Summer '23 - Vermejo, a recreation and outdoor paradise

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Vermejo - A Ted Turner Reserve



A Ted Turner Reserve

Story by Heidi Chackel

Photography provided by Vermejo


As the pace of the world we live in inevitably quickens, many of us crave moments of reprieve. Maybe you yearn for your constant state of hustle to be replaced by a sense of serenity. Or possibly, what you seek is a place to disconnect from your everyday responsibilities and instead, be one with nature. Perhaps outdoor activities, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and the like are of importance for your next adventure. If so, say hello to the perfect retreat destination: Vermejo, a Ted Turner Reserve.

Located in Northern New Mexico is Vermejo, a snow-capped alpine tundra with nearly twenty picturesque lakes and over 550,000 acres of scenic land waiting to be explored. “Save everything” is Ted Turner’s motto and conservation is the heart of Vermejo. From accommodations to dining to activities, the whole experience at Vermejo is rooted in protecting this vast natural landscape. The result? A vacation that develops a deeper appreciation for the environment, a connectedness with nature, and, quite literally, a breath of fresh air from one’s normal life. 

Our group of four recently visited Vermejo and thoroughly enjoyed five days and four nights filled with amazing people, stunning beauty, endless adventure, and exquisite accommodations. Vermejo offered us an experience like no other, one that we will always remember and one that we hope to experience again.

Conservation and Wildlife

“When we connect with nature, we heal ourselves. When we protect nature, we heal the planet.” This is the philosophy of Ted Turner, conservationist, philanthropist, restaurateur, sailing champion, professional sports team owner, founder of CNN, and owner of Vermejo. This ideology can be seen throughout Vermejo, particularly, in their devotion to the protection of endangered species. Not only is Vermejo committed to preserving native ecosystems, but they are devoted to the restoration of wildlife as well.

One of their biggest missions is to protect and repopulate the endangered American bison and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. One of the most genetically pure bison herds in the United States is the Castle Rock bison herd. Originally from Yellowstone National Park, this herd has lived on Vermejo since the 1920’s, where it is still managed as a conservation herd to preserve its unique genetics. For most of the year, the bison are allowed to migrate across the landscape without interior fences.  Armed with a truck, a map, and tips from staff, our group of four headed out one afternoon to find these infamous bison. While it took a bit of time, we were successful and had one of those moments in life you long for. The herd we found numbered around 60 bison including many calves, and we enjoyed just watching and listening to them for an hour from under a nearby tree. The setting was stunning and the quietness to our city ears was unique to say the least.

Vermejo is also home to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Vermejo successfully reintroduced this native trout species to the entire Costilla Creek watershed on the property. This incredible feat of restoration of a threatened species was made possible through the collaboration of several conservation partners. A few other wildlife conservation projects that have taken place in the past on the sweeping expanse of Vermejo include the attempted restoration of black-footed ferrets and black-tailed and Gunnison's prairie dogs, the Santa Fe Trail Mule Deer Adaptive Management Partnership, an ongoing biologist-led carrying capacity studies of ungulates that aid in the management of Vermejo’s elk population.

In addition to animal conservation, Vermejo boasts ecological reclamation. This includes stream restoration; their goal involves the restoration of riparian vegetation and sustaining the impacted watercourse to enhance species such as trout, beavers, and neotropical migrant birds. Furthermore, Vermejo’s dedication to forest health can be seen through their undertaking of aspen restoration and the ecological restoration of ponderosa pine. After seeing a constant decline in aspen stands in the upland forests, Vermejo has been trialing several afforestation treatments in an initiative to regenerate the declining aspens. Additionally, Vermejo has treated over 18,000 acres of ponderosa pine with the intent to thin the population back to pre-settlement conditions. With their ecological restoration comes complementary invasive species control. To preserve indigenous wildlife and native plants, Vermejo works to control and, when possible, eradicate non-native plants that would overwhelm the endemic beauty that Vermejo has to offer. 

Experiences and Adventures

From horseback riding to ice fishing to archery, Vermejo has an abundance of diverse activities to delight in whatever adventure your heart desires. Amongst their attractions is the oh-so-popular fishing. Vermejo boasts over thirty miles of streams and a dozen lakes waiting to be fished. Depending on the season, anglers can enjoy lake fishing, stream fishing, fly fishing, and ice fishing. For novices, Vermejo offers one-on-one experiences with fishing guides who promise “a full day of fishing success.” Our group opted for a half day of lake fishing with our guide Daniel, through which all four of us successfully caught multiple trout while enjoying nature. His eagle eyes actually picked up a bald eagle in a nearby tree that we watched throughout the morning. 

With a seemingly limitless amount of land to explore, Vermejo offers several tours to experience its reserve with extremely competent and personable guides. Are there any animal lovers out there? Vermejo offers a wildlife safari and a bison expedition, both great options to see some wildlife up close. For the history buffs, a Catskill Kilns and History Tour is offered allowing participants to visit the remains of the town of Catskill. Foodies can delight in the Taste of Vermejo Greenhouse Tour where guests can taste whatever vegetables are currently growing. Adventurists can partake in Vermejo Rim UTV tours where there are a plethora of thrilling roads and breathtaking views to be explored. Lastly, paying homage to Ted Turner is the conservation tour where guests can see the many conservation projects up close and in action. In addition to tours, guests can explore the land either by foot or by bike as there are many hiking and biking trails all around.

Our group fell in love with the e-bike adventures. With an entire shed full of them, bikes were always available and are a great way to engage in an adventurous activity that showcases wildlife and scenery. Through our three experiences on the e-bikes we enjoyed: wildlife sightings (including turkey, bear, antelope, coyote, and elk), stunning views from atop the surrounding mountains, historic charcoal kilns, a picnic at one of the high lakes, and what to us was a challenging off-road trail. I had never truly gone mountain biking, and with the help of the e-bike I fully enjoyed a two-hour ride on a narrow and winding trail. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how peaceful this quiet setting amongst valleys and mountains truly was.

On the last day as my friend and I enjoyed a cocktail in front of the fire, our husbands engaged in wobble deck shooting as it rained all around. I am told they had an amazing time, with ample heaters keeping them comfortable as they enjoyed many competitive games run by their guide. I did engage with the shotguns on a previous day and was surprised to learn I am a decent shot. There truly is something for everyone to enjoy at Vermejo.


Experiences that should not be overlooked include:

Hiking, including the ambitious ‘4 Peaks in 5 Days’


Cooking classes


Via Ferrata climbing park

Horseback riding

E-biking/ Mountain biking

Outdoor Fitness Classes

Shooting Sports



Vermejo River Trail



The lodging accommodations at Vermejo are equivalently as unique and unparalleled as the reserve itself. There are four different lodging options on the property: Casa Grande, Costilla Fishing Lodge, Turner House, and Guest Cottages.

Casa Grande is a renovated stone mansion that was once Ted Turner’s private residence. This 25,000-square-foot estate is spacious with seven bedrooms, each with its own private bathroom. Between its marble column hallways, historic furnishings, and early 1900s accents, one may feel as though they’ve stepped back in time to a 1920s soirée. My husband and I’s room was located in Casa Grande, and we were delighted to enjoy fully modern amenities in such a historic setting.

Forty-five minutes from Casa Grande is Costilla Fishing Lodge. Nestled 10,000 feet in elevation, Costilla Fishing Lodge is a much more remote option with easy access to the wilderness, particularly Vermejo’s abundant fishing lakes. Costilla Fishing Lodge has a cabin feel with eight private bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. What makes this place remarkable is it was constructed using timber and stone from the property itself; furthermore, the lodge is solar-powered and certified LEED Silver.

For guests wanting to capitalize on relaxation at Vermejo, the Turner House is the property to stay at. Turner House offers a Spa Room for massage, and boasts 10 private guest rooms, sitting areas, coffee, and beverage bars. This newly renovated property is the epitome of elegance with its charming interior and spectacular views.

In addition, Vermejo boasts several cottages that guests can stay in. Each cottage was thoughtfully renovated to meet the modern needs of guests yet hold the integrity of its original design. Guests can choose from three, four, or five-bedroom cottages, perfect for families and friend groups alike. Regardless of which accommodation best suits your needs, every stay includes all meals, activities, and guided experiences. 


Culinary Adventures

At Vermejo, dining is something to be experienced. They’ve coined the term “culinary adventures” for the delectable dishes that executive Chef Lanzante and his accomplished culinary team prepare for guests. Each guest receives three epicurean meals each day included with their stay.

The mission at Vermejo is to connect guests with nature and they don’t miss a single opportunity to do so, even when it comes to food. Between the produce grown on property in gardens and greenhouses to locally sourced flavors, every meal is authentically Vermejo. Even better, meals are tailored to each guest, so no need to worry about dietary restrictions. Before visiting Vermejo, guests are invited to complete an itinerary-building service in which the team can ensure the perfect culinary adventure awaits.

Vermejo additionally offers an amazing array of alfresco edibles such as their cowboy breakfast. Guests can have their hearty breakfast favorites cooked over a fire in a cast-iron skillet with the Cowboy Breakfast, a great option for those who love a campfire. Their other alfresco culinary adventures include” curated picnics, lakeside fish fry, countryside cookout, and sunset cocktail tour.

For guests seeking a more elegant affair, Vermejo has a plethora of decadent meals served in a lavish space. Their Opulence Tasting Menu is the utmost dining experience at Vermejo and is perfect for a special occasion. Guests have the option between a four or six-course meal, making this a culinary experience like no other. Additional elegant affairs offered include High Tea and History, Private Headquarters Dinners, and Canapes and Cocktails. 

Lastly, Vermejo has many cooking and mixology classes as well as wine, beer, and spirit tastings. Whether you’re in the kitchen cooking, wining and dining at Casa Grande, or enjoying some biscuits and gravy by a campfire, Vermejo has it all.



During our stay, many things stood out, more than can be shared in these pages. With that said, here are a few that will remain with us for years.

The employees are amazing. It can be challenging to staff at remote destinations like Vermejo. This has become even more challenging post-Covid. Theresa King, the general manager for Vermejo, embraces this challenge and works hard to bring the right people to Vermejo. From what we saw, she is successful at just that. When asked how she measures success, her answer: “When our guests tell me personally what a great team we have.” Our dining staff was downright friendly and personable, while also efficient at their jobs. The bartender, Will, was a highlight and we missed him on our last day while he was off enjoying down time. He shared stories, photos, tips and hints, a delicious cocktail list, and even bear spray. All of our adventure guides were wonderful at their jobs and made us feel at home. Even the supremely talented Chef Lanzante took the time to get to know us and toured us around his gardens. It does seem that the entire staff enjoy Vermejo and the role they play in making the time we spent there thoroughly enjoyable.

The main lodge is most definitely the place to hang out, with an open yet cozy feel. Two gigantic fireplaces create that mountain feel, and an entire wall of windows and doors provide stunning views while you enjoy delicious food and drink. Outside is an expansive deck with firepits, dining tables, and lounge areas. We enjoyed coffee, cocktails, cornhole, and powerful heaters during our stay while taking in breathtaking views of the valley and surrounding mountains. We were even treated to baby owls nesting in a nearby tree with their parents.

The ability to plan our trip truly made this vacation perfect. The staff spent time with us via phone and email prior to our visit planning adventures to fill each and every day. These adventures were tailored to our group, allowing us time to explore on our own as well as with guides. We were our own group, enjoying adventure, nature, and the surrounding scenery how we wanted to.

The weather was a surprising player in our enjoyment of Vermejo. While we had plenty of sunshine to enjoy the land, we were also treated to several thunderstorms that create a beauty I can’t describe. Stunning cloud formations amongst the mountain tops and throughout the valley boasted incredible lightning flashes and eventual rainbows. I won’t forget racing down the mountain on our e-bikes, trying to outpace the storm following at our heels. Or our lake picnic under a gazebo during an e-bike rest as we watched hail pelt the ground and water around us. 

Vermejo—Your Next Destination

Are you ready to disconnect from your everyday responsibilities and instead engage with nature on a different level? Vermejo is not your average vacation but is a destination that begs to be explored. From check in to check out, this Ted Turner Reserve is an experience like no other. Perhaps what makes Vermejo particularly special, is their initiative to conserve and heal nature. From projects to protect wildlife to eco-friendly practices to locally grown produce, Vermejo doesn’t merely say they’re committed to sustainability but shows what conservation looks like up close and offers guests opportunities to see their ongoing practices. To book your Vermejo getaway or simply to learn more about this Ted Turner reserve, visit

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