Whether its a steaming mug of coffee clutched close in the early morning light or a glass of red wine at dusk, beverages just seem to taste better when you sip them next to a river on a crisp fall day. And that's as deep as my thoughts delved on a recent Sunday morning in South Fork.I was sitting under the vine-covered arbor at the Arbor House Inn, a charming bed and breakfast along the south fork of the Rio Grande River, on a sunny Sunday morning. It was my first time in the quirky-but-beautiful little town, just minutes from stunning Wolf Creek Pass, and it was the most relaxed I'd felt in some time. The property is owned by Keith and Laurie Bratton, my close friend and co-worker Amanda's parents. We'd been talking about taking a trip south and spending a few nights there for close to five years and finally made it a reality earlier this month when my boyfriend, Robert, and I joined Amanda and her darling 2-and-a-half-year-old devil, Calvin, for a long weekend. All I know is I should've made it work sooner.
It'd been years since I'd stayed in a B&B, but I now realize why some people refuse to stay anywhere else. It provides a more intimate experience that feels more real, somehow, and, in the end, more meaningful. The never-ending small touches make you feel at home and taken care of. At the Arbor House Inn, those touches include free sodas, bottled water, microwave popcorn, tea, coffee and apple cider in each of the five luxurious rooms (the honeymoon suite nicknamed "Lovin' Oven" is most popular); comfy beds with heated blankets for chilly nights; and fresh-baked cookies and iced tea in the dining room each afternoon. Outside, colorful pansies and nasturtiums were still in full bloom despite the chilly evenings. And to keep the cold air at bay, the outdoor fire pits were perfectly stacked with wood, with a lighter and lighter fluid at the ready. Camp Calvin, named for the Bratton's first grandchild, is a large, secluded area adjacent to the river a couple hundred yards from the Inn. There's a fire pit, a picnic table, and lots of chairs, perfect for a late night campfire. Each of our three days in South Fork started and ended by the river, one night with a crackling fire and gooey s'mores at Camp Calvin. A big outdoor hot tub, stationed on the Inn's deck within sight and sound of the river, was popular with the other guests, but we never quite made it. It's on the list for next time, for sure. But the best part of this bed and breakfast experience? Hands down, the food. There's just something lovely about only having to walk a few feet to a homemade breakfast when the smell of just-brewed coffee teases you out of bed. At the Arbor House, it was clear Laurie puts a lot of thought and effort into her carefully constructed breakfasts each morning - they had guests earlier this summer who stayed two weeks, and Laurie tried her darndest not to repeat a single breakfast, she told me. My favorite morning meal was a toss up: The puffy Swedish pancake crowned with Greek yogurt and fresh blueberries and Palisade peaches was heavenly, but the open-faced breakfast sandwich appealed more to my typical savory breakfast inclinations. Stuffed with thick bacon, a heart-shaped fried egg, garlic-chive cream cheese, avocado slices and tomatoes and basil grown in the onsite geometric greenhouse where Laurie grows a slew of vegetables and herbs, it was clearly made with love.
After breakfast each morning, we nabbed carrots from Laurie's fridge and fed them, one by one, to Jesse, the brown mare that munches grass all day in a field next to the Inn. In exchange for the orange treats, the sweet, old girl patiently walked a big circle around the pasture while Calvin sat perched atop her, grinning proudly and holding on tight.In the dozen years since the Brattons bought the property (they spent two years remodeling it, leaving only one wall unchanged in the whole joint, before opening the B&B in 2001), they've acquired many repeat visitors, including a father and son who were visiting the same weekend we were there. They'd had so much fun last year while staying at the B&B, they decided to book it again, they told us.I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that despite having grown up in Colorado, I'd never driven over Wolf Creek Pass or seen the much-lauded ski resort that seems to get pounded by snowstorms even when the rest of the state is running lean on powder. So, after a leisurely breakfast and a quick trip into Del Norte to buy jars of honey from Haefeli's Honey Farm (try the creamed cinnamon honey - it's heavenly), we headed over the pass. We wanted to check out the balloon festival taking place in Pagosa Springs, which is around an hour's drive from South Fork. The drive was gorgeous, made even better by the aspen trees that were just beginning to turn from green to gold. As the ski area came into view, Robert made me pinkie swear we'd return to nab some powder this coming winter, a promise that wasn't hard to make.High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.