Smith Fork Ranch offers dudes and dandies alike a luxurious experience in a secluded setting
Story and photos by DAVE BUCHANAN
CRAWFORD — If you’ve never lost your secret desire to be a cowboy, but prefer the coffee fresh and the pillows soft, the Smith Fork Ranch might be for you.
Located on a historic homestead in a verdant valley carved by the Smith Fork of the Gunnison River, the Smith Fork Ranch is a guest ranch with the emphasis on guest.
The dust hasn’t even settled after your arrival and there’s a smiling face and a friendly hello, setting the mood for your stay of a weekend or a week.
This is a true three-season resort — spring and summer mornings begin with a burst of bird song and a pot of fresh coffee just outside the door — while fall evenings are highlighted by an impromptu concert from lovelorn bull elk serenading every cow elk within earshot.
And with special offers of weekend getaways through the end of the month combined with weekly Friday and Saturday night dinner specials, this is your opportunity to celebrate the change of seasons.
Homesteaded in the 1890s, the place was a working ranch into the 1930s, when the remote location began attracting a growing clientele of people from around the country seeking a retreat from everyday life.
Within a few years, the ranch had earned a reputation as a comfortable-but-rustic guest ranch.
As it sometimes happens, after a series of ownership changes the ranch fell into disrepair and by the time Marley and Linda Hodgson set eyes on the ranch, it was obvious it needed someone with vision, energy and a wad of cash.
Bravely, the Hodgsons purchased the ranch in 2000 and today the ranch reflects the energy, vision and dedication of two people who fell in love with a way of life.
Marley, who first built Ghurka into a luxury leather goods company and later helped turn Tommy Hilfiger into a household name, had the vision, the energy and the resources to realize the ranch’s potential.
Soon after purchasing the ranch, the Hodgsons attacked their “retirement” project with the same enthusiasm and business smarts that brought the two entrepreneurs success in the fashion world.
“I’m not one to retire and do nothing,” said Marley, in a typical understatement. “I really enjoyed the challenge of making this ranch into a place where families can come to relax in comfort.”
The changes they’ve wrought might be called the Miracle of Needle Rock, after the landmark rock formation towering over the ranch.
And like most miracles, this one took a combination of hard work and the patience of saints to see the plan to fruition.
“It was exhausting at times but we knew what we wanted and we kept working toward that,” said Linda. “We took every cabin apart log by log and then rebuilt each one after modernizing it.”
The four private cabins received new chinking, roofs, insulation, wiring, windows — you name it. The cabins look original, and that’s all part of the artistry that went into the refurbishing.
There also is a two-story, five-room log guest house, originally built in the 1940s. The Hodgsons restored the lodge, furnishing it with antiques, Western art and Indian rugs.
The lodge features two river-rock fireplaces and a wrap-around porch, with four private and unique guest rooms, each with a private bath.
The lodge also offers the privacy of the first-floor West Elk Suite.
Local labor was used in the extensive renovation, which retained the spirit and rustic comfort of the original ranch but added such modern amenities as slate-tile bathrooms, down comforters and Internet access.
Marley, his seemingly ever-present grin lighting the room, said the goal was “to make everyone feel like a personal guest at our family ranch.”
And quite the family it is. From General Manager Cameron Davenport to the wrangler leading you out on a morning ride, everyone greets you by name and with a smile.
OK, so it’s not like my family; it’s better.
The ranch has been featured in top vacation and getaway magazines and, in 2004, the ranch made the London Daily Telegraph’s New Year’s 2004 list of “The Best 100 Places in the World.”
Only one other U.S. resort made that exclusive list.
You could spend your whole vacation enjoying the view and the fresh air from your cabin porch. You could, but there’s so much else to do.
Anglers can spend days exploring the three miles of the Smith Fork that rumbles through the ranch or any of the five beaver ponds or two well-stocked mini-lakes.
There are well-trained horses and friendly wranglers ready to take you on a tour of enough horseback trails to satisfy the Seventh Cavalry, and they’ll get you back in time for a little refreshment before chef Brian Stefan sets out one of his sumptuous multicourse dinners, built largely around local products.
“I really believe in buying local and eating local,” said Stefan earlier this summer. “When it comes to food, quality trumps everything. There’s nothing like fresh produce and meats to make a meal memorable.”
One trip not on the ranch’s extensive list of everyday activities but one worth the venture is a journey into the well-stocked wine cellar.
“We carry about 500 bottles of wine, so I’ll probably be able to find something you’ll enjoy,” said the Hodgsons’ son, Marley Jr., pulling down and examining a few of the many bottles.
Fine horses, fine wines, fine views and meals that make you wish every hour was dinner hour.
At the Smith Fork Ranch, even cowgirls can’t get the blues.