The road meanders along the western edge of the Colorado Rockies, dipping past 150-year-old cattle ranches that stretch into the mountains as far as you can see. As the road curves and climbs gently upward, you pass a series of once-thriving gas stations from the 1950s and a sign declaring “65 Miles to Next Gas.” These symbols foreshadow your eventual entrée into the Gunnison National Forest and the West Elk Wilderness, the 5th largest wilderness area in the state. Somewhere between the gas pump relics and the centuries-old farms, you begin to feel as if you have crossed over into another world, where weathered cowboys and cowgirls rope bucking stallions and hunt wild Elk and Mule deer.
“This is rural with a capital ‘R,’” your guide declares right as the paved road ends and a dirt road begins. The landscape opens up into the majestic Smith Fork River Valley. Barns, houses and other signs of human life have been replaced with wide open meadows filled with Cottonwoods, Spruce, Mountain Oak and Aspens. Your only neighbors now appear to be the cattle and horses grazing in pastures, and the occasional mule deer scampering by. The city slicker in you quietly wonders, “Where are the people? Where are the street lights? Where are the cell towers?” Your answer arrives in the form of a cattle guard. Next to it, a sign forged in iron welcomes you to Smith Fork Ranch.
“We have arrived,” announces your guide, who is none other than Marley Hodgson, founder of Ghurka — the high-end American leather goods and accessories house —who has spent the last two decades loyally stewarding Smith Fork Ranch with his family. While living in Manhattan, Hodgson purchased the sprawling 235-acre ranch and original lodge in 2000 to live out an old American West fantasy. Spread across the land are three residences, three cabins, staff housing and extensive facilities including barns, corrals, pastures and trails. Smith Fork Ranch has since become “an outpost of luxury in the wilderness,” says Hodgson, welcoming a dynamic mix of guests from around the world who seek modern comforts while they unwind and unplug amid the great outdoors.
“The ranch has been in this place since the 1930s,” he says with a hint of nostalgia in his voice. From a distance, you can see a compound of old log and stone buildings. They look very much at peace with the valley surroundings, having long ago settled into this breathtaking environment. He can hardly believe it himself; he has decided to sell the property, quietly listing it for $8.275 million with Jim Cardamone, Jack K. Pretti and Jeremiah Akers of Coldwell Banker Mason Morse.
“Smith Fork Ranch is an extraordinary property because it balances the finer things in life with a private and peaceful rural ranch setting so beautifully,” says Cardamone. Adds Pretti: “It presents a unique opportunity for a buyer. It could be used as a private family retreat compound or as an exclusive guest ranch — or both.”
Decades of the Hodgson family’s stewardship are evident in many aspects of the ranch and its operation. Made to feel both comfortable and rustically elegant, the interiors at Smith Fork Ranch reveal the owner’s appreciation for the great art and design traditions of the American West. Rich wood and leather blend with hand-forged details, hand-blown glass and hammered metal lighting, rooting each space in a sense of timelessness. Custom designed and hand-made pieces mix with American Primitive antiques, art, rugs and accessories from the leading western and Native American artisans of the past 80 years.
With accommodations for only 26 at a time and a staff of 28, Smith Fork Ranch offers an unusual sense of intimacy not often found at Western guest ranches, which tend to be bigger with less balanced staff-to-guest ratios. Everyone gets to know each other; friendships form quickly.
“Our staff of 28 does a superb job of teaching, guiding, serving and tending to your every need,” says Hodgson. “You’re in for a western treat that is on a different level from what most folks are accustomed to.”
Hodgson is right. No guest who stays at Smith Fork Ranch is left for wanting. The comfortable featherbeds and linens in your bedroom feel more five-star than dude ranch. Meanwhile, an array of accommodations and amenities make it possible to experience your very own world-class western fantasy.
There’s a stable full of beautiful horses, top of the line fishing equipment and Beretta shotguns for sporting clays, all set aside for guests’ exclusive use. There’s fly fishing on three private miles of the Smith Fork of the Gunnison River plus six trout ponds, a sporting clays/trap shooting center, a swimming pond with dock, a long bow archery range, 10 mountain bikes and trails for hiking, biking or horseback riding.
There’s live music on many Saturday nights. A farmstead offers an 8,000 square-foot organic garden and chickens, which supply most of the vegetables, fruits and eggs for the ranch’s kitchen. The family’s personal wine cellar is also onsite for pairing with the farm-to-table cuisine helmed by Chef Marcus Parrott.
“The food and wine at Smith Fork Ranch have by themselves become a major attraction,” says Hodgson. “Each day the gardener and culinary team pick and washes their selected produce just minutes before cooking.”
Other amenities passed down to the next owner include tractors, vehicles, equipment and tools for daily ranch management, plus an extensive portfolio of water rights for irrigation, pure mountain spring drinking water and seasonal permits from the U.S. Forest Service for both recreation and hunting in the surrounding Gunnison National Forest.
Over a million acres of uninhabited National Forest and wilderness surround the ranch, with endless miles of riding and hiking trails, some leading to the ranches exclusive permitted camps far into the back country wilderness. This secluded private valley setting deep in the Colorado Rockies has long been a haven for the most interesting people from a wide variety of backgrounds.
“Recently, a party of proprietors from the top Napa Valley wineries and wine connoisseurs spent four days of dining and wining at the ranch,” recalls Hodgson. “They caught some trophy trout and left behind some lavish praise for the ranch cuisine as well as the fishing. Even when we are away from the ranch, the people who live and work at the ranch can’t hide their pride of being part of such a special place.”
They’ve obviously bought into the vision that Marley and Linda Hodgson bestowed on this hidden, pristine piece of Colorado.
Smith Fork Ranch is an active luxury guest lodge with a 6-night minimum stay during the Summer, at an all-inclusive rate between $5,100 to $5,970 per person, per week. Smith Fork is also available during the Spring and Fall seasons. For availability or bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information, visit www.smithforkranch.com.