15 Ways to Get Romantic at a Colorado Eco-Ranch

Nothing's more romantic than a private cabin in the woods at Devil's Thumb Ranch in the Colorado Rockies.

Just 65 miles west of Denver, Devil’s Thumb Ranch sits on 5,000 acres near the Continental Divide in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The eco-resort offers sustainable, luxury accommodations in its 52-room luxury lodge, 16 ridge-top log cabins and at the budget-friendly Bunk House.

With old-West flair, Devil’s Thumb Ranch employs both cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned conservation to exist lightly on the land. The ranch’s buildings, pool and hot tubs are heated with renewable geothermal energy. Waste water is purified through sand filtration. Some buildings are “recycled” historic structures that have been remodeled for modern use. For instance, the special events center is a reclaimed, 1850s-era barn.

Cozy rooms and cabins feature all-natural interiors.

Wood and stone interiors bring nature indoors at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Pine from beetle-killed trees becomes gorgeous wall paneling and ceiling beams. The floors are recycled spruce.

The décor has a cowboy theme: The lodge, spa, guest rooms, restaurants and cabins feature antique furnishings (including old saddles and cowboy boots). Artwork and metal work are commissioned from local artisans.

Then there are details such as eco-friendly cleaning products, sustainable restaurants, recycling and water-conservation programs, low energy-use lighting, and recycled asphalt for paving.

High-Altitude Romance

When you’re visiting this outdoorsy resort, green programs may be the last things on your mind. Focus instead on saying “I love you” (during winter) in these ways:

  1. Lounge in your luxurious, mountain-style room or woodsy log cabin. Many have private fireplaces, decks and breath-taking views of the Continental Divide.
  2. Snuggle under all-natural down comforters on your ergonomically correct mattress.
  3. Explore more than 65 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on groomed and tracked trails at the Devil’s Thumb Ranch Nordic Center.

    Unwind in the Ranch Creek Spa.

  4. Steal some time together in the 10,000-square-foot Ranch Creek Spa with the Bonnie and Clyde couple’s massage. (Spa products are all natural and nourishing to the skin at high altitudes.)
  5. Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride across the 5,000-acre property to dinner.
  6. Enjoy a gourmet dinner at the Ranch House Restaurant and Saloon, in an original log cabin. The food is organic and local; 85 percent of the restaurant’s meat and game comes from Colorado producers.
  7. Book an intimate private dinner in John L’s Wine Cellar (its entryway is a giant wine barrel constructed of recycled cherry wood). Pop a cork and pop the question!
  8. Stargaze from the outdoor hot tub.

    There are miles of cross-country ski tracks to explore at Devil's Thumb Ranch.

  9. Limber up together with yoga class. The studio has incredible mountain views.
  10. Challenge each other to a game of checkers in the Game Room.
  11. Snowshoe under the full moon along any of the groomed paths. Not there during full moon? About 2.5 miles of pathways are lit, including those between cabins and the dining areas and activity centers.
  12. Cuddle in front of the fireplace (built of stone from mountain rock slides) in your room or private cabin. The chimneys are EPA-certified to emit 60 percent less smoke pollution.
  13. Watch a film in the 37-seat movie theater in the Main Lodge.
  14. Race each other down the sledding hill or twirl on the outdoor ice-skating rink.
  15. Get married. Devil’s Thumb is an incredible winter or summer wedding venue. Your wedding party can enjoy a romantic getaway, complete with horseback riding or sleighing, skiing or hiking, and rejuvenating spa treatments.

    Wedding bells ring at Devil's Thumb Ranch—winter or summer.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Photos courtesy Devil’s Thumb Ranch

Farmers, Foodies, and Floods in Boulder County

Heirloom tomatoes at Boulder's Farmers' Market ©Laurel Kallenbach

Over the years, Boulder, Colorado, has garnered kudos as a food mecca: a place where visitors and residents come to revel in seemingly endless gourmet options.

In 2010, Bon Appétit magazine named Boulder “America’s Foodiest Town,” and Boulder’s Farmers’ Market made the 2012 Top 10 American Farmers Markets list by U.S. News & World Report.

None of that high-altitude cuisine would be possible without the participation of farmers, however. Good restaurants and talented chefs depend on flavorful, fresh, organic produce from local farms, and we on Colorado’s Front Range are lucky to have many producers of fruits, veggies, cheese, eggs, honey, flowers, and meat.

Among the casualties of the 500-year flood in northern Colorado this September, however, were farms. Small-scale, independent, sustainable, and often organic farms. Fields of lettuce and squash and peppers and tomatoes were covered in water during the height of harvest season; rain and mud choked plants and dampened the spirits of farmers.

Front Range Farm Relief

To help hard-hit farmers cope, an organization called Local Food Shift initiated the Front Range Farm Relief Fund. Although millions of dollars in flood relief is pouring into our area, very little is targeted to aid local farms, ranches, and food-related businesses, so this initiative is vital for cultivating sources of food that taste great and are healthy for the earth.

Eggplants and peppers fresh from the farm ©Laurel Kallenbach

Contributions go toward grants and low-interest loans to farms, ranches, and food producers impacted by the flood—in hopes of getting them up and running by next spring.

You can donate to Front Range Farm Relief Fund by clicking here. If you live in Colorado, or visit the area and enjoy the foodie scene in these parts, this is a way to help out.

Tables to Farms Lends a Hand

Tables to Farms is a new program launched by Boulder County and Denver-area chefs and restaurateurs as a direct way to help Boulder County farmers whose crops, farmhouses, barns, and homes were lost or severely damaged by the September floods. From now through the end of November, participating restaurants will collect cash donations from customers, and some restaurants will hold special fundraising events. All of the proceeds—100 percent—will go directly to Boulder County farms through the Local Food Shift Group’s Front Range Farm Relief Fund.

The idea for Tables to Farms came from a conversation between Bradford Heap—chef/owner of Salt Bistro in Boulder and Colterra Food and Wine in Niwot—and his neighbor John Bachman of Big Red F Restaurant Group.

“These farmers are our partners and friends,” said Heap. “For over 30 years, we’ve worked to create a sustainable local food-shed. This is the time to step up and support those farmers who have worked so hard to create that dream. This is the time for our communities to rally and show what ‘local’ truly means.”

Flavors of summer and fall: sweet bell peppers. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Salt Bistro’s Tables to Farms special benefit dinner will be Tuesday, October 22, 2013, at 6:30 pm. The fundraising dinner will consist of four courses with paired wines donated by the Natural Wine Company ($120 per person, includes tax and tip). Colterra’s benefit dinner will be Tuesday, October 29 at 6:30 p.m. The four-course with paired wines, also donated by the Natural Wine Company is $150 per person, including tax and tip.

Each restaurant that holds fundraisers can earmark which farms receive the funds from its Tables to Farms benefit. Proceeds from Salt and Colterra will go to five farms they use frequently, and that are most in need: Full Circle Farm, Oxford Gardens, Black Cat Farm, 63rd Street Farm, and The Fresh Herb Company.

Check the Local Food Shift website for other restaurants that are joining in the effort.

Donations at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market

The Boulder County Farmers’ Market is hosting a “Support Your Local Farmer” donation program at both the Longmont and the Boulder markets. For a donation of $2 or more, you’ll get a hot cup of apple cider provided by Ela Family Farms in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

Flowers at the Boulder County Farmer's Market ©Laurel Kallenbach

All donations go to the Front Range Farm Relief Fund. The cider and donation sites are located at the Information Desk, and you can support local farmers until the end of the season.

In 2013, the last farmers’ market in Longmont, Colo., is November 2; in Boulder, Colo., the finale is November 16. (Read my earlier blog post about my hometown farmers’ market.)

Shopping the farmers’ market is one way of supporting struggling farmers. So is increasing our local food purchasing at farm stands and at retail stores like Door to Door Organics, Lucky’s Markets, Alfalfa’s, Whole Foods, and Natural Grocers. And of course, we can all patronize the many restaurants who source locally.

A huge part of the beauty of autumn is local fall produce: I, for one, am not going to let the flood ruin that.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor


As Summer Begins, Boulder Runs

In my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, Memorial Day and the Bolder Boulder 10K race are synonymous. This massive run/walk race pulls upwards of 50,000 registrants each year. That’s half the population of Boulder!

Some folks run, some walk the Bolder Boulder 10K race. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, the race attracts many elite athletes, and there are sure to be some Olympian hopefuls here in preparation for the 2012 Summer Games in London. But mostly the race is for everybody: kids, people in wheelchairs, grandmas, and Boulder’s fit and finest. (Boulder is one of the fittest towns in America.)

Onlooks cheer the runners and wave flags. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

And while there’s a competitive spirit, the race’s motto is: “It’s not about the time you run, it’s about the time you have.”

A runner in a Big Bird costume stops to chat with fans. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

And Boulderites—as well as visitors from all over the state and country—have a grand time. Some people wear funny costumes, some attach balloons to their hats so that they can be recognized in the crowd.

Belly-dancers are always popular sideline entertainment. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Along the race route are bands to provide entertainment. And each year, a troupe of belly-dancers add an air of exoticness. Crowds line the street and cheer; dogs bark their happiness. At mile markers, race officials with bullhorns announce the next water/Gatorade station.

Fun run: The annual Memorial Day Bolder Boulder race. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach

Some people run, some walk, some run with strollers. Along the way, onlookers this year had a cotton candy machine—popular with the younger runners. Midway along the route, someone always serves bacon?!?

Some young Bolder Boulder runners stop for free cotton candy along the race route. Photo © Laurel Kallenbach.

So far I’ve always been a happy spectator, watching my husband Ken whisk by on the part of the race course that’s only about half a mile from our house. But maybe some day that will be me with a numbered bib pinned to my chest, crossing the finish line as the crowds scream their approval at Folsom Stadium on the University of Colorado Campus.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. What’s your favorite way to celebrate Memorial Day?

Boulder’s Salt Bistro Preserves the Earth

Salt, a restaurant opened by visionary chef/owner Bradford Heap in 2009, is a culinary delight with a conscience for preserving natural resources.

Save room for Salt Bistro's Chocolate Caramel Tart, sprinkled with (what else?) salt.

Located on Boulder, Colorado ’s Pearl Street, Salt Bistro was created in the historic space that was formerly the home of Tom’s Tavern, a downtown landmark for more than 40 years. While renovating the restaurant for his new bistro, Heap and his wife, Carol Vilate, a designer, reused as many elements from the original building as possible—an effort that imbues Salt Bistro with a sense of the past—and that reduced the need for new materials. The tin ceiling was original from the 19th century.

In addition, the couple used recycled materials whenever possible. Look closely at the wooden tables: They’re made from old doors taken from Boulder’s Casey Junior High during its remodel. The chairs came from an auction. Wood flooring and many other finishes came from Resource Reclaimed Building Materials, a local business.

Salt, a bistro in Boulder, Colo., is located in the Pearl Street building that once housed Tom's Tavern.

Earth-Friendly Flavors

The handiwork of local artisans resulted in a restaurant that feels both modern and old-fashioned, European and American Western. And that’s borne out in the food: the bar “chefs” offer a selection of pre-Prohibition cocktails, and the entrees present old-world flavors suited for contemporary palates.

Sustainability isn’t just for the interior design of Salt Bistro—it’s a huge part of the restaurant’s food philosophy. The menus are built around seasonally available local food—much of it organic—in order to capture the freshest flavors.

Heap aims to raise awareness of where food comes from, and the menu lists the farm source of each menu item. In addition, the restaurant features sustainable seafood and humanely-raised meat.

As an added touch, Salt Bistro’s used cooking oil is used for biodiesel fuel.

Well-Seasoned Menu

But how does all this taste? Executive Chef Kevin Kidd pulls out the stops with fare that displays Italian and French influences with an American flair. An artisanal cheese plate spotlights local Haystack Mountain goat cheeses. The Wood-Roasted Autumn Vegetable Cassoulet features bounty from Munson Farm, while the Seven-Hour Braised Colorado Lamb with fennel risotto comes from Rosen Farm.

I personally wouldn’t miss getting a side order of Salt’s Crispy Polenta—by far the most divine I’ve ever tasted.

Salt’s menu rotates seasonally, but some things should never change. That’s why you can still get a Tom’s Tavern Burger, which Salt has gussied up with grass-fed beef, Grafton cheddar and house-made fries.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The wood-burning oven at Salt produces innovative pizzas.