Colorado is so spectacular – especially when you find that hidden gem that escaped one’s attention for so long!
The sleepy little town of Del Norte lies on the western edge of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado – a fertile finger of topography formed by the mighty Rio Grande River. Just a bit over two hours east of Durango, I usually think of Del Norte as where the next Conoco is when you need a break on the drive to Denver. But there certainly is more than meets the eye in this little secret of a town!
A few weeks ago I learned that some of my favorite friends, Randy Layman and Taryn Kapronica would be in Del Norte for the weekend and she would be conducting a Leopold Brothers spirits tasting at the Windsor Hotel. I was encouraged to attend, and as a bonus, I was able to cajole one of the best bartenders in Durango, Bridgett Tesmer of the Ore House, to come along and make it a weekend!
Bridgett and I headed east on Saturday, excited to do some sightseeing once we crossed Wolf Creek Pass. We ended up at Penetiente Canyon Recreation area a quick lap on the mountain bike for me and reading/lounging for Bridgett. The area is generally thought of as a popular rock climbing area, but the trail system is fairly extensive and perfect for a quick spin after the drive. We then hustled into Del Norte to get checked in to the hotel and prep for dinner.
The Windsor Hotel, established in 1874, is one of the oldest hotels in Colorado, and has recently gone through an ownership change and major renovation. Currently owned and operated by Kodi and Regan Whitehead, the place is quite elegant and comfortable (and extremely reasonably priced). I had previously been in the bar, which is exceptionally well stocked (and unexpected in Del Norte), but had never dined there. After a couple rounds of drinks (Lead Bartender Kevin rocks the house!), dinner was served. Chef Regan knocks it out of the park, and Kodi and the staff are knowledgeable, engaging, and a ton of fun! Every dish that hit our table, from the appetizers to the entrees, were well designed, solidly prepared, and elegantly presented with thoughtfulness and class, not to mention how delicious they were. “Satisfied” doesn’t do those meals justice!
Post-dinner, the party migrated to the hotel’s true hidden gem, the back courtyard. Centrally located within the walls of the old hotel and icehouse, the courtyard features a number of planter boxes for the kitchen, ample table space for the people, and antique equipment around that lends a historic feel to a comfortable and private-feeling space – a great spot to put the sun to bed and welcome a night with great friends.
The next morning came quickly and a walk to the river was perfect for clearing the cobwebs from the night before. The Rio Grande at high water is really trucking through town, and the riverwalk and multiple parks near the river are welcome spaces to catch ones breath and contemplate.
Back at the hotel, Taryn had the Leopold Brothers tasting set up and ready to roll. Distilled by hand in Denver, Leopold Brothers whiskies and fruit liqueurs are some of the best there are. After a quick lunch paired with some fantastic blackberry liquor and apple brandy and it was time to hit the road.
No longer just a quick stop, this little town could likely be the Next Big Thing in Colorado sooner than later. You should definitely put it on your list to check out!!
So long for now, Del Norte and the Windsor Hotel – until next time!
Backcountry skiing is pretty new to me. Sure, decades of alpine and cross country skiing as a young adult, snowboarding as a 30-something, but never before on
Part 3 of the San Juan Mountain Guides AIARE Level 1 Avy Pro class
Part 2 of the story recapping a great weekend learning about avalanche awareness, situation analysis, and backcountry skiing!