O Pioneers!

Hotels Heavy With the Spirit of the Old West

Dunton Hot Springs
Dunton Hot Springs — Dunton, Colorado

Ghost towns and campgrounds. Homesteads and hot springs. Silver Screen legends and Gold Rush settlements. These hotels have American Old West vibes and frontier spirit.

By Mark Fedeli
Marketing and Editorial Director, Tablet Hotels

Many years ago, driving through West Texas along the Rio Grande, just outside Big Bend National Park, I came across Contrabando, a ghost town and abandoned movie set used for a number of Hollywood Westerns. This was the middle of nowhere, basically. I’d seen maybe one other car in the previous hour; now I was at the place where they shot one of my favorite films, John Sayles’ anti-Western Lone Star. I was pretty ecstatic. This is exactly the kind of thing you want to stumble upon out in the desert.

The half-dozen or so buildings at Contrabando seemed tiny. I had to duck through the doorways, and I am not a tall man. It was as if the town had been built to 70% scale. And probably it was. It certainly didn’t appear that way on screen; a slight reduction in size is no obstacle for movie magic.

These days, Contrabando isn’t the same. All the buildings, weakened by flooding, had to be destroyed. All but one. The original adobe casita — the only structure at the site not made for make believe — is still standing. The Old West is the ultimate myth, filled with adventure and romanticized beyond reality. Contrabando is an apt metaphor: a thrilling journey, not quite what it seems, gone now anyway.

For all the fabrications and folk tales, the Wild West is still worth revisiting without blinders on. Lone Star does it, subverting the myths and taking on the legacy of violence, racism, and exploitation. But with our westward expansion there was also exploration, ambition, and independence. Celebrate those last three at the hotels below, while never forgetting how the west was really won.
 

The Resort at Paws Up

Greenough, Montana

The Resort at Paws Up

Deep in the heart of the American West, the Resort at Paws Up is for the traveler who wants a wilderness escape to include all the comforts of civilization. The lodgings here come with full kitchens, laundry, and in most cases a fireplace or a wood-burning stove. The design may be rustic, but the comforts are modern.

National Exchange Hotel

Nevada City, California

National Exchange Hotel

The Gold Rush town of Nevada City, California has settled into a second life as an outdoor-friendly bohemian enclave in the foothills of the Sierras; no surprise, then, that the town’s 1856-vintage Victorian lodging, the National Exchange Hotel, has found new purpose as a stylish and modern (if retro-styled) boutique hotel.

Zion’s Tiny Oasis

Virgin, Utah

Zion’s Tiny Oasis

The Zion in question is southwestern Utah’s spectacular Zion National Park. Zion’s Tiny Oasis lies just outside of the park proper, and while the oasis itself is tiny, so is each of its four units: they’re freestanding “tiny houses,” ranging in size from the 289-square-foot Guardian Angel to the 488-square foot King Solomon. The original homesteaders never had comforts like these.

Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

Inn of the Anasazi — named for the ancient civilization that built the region’s distinctive cliff dwellings — offers an unusually authentic and culturally sensitive New Mexican experience. The interiors are antique in style, and the work of New Mexican and Native American artists and craftspeople is featured prominently throughout.

Dunton Hot Springs

Dunton, Colorado

Dunton Hot Springs

Here, in remote southwestern Colorado, halfway between the ski town of Telluride and the Anasazi ruins of Mesa Verde, is an authentic ghost town, an abandoned century-old gold prospectors’ camp, renovated shack by shack and rehabilitated into Dunton Hot Springs, a truly unique luxury hotel.

The Holbrooke Hotel

Grass Valley, California

The Holbrooke Hotel

The California Gold Rush town of Grass Valley, in the Sierra foothills, is something of a waystation for travelers between San Francisco and the Sierra mountains. But the Holbrooke Hotel makes a compelling case as a destination unto itself. It’s the region’s longest-operating hotel, but it’s not stuck in the past.

Pioneertown Motel

Pioneertown, California

Pioneertown Motel

Pioneertown was born when Hollywood Western stars got sick of traveling long distances to find Old West atmosphere, and established their own Westworld in the desert near Joshua Tree. Thanks to festivals like Coachella, the town, today, is for real. And in the Pioneertown Motel, it’s got its very own boutique hotel.

The Armstrong Hotel

Fort Collins, Colorado

The Armstrong Hotel

By the standards of Old Town Fort Collins, a classic Old West town, the 1923-vintage Armstrong Hotel is a relative newcomer. In advance of its 100th birthday it’s been thoroughly updated to modern boutique-hotel standards, with swanky, stylish rooms and a pair of highly regarded dining and drinking venues.

Alpine Falls Ranch

Superior, Montana

Alpine Falls Ranch

The mountainous western edge of Montana doesn’t quite call for edgy urban-inspired modern design. But there’s more than one way to make an extraordinary hotel. Alpine Falls Ranch takes a classic mountain-lodge aesthetic and simply executes it with commitment, with verve, and with a rare tastefulness.

El Cosmico

Marfa, Texas

El Cosmico

El Cosmico leaves the traditional hotel world behind, trading in rooms and suites for trailers, yurts, tents and tepees, a sort of post-hippie hospitality commune on the outskirts of Marfa, itself something of an oasis of creativity in the vast expanse of West Texas. And for a nominal fee, you can even pitch a tent on site.

Sundance Resort

Sundance, Utah

Sundance Resort

Yes, Robert Redford’s Sundance. His is hardly a typical ski resort. It’s part eco-lodge, part artists’ community, which is not just ethically correct but also quite aesthetically satisfying; the lofts and suites are understated, with a certain hand-crafted quality, and the freestanding cottages are immersed in the landscape.

New Sheridan

Telluride, Colorado

New Sheridan

It’s been a while since the New Sheridan was actually new — 1895, to be precise. If you want to see what sets Telluride apart from the Rockies’ bigger, busier resort towns, there’s nowhere better to start than a hotel with a generous helping of historic charm, right smack in the middle of this picturesque little downtown.

Hotel Jerome

Aspen, Colorado

Hotel Jerome

It was arguably the Hotel Jerome that kick-started Aspen’s upward ride from rough-and-tumble Old West outpost to upscale ski resort. During the silver boom of the late 1800s, Macy’s co-owner Jerome Wheeler began investing in the town’s properties — starting with what would become its most luxurious hotel.

Amangani

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Amangani

Amangani’s location is extraordinary: carved into the hillside at Gros Ventre Butte, overlooking the meadowed valley of Jackson Hole with a view of Teton Pass and the Snake River Range in the distance. It’s an imposing structure, hewn from rough Oklahoma sandstone with accents of glass and Pacific redwood — a sort of Eastern minimalist take on a rustic Western theme.

mark

Mark Fedeli is the hotel marketing and editorial director for Tablet and Michelin Guide. He’s been with Tablet since 2006, and he thinks you should subscribe to our newsletter.