Rocky Mountain High

Not so long ago, the ute and arapahoe tribes populated the mountainous slopes and dramatic terrain west of Denver. Though they often found themselves engaged in conflict over territory, water, and hunting, the two tribes eventually resolved their differences in a peaceful manner, claiming that, in the process, they caught and buried the devil deep within the surrounding mountains. To serve as a lasting reminder of this conquest of peace over war and goodness over evil, they left the devil's thumb uncovered—an outcropping of rock that can be seen for miles above the small town of Tabernash, not far from the Continental Divide.

Suzanne and Bob Fanch take this concept of harmony very seriously, extending it to include operating practices at their rustic Ranch Creek Spa at Devil's Thumb Ranch and the 3,700 acres of land that serve as its setting. Besides installing one of the state's largest geothermal radiant heating systems, which services the majority of buildings on the property, they chose reclaimed and recycled timbers and stones for construction. An aggressive forest management system has been put in place to improve both wildlife habitat and plant diversity. Other environmentally responsible decisions range from the installation of energy-efficient windows and the use of recycled poultry waste to fertilize lawns to an ongoing commitment to local contractors and suppliers that helps support small businesses and the area's economy. Among the ranch's showpieces is a Civil War-era barn relocated from Indiana to save it from destruction. It now serves as a center for the property's many outdoor activities. "Stepping back and looking through history, men and women have always had a connection to nature, one that has been very personal and inspiring," says Suzanne. "However, in our present age those opportunities are dwindling. And without such opportunities, I feel that we are losing the motivation to flex and develop our human senses, which, to me, is what makes us healthy, creative, and well-rounded individuals."

Copper soaking tubs filled with water infused with native botanicals provide guests with an ideal relaxation spot.
Copper soaking tubs filled with water infused with native botanicals provide guests with an ideal relaxation spot.

While preserving the integrity of the ranch's original 1930s structure, the Fanch's stewardship extends to food and retail products. Besides serving local, sustainably produced fruits, meats, and vegetables, the kitchen is dedicated to organic choices whenever available. In support of local artisans, the spa offers beautiful handbags, totes, and cosmetic cases made in Boulder by Maruca Designs, along with shampoos from Mop (Modern Organic Products) located in Denver, and handmade soaps produced by Milagros in nearby Breckenridge. Spa guests are also offered Colorado's Biota bottled water, which uses biodegradable corn packaging.

Adjacent to the treatment rooms, an indoor stone spa patio is outfitted with a pool, sauna, and steam room. Suzanne was instrumental in developing the spa menu, which features a Hot Stone Massage ($60, 25 minutes; $115, 80 minutes) with native basalt rocks; facials including the High Altitude Hydration ($95, 50 minutes); and Rocky Mountain Rain Therapy ($100, 50 minutes), utilizing nine essential oils dripped sequentially onto the spine. Energy healing therapies such as craniosacral, polarity therapy, and reflexology are available upon request.

For years, the property has been a popular destination for vacations, weddings, and family reunions, with a high percentage of repeat visitors. The assimilation of the recently added spa was designed to embrace, rather than alienate, the already-strong client base. "Our challenge has been building and maintaining a good relationship with local clients throughout the growth of the ranch," explains Charity Greene, co-manager and spa director.

Currently, the staff consists of 17 therapists, with the ability to accommodate 60 guests at full capacity, though Greene says a typical day sees about 30 appointments. Standard value-added perks include chilled eye pillows, warm towels to compress feet during or after treatments, and the application of soothing foot balm.

"We've made a conscious effort to localize treatments with our choice of products," says Greene. Bathing rituals offered in the gleaming copper soaking tubs feature cedar, juniper, pine, and sage scents. These heady mountain fragrances are offered during the Essential Oil Massage ($55, 25 minutes; $115, 80 minutes), and native Rocky Mountain botanicals are also used in the Cowboy Facial and Ranch Creek Signature Facial (both $95, 50 minutes). Additionally, Green explains that all therapists go through an orientation that familiarizes them with the rich history and traditions of the area, enabling them to further enhance a guest's spa experience and provide them with a true sense of place. Suzanne adds that in addition to the cross-country skiing, hiking, fishing, and horseback riding already available, she and Bob hope to expand programs to provide guests with an even more expansive, authentic Colorado mountain experience while offering opportunities to learn more about the powerful natural setting.

The experience continues to expand as construction is scheduled to begin this fall on an 11,000-square-foot spa building, with the current spa space destined to be converted into a fitness area. The new spa building will provide stunning views of the Rockies from all treatment rooms. Suzanne describes the design as "log cabinesque," and says completion is scheduled for the fall of 2007, shortly after a new 53-room lodge is finished.

"While many spas are wonderful places that offer a reprieve from day-to-day stresses, most are still in the confines of our own suburban or urban environments," she says. "We hope the ranch and spa allow individuals to be inspired by nature and reconnect with parts of themselves that need nurturing."