I spent the weekend at Vermejo, conservation-forward reserve owned by Ted Turner in northern New Mexico which spans over 550 thousand acres. The size of this property feels like a private national park for visitors to its boutique hotel, be it for relaxation, adventure, or a North American safari. What stood out to me most was the “choose your own adventure” method to their experience curation. After supplying a little information on my interests, I was equipped with an action-packed weekend which included a via ferrata experience (a style of rock climbing originating in the Dolomites), horseback riding, ice cream making, a picnic lunch, and a conservation tour.
About Ted Turner Properties
Ted Turner’s land conservation efforts were sparked as a child when he learned about the drastically declining bison population of the American West. He grew up with the hope that one day he would be able to do something about it. After a successful career in media, he obtained the ability to buy his first property and was able to fulfill that dream. Now as the second largest private landowner in the US, Ted Turner owns properties in New Mexico, Montana, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, with enough acreage for bison and other wildlife to roam free.
When Vermejo was purchased in 1996, much of the land was in poor condition due to mining, overgrazing by ungulates, and clear cut logging. The goal was to restore a healthy and balanced ecosystem. They did this through various wildlife and forestry management programs to ensure both balanced species numbers for optimum biodiversity as well as healthy forests that minimize wildfire risks. They also enacted riparian restoration efforts with “exclosures”, which are fenced off areas of land designed to keep elk and other animals from overgrazing which eventually leads to riverbank erosion. By keeping animals out, native flora and fauna returned, including the beaver which are responsible for meandering rivers that are more efficient in distributing water where needed, naturally across the land. Thousands of miles of fencing previously constructed for cattle ranching was removed to allow the bison and other native species to thrive with ample roaming space. World-class guest operations which include both affluent vacations and high-end hunting experiences, help to supply ongoing funding to support the conservation work.
I stayed at Casa Grande, an elegant turn of century manor. It was simple yet filled with the right amenities to provide premium level comfort. There was something very nostalgic about staying at Casa Grande. It reminded me of how communal life used to be compared to the isolated modern world we now live in. Not to mention the mansion has retained most of its original features like the fixtures and the wood wall coverings, adding to the nostalgia and honored history of the property. My favorite part was the massive kitchen downstairs which was used for private cooking classes and equipped with a regularly stocked snack bar and coffee station for guests.
The culinary experience was another highlight from the weekend. Many dishes were accompanied with prime cuts of meat and roasted vegetables which were “of the land”, wild to the region or grown onsite. We toured the garden and greenhouse which supplies 60% of the vegetables used in the kitchen. During our tour we were shown the collection of micro greens used for highly nutritious salads and garnishes at the restaurant. We also sampled various heirloom varieties of tomatoes and basil, many of which I’d never even heard of before. Menu aside, Vermejo also offers many ways to experience their culinary offerings, from traditional sit down dinners in the Lodge Dining Room to high country picnics, and even an old fashioned ice cream making event. I was constantly reminded how much thought was put the food and beverage program on this reserve.
The almost unfathomable size of the property enables the freedom to truly design your own experience. To give you some ideas of the endless possibilities, apparently Vermejo hosted a 6-day motorcycle trip through the mountains as well as a bachelorette party which commenced the weekend prior to my stay. Below are a few of my experiences, designed uniquely for me, based on my interests.
Ice cream making
The first night we arrived there was an ice cream making workshop (available to all guests) on the Veranda, which was a refreshing treat in the July heat. It involved the old fashioned way of solidifying a bag filled with cream and shaking it in another bag filled with ice and salt. The more you shake, the more it firms the cream, eventually creating a rich ice cream. I thought this was such a fun summer activity and a creative offering, perfect for guests of all ages.
Another prized activity offering at Vermejo is horseback riding where you’re able to experience the expansive views of mountains, prairies and forest. We ended up riding through the fields because a herd of bison was blocking the normal tree covered route, which made it hotter than usual. If I did this activity in the summer again, I would try to do it in the early morning.
A cowboy breakfast was hosted on one morning of stay. The staff wore western attire and guests were shuttled to a nearby clearing where our food was cooked over a fire and we dined looking out over the pastures. This was a fun communal event and it was entertaining to see everyone dressed in denim and cowboy attire.
High Country Picnic
We were driven 45 minutes up into the mountains one afternoon, reaching an elevation of about 10,000 feet. We visited a lake that previously served as the backdrop to a rustic wedding as well as Vermejo’s private, LEED-certified Costilla Lodge that was nestled deep in the mountains. This area is referred to as “high country” by Vermejo’s team. During our drive, we stopped to look at some medicinal herbs that caught my eye from which I made a tea later that night consisting of yarrow, fireweed, and nettle. We also saw a herd of elk and two bears. After this adventure we pulled up onto a hillside and had a picnic accompanied by the most incredible view.
A style of rock climbing that translates to “iron path” which was developed in the Dolomites (Italy) during World War One. In modern times, this technique is used to explore steep rocky terrain for recreational purposes and involves wearing a harness that’s attached to a metal lead rope while you step across iron footsteps artificially built into the rock.
Vermejo offers multiple accommodation options ranging from a room in one of the stately mansions to stand alone cottages, and entire venue buyouts. The most commonly chosen options are the rooms and cottages. The rooms start at $1,500 and increase to $2,000 during peak season. The multi-bedroom cottages range from $6,500 to $8,500. There is a 2-night minimum stay requirement, and food and experiences are included in that price.
Vermejo ended up being one of the most relaxing and enjoyable trips I’ve ever been on, mostly due to the custom itinerary that was created for me in advance. I also attribute my ability to fully unwind to the most attentive and friendly staff I’ve ever encountered. They truly went above and beyond at every turn. Because of this, I felt comfortable turning off my phone for the weekend and indulging fully in all the activities that were offered. My favorite one being the simplest- gazing into the postcard worthy view from the porch at sunset while sipping Rosé.