What do a resort in Colorado, an inn at a gristmill in Virginia, and an eclectic restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C., have in common? They are all owned by West Virginians. Join WV Living editor Nikki Bowman as she ventures beyond our borders in search of unique places with strong ties to the Mountain State.
Gateway Canyons Resort – Gateway Colorado
I first learned about Gateway Canyons Resort eight years ago when I was interviewing Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks about his early upbringing in Matewan, West Virginia—that story can be found in our Spring 2009 issue. He described to me an ambitious project he had been working on, transforming an old gold mining town into an experiential learning resort in remote western Colorado. He said, “You’ll just need to come and experience it yourself. It is a place you’ll never forget.” This past year, I took him up on his offer and headed west.
I flew into Denver in late May with the sun gleaming off the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies. By the time I rented a car and began my trek westward on Interstate 70, which hugs the Colorado River and winds its way through the towns of Vail and Beaver Creek, I’d driven through blinding sunshine followed by a horrid hail storm that transformed into a mind-boggling blizzard. Not being familiar with Colorado’s fickle spring weather, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I reached Gateway, a five-hour drive from Denver. But once I turned south on Scenic Highway 141 from Grand Junction, I knew I was entering an almost mythical land.
The resort was tucked into the most magnificent expanse of canyons, as if it had sprung effortlessly from the red earth. Brightly hued orange spires shot out of the ground like otherworldly sculptures. Massive outcroppings in striated shades of sunset loomed in every direction. The scenery took my breath away, and just when I thought I couldn’t see anything more inspiring, a sandstone rock formation in a dizzying array of shades of rust, crimson, and salmon—which I later learned is called the Palisade—jutted from the red earth like a colossal fiery fin. Three hundred million years of the Earth’s story unfolds in each of the variegated geological layers of this impressive natural monument. And sitting at the foot of the Palisade is Hendricks’ Gateway Canyons Resort, with its Adobe-style architecture blending into the surroundings as if it had always been there.
In 1995 Hendricks began acquiring large ranch tracts in Mesa County, Colorado, and placed 4,000 acres in a permanent conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy in an effort to preserve the vistas and wildlife habitat. He also knew the area needed economic sustainability and built the resort in an effort to revive tourism. Gateway, which opened in 2005, is not your typical getaway. Hendricks wanted to fashion a place where learning and adventure intersected, not dissimilar to his original inspiration for the Discovery Channel. He wanted guests to feel stimulated, to soak up the natural wonders, and to cultivate curiosity.
The resort delivers on its promise. You can stay in one of 72 suites or one of the 14 private casitas, which feature private outdoor patios, fire pits, hot tubs, outdoor showers, and views of the Palisade rock formation. With a state-of-the-art conference center, luxurious spa, adventure center, and several restaurants, it is among the finest resorts in the country, boasting amenities and activities that include one of best car museums in the world, the Gateway Colorado Auto Museum—a destination in its own right.
The car museum houses Hendricks’ private collection and is an automobile afficionado’s Louvre. From a 1906 Cadillac Model H Coupe to a 1929 Packard Runabout to a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, it is a journey through American auto history. The crown jewel of the museum—or, as Hendricks calls it, “the Mona Lisa”—is a gold 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 that Hendricks purchased for $3.2 million. “To a child growing up in the mountains of West Virginia, cars represented adventure and exploration,” Hendricks says in the introduction of The Performing Art of the American Automobile, a book about his collection. “Through the years, our country’s car designers have given full expression to the American spirit of adventure and style. We have wrapped ourselves in their metallic visions of art and power and we have been forever changed as a society. Our changing moods and artistic tastes have been frozen in time and steel. Cars are objects worthy of study.” After spending time in the museum, you’ll never look at your car the same way.
The museum primes you for Gateway’s Driven Experiences, the ultimate candy store for motor enthusiasts. Take your pick of a Porsche 911, a Bentley Continental, a Tesla Roadster, or Corvette ZR1 for a drive through the scenic canyons. Once I saw the Bentley, I had the bug. When I slipped into the driver’s side with its buttery leather seats, the car cocooned around me, and I’ve not been right since. I owned the open road. I’m deliriously giddy just thinking about the experience of zipping through the majestic crimson canyons as they came to life with the roof down.
If driving a sports car isn’t your thing—although, seriously, what’s wrong with you?—Gateway Canyons Resort is home to a different kind of horsepower. You’ll enjoy the guided horseback trail rides over sagebrush at the base of Uncompahgre Plateau at the Palisade Ranch.
For unique views of the towering Palisade, check out the UTV rides or Jeep tours. You can even go off-roading in a Pro-Baja racing truck or rent a mountain bike and make your legs do the work. Afterwards, you’ll want to recover and unwind with a massage at the luxurious spa.
One person you must meet is Zebulon Miracle, the curator of curiosity. Zebulon will take you on one of the most enlightening and engaging hikes of your life. Climbing through the canyons you’ll learn about the history and geology of the area—and even discover dinosaur tracks. Or book your stay to coincide with the resort’s Curiosity Retreats, which brings eminent visionaries, scholars, and trendsetters to discuss topics ranging from the mysteries of the universe to the future of technology.
John Hendricks was right. I had never experienced anything like Gateway, and its towering red sandstone canyons will be etched in my memory as one of the most enlightening and transformational vacation experiences of my life. I will also blame him for my insatiable desire to own a Bentley convertible. gatewaycanyons.com
The Inn at Gristmill Square – Warm Springs, Virginia
Sometimes we just need to get away. We need to escape the superficial noise of our everyday surroundings and travel to a place where life rearranges itself—a locale like Warm Springs, Virginia, where people like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee sought sanctuary more than a century ago. And there’s no better spot to experience the healing powers of Bath County, Virginia, than at The Inn at Gristmill Square, a delightful collection of four 19th-century buildings tucked into this tiny treasure of a town.
Owners Kate and John Loeffler, West Virginia natives, have spent their entire careers in hospitality. They met while working at the former Yellow Brick Bank Restaurant in Shepherdstown, and their career paths took them to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, and then The Greenbrier, where John opened Jerry West’s restaurant Prime 44 and Kate worked in human resources. When the owners of The Inn at Gristmill Square decided to sell in 2011, Kate and John knew this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. “We fell in love with the food and beverage business and with each other through the business. This is something we always wanted to do,” Kate says.
You’ll fall in love with Gristmill Square, too, before you even get out of your car. It is an inspiring adaptive reuse of five historic buildings. Four buildings—the Hardware Store, Blacksmith Shop, Steele House, and Miller’s House—together contain 17 beautifully appointed rooms and suites. The rooms are each unique and charming. The Silo Room is located, you guessed it, in the silo. The Board Room has its walls covered in wood from a Civil War fort. The Spring Suite is Kate’s favorite due to its secret garden and close proximity to a babbling brook. A complimentary continental breakfast is delivered in a basket upon request, and homemade cookies greet you when you check in.
A fifth building, a converted mill, houses Kate and John’s acclaimed Waterwheel Restaurant. It was already a historic spot—a mill has been in continuous operation in this location since 1771—but the restaurant made Warm Springs a culinary destination. With a menu focused on locally-sourced, farm-to-table American cuisine and a unique ambiance, it is a dining experience you won’t want to end, even after the delectable Sour Cream Maple Cake. Make sure you visit the cellar and peruse an impressive collection of more than 200 bottles of wine before making your wine selection. After dinner, wind down the evening at the Simon Kenton Pub and sit in what the Loefflers call “the best four seats in the Commonwealth,” enjoying a hand-crafted cocktail in their charming diminutive bar.
While one could spend the entire trip relaxing at the Inn, enjoying a massage at the Warm Spirit Spa, or shopping at the gift shop or nearby artist galleries and antique stores, there are a few things you must experience. Just a mile from The Inn at Gristmill Square is one of Virginia’s most unusual offerings, the Warm Springs Pools. You can follow in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and “take the waters.” Since there are two bathhouses, one for women and one for men, bathing suits are optional. The Gentleman’s Pool House, built in 1761, is the oldest spa structure in the country, and the Ladies’ Pool House was built in 1836. A few words of warning—the faint smell of sulfur wafts through the air, the dressing rooms are very rustic, and the wooden octagonal buildings are extremely old—so don’t expect to be surrounded by polished marble. But suck it up and go. You don’t get many opportunities like this.
You’ll also want to experience the pristine George Washington National Forest, an area so picturesque it feels as if it were conjured out of a poem. Pack your fishing pole and take the scenic drive to Lake Moomaw, an easy 30 minutes from the Inn. Also nearby, Douthat State Park has been called one of the nation’s 10-best state parks, and features some of Virginia’s most breathtaking vistas. The grand Omni Homestead Resort is located only five miles away in nearby Hot Springs and is most definitely worth the visit. You don’t have to be an overnight guest to partake in the Homestead’s amenities. You can golf, shop, hike, shoot sporting clays, ski, or dine on the resort’s premise. Although, my favorite place to eat in Hot Springs isn’t at The Homestead, it’s in town at Les Cochons D’or, a French restaurant also co-owned by Kate and John along with another couple with West Virginia connections, Krystal and Chef Kyle Krieger. gristmillsquare.com
Ted’s Bulletin – Washington, D.C.
When you find yourself in the Washington, D.C., area, you can still get a taste of home. Three friends from Huntington—Drew Kim and brothers Ty and Mark Neal—have created a culinary empire called Matchbox Food Group. With three restaurant brands in 12 locations in the D.C. area and plans to take their brands nationwide, it isn’t hard to find one tucked into the district’s most popular neighborhoods.
Make plans to eat at Ted’s Bulletin, where the menu includes elevated comfort food like Mingo County Meatloaf or Ted’s Famous Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. The restaurant looks like a modern art deco take on a classic shake joint. It’s named after Ty and Mark’s father, Ted, who, after growing up in southern West Virginia, moved to Huntington and was known for gathering the community around good food. In addition to burgers, sandwiches, and dinner platters, breakfast is served all day. The Walk of Shame Breakfast Burrito, Crab Cake Benedict, and Cinnamon Roll Big As Ya Head are local favorites. Save room for dessert. Ted’s Tarts, colorfully adorned house-made toaster pastries, will grab your eye before you sit down, and the milkshakes are sinfully good. Try an adult milkshake—the Millionaires Malt includes 18-year Glenlivet and, at $19.99, it is dessert and drink all in one. There’s even a “hometown drinks” menu that explains, “As kids, we traveled back to Ted’s boyhood home in southern West Virginia, the place where the names of towns and counties are as interesting as the terrain of the ‘hollers.’ We’ve used these names as inspiration for our cocktails.” Who could resist cocktails with names like The Big Ugly, Lincoln County Line, or Williamson Fig?
Matchbox Food Group started out with its flagship restaurant, Matchbox American Kitchen + Spirit, known for its uptown menu of angus burgers, wood-fired pizzas, and wood-oven mussels. Or if you fly out of Dulles, check out its newest endeavor, DC-3, cool urban hot dog joint that pays homage to delectable dogs from around the country. And of course, you’ll find a West Virginia dog featured prominently on the menu. matchboxfoodgroup.com