Blue shantung silk gown with tiered skirt, $5,975, by Alberta Ferretti at Saks Fifth Avenue, South Coast Plaza; Huntington fringe bootie, $450, at Tory Burch, South Coast Plaza; Navajo third phase concho belt, price upon request, Navajo silver wire row bracelet, $1,350, Zuni turquoise cluster bracelet, $1,200, Navajo five stone row bracelet, $1,200, turquoise cluster bracelet, $1,200, and Navajo silver cuff with blue gem turquoise, $1,200, all at Shiprock Santa Fe and shiprocksantafe.com; Artist Series slab necklace with aqua tourmaline and diamonds, $25,000, at David Yurman, South Coast Plaza.
A hallowed stillness hangs in the air when you enter Vermejo Park Ranch, a wildly remote land preservation and lodge across the border from Colorado in New Mexico. Arriving at the ranch requires a bit of an adjustment period for city dwellers. The sound of your voice easily echoes against the giant basin between two mountain ranges; there are unobstructed panoramic views of the American blue sky; your body’s spacial awareness is shifted to the vastness of the park—totaling 585,000 acres—and crisp air feels narrow at elevations of up to 12,931 feet. The ranch is as extensive in size as it is in offerings: a rich narrative of more than 100 years of passed ownership; luxury lodging and tailored itineraries; an abundance of activities to equally captivate a novice trailblazer or a clueless newbie; a conservation effort by current owner Ted Turner; and a landscape so profound it’s a wonder how this park has been able to remain under the radar—for now, at least.
In order to truly grasp the nature of Vermejo Park Ranch, we must revisit its origins via William H. Bartlett, who purchased the property in 1901. Around the time America’s national parks were being mapped, Bartlett set out to create a private haven for family and friends to interact with nature. Over a 15-year period, the ranch was built for about $180 million in today’s dollars. Aside from the main lodge and his home, called Casa Grande, Bartlett built additional guest and staff housing, constructed small dams to augment lakes for fishing and created an impressive infrastructure, given the ranch’s wildly remote location. After Bartlett died, the property was passed to the Chandler family, who aimed to make Vermejo an exclusive club for friends and VIPs, then to Pennzoil for cattle ranging and, now, to Turner.
Squaring him simply as a media mogul would be akin to saying Leonardo da Vinci was only a painter. Turner is the second-largest land owner in the world, has donated much of his fortune to charity, has helped bring the bison population from 500 to 500,000 and spends his fortune not on collecting shiny new covetables, but rather choosing to restore earthly gifts to their former state. Taking Bartlett’s original vision for the ranch a bit further, Turner’s desire to return the land to its natural state is the core value of this place. To summarize, Turner often says: “Save everything,” a short and sweet definition of his mission, speaking not only to Vermejo’s land conservation but to every creature roaming it.
Stone-bleached denim single-breasted jacket with stud decorations and floral patches, $4,980, and stone-bleached denim high-waist flare pant with stud decorations, $3,200, both by Gucci at Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island; dress with stone detail and bell sleeve, $2,400, by Marc Jacobs at Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island and marcjacobs.com; turquoise and sterling silver ring, $159, at grazielagems.com; sterling silver 18K yellow gold turquoise ring, $383, at effyjewelry.com; gold-tone ring with ceramic insert, $188, and Fossil ring with stone, $289, both by Etro at Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island and etro.com.
Beyond its rich history and current pursuit of preservation, Vermejo feels like summer camp for adults. However, instead of bunks, guests sleep in plush queen beds with high-thread count sheets. After a four-year renovation and Casa Grande’s reopening less than a year ago, this respite is ripe for a moment. A plethora of outdoorsy activities keep adventurers busy: Horseback riding with Doug, a vet of the ranch since 1974 and a true cowboy who doesn’t have a cellphone or a computer, tops the list. Orvis-endorsed fishing is another must, with Brian, a fisherman in his 21st season at the ranch, who was able to give expert insight on how to lure Modern Luxury Fashion Director James Aguiar’s prized catch of a glistening rainbow trout. James the activity manager, in his 18th season (there’s a pattern here), is a true woodsman who teaches guests to shoot a shotgun properly and can name any living thing on the property—fauna and flora—bringing a unique romance to the pursuit of being one with nature here. Finally, there is the hospitality team: Jade McBride and wife Deann, who hail from storied property Amangiri, are the on-site captains of merriment and are known to regularly turn dreams into reality. The McBrides’ approach is personal: They ask each of the guests to fill out questionnaires before arrival and go over them on the phone to allow an itinerary catered to each guest. This also includes culinary pursuits, thanks to skilled chef Steven Kohl. Aiming to highlight the property’s abundant resources and bringing new truth to farm-to-table dining, the food is remarkable and simple. Bison tenderloin with a horseradish and sun-dried tomato garnish, and chili-infused venison were standouts.
With a max occupancy of around 100, the ranch offers a range of accommodations. There are private houses, individual guest rooms at Casa Grande and the remote Costilla Lodge. Casa Grande offers a wealth of rich history, with black-and-white photos dating back to the turn of the century, a domed ceiling with mesmerizing masonry work, a 10,000-volume library and a stunning Steinway, which hails from the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. Surrounding Casa Grande are other small buildings and what Vermejo’s team calls “the lodge,” which is where you’ll enjoy meals, cozy up with bourbon and a crackling fire, and interact with other guests. About an hour’s drive from base camp lies a sizable cabin, Costilla Lodge, nestled between two peaks perched above a valley white with snow. The disconnection from your cell service may cause anxiety at Costilla, but once you see the expanse of its overlook, you will forget that the world beckons.
The beauty of this park, besides what is seen, is the unseen mission of this ranch: By staying at Vermejo Park Ranch, you are actually donating to a cause. Turner has mandated that no dollar spent at Vermejo can leave Vermejo. This funds the staff scientists who track bison herd count or the botanists trying to rebuild the cottonwood tree population. Guests will sense this mission and have an opportunity to fuel a pursuit of their own. Traveling to Vermejo can quench a thirst for science by finding knowledge in the wilderness, spark the spirit of Magellan by searching unmapped lands, and incite the advocate in you to preserve and protect our beautiful planet. The words “Leave All Care Behind Ye Who Enter Here,” which were once heralded across the entrance to Vermejo, still capture the spirit of this place and its lingering effects: New trails will be blazed; inner paths will be illuminated; and curiosities will be unearthed to give way to a passion as lasting as the land.
Dress, $8,280, and skirt, $3,990, both at Marni, South Coast Plaza; short cowboy boot, $595, at annmashburn.com; solid crinkly wrap scarf, worn on head, $29, at echodesign.com; Georgina hat, $375, at eugeniakim.com; Fish mismatched earrings, $175, at Tory Burch, South Coast Plaza.
Wool coat, $3,190, at Max Mara, South Coast Plaza; classic blue denim overalls, $785, by Stella McCartney at Saks Fifth Avenue, South Coast Plaza; Essex poplin shirt in Bright White, $295, at rag-bone.com; leather Western belt, $460, by Alberta Ferretti at Saks Fifth Avenue, South Coast Plaza; Bonaire chain necklaces in turquoise and coral, $650 each, both at David Yurman, South Coast Plaza.
Distressed cow leather jacket, $3,490, by Ralph Lauren Collection at Ralph Lauren, South Coast Plaza; nutmeg crepe dress with white floral sequined embroidery, $12,995, by Michael Kors Collection at Michael Kors, South Coast Plaza; Zuni needlepoint turquoise dangle earrings, $650, at Shiprock Santa Fe and shiprocksantafe.com; gloves, stylist’s own.
Dip-dye handkerchief linen dress, $1,860, at j-w-anderson.com; Navajo transitional blanket with indigo, $6,500, and concho belt with turquoise cabochons, $3,800, both at Shiprock Santa Fe and shiprocksantafe.com; tall cowboy boot in Saddle Suede, $695, at annmashburn.com; choker with enameled pottery pendant, $580, by Etro at Neiman Marcus, Fashion Island and etro.com.
Main Image: Denim gown, $5,990, carolinaherrera.com; vintage fringe jacket, $1,120, hoppergoods.com; tall cowboy boot in Saddle Suede, $695, annmashburn.com; Navajo silver squash blossom necklace with blue turquoise gem, $2,400, Shiprock Santa Fe and shiprocksantafe.com.
Hair by Miok using Oribe Hair Care with Judy Casey Inc. | Makeup by Robin Schoen using MAC Cosmetics | Model: Loris Kraemerh with ONE.1 Management | Shot on location at Vermejo Park Ranch, Raton, N.M.
Photo Assistants: Christopher Rosales and Dan O’Neil | Digital Tech: Dayvid Lemmon | Styling Assistant: Caroline Ward