I’ve always dreamed of spending a night in a teepee, so it was that when I found a last-minute opening at the Red Cone Retreat over the fourth of July, I jumped at the opportunity. It was an easy day trip (about four hours’ drive) from Vail, where we were be spending the weekend with family. Plus, the price was unbeatable.
Red Cone is about an hour from the Telluride ski resort, and not far from the Colorado/Utah border, but is more or less in the middle of nowhere. The best part was, we had no idea what to expect from the surrounding landscape. We rolled in down the three miles of graded dirt road at about 6 pm, only to have narrowly escaped a brief thunderstorm. We could hardly believe our eyes: The landscape was washed clean and smelled of sage and balsam.
My husband and I are veteran travelers, and our road trips have taken us all over the back roads and byways of the southwest. We live in Colorado, and yet even to our trained eyes, the area around Red Cone is some of the most breathtaking and rare in the state. Clusters of scrub oak, dappled groves of aspen, craggy rock outcroppings and clear mountain trout streams are an ideal backdrop for beautiful and family-friendly hiking. The meadows around the teepees are strewn with wild roses, red pussytoes, golden aster and lupine. The bottomland by the creek boasts gratuitous patches of wild purple Iris and fragrant scrub willow.
At 3 1/2, our daughter has camped in a tent two or three times, but the teepees were a new and thrilling experience for her. Wood floors and antique tables are laid with woven rugs. The beds are comfortable and fully kitted out – there was even a teddy bear! There is a small woodstove for heat (we didn’t need it), and a kerosene lantern for evening light. Teepees, as it turns out, have a kind of natural thermostat- they stay warm at night, and cool during the day. A wooden porch surrounded by low walls of corded firewood is perfect for stargazing after dark, and the stars – oh, the stars! In a place so far from the electric light of any sizeable town, entirely off the grid, even the darkest spaces in the sky are filled with tiny pinpricks of light.
When we arrived, the owner Karin Freunderberg showed us around the wooden shower house, outhouses and well-stocked cook house before hopping in her truck for the hour’s drive to Telluride where she would watch the Fourth of July fireworks while we enjoyed our evening on her property. After settling into our teepee, my husband made dinner in the cook house and we sat down to dine al fresco at the sweet wooden picnic tables as the sunset lit the tips of the wildflowers in the field. Once it got dark, our daughter fell asleep under warm blankets in the teepee and my husband and I sat under the stars.
One could easily spend their entire stay at the Red Cone Retreat just exploring the beautiful landscape surrounding the wilderness camp or sitting in a hammock or in on the benches, which are draped with Indian blankets and bright cushions. There is a horseshoe pit, ping pong, and, much to my daughter’s delight, an outdoor trampoline. A hot tub and sweat lodge are available by appointment. The owner is happy to arrange fishing, hiking, backpacking, rafting, canoeing and mountain biking excursion with a little notice. This is horse country, and there are plenty of local ranches that can provide horse rental for those with equestrian dreams.
We were particularly fond of the ranch dogs Zip and Dude, who were instantly fast friends with our two canine companions. Friendly dogs are always welcome on the property, which is fortunate since we like to travel with ours. We also found a new friend in owner Freunderberg herself. A native of Germany, Freunderberg moved to the US as a young mother, and says she found the property in Western Colorado through “much adventuring and exploration”. Her own nearby residence is entirely off the grid, and she is a student of the primitive arts of living off the land. Before our reluctant departure, she showed us the stunning buckskin outfit she made by hand from a discarded deerskin she found on the property – tanning and smoking the skin herself, sewing, beading, fringing, and carving the deer-horn buttons all with her own hands.
I must say that after only one night at Red Cone, I felt as if I’d been on vacation for a week. It was so relaxing that our daughter slept until nine in the morning inside that tipi! Unprecedented. We will most definitely be back, next time for a considerably longer stay!
Maia is the author of the fantastic blog Un Envie de Sel.