In all the planning for my southwest Colorado getaway, belting ohmmm in an echoing old water tank never made the prospective itinerary. Nor did stumbling upon a half-buried school bus hidden in the cactus-freckled canyons of western Colorado. But here I am, soaking up the magic of Camp V, an upcycled mining town-turned-boutique glamping getaway that officially opened this April.
My guide is Natalie Binder, the brains behind this chic-yet-gritty operation just outside Naturita, a small Colorado town one hour west of ski haven Telluride. Binder bought this massive property, a dilapidated 1940s mining camp for nearby Vanadium Corporation of America, in 2017. At the time, it was a glorified junkyard. But among the strewn buses, abandoned cars, and heaps of trash, Binder saw possibility. She also recognized a way to reconnect with her roots, as her father lived in the mining camp as a child.
"The first time I saw that 'for sale' sign, my wheels started turning because of the history and potential," she told me as we ducked out of the hilltop water tank to catch sunrise over camp, a 120-acre plot of cabins, art, and Airstreams, with the snow-dusted San Juan Mountains in the distance. This isn't Binder's first foray into the travel industry. Her hospitality background spans 20 years, with largely luxury brands and properties as her focus. Despite her history, though, Binder said upcycling a massive forgotten mining camp looked daunting. "When I went to look at this, there was a part of me that was like, 'Wow, I don't know if I can do this,'" she said.
But she did, with much help from the community and support from her spirited business partners, Jodie and Bruce Wright, founders of Telluride's One Architects. And it's obvious the team was on to something. Artists and adventure seekers now flock to this vast open-air playground, where upcycled mining parts are explorable art, and canyons, mountains, and the adjacent San Miguel River pulse with exhilarating possibility.
Like the uninhibited grounds, a stay at Camp V is a choose your own adventure. The cabins, a row of surprisingly luxe digs, salvage as much of the original mining-camp structures as possible. Vibrant art and vintage records make guests feel right at home, as do the breakfast boxes awaiting in the fridge, sourced from local organic shops like Wild Gal's Market in the nearby town of Nucla. RV hookups are available just beyond the cabins.
Camping presents another chance to mesh luxury with adventure at Camp V. The campsite, a five-minute downhill walk from the main grounds, is steps from the San Miguel River. Campers can enjoy a refurbished school bus for relaxing and remote work, a stylish lounge area that looks straight out of Marrakesh, and a nearby pond and floating dock with stand-up paddleboards and canoes.
No matter the digs, all guests can enjoy Camp V's various amenities and events. The Prairie Wind Chapel, a camp beacon built by Burning Man artist Robert Hoehn, is open 24 hours for enjoyment and reflection. Campfire events, such as cookouts with Telluride chef and influencer Marla Meridith, bond guests through bites and conversation. And by far the most hair-raising yet meaningful experience is the side-by-side history tour on the Rimrocker Trail, a 160-mile roller coaster of a desert off-road trail that connects Montrose, Colorado, with Moab, Utah. On these adrenaline-filled off-road tours, historians from the local Rimrocker Historical Society help guests understand the past and present across many of these oft-forgotten mining communities.
Alone, each offering could be the cherry on top of a perfect desert getaway, but combined, these facets feed into Binder's larger hospitality goal: redefining luxury. "To me, luxury means connection," said Binder. "It means beauty. It means feeling connected to something bigger — or seeing parallels, and understanding what's going on in rural America right now. To evolve, to learn, to grow, to feel connected. That's really what it means to be rich."
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