We are lucky to have made friends from all over the United States, as well as out of country! We often have guests who travel far and wide to come visit us. Frances, long time guest and good friend comes to us with family from the United Kingdom. She has been gracious enough to share some of her various adventures to get to us, in hopes that it'll help you plan your travels to stay with us! We hope you enjoy her and her writing as much as we do.
If you’ve gotten as far as making travel plans to the ranch, then you’ve made an excellent choice! I am currently anticipating my 10th trip to the ranch in September, but other guests have been going for 25 years. The repeat business is testament to the amazing experience that is a stay at RTR.
I travel from the UK, so the first part of this blog is about getting to the US. However, the second part is about travelling there from the different international airports closest to the ranch, and may interest those guests travelling from within the US too.
London to the ranch
The “quiet-away-from-it-all" location of the ranch makes for amazing unspoilt scenery, but to get to unspoilt places isn’t always easy. However, it will be well worth it when you arrive. We have travelled from London to Denver, Albuquerque and Phoenix over the years. We make the journey to the ranch part of the experience and generally add on a few days before and after to explore some of the glorious west. But if you’re in a hurry, you can go straight there. The most direct and easiest route from the UK is to fly from Heathrow to Denver direct with BA, or you can go from Gatwick to Denver now with Norwegian Air, although I haven’t tried that myself. Last July I took an indirect route to take advantage of very cheap Virgin/Delta tickets. We changed in New York on the way there and Detroit on the way back. It makes for a longer journey, but the tickets were half the price. It pays to shop around.
Once you get to Denver, it is very easy now to get to the Mile-High City, as there is a fast, efficient train service, which is the very much the cheapest and easiest way to get there from the airport. The 23 mile journey takes 37 minutes and costs $10.50. [Denver Airport Transportation]
The UK flights arrive in the early evening, so I would advise staying overnight and driving to the ranch the following day. If you do this, you can hire a car from the city centre. Alternatively, you can hire a car at the airport and drive to your hotel, but car parking at the hotel is likely to set you back $30 and cost you another day’s car hire into the bargain.
Driving to the ranch from Denver (270 miles 4 ½ - 5 hours)
You can really enjoy the journey to the ranch, as there are different ways to go, depending on whether speed or scenery is your priority. The following two routes come from another long-term guest and Colorado resident, Deen Buttorff.
Route I: US 285 West from Denver through the Foothills over Kenosha Pass and down into the South Park Valley. The first town you come to is Fairplay, and would be a good place for lunch in one of their cafes or diners. Definitely plan on visiting South Park City (and, yes, that TV cartoon show got its name from there!), a restored outdoor museum featuring the town as it was 100+ years ago, complete with all of the stores, shops, et al. .... great slice of Americana from the 1800's. Continue South on US 285 through Buena Vista, Salida, Alamosa and Antonito before heading West on Highway 17 to RTR. Buena Vista and Salida are both lovely little towns on the Arkansas River, and provide great lunch stops too. With a stop for lunch and South Park City, I would allow the majority of the day, but a good 7+ hours.
Route II: I-25 South from Denver through Colorado Springs, Pueblo and then Walsenburg, taking the first exit towards Highway 160. That's a 2-3 lane Interstate all of the way, driving right along the base of the Foothills. The scenery is magnificent in and of its own right, passing Pikes Peak and the Garden Of The Gods to the West of Colorado Springs, and then relishing your first view of the Spanish Peaks when you come over the Colorado City rise just South of Pueblo. There are a variety of restaurants when you first get off the highway in Walsenburg, but nothing to write home about .... think very fast food, but a good bathroom break. You will pick up Highway 160 in downtown Walsenburg and start heading West before climbing over La Veta Pass and winding down into the San Luis Valley at Fort Garland on the West side of the Pass. There are several restaurants and gas stations there, a much better choice for lunch. There is also a restored frontier fort, worth touring. Instead of proceeding West on 160 to Alamosa, take Highway 159 South from Fort Garland (the road that the fort is on!) to the town of San Luis (the oldest town in Colorado), then head out West on Highway 142 towards Manassa and Romeo to Highway 285. The drive across the San Luis Valley floor is astounding, with Mount Blanca and her sisters to the North, the Sangre De Christo's behind, and San Antonio Mountain to the South .... absolutely magnificent, AND you avoid all of the Alamosa-bound traffic both on HWY 160 and 285. Manassa is the home of famous American boxer Jack Dempsey, who is featured in a museum there. When you hit US 285, turn South (Left) and you're just 7 miles short of Antonito. This route is about 5 hours with a stop for lunch .... add a little more for other stops.
Getting the bus from Denver to the ranch
I’ve now done this twice and survived! The bus goes from Denver Union Station to Salida where you change for Alamosa. On arrival at Alamosa, you can be picked up by the ranch. Its then about an hour in the car. If you don’t want to hire a car this makes a very cost-effective option and you’ll meet some very interesting characters along the way! You will have to be up very early for the return trip though as the bus leaves Alamosa at 6 am.........
Driving to the ranch from Albuquerque (200 miles 3 1/2 hours)
The shortest route is from Albuquerque. The downside is that you can’t fly direct to Albuquerque from the UK. When we did this route, we changed at Chicago. From Albuquerque you can hire a car and drive to Santa Fe for the night. The journey is about an hour. Santa Fe is a beautiful old town with wonderful historic sites.
When we did this, we were lucky enough to be there when there was an opera on at the spectacular open-air theatre. [Santa Fe Opera House]
We ordered a picnic for the interval and had an amazing evening! [Santa Fe Opera Tailgate Menu]
Heading off the next day the drive is only about 2 ½ hours, so you have plenty of time to enjoy the drive and scenery and stop off en route. We took a detour one year to Bandelier National Monument, about an hour northwest. Here you can climb ladders attached to the rocks to explore the dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people who occupied the site between 1150 and 1550 AD. [Bandelier National Monument]
On another visit using this route we stopped off at Ojo Caliente to soak and relax. [Ojo Caliente Hot Springs & Spa]
Besides the lovely hot springs, they also have a mud pool where you cover yourself in mud and then lie in the sun until it goes hard. Your skin feels amazing when you wash if off afterwards. If you stay over, they have options where you can stay in an adobe with your own private outdoor bath to fill with the mineral rich water and soak.
From the hot springs, you can continue north to Chama and the glorious scenery of the Cumbres and La Manga Passes. Look out for the narrow gauge steam train which can often be glimpsed from the road. You can take a ride on it, too. [Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad]
Driving to the ranch from Phoenix (550 miles 8-10 hrs)
BA and American offer direct flights to Phoenix, Arizona. From there you can visit the Grand Canyon – only 3 hours or so away. [Grand Canyon National Park]
We stayed in a cabin right on the rim, which was spectacular and meant we could see the canyon in the evening light and at sunrise. You do need to book accommodation nearly a year in advance though if you want to stay in the park itself. More accommodation is available in Flagstaff, but it is special to be in the park and gives you the benefit of being there when the day trippers have left!
From The Grand Canyon we drove another three hours to Monument Valley. This is the scene of all those John Ford westerns and there are iconic vistas every way you look. [Monument Valley]
This might not be the quickest route to the ranch, but it is spectacular. We continued on through Durango and Pagosa Springs, but I wish we’d visited Mesa Verde National Park. That’s still on my bucket list. Pagosa Springs is a great place to stay and soak in the mineral rich water.
However you get to the ranch, enjoy the journey. And enjoy the ranch even more. It will be so tranquil after all that travelling!