reusable containers (a gift to us to use during our stay and take home). From there, we loaded up into the truck and set off to see wildlife in their natural habitat. Our guide knew just where to take us for a breathtaking mountain view, and we lucked out when we came across a herd of about 300 elk on a ridge stampeding across the dirt road in front of us, bugling their hearts out! Later, we bumped into a herd of bison lying in the road and spotted Bald eagles, mule deer, coyotes, deer, Merriam’s turkeys, and pronghorn antelope along the way.
Our guide, Dana, matched each of us to a horse suited for our riding abilities and guided our small group across streams and through the pines. At Vermejo, you can ride trails around Headquarters, or if you feel adventurous, enjoy an extended ride up in the mountains, and have lunch at one of the high lakes.
If you’re looking for a reason to head out to Vermejo, here are a few ideas:
• Engagements and elopement
• Intimate weddings
• Corporate retreats (companies can buy out Casa Grande with around 12-14 comfortably)
• Holidays (how about a Great Gatsby themed New Years?)
• Romantic Valentine’s Day candlelight wine pairing dinner in the atrium
But you don’t need a reason to “Experience a rejuvenating digital detox, nature re-tox,” just get there! As they say at Vermejo, “your journey starts here.” You MUST add Vermejo to your bucket list and let Premiere Luxury Travel plan a positively memorable adventure!
Our bespoke itineraries are uniquely designed to completely immerse you in your destination, with delightfully unexpected surprises along the way.
We have a special passion for all things culinary—and we would love to introduce you to your destination’s distinct (and delicious!) food and wine traditions through one-of-a-kind culinary experiences. The best part? You won’t have to do a thing except relax, recharge, and create memories that last a lifetime!
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