Northern New Mexico & Southern Colorado Golf Vacation
"Pack the bags and grab your clubs, lets go on a golf and adventure vacation to Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado" was met with a resounding, "let's do it!" Over the nine days we planned to play 9 golf courses, take lots of Advil, devour some delicious New Mexico green chili and several margaritas, stay in a couple resorts, meet up with a high school buddy from Arizona, raft down one of the Colorado rivers, zip down the mountain, and ride up some majestic mountains in a Jeep and an ATV, as well as take a glider ride and soar over Telluride. My goal for the trip was simple: eat lots of green chili, don't lose more that 12 new golf balls, limit myself to one (maybe two) margaritas a day, limit my side bets in golf to under $3, don't down more that two Advils during a round of golf, don't get injured, try not to swear when the golf balls go in the sand or water, and have fun!
The Southwest flight from Dallas to Albuquerque was packed but who cares when you're on vacation and 30 minutes after we touched down, we had stuffed all our bags and clubs in our tiny rental car and were on our way. First stop was Pueblo De Cochiti Golf Course about an hour from Albuquerque and 20 minutes south of Santa Fe.
New Mexico is in it's third year of a severe drought and on the drive from Albuquerque to the Pueblo the land is brown, arid, and very dry and you wonder how a golf course could survive in this desert! But Pueblo De Cochiti Golf Course is near Lake Cochiti, sits on a huge aquifer, and since it's on an Indian reservation they don't have to worry about water restrictions or rationing. And it was obvious when we drove up to the Pro Shop and saw the lush green fairways, a couple blue lakes, and two waterfalls - all in the middle of the brown arid desert with scrub brush, cactus, and varmints. What a fun course - click here to read our review of Cochiti Golf Course. And I played pretty well, avoided the sand, didn't loose any balls, and didn't require any Advil plus I got my first sample of hatch green chili on an excellent cheeseburger! A perfect day and excellent way to start a golfing vacation and most of my goals were met - can it continue?
After a fun round of golf, it was back in the rental car for a 4 hour drive to Durango, Colorado which was a very scenic drive through an ever changing landscape of desert, rolling hills with colorful layers of sediment (reds, blacks, tans, pinks, and more), very unusual rock formations, and stunning sunsets. And just as my stomach started growling we arrived in Cuba (New Mexico, that it is!) with a population of 700 and only three restaurants, two of which were out of business. But there were several cars at El Bruno and we were thirsty and hungry. What a pleasant surprise El Bruno was - great drinks, excellent salsa with quite a bite, and a very spicy and delicious pork chop green chili stew. My lips were burning and I must have devoured 5 glasses of water, and two margaritas! I felt my tummy start rumbling shortly after I got in the car - it wasn't a very pleasant ride!
We checked into our studio suite at Durango Mountain Lodge around 11 PM and after 98 degree New Mexico and Texas weather, we were freezing at 55 degrees. Durango Mountain Lodge sits at the bottom of the Durango Mountain Ski Area and it's surrounded by majestic towering mountains. The studio was comfortable with a queen bed, big screen, couch, chairs and breakfast table, small kitchen area (with microwave, refrigerator, two burner stove, small sink, coffee pot, toaster, and all the utensils), plus a bathroom and shower - very compact, clean, and comfortable. But best of all was the small patio with a table and some chairs overlooking the mountains! We wished that we had had more time to stay at Durango Mountain Resort and enjoy all of the amenities which included: an alpine slide, mountain biking down the ski slope, bungee bounce, a couple restaurants, a fun bar, climbing wall, chairlift rides, mini golf, horseback riding, disc golf, and lots more - we made a promise to come back again.
As usual, I made a fool of myself. After spending 15 minutes trying to adjust the thermostat to cool the room which was a little stuffy when we arrived, I finally called the front desk to inform them our air conditioner wasn't working and I was told "Sir, we don't have air conditioning in Durango, just open the windows!" The room quickly cooled to 55! Twenty minutes later, I had to call them again - "which one of these four remotes works the TV?" Within minutes a teenager knocked on our door and showed us how to plug the TV in (when I plugged in my iPhone I accidentally unplugged the TV) and how to operate the correct remote - how is an old low tech guy supposed to know which of the four to use, they all look the same!
Sunday morning we were up early and set off for breakfast at a very popular spot in Durango called Oscars - a funky old time diner with some excellent food that I hoped would get me through at least 9 holes at Pagosa Springs Golf Club. Mr Oscar must be a train buff because everywhere you looked were old train memorabilia including a miniature train running on a track around the entire restaurant near the ceiling. On closer glance, the entire restaurant resembled the dining car on a train - long and narrow. In fact, it was so narrow after devouring a delicious breakfast (eggs and hash browns swimming in green chili - 3 green chili meals in two days, I'm in heaven!) I had a hard time getting my tummy down the aisle to the cashier. I was so full from breakfast that I must have slept through what I was told was a very scenic 60 mile drive through some beautiful southern Colorado terrain from Durango to Pagosa Springs. Shortly before we arrived I woke up because it smelled like smoke (were the green chilies that hot?) - we were driving through the smoke drifting across the state from one of three raging forest fires in Colorado. What a shame to think of the damage to some stunning scenery.
Pagosa Springs Golf Club is home to 27 holes and each nine is a little different from the other. The Pinon nine plays through the valley, the Meadows nine is an open links style course with lots of water, and the Ponderosa nine plays up and down the hills and through towering ponderosa pines. 5 lost balls, a Bloody Mary at the turn, and 3 Advils was all it took to get through 18 - but I didn't swear but once and it was under my breath. Here is a link to the Pagosa Springs Pinon Nine review and the Ponderosa Nine review.
We couldn't leave without driving into Pagosa Springs and checking out the hot springs - which I was hoping would work wonders on my sore back and knee! The hot springs are the deepest geothermal springs in the United States but a resort has taken over the hot springs and charges $24 to sit in them, and since we only had an hour that seemed like a ridiculous amount of money to sit in a natural hot spring. So we drove across the street from the springs, sat on the deck overlooking the river full of tubers and swimmers as well as overlooking the 21 different hot spring pools at the resort, and ordered a couple margaritas, chips, salsa, and queso (with green chili) to help the sore back and knee. Sure did look like fun in the river and hot springs - but the margaritas were darn good and the view of the river, springs, and mountains was outstanding.
The next morning we set off for Telluride with a stop to check out Mesa Verde - home to some amazing Indian cliff dwellings. At the museum we met a 60 year old very trim and fit man riding a mountain bike loaded with gear and pulling a small trailer with more gear. When I ask where he was pedaling from, his answer was France! Turns out he started in San Francisco 90 days ago and has pedaled 5000 miles to Mesa Verde, stopping at all the National Parks on the way. He planned to take 5 more months and pedal to all of the National Parks between Colorado and the east coast before heading back to France. Wow, I was tired just thinking about how he made it over the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Rocky Mountains - and he still had some 10,000' climbs before he got to the airport and home! He declined my offer of a couple Advil. Mesa Verde is impressive but as usual we didn't schedule enough time to do it justice before we continued on to Telluride.
We checked into Telluride Mountain Lodge and met up with our friends from Arizona and immediately popped a cold beer, broke out the dominos, and started the process of wagering on golf. Mountain Lodge is stunning and our 2 bedroom condo was perfect with everything we needed for a vacation. Click on this link to learn why we would recommend Mountain Lodge at Telluride if you're staying in Telluride.
We fell in love with Telluride and kept asking ourselves "what are we doing in Texas?" The city is small and quaint, loaded with lively bars and excellent restaurants, home to festivals every month of the year (the Telluride Bluegrass Festival was starting on the day we left and the town was already starting to fill with campers, musicians, and party people), the locals are fun and friendly, the weather is absolutely perfect, the scenery is unbelievable, the mode of transportation is bicycles, and there is plenty to due in the winter as well as the summer. The city is squeezed between beautiful mountains, towering trees, cascading clear streams and rivers, and meadows where large herds of elk graze each evening. With a ski area, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and more, Telluride is also a winter haven and in the summer you can golf, raft, and enjoy hundreds of miles of trails for jeeps, hiking, mountain biking, or ATVs. Click on this link to learn more about lodging, activities, events, and lots more to do in Telluride. We wished we had planned on spending a week instead of 3 days in Telluride, but during a fun filled three days we:
played 18 holes of golf at Telluride Golf Club - unbelievable views of the 14,000' mountain peaks and several mountain ranges from every single hole, elevated tee boxes with 100' drops to lush green fairways, sparkling crystal clear lakes with a couple of my Bridgestone golf balls, towering trees and huge sand bunkers (I tried most of them and don't recommend them) a challenging layout that ate 5 of my new golf balls, and some of the largest and most beautiful vacation and mountain homes I've ever seen (where do they get all that money!) - here is a link to the review of Telluride Golf Club - speaking of money, I lost my first two bets but wasn't too upset because the margaritas were outstanding
took a white knuckle jeep ride with Telluride Outside from Telluride up some steep, very narrow, and bumpy switchbacks to the top of Imogene (13,100 feet above sea level) with several stops along the way to learn about the history of Telluride and the mining that took place in the 1800 to 1900's - a tad scary with sheer towering cliffs on the left and steep 1000' drop-offs on the right that at times made me close my eyes, hold on tight, and hope my insurance was up to date. Unbelievable views and some very interesting history - click here to read the rest of the story
drove 40 miles from Telluride through some beautiful scenery and along the San Miguel River to Ridgeway to play 18 holes of golf at Divide Golf Club which is a fantastic layout that's fun to play - read our review to learn more about Divide Golf Club - didn't golf well but they did have a great green chili burrito which made it worth the trip!
- enjoyed a scenic and fun ATV tour with Telluride Outfitters up some mountain trails with breathtaking views (one of which was of Mount Wilson which is the mountain on the Coors can - a cold Coors would have tasted great after eating some dust on the trail and it might have washed some of the bugs off my teeth) - in addition to beautiful scenery we learned a lot from our guide, Alex, about the history of the area, some other fun things to see and do and where to enjoy some good food and lively nightlife in Telluride - here is a link to find out more about this fun ATV tour
rode the gondola to the half way point between our lodge and the steep descent to Telluride to stop and listen to some bands that were part of the kickoff for the Telluride Bluegrass festival (great music, perfect weather, fun crowd, and beautiful setting) then we jumped on the gondola to ride to Allreds Restaurant half way up the ski run at Telluride for more stunning views, a couple margaritas, and some very good food - but no green chili
A long soak in our room's jacuzzi tub sure felt good and put me right to sleep - but don't worry, my wife woke me up, dried me off and put me to bed. All too soon it was time to leave Telluride and with tears in our eyes (and in my case a sore back from golf, a bumpy jeep ride, and an ATV tour) we left Telluride, promising that we would return for a much longer stay in the near future. It was a couple hour drive back to Durango for a 1:00 tee time and a brief stop at Wal-Mart to reload on golf balls, Advil, and beer.
Another fantastic 18 holes of golf at the very private and exclusive Glacier Club which is home to 27 holes of golf, some beautiful homes and homesites, a very upscale clubhouse with magnificent views, some great amenities for homeowners and members, and towering trees and sparking lakes which now have several of my golf balls. We teed off on the Glacier Nine which winds its way up and down some rugged mountain terrain with some fun and exciting golf holes and then played the Cliffs Nine. The Cliffs has two different personalities - one half plays beside and along some towering cliffs with huge beautiful homes sitting on the edges and the other half plays up and down fairways lined with dense and towering trees. Wow - that was fun and here is our link to the review of the Glacier Club Cliffs Nine and the Glacier Nine.
After all those swings and lots of time looking for my golf balls, I was ready for some good food, live music, and some whiskey - which, again, would be on me thanks to playing some lousy golf. Durango is home to Fort Lewis College and main street is alive with music, bars, quaint shops, and restaurants plus college students, locals, and lots of people on vacation ready to party. We found a fun roof top bar with a lively crowd, live music, and cold drinks and a table big enough for our appetizers and a few rounds of dominos. And right next door was an excellent restaurant that served a delicious late night dinner.
After a long shower to loosen up the back and get the sand from the bunkers out of my hair and ears, I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. All too soon the alarm was going off and it was time to go zipping at Full Blast Adventures. What a fun way to start the day - a short hike up a switchback trail and a climb to the top of a platform where we were hooked on to the zip line cable and pushed off for our zip line tour. And for the next hour and a half we zipped thru the trees and down the mountain from platform to platform. Read about our fun zip line tour with Full Blast Adventures.
Shortly after we touched down, changed into our golf outfit, downed some Advils and a great lunch, we were teeing off at Hillcrest Golf Club. As we drove up to the pro shop, we saw flat straightway fairways and figured this might be a boring but easy round of golf - meaning no lost balls, maybe someone else would be buying drinks, and I could save some Advil. Wow, what a pleasant surprise - there were a few easy flat straight-a-way holes but most were up and down the rolling hills, several were dog legs, lots had water and sand that liked my golf balls, and the greens were very fast and challenging - I hate 3 putting! Here's a link to our review of Hillcrest Golf Club.
Another stop after golf for drinks and then off to another late night dinner after which I drug my tired and sunburned body to bed only to have the alarm wake me up at 7:00. Scarfed down a quick breakfast and drove a few miles to Mild & Wild for a rafting trip. 20 minutes later the four of us and our fun guide, Jeb, were rafting down the Lower Animas River. The 90 minute trip took us past some pretty scenery, through Durango, under the historic Durango to Silverton steam train track bridge, over several class 2 rapids and one class 3 rapid, got us wet with the 40 degree water, and bumped us off several boulders - a fun trip! Here is a link to our floating the Animas River article with several pictures.
A quick change out of our wet clothes and into our lunch and golf outfits and we were off again for a 1:00 tee time at Dalton Ranch Golf Club. Wow, what a spectacular course that is fun, very scenic, demanding, in near perfect condition, and loaded with memorable holes. My second favorite part of the day was sitting on the patio of the clubhouse, enjoying a spicy Bloody Mary and the beautiful scenery, and watching a fellow hacker knock a golf ball in the center of the lake, then stuff it in the sand bunker, and finally after 3 putts sink it into the cup just like I did! After seeing that, since I was buying anyway thanks to another bad round, I asked him if I could buy him a drink and he said he was in no mood to drink and stomped off! Read more about the fantastic Dalton Ranch Golf Club. The sand traps at Dalton Ranch are numerous and huge and now missing a lot of sand which ended up in my shoes, our rental car, and down the drain of our hotel tub - I think I may have collected enough to build a large sandbox for the grand kids.
Another late night dinner at a brew pub where they laughed at me when I ordered a cold Miller Lite! So I took the waiters suggestion and tried the sampler of 6 different locally brewed beers - liked it so much I ordered another one. And it didn't surprise my fellow domino players that I made a few mistakes as we played a fun domino game called 42 before retiring. Also had a slight headache the next morning.
Unfortunately, our vacation time was running out and it was time to start heading home with a stop in Farmington to play golf at Pinon Hills Club and then on to Albuquerque for the night before our flight! Who would think a top rated Golf Digest Course would be in Farmington in the middle of the New Mexico desert? Pinon Club Golf Course was rated as the "#4 Municipal Golf Course in the US" by Golfweek Magazine. What a fun and demanding desert golf course that like all the other courses took my last remaining new golf balls and a couple more Advils. Here is a link to our review of Pinon Hills Golf Club.
A two hour drive through some interesting scenery and back to Albuquerque where I finally got to bed before 11:30 but was up at 7:00 to play our last round of 18 holes before flying home. Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club sits on the other side (eastern) of the Sandia Mountains and it has 27 award winning holes of golf. In fact, it has won more awards and accolades than any other New Mexico course and it's one of a handful of courses that we have rated a perfect 10! It's very scenic with dramatic elevation changes, very challenging green complexes, roller coaster fairways, huge monster bunkers, sparkling clear lakes, excellent conditions, and very memorable holes. I lost several balls but the good news is I found more than I lost and a lot of them were Pro Vs, and I had another great green chili cheeseburger! What a great way to end a fantastic vacation - here is a link to our review of holes 1 to 9 and 10 to 18.
Arrived home tired, 7 pounds heavier, sore, sunburned, out of Advil and suntan lotion, and with a bag full of smelly dirty clothes - but ready to head back and do it again.