Rocky Mountain Weekender: Paradox Valley + Gateway Canyons
It’s always a thrill to drive a road I’ve never driven before to go to a place I’ve never been before, especially in my home state of Colorado.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing this afternoon. I’m on Colorado Highway 90, just 15 miles east of the Utah border, descending into the Paradox Valley. Entering this beautiful, barely populated, and remote corner of Colorado is definitely a thrill, with its red rock cliffs and pinyon pine and blue horizons.
I mosey my way to the valley floor and into the town of Paradox (pop. 233, give or take), take a couple of snapshots of a long-shuttered country story, and drive a forest road up the far western wall of the valley. I park and look back on the panorama of the Paradox Valley. Jaw dropped, I wonder how it earned its name.
Back on the floor, I stop at the Paradox Valley Inn, the only lodging in the valley and one of three active businesses as far as I can tell. I wander the property a bit-no one is around-and think it would be a more than adequate (and incredibly quiet) place to truly get away from it all-and I mean everything.
The possibility of a uranium mill here has emerged as a controversial issue in recent years: It means jobs and industry in an area that has very little of both, but the specter of radioactivity is very real, just over that red-rock ridge in the form of Uravan, the little company town named for the elements (uranium and vanadium) its mine sought in and under the crimson landscape, providing a good deal of the former to the Manhattan Project during World War II. Now abandoned, it’s both a ghost town and an EPA Superfund site.
I retrace my steps east to the town of Bedrock and its historic store, closed this afternoon but sporting a former Texaco sign painted over with a brand-free “GAS.” A sign at the turnoff just past the store indicates a put-in for the Dolores River, and I follow the bumpy dirt road to the water. Next to an overgrown campground, I hike up the hill for a final look at my unearthly surroundings.
A few minutes later, I’ve swapped one amazing landscape for another, cruising northwest along the Dolores River and the amazing canyon it’s cut over the millennia. The dramatic landscape intensifies as I drive past the secure gates to Uravan, and it intensifies further when I arrive at Gateway Canyons, a resort built by Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks at the spectacular junction of the Dolores and West Creek.
After a dinner of buffalo meatloaf and microbrew, it’s bedtime. The setting is even more spectacular in the morning. After a tour of the property-which includes Hendricks’ superlative car collection in the Gateway Auto Museum, two lodges with 54 rooms, three restaurants, and much more to come-I stop in and at the resort’s new Adventure Center and meet its ambassador, Bob Dundas, a.k.a. “Anasazi Bob.”
He tells me about the Anasazis who frequented the area 1,000 years before. “Five canyon complexes converge here,” he says. “It’s been a crossroads from prehistoric times to modern times.” He also explains to me how the Paradox Valley got its quizzical moniker: Mapping the region for the U.S. Geological Survey a century and a half ago, the Hayden Expedition noted that the Dolores River paradoxically cut across the valley instead of running the length of it-“a geological miracle,” says Bob.
Then Bob puts a flute to his lips and plays a serpentine melody, an aural analogue to the sight of the canyons. I look out at the striking monoliths. The tick-tock of the clock evaporates.