Four years ago, if you followed the Smith Fork River upstream from the town of Crawford, Colorado, you might have run into a few wayward cows or a fallen tree before passing by a collection of disintegrating ranch buildings, various rusting appliances and some abandoned vehicles junked beside the road. It was not picturesque. Today, you still have to drive around poky cows, but the run-down ranch is gone. Or rather, it's been reincarnated as Smith Fork Ranch, a tastefully restored and refurbished version of the original, and one of the most luxurious and low-key desti-nations in the West.
Two hours southwest of Aspen and five hours west of Denver, Crawford is a divinely isolated spot. For generations this region of wide spaces and even wider skies has been home to cattlemen and hay farmers. Smith Fork Ranch was homesteaded in 1890 and traded for a banjo before its first incarnation as a guest ranch, in the 1940s. By the time Marley Hodgson, Jr., his wife, Linda, and their children31-year-old Marley III and 29-year-old Lindsaybought the property in 2000 for their personal use, the 265 acres along Colorado's pristine Smith Fork River had degenerated severely. The Hodgsons, who were preparing to sell their luxury leather goods company Ghurka, quickly realized they wanted to restore Smith Fork as a guest ranch and, as Linda says, "honor the heritage of the place."
And honor it they did. Today, almost everything you see on the ranch, which opened in the summer of 2002, was fabricated by local artisans using local materials: the leather-and-elk-horn door handles, the whimsical iron hardware, the handmade pottery, elk-antler chandeliers and river-stone fireplaces. In all, well over 100 craftspeople from the area worked with Marley Jr.who had designed the Ghurka luggage, wallets and beltsto renovate the ranch in a way that was true to its history and environment, but also significantly more elegant than anything the valley had ever seen before.