Are we surprised, when we arrive at the Sorrel River Spa & Ranch in Moab, Utah, that it`s been winning prestigious award after award these past few years? Amazingly the ranch is everything the last twenty minutes have not been; a oasis in the desert, settled and relaxed. The horses corralled by the entrance await their next outing are unaware of the severity of the landscape, the swollen Colorado river sweeps silent by just a few feet from the ranch buildings and the face that greets us as we pull up to the lobby is warm, inviting and unassuming.
Martian Landscape of Moab Canyon
The twenty minute drive from Moab, UT took us entirely by surprise. We`ve been driving for six hours down from the snowy alpine resorts of the Colorado mountains and out onto the vast plains of Utah`s Grand County. These are the canyon lands of the Wild West and when we turn off the highway, just north of Moab city, we plunge into red darkness. The road sweeps the walls of the canyon to our right, rising hundreds of feet above us, over us and around us. To our left this narrow path through the rock is shared by the mighty Colorado river, swollen with the thunderous downpours the Colorado mountains saw just days before.
With nowhere else to go we follow the narrow, winding, hairpin canyon upstream for about twenty kilometers. The deep red scene is unabating. This is what it is to live on Mars.
A green oasis amongst towering monuments
Suddenly, before us, opens our secret oasis. This is Castle Valley; a wide valley of the same deep red, surrounded on all sides by 1,000ft cliffs rising to the plateaus of Utah`s Arches National Park to the North and the snow capped Castle Mountains to the south. On the valley floor stand two huge mesas and stretching down to hug the river; the Sorrel River Ranch, green, lush and full of life.
It`s little wonder that Small Luxury Hotels of the World have chosen this for their only Utah destination. Between the green paddocks of horses running down to the south towards the mesas and the Colorado river to the North of the estate sits our lodge. Inside the lodge is immaculate, spacious and luxurious. A broad, inviting, carved four poster bed, a deep whirlpool bath designed for comfort and designed for two and all the modern culinary conveniences that combine the luxury you`d expect from one of SLH`s English county manors with a Western, outdoors approach to self-catering self-sufficiency.
Fine Dining in a Storm
We`ve arrived late and as the sun ebbs from the valley a storm is rising on the plateaus above us; hot wind rising and mesas like glowing embers picked out against the soot black clouds. It hasn`t rained here for months. In fact I don`t think it ever rains here, so we`re in for a treat.
Already planning a big day tomorrow we make a bee line for the River Grill Restaurant in the main building. Whether any guests actually use the kitchen in their lodge we doubt. The menu is rural and honest, elegant and enticing; Beef Medallion Bruscetta, seared Scallops on a bed of candied pecans and Cajun Aioli and silky, tender Elk steak. The service is charming, friendly, approachable and impeccable, the wine is crisp and clear, fruity and full of life and the local pale ale an exciting complement to my Elk.
All the while the while we are surrounded on three sides by a wide glass vista protecting us in silence from the torrential storm beyond the now pitch black valley lit up every few minutes by a crack of lightning from the depths. As we leave the restaurant the storm has dissipated, the sky is clear and so full of stars there is an eerie brightness as we stroll past the patient horses on our way to bed.
The next morning all signs of rain have gone and the Martian landscape around the ranch is once again glowing hot and dry. We start our day on the Colorado river and, briefly, in the Colorado river. Sharing a rigid rubber raft with a couple of other families we set off down the river to explore the canyon we had driven through the day before. This is the only real way to see the stunning landscape this mighty river has been carving out of the Utah and Arizona plateaus these past few million years. It`s great fun getting to know the folk we`re sharing our raft with and our guide is lively and full of tall tales. The journey is relaxed and there`s little or no chance of falling in unless you want to but we do pass a couple of rapids and the kids at the front are both shocked and delighted when they`re deluged. Along the way we stop for an impressive picnic lunch and have a chance to take in the scene and discover a little more about the geology that has helped create this landscape before we set of once again downstream.
Riding in the footsteps of John Wayne
In the early evening we ride out into the valley. Guided by a charming Texan rancher we leave the soft green paddocks and follow a dried creek up towards the mesas in the distance. It`s been a long, long time since either of us were mounted on a horse but soon enough the silent isolation is broken by the sound of the three of us cantering up the riverbed. We feel like all those movie stars that have trodden these paths before us.
This is the land of Indiana Jones and City Slickers, Charles Bronson and John Wayne and we were loving every single second of it. Rising from the valley floor between the two greatest monument mountains of the valley we reach a ridge to survey the vast variety of the scene; the valley behind us, with the Ranch nestled against the river cliffs, amongst the paddocks of green, the open expanse to the east, following the Colorado to its confluence with the Delores, itself rising from the Colorado Mountains, visible ahead of us to the south; tall dark and majestic. We`re surrounded on all sides by vast National Park land; Arches National Park to the North and Manri-La Sal National Forest to the South and yet we`re all alone, in this secret place. Nothing disturbs the peace.
Unwind & Relax in the Luxury Spa
After a hard day of rafting, riding, walking and exploring we return to the ranch to relax and what better way to relax than with a Sweedish massage which a couple can enjoy together in the special double suite. The Sorrel River Spa offers a complete range of treatments as late as 7pm so it`s the perfect antidote to your excursions in the wilds during the day.
Utah`s Top Idyll
Sorrel River Ranch and Spa is a remarkable idyll. It`s no wonder it holds awards from Condé Nast Johannsens, Fodors and four diamonds from the AAA. It represents that perfect combination of luxury and attention to detail that SLH are trusted for with a fresh, friendly, outdoor attitude that you come to expect from the western United States. This is truly a destination, this is a place to unwind, explore and relax, this is your base of operations to explore the canyons of the Collorado. This is heaven.
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