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The Undiscovered Southwest

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Dorado uncovers some of the region’s best off-the-radar destinations, artisans and products. Here are 21 underappreciated treasures you must experience
Photo by Ben Blankenburg.
Photo by Ben Blankenburg.
1. Dillon Reservoir

Frisco, Colorado

As a landlocked state, Colorado isn’t exactly known for its remote islands, but that’s what you’ll find at Dillon Reservoir, near Frisco, Colorado. This large mountain lake is home to more than a dozen islands, many accessible only by canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. A Sunday morning brunch picnic on an island surrounded by mountains is totally unique, and you’d be hard-pressed to run into anyone other than an osprey or a bald eagle, as few people ever explore the reservoir’s islands. The Frisco Bay Marina, on the reservoir’s shores, allows visitors to enjoy flat-water activities such as guided boat tours, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, sailing and stand-up paddleboarding, from early June through mid-September. Fly-fishing is available year-round at the marina, and Dillon Reservoir is one of only two locations in the lower 48 states where arctic char can be caught; peak arctic char season in Frisco is September through November.

Photo by John Chorlton.
Photo by John Chorlton.
2. The Crack

Sedona, Arizona

“In Sedona, venture out to the Crack — an amazing swimming hole where you can jump off the red rocks into Beaver Creek. Because it’s 4 miles out, it’s a lot less crowded than our other swimming holes.” —Darlene Wilcox, concierge at Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock

Photo by Joe Thompson.
Photo by Joe Thompson.
3. Brian Head Resort

Brian Head, Utah

With more than 360 inches of snow annually, Brian Head Resort is Utah’s secret haven for skiers and snowboarders. Its 71 laid-back runs start at 9,600 feet — the highest base elevation in the state. Want to stay on the mountain? Score a room at the Grand Lodge for under $200 (even on the weekend!).

Photo by Ryan Heffernan.
Photo by Ryan Heffernan.
4. Madrid, New Mexico

In the late 1800s, wood-framed cabins in Kansas were dismantled and shipped to a narrow valley in New Mexico dubbed “Coal Gulch” to house coal miners and their families. This narrow valley would later become the town site of Madrid. After demand for coal dropped, the almost-ghost town came close to death. But luckily, there were people who loved it enough to make sure it regained its health. It’s now a quaint little town of roughly 400 full-time residents. About an hour’s drive from Albuquerque, a creative community awaits you with more than 40 shops and galleries, several restaurants, a spa and a museum.

Photo by Kelly Cappelli.
Photo by Kelly Cappelli.
5. Fashion by Robert Black

Scottsdale, Arizona

Shoppers can get a peek into the past as they browse co-owners Robert Black and Doreen Picerne’s selection of elegant designer vintage finds. Located in Old Town Scottsdale, the boutique is filled with hand-picked items from around the world. In it, you’ll find items including summer dresses, red carpet couture, special occasion pieces and just the right accessory.

Photo by Kennan Harvey.
Photo by Kennan Harvey.
6. Vestal Basin

Silverton, Colorado

“I love the hike to Vestal Basin, near Silverton. The raging rivers, babbling brooks, and views of the Grenadier sub-range (with Vestal Peak thrusting into the skyline), make it a must-do for any lover of Colorado’s stunning panoramas. After a couple thousand feet of vertical gain and a few miles of trekking, I love to take a solid break at the Beaver Ponds before the final push for Vestal Basin. I encourage you to press on for three more miles, so Vestal Basin can reward you with its pristine meadow and breathtaking views. If you like to linger, consider bringing an overnight pack, and enjoy a few more moments in this untouched solitary wilderness.”—Jordan Martindell, adventure writer

Photo courtesy of The Hermosa Inn.
Photo courtesy of The Hermosa Inn.
7. Travis Nass

Paradise Valley, Arizona

Looking for a taste of Arizona? Self-styled spirit guide Travis Nass has just the cocktail: El Ultimo at the Hermosa Inn’s Last Drop Bar. “It feels like drinking the desert after a monsoon,” Nass says about the heady concoction of sotol por siempre, chareau aloe vera liqueur, green chartreuse and lime juice, served with a cucumber slice. Nass’ menu at the Last Drop Bar features Arizona beers and cocktails that mix the traditional with the imaginative. “It can be a dining and drinking adventure to come and see us — but if you just want a gin and tonic, we’ll make you a great gin and tonic. I’d say it’s a fair balance between the comfortable and the exotic.”

Photo courtesy of Arizona Outback Adventures/ Scottsdale CVB.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Outback Adventures/Scottsdale CVB.
8. Salt River

Central Arizona

Winding 200 miles across central Arizona, the Salt River provides a lush reprieve from the Sonoran Desert, complete with cottonwoods, wild horses, bald eagles and trout aplenty. Its mild climate and gentle waters also make it a great spot for boating, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding nearly year-round. And at just 40 miles northwest of Phoenix, the scenic recreation area is a quick road trip from Arizona’s big city.

Photo by John Gary Brown.
Photo by John Gary Brown.
9. Creede Repertory Theatre

Creede, Colorado

In 1966, the mining industry in tiny Creede, Colorado, was in steep decline, and city leaders needed a new source of income. So what else to do but start a professional theater company? Today, the Creede Repertory Theatre boasts award-winning plays, musical events and concerts to several thousand visitors every year. This year, expect rotating plays ranging from the techno-drama The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence to CRT’s improv-comedy show Boomtown. CRT’s season runs from May to September and produces seven to 10 plays in rotating repertory.

Photo by Heidi Chowen.
Photo by Heidi Chowen.
10. Sideshow Emporium & Gallery

Durango, Colorado

Sideshow Emporium used to be the go-to destination for vintage duds and quirky accessories in Dolores, Colorado, but customer demand relocated this quirky shop to Durango. Owner Heather Narwid carefully curates the selection of doodads, making your hunt less like finding a needle in a haystack and more like a debate on how many treasures you can fit in your bag.

Photo by Wendy McEahern.
Photo by Wendy McEahern.
11. Shiprock Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Jed Foutz draws on five generations of art dealing for his Shiprock Santa Fe, located in the city’s historic Silver building. There, you’ll find Santa Fe’s largest selection of Navajo weavings (including Ed Foutz’s personal textile collection), mixed-media art from nascent Native American artists and legendary pieces from icons like Charles and Ray Eames.

Photo by Cam McLeod.
Photo by Cam McLeod.
12. Chef James Bradford

Ogden, Utah

Local, fresh and homemade are words popping up a lot these days. And at Hearth on 25th, all those descriptions apply. Chef James Bradford and his team make nearly all of the components of their menu in-house, including sourdough bread, jalapeno aioli and squid ink fettucine. What they can’t make, such as produce, they get from area farmers.  “We change our menu seasonally to select what we’re able to get locally and try to keep the dish seasonally appropriate,” Bradford says. While Salt Lake City may be first in tourists’ minds, Bradford says downtown Ogden has a lot to offer. “Ogden is like that hidden gem that they’ve been working on brushing the dust off and really making it shine.”

Jemez Falls

13. Jemez Falls Campground

Jemez, New Mexico

For a solitary experience, plan a spring or fall trip to Jemez Falls. Breathe in the pine-scented air while hiking down the namesake waterfall. In addition, just a short trek from your temporary home, McCauley Hot Springs’ warm pools are the perfect (and somewhat romantic) way to top off a solid day of exploring in the Santa Fe National Forest.

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14. Outlook Lodge

Green Mountain Falls, Colorado

For those looking for charm without the kitsch, the Outlook Lodge provides contemporary amenities within a mod-Victorian package. Located just outside of Colorado Springs, the Outlook Lodge provides a custom and more silent service experience. Guests are invited to explore the many surrounding hiking trails, shop and dine in town, or just relax in the rustic simplicity of the hotel’s atmosphere.

Photo by Chase Crowson.
Photo by Chase Crowson.
15. Snowmass Lake

Aspen, Colorado

“Snowmass Lake is one of the many glacier lakes in the Aspen area. An 8-mile hike in through beautiful aspen trees and a roaring Snowmass Creek will make you wish the trail never ended. The lake will take your breath away with its beauty! Set up camp right beside the lake, make some food and prepare to watch the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen.”—Lane Johnson, founder of Atlas Hands Travel

Photo by Laurie Smith.
Photo by Laurie Smith.
16. 4UR Ranch

Creede, Colorado

The all-inclusive packages at 4UR luxury guest ranch provide horseback riding, fishing, rafting, golfing and relaxing — all in the beautiful surroundings of Colorado’s Mineral County. Think rural and rustic means rough? The grilled Colorado rack of lamb, hot springs and massages will change your mind. And children’s programming means you get to enjoy this Rocky Mountain playground without having to keep track of your little ones.

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17. Little Toro Designs

Tucson, Arizona

Little Toro Designs is about to launch their first line of modern Southwest enamel, brass and copper jewelry, and it couldn’t be more characteristic of the style of the Old Pueblo right now. I own a pair of the arrowhead earrings which never fail to bring me compliments.”—Alexandra Gjurasic, artist

Photo by Alex Fenlon.
Photo by Alex Fenlon.
18. Opus Hut

Ophir, Colorado

Crossing avalanche fields and breaking trail in 4 feet of freshly fallen snow is the price we pay for access to some of the best backcountry skiing in the Southwest. Lucky for us, this fluffy backcountry powder comes with a warm hut, a personal chef and, for a little extra, a professional guide. The Opus Hut, nestled on the top of Ophir Pass between Silverton and Telluride, combines fresh powder with cushy accommodations. Not needing to haul multiple days worth of food and supplies means a little more energy spent daydreaming about skiing the gentle pristine slopes and narrow chutes.

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19. The Blue Aces

Provo, Utah

Austin. Seattle. Los Angeles. Provo? This otherwise sleepy Utah college town has recently become home to a burgeoning music scene, and four teenage girls might just be the town’s next big thing. Cristal Ramirez, Katie Henderson, McKenna Petty and Alisa Ramirez, otherwise known as The Blue Aces, are following in the footsteps of other Provo-based bands like Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees, playing sold-out shows at downtown’s hippest music venue, Velour. Listen now and brag later: You liked them before they were cool.

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20. The Swingin Steak

Mexican Hat, Utah

“In tiny Mexican Hat, Utah, there’s a restaurant where they cook their steaks in a swing over the grill. It’s appropriately named The Swinging Steak. I don’t know what the magic of the swing is, but the steaks are great.”Jake Linzinmeir, chef and restaurateur

Photo by Andrew MaGuire.
Photo by Andrew MaGuire.
21. Nathaniel’s

Mancos, Colorado

Southwestern Colorado is home to the country’s only Native American master hatter: Nate Funmaker. Stop by his shop on Grand Avenue, which showcases his transitional, traditional and Old West hats in both rabbit and beaver fur felt. But perhaps the real treat involves Funmaker’s tools of the trade — 100-year-old hat-making equipment that truly characterizes the historical trade.

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