There's something about a hot mineral soak at 9,000 feet that makes a person want to linger. This becomes apparent at the final stretch of the 22-dirt-mile approach to Dunton Hot Springs, when the 400-acre luxury resort and spa swings into view. Scattered among 12 log cabins in the ponderosa pine-covered San Juan National Forest is a medley of mineral pools. Submit to the springs-according to an old prospectors' dictum, "the only thing more valuable than gold"-and you'll have a hard time getting on with your day.
At its founding in the early 1900s, Dunton was far more Wild West than mild West-the town grew up as a rustic encampment for hard-living miners and trappers. They settled bets in its old saloon, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid allegedly holed up after robbing a bank in Telluride, 30 miles north. The run-down settlement was sold in 1994, and its new owners, envisioning a mountain retreat, funneled $3 million into renovations. Cabins were restored by both local and Native American craftsmen and grandly outfitted.
Fittingly, check-in is next to the period post office letter boxes in the lobby of the saloon building, which also houses a restaurant and a pool room. Furnishings are rough-and-tumble, yet civilized. A zinc-topped trough sits amid soft leather sofas. The floors are wood plank; the ceilings, tin. Meals, served family-style at a communal table-visitors have included Daryl Hannah and Ralph Lauren-tend toward gourmet with seasonal picks. After, you may as easily quaff a local microbrew as a single malt or a glass of Shiraz.
The cabins stand scattered about, each unique, but all with log walls, heated slate floors and delicious details like fine linens and plush bed coverings. Some have their own hot springs. The Vertical Log cabin, with chinked log walls that stand on end, has two bedrooms (one with a copper soaking tub) and a staircase topping out at a loft. Echo, available only in summer, has a plein-air shower set against a mossy hill.
And, of course, there are the hot springs. The largest, set in the Bath House, is where guests soak in a 106-degree pool of lithium-infused water in full view of the San Juans. Out of the water, Dunton offers hiking (or heliskiing in the winter), massages, reflexology and yoga classes. There's even an outdoor wedding chapel should you be so inspired, though the most common vows are simply to return-soon.