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  • Vicki Scheck

Vermejo: A Little (Big) Bit of Paradise

Turner House, where our room was located


We’ve just returned from a paradise that goes by the name of Vermejo, and I’m still on a Rocky Mountain high!


Available to a maximum of only 88 guests at a time, Vermejo is a 550,000-acre, Ted Turner Reserve that’s located in northern New Mexico. To put its acreage into perspective, that's more than two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. 


This was the perfect way to chill after arrival (or any other time).



Most of the accommodations are at an altitude of 7,500’ (the only effect was occasional, minor shortness of breath) but the property’s top peak sits at 12,931 feet. Consequently, though it’s mid-May, our views often included snow-capped mountains.



One of the stops on our site inspection was Casa Grande, where Ted and Jane previously lived. Guests who book rooms in this residence are able to enjoy public areas that are reminiscent of a smaller-scale Hearst Castle.


 

Vermejo is so much more than beautiful antiques and architecture, though. What makes it so special are the experiences it offers. Probably my very favorite was the Conservation Tour. This was the one that most reminded me of a safari game drive in Africa. It was like a treasure hunt to spot animals.



As the vehicle got close, this brown bear started to climb the tree but then stopped. He stood there so long for us that the guides joked that they’d paid their friend Joe to pose in a bear costume.



We learned such interesting things:

·      Europe has buffalo; the US has bison. There are no true buffaloes native to the U.S.

·      Cattle hoofs are fine on the grasses of Texas, which have deeper roots, but they destroy the grass in some other areas; whereas the bison’s hoofs actually pick up and plant seeds as they walk!

·      Elk shed their antlers every year (shed hunting is available in March and April), and these 500-pound animals can scale a mountain with ease.

 

Another thing we learned is that even half-a-million acres for 88 guests is not enough to prevent all traffic jams!



Ted Turner’s efforts helped to bring the American Bison back from the verge of extinction, and we saw the results in the form of three brand new bison babies in the wild. They were so cute, walking on their wobbly legs to get nourishment from their respective mamas.

 

 

And speaking of mamas, there was evidence that one of them had just dropped her calf. (“Drop” is the word they use. You know it couldn’t have been a woman who coined that term for “giving birth,” right?) But the new mama was already out there with the herd, eating a well-deserved meal of prairie grass.


On one of the tours we saw these beehive ovens, the Catskill Kilns. When settlers came west, they first hoped for gold, then silver, then timber. In Vermejo, the prize was timber. When trees were felled for lumber, the leftover, smaller parts were put in these ovens—“Think of it like a pizza oven,” we were told—where they would bake for days. This is how they turned more than 3,000 logs a day into charcoal. Very cool structures, architecturally speaking, and they survived floods that wiped out an early 1900s community.



Some things are simply necessary, and dotted around points of interest are the cleanest, most “pleasant” outhouses you’ll ever find. This one, near the Catskill Kilns, was an outhouse with a (very private) view!



Vermejo is a fisherman's paradise, with choices that include fishing in lakes or streams, fly fishing, and (in winter) ice fishing. For the latter, it's done from a weatherproof enclosure, with nearby campfire and hot cocoa or adult beverages at the ready. In the high country, you can catch Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, which were almost extinct prior to Vermejo’s restoration project.


With our very helpful guide, PJ, we tried our hand at fly fishing on this peaceful lake with beautiful views.


 

Look how calm and reflective the water is.



However, a sudden gale-force, 50 mph wind came up out of nowhere! Wind is not what you want for fly fishing, but this was short-lived, and it made for a much more “exciting” adventure!



Of course, it is also exciting when a fish is caught. This is a brown trout, and the catch was not only exciting for me (my first catch ever) but also for PJ. As it happens, brown trout are very rare in this area, and are apparently quite elusive even in the best of times, so word of the catch soon spread around the lodge.



Turns out my fish was not only beautiful, but delicious at dinner that night!



Other catches from our group became appetizers of trout fritters (deep fried in a blue-corn batter) and trout salsa, which was amazing!

 

That afternoon, an hour or two were spent in shotgun practice from a wobble deck. I've enjoyed target practice with pistols, rifles, and bows in the past, but this was my first time with a shotgun, and the first time with a moving target. The staff was so great to help every step of the way (including providing shoulder pads to help absorb the "kick") but let’s just say I could use some more practice with moving targets! However, Al shot a clay pigeon on his second try!



There are plenty of firepits and benches around the property from which to enjoy gazing up at the starry sky before bedtime. On some clear nights, they dim the lights in the lodge and have stargazing on the front lawn. Even without that, there were more stars than this SoCal transplant had seen in years.



As for other activities, Vermejo has 29 pages of them here. I found myself wishing that every child in the country could spend a week here. There are things they would learn and experience that they would never get from 12 years of sitting in a classroom. And, unfortunately, I've only been able to scratch the surface of what we learned and experienced.


So much more could be said about Vermejo! The thing no blog can accurately convey is how special the staff is. Before being hired, applicants are brought in for a three-day stay to see how well they fit in. The result is palpable. Staff converses with guests as any good host would do. And it should not go without saying that Vermejo's purpose is not to be a moneymaker for it's owner; rather, all proceeds go into conservation. Their motto is: "Save Everything."


Our sincere thanks to Vermejo's management team for their kind, no-strings-attached invitation to host us for three unforgettable days at this amazing property!



 


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Robert Teague
Robert Teague
May 21

I very much enjoyed hearing about your stay. This seems like such a neat place. I'll have to keep it in mind. Thanks for sharing!!

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