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How Colorado’s ghost town transformed into luxury resort

Nadja Beschetnikova
April 4, 2018

In 1885, the town of Dunton was established near the Emma, Smuggler and American mines in a valley between what is now Telluride and Dolores. Dunton was chosen by miners because of its special geology. The place is famous for its natural hot springs, which is a good indication of minerals in the ground.

Soon it was a thriving little community settled by miners digging for gold and silver, and by 1906 could boast a population of 600.
But the boom didn’t last long and by 1918, Dunton was a deserted ghost town. And the fate of abandoned cities around the world is similar and quite predictable. The slowly vanish into oblivion attracting only extreme tourists.

But Dunton was lucky to be reborn twice. The town was purchased by the Roscio family, who ran it as a cattle ranch. It was even a dude ranch for tourists in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Unfortunately, by the 1990’s, Dunton became a ghost town again.

Then, in 1994, Christoph Henkel, the German-born, London-based investor bought the property and restored the old buildings into upscale cabins.  

German businessman found the remote town by chance. On a skiing trip, he had an accident and was told by his doctor not to go up the slopes of Telluride - so instead he went exploring.

Set at an altitude of almost 2,600 metres, Dunton Hot Springs immediately pierced to Henkel’s heart. He described it as a revelation.  
Henkel saw the romance of the Wild West and Colorado’s potential as a travel destination in this forgotten, paradise-like valley.

“I could not bear to see this place ruined or to lose its essence”, he explains.

Henkel decided to preserve the cabins as vacation rentals creating a resort that exuded luxury but also aimed to preserve Dunton's history. Each cabin is unique and named.

"The cabins are all named after the miners who built them, characters who lived in them, or the purpose for which they were used," says Christina Rossi, director of marketing at Dunton Hot Springs.

There are 13 original cabins (the majority of the buildings were moved from their original locations to create a compact community), equipped with such modern facilities as underfloor heating or rain-forest showers, and steeped in history. Original artifacts and Wild West antiques remain in place, even if the luxurious beds are now dressed in linens considerably finer than those used by the miners. In the town’s original saloon you can see many names and dates carved into the bar, including Butch Cassidy’s name.

“The signature is said to be original,” according to Dunton Hot Springs General Manager Michael Moody. The story goes that Cassidy rode into Dunton after a bank robbery in Telluride. So you can  have a drink at the bar where Butch Cassidy once did. 

Offering a variety of day and overnight packages, visitors can choose to rent a lodge, or the entire town if they so wish. Prices start at $630 (€510) per night for a double occupancy and include all meals, while the entire town that sleeps 44 people can be rented for a staggering $24,000 (€19,445). The list of guests, who already stayed in this homey and friendly yet absolutely five star, includes Forbes 400 listers, rock musicians and Hollywood celebrities. 

Meals are served at a common table so everyone gets to know each other. Executive Chef Basil Yu creates menus based on local seasonal ingredients, sometimes surprising his guests with unique vegetables or foraged mushrooms. 

While some cabins have a tub fed by its own hot spring, in other houses you can take a dive into the unique heritage, like in the oldest cabin at Dunton Hot Springs, named Bjoerkmans cabin after a Scandinavian miner, who built it.

For the SPA lovers, there’s a bathhouse with the indoor and outdoor pools, and sauna. Water from the spring feeds the pools, while you can also freshen up in a cold plunge pool or relax in a hammock. The natural hot springs water is about 105 degrees and thick with healthy minerals.

The library cabin features two stories of shelves filled with books, so even in case of bad weather, you will not tire. Near the library, there’s a romantic open-air chapel. Dunton Hot Springs hosts multiple weddings each year.

Dunton’s original store still sits in its original location and offers fresh farm produce, seasonal dishes and wine from their vineyard, Sutcliffe Vineyards.  

Inside the rustic buildings are extravagant furnishings, plush beds, and all the amenities expected in the most deluxe of hotels. The cabins boast gas-burning (wood) stoves and small cozy terraces overlooking waterfalls, or mountains, or some other picturesque surroundings. Outside, Mother Nature provides impressive looks throughout the year.

Experiences at Dunton Hot Springs include horseback riding through the wilderness, helicopter skiing, mountain biking, snowshoeing, hiking, camping, fly fishing, river rafting and kayaking. The dedicated spa offers a range of massages, treatments and therapies, as well as yoga and pilates. Next to the river, the yoga platform has incredible mountain views.

Henkel, who owns a controlling interest in Düsseldorf's Henkel KGaA, still thinks of Dunton as a home. Despite the fact that he can afford the best hotels in the world, Dunton remains his favorite resting point.
The resort closes its doors to paying guests a couple of times a year so that the family can come here with friends.