I just got back from one of the most memorable vacations of my life. Not that it was the most extravagant or foreign — it was just SO cool. And even better than that, it was SO private.
Initially I had actually planned not to even write about this place, because although it deserves to blow up and be world renowned, the selfish part of me wants to escape here each winter and not have to book a year in advance or pay an arm and a leg. But, alas, I’ve decided to share with you guys, because I always get such genuinely appreciative feedback when I share my travel experiences and, also, I’d love to know that any of you had the kind of once in a lifetime experience I did because I shared this!
So it all started out as a road trip idea. Brody and I wanted to do some kind of road trip, so I started looking around and figuring out how far we really wanted to drive. We had bought a tent for the back of our truck (which actually turned out to be one of the coolest parts of our trips BTW), and an air mattress that fit over the wheel wells. I thought we’d probably do Jackson Hole, WY or maybe Yosemite.
Although Brody and I have been dating for three Valentine’s Days, this year was the first he didn’t have to work and we actually got to be together, so I thought what better time to finally take our trip!
I came across Dunton Hot Springs at some point in my search and was sold immediately. An small, abandoned mining town tucked away amongst the Colorado mountains, Dunton had been completely restored and the natural hot springs channeled into a bathhouse and outdoor pool. It was a 14 hour drive, so a decent length road trip for us first-timers which left us one night each way to camp out in our little truck tent. We would leave Feb 13, drive 8 hours to Sedona, AZ, find a dispersed camping site (= not in a campground but ok to camp) to sleep, drive the last 6 hours on Valentines Day and arrive at Dunton in time for dinner.
Well, we made it to Sedona around 9 p.m. and grabbed dinner at Vino di Sedona, opting to sit out back by the fire pit. They had live music and great pizza! We didn’t leave there until 11 and it was only THEN that we decided to try to find a campsite. (I told you guys we were first timers!) Long story short, we couldn’t see anything around us as we drove out of Sedona, so we decided to just try a normal campground in Flagstaff. The front desk was closed so we just chose a spot. Because we had driven to Flagstaff at this point, we were at a much higher altitude and it was absolutely freezing! I was determined to camp but Brody wasn’t down anymore, so we checked into the sketchiest little motel off the freeway and slept in our sleeping bag inside a motel room!!!
The next morning I asked Brody if, for my Valentines gift, we could please set the tent up somewhere along our drive, just to see how it all came together (and because it would be an adventure!). It was actually sick, and we were both really happy to learn how simple it was to put together! We set his camera up on our suitcases and got a cute V-Day photo of the two of us using the timer. My Valentines Day was complete!
We drove straight from our “campsite” to Dunton. The last hour of our drive was on icy dirt roads along a river and we had zero cell reception, which was kind of scary. The views around every turn were spectacular though and it was fun checking out all the ranches along the route.
When we arrived at Dunton we were greeted by Eric, who played activity coordinator, tour guide, bartender, waiter, concierge, etc. throughout the weekend and was a great guy! He’s Navajo and had lots to share with us about the history of the Navajo in and around Dunton. He showed us to our log cabin, which was an absolute dream! A buffalo hide rug covered most of the floor, old photos of cowboys from Dunton decorated the walls, a wood stove in the corner was pre-stocked with firewood, and the view out the windows was of massive snow-covered mountains in the distance. The source of the hot springs was directly behind our cabin, which meant that the hottest temperature water to relax in was just steps from our front door. We unpacked and got ready for dinner.
Dunton’s meals are typically served family style, but because it was Valentine’s Day they had arranged private dining for that evening. BTW the entire staff at Dunton knew who each guest was, which is always charming, and they were especially attentive to my shellfish allergy and dietary restrictions (no red meat, no pork). The chef’s menu was paired wine and included a butternut squash soup, beet salad, mushroom risotto for me (lamb for others) and the most decadent strawberry maple cupcakes I’ve ever seen!
I had planned dog sledding the following morning as my gift to Brody, so we were up at 8:30 the next morning to grab some breakfast (possibly one of the omelets I’ve ever had) and head out to the trail with our guide. He allowed us to be very hands on with the dogs (all Alaskan Huskies) and the sledding process. It was a lot more unpredictable/intimidating than I thought. The dogs were so excited to get running they were practically doing backflips while waiting to be hooked up to the sled. Our guide told us that just recently one of his sleds had rolled and that he often found himself catching other guides’ runaway sleds. The good news is that the sled is only moving about 10-12 mph so you’re never going scary fast. He taught us to use the drag to slow the dogs, put weight to either side when we wanted to steer, and use the break to stop. Brody drove most of our ride and he was really good at it! The dogs were amazingly strong and we had the best time (with no mishaps)! We fed the dogs after and gave them love before our adventure was over, but, wow, was it a memorable morning!!
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The rest of our time at Dunton was filled with hot springs soaking, getting to know some very interesting people (a Sonoma Valley winemaker, a drummer, four sisters from the midwest celebrating a 70th birthday, a couple of lawyers from Brooklyn), snowshoeing, a frozen waterfall, and more hot springs. We lit fires in the wood stove throughout the day every day and before bed, drank homemade hot cocoa with roasted marshmallows after mornings in the snow, and watched movies each afternoon in the dance hall snuggled up on a couch with a glass of wine.
After four romantic days, it was time to make the trek back to LA with memories of the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had!