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Horsehide and a taste of the Old West

Alex Miller
Special to the Daily/Jen Miller
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Sitting atop a horse overlooking Sweetwater Lake in, it’s hard to believe one is in the same congressional district as the ski hills of Vail and the mega-mansions of Beaver Creek. But one needn’t go far to enter another realm altogether from the land of wireless Internet and cell phone towers.In fact, forget about cell phones altogether; they don’t work up here. Take I-70 past Eagle and Gypsum, get off at the Dotsero exit and head another 17 miles or so up the road (it turns to dirt after a while) and you’ll hit the time warp known as Sweetwater. Just over the Eagle County border in Garfield County, it’s an almost-hidden oasis of quiet in a busy world. The Sweetwater Lake Resort looks like the kind of place your grandparents might have considered the pinnacle of summer luxury – and they returned every summer.They probably had the right idea. When my family and I visited Sweetwater on a recent Friday, we only stayed for a horseback ride with the resort’s A.J. Brink Outfitters, but we left formulating plans to return for a longer visit. After all, these kinds of places aren’t easy to find any more, having been replaced in many areas by high-end resorts with spas and the like; or on the other end by budget motel chains.Our main purpose was to tear the older kids away from their laptops and iPods and show our 4-year-old something beyond the 90-second pony ride. Owner Adrian Brink assured me he was old enough to have his own horse – a prospect that had Andy giddy with anticipation as the date approached. Other than my wife – who grew up around horses – the rest of us are as green as they come. But our guide Ryan made everyone comfortable with a healthy dose of know-how and friendliness, and we were on our way up the dusty trail.

Adrian had suggest a one-hour ride as being the upper limit of what a 4-year-old could handle, although it turned out Andy was a natural on horseback. But even this relatively short jaunt was well worth the trip. After a short leg on a dirt road, riders wend their way through treed areas and an open meadow that leads to a modest promontory overlooking tiny but picturesque Sweetwater Lake. There, Ryan happily took pictures of the group and shot the breeze about what he knew of the area, which was substantial. Overall, my wife and I were pleased not only with the experience, but with how readily our broadband-era kids took to the whole thing. Distractions aside, we all had the opportunity to try something new – or relatively new – and spend uninterrupted time together as a family.

Known for its hummingbirds and homemade pies, Sweetwater Lake Resort has a variety of old-timey diversions ranging from the horseback rides to rowboats on the lake to fishing and, in season, hunting. In late summer and fall, in fact, most of the visitors are sportsmen (and a few sportswomen) in the area to take advantage of the bountiful number of elk and deer. A.J. Brink offers the horses and guides to make such an outing a bit easier and, in many cases, more successful.



But for the summer vacationer looking to while away a day or six in a secluded corner of the world, this here’s the antidote to the high-falutin’ resorts Eagle County is justifiably known for. Here, the staff can help you find the best fishing spots, take you out on horseback photography tours, set you up in a rustic private cabin and offer up home-cooked meals or brown-bag lunches to take with you.One gets the sense that the staff at the resort is happy to tailor a stay to whatever it is that floats your boat. You only need make the decision to leave behind 2006 for a time, and travel back to a spot that’s a bit more 1940s or ’50s.It’s well worth the trip.Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931 or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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