Rocky Mountain Weekender: Della Terra + Estes
In front of me is an intimidating chunk of granite named the McGregor Slab. Immediately adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park at the Fall River Entrance, the 700-foot monolith is surrounded by steep forest and scrub and a climbing destination. I'm taking the easy way up, which involves a fair amount of bouldering and traipsing through the timber.
It's no picnic, but I make it to the top and take a deserved breather. Two-thousand feet below - and literally a pine cone's throw from the boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park - I spot my starting point: Della Terra Mountain Chateau. And after some snapshots and greedy gulps of water, it's time to head back down.
The Chateau opened June 1, 2009, nearly a decade after Darell and Pam Amelang were struck by inspiration in the form of their daughter's wedding. The 400-guest event was held in 2000 in the Amelang's Fort Collins backyard, and it left the couple feeling there had to be a better way. So they started looking for a storybook location.
In 2005, they found it: a 14-acre campground and cabin complex immediately adjacent to the park's Fall River entrance. They thought it was ideal - and it was also four times pricier than originally planned.
Pam recruited her siblings Sandy Garcia and Marty Miller and Marty's wife Audrey - they had worked with for many years in Fort Collins at Hill Country Custom Homes in Fort Collins. Once the quintet successfully navigated the cumbersome permitting process, they set out to build what you might call the ultimate custom home: Della Terra Mountain Chateau. At the very scenic foot of the McGregor Slab, the 14-room chateau is a work of art, inside and out.
Spearheading the decorating, Pam established a "no animal heads" rule that suits the architecture to a tee. "We wanted Old World," she says. "We wanted a castle feel." And their plan is bearing fruit: They have over 150 weddings on the calendar for 2010, two years ahead of expectations.
Each room is unique, with high ceilings, radiant floor heating, and stunning bathrooms punctuated by original water features made of granite, marble, and onyx. The proprietors also updated the property's existing cabins and motel rooms to rent out at rates starting under $100; rooms in the chateau start at $275 in peak season.
After some pretty good Mexican grub at Ed's Cantina in Estes Park, I watch the second half of Lakers-Celtics game seven with Darell in Della Terra's resident theater, with a gargantuan screen and eight plush leather seats, complete with drink-holders.
A good night's sleep later, I check out and tackle one more hike before heading into the park: Old Man Mountain. About three miles east of Della Terra on U.S. 34, I find a spot to park and hit the trail. Old Man Mountain, a vision-quest destination for hundreds of years, rises 600 feet above the surrounding valley. Up top, I find myself a granite perch to enjoy the view, the vision of my quest.