Heading West


I am one of “those“ people with a travel bucket list. After my kids became adults and I retired from the company I founded, Ballard Designs, I focused on my travel goals. In the past three years, I have ventured to Rwanda to gorilla trek in the footsteps of Dian Fossey, to Jordan for a visit to Petra, to Iceland, Egypt, and Croatia. I spent weeks on a ship in Antarctica, and I photographed members of the Himba tribe of Namibia. I had just returned from a journey through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam when the pandemic hit and all foreign travel ceased.

Having been quarantined for months, I felt my pent-up wanderlust bubbling up—and I began to yearn for a good road trip. My dear friend, Ric, and I started pondering a fun, safe way to travel to my summer home in Telluride, Colorado. We wanted an adventure with a plan but one that allowed for flexibility. We started brainstorming—whether to take our airstream, rent an RV, or go glamping at Under Canvas locations. We settled on renting a car, with the idea of staying at hotels and ranches along the way, each with strict COVID protocols in place. We took out an atlas of National Parks and stuck Post-It notes on what we wanted to see. Soon, we were to discover how much Utah, New Mexico, and southern Colorado had to offer.

After a quick direct flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas, off we went—with Ric’s road trip playlist wafting in the car. Our first stop was the beautiful town of Springdale, Utah, an oasis of apricot trees at the entrance to Zion National Park. With the Cable Mountain Lodge as our base, we explored and hiked the wonders of Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, remaining in awe of the rugged red scenery. We bouldered and repelled in the Lambs Knoll slot canyons with a Zion guide.

With our masks on, we hiked among the hoodoos (tall reddish rock spires) and the sandstone amphitheaters, from Wall Street to Queens Garden in Bryce. We discovered that Utah, the Beehive State, could be renamed the Dark Star State, given that there are no less than nine such places where the galaxy can be seen in full. We stargazed at midnight while on the Virgin River in Zion, taking in the Milky Way.

Dining mostly on tuna tacos and margaritas, we stopped, too, at restaurants, notably the Bit & Spur in Springdale, Utah, where we had our favorite meal. Because of COVID, they had set up tables in the surrounding green pastures—with views of the mountains beyond—and strung up lights. Our waitress served us in cowboy boots and with a smile.

We continued across Utah to Moab for a stay on the Colorado River, at the Sorrel River Ranch. From there, we hiked the Arches, Canyonlands, and Fisher Towers, and kayaked down the Colorado with our instructor Rob, a guide with Outward Bound. We also discovered the J.J.’s Mercantile store at the ranch designed by our Atlanta friend, Smith Hanes.

On the drive to Santa Fe, we stopped at many adobe chapels and other architectural sites. I adore the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. We spent the morning at her Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, with a prearranged private tour of the landscape she painted around her adobe house. After lunch at the Abiquiú Cafe, we drove to Taos, crossed the Rio Grande to see the churches O’Keeffe painted, and stopped at her first studio at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, now a hotel.

After a relaxing night at the Anasazi Inn and a morning walk around Santa Fe, we stopped at the farmers’ market at the Railyard for some road trip picnic supplies—and then we were off to Colorado.

My favorite parts of a road trip are a great companion, a playlist, time to take photographs, and coffee breaks. Our longest drive, to Dunton Hot Springs, allowed for all of that. Dunton, a meticulously restored nineteenth-century ghost town, is Wild West glamping at its best. My son Harry joined us there, and we hiked, fly-fished the Dolores River, played outdoor ping pong, and sat on our cabin porch to take in views of the mountains, as well as the humming birds feeding nearby. You can have dinner in the teepee and a drink at the saloon bar where Butch Cassidy drank.

We arrived in Telluride refreshed by the cool green aspens and snow patches still in the majestic San Juans. We pulled off an amazing Southwest road trip, my gypsy soul satisfied for now, but already pondering a Northwest road trip for next summer.  

This story appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of MILIEU. To purchase this issue in print, visit the MILIEU Newsstand. To purchase in digital format, visit Zinio.com.