At Colorado's Tall Timber Resort, Guests Enjoy a Rugged Wilderness Without Actually Roughing It

updated 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

How do you transport a full-size, preformed swimming pool into a roadless mountain wilderness? Not easily. Three times Dennis Beggrow sought to haul a pool to his Tall Timber resort high (elevation: 7,500 feet) in Colorado's San Juan Mountains by dangling it on a sling beneath a helicopter. Three times the fiberglass shells crashed to the ground and shattered. Beggrow finally succeeded on the next try by employing the only other alternative. "This fourth pool," he says with pride, "was designed to fit the exact length of a flatbed railroad car."

Beggrow's struggle to get his pool to its site says volumes about the remoteness of Tall Timber, set on 280 private acres amid the nearly 2-million-acre San Juan National Forest. There are only two ways to get there. One is by helicopter (only 15 minutes from Durango). The other is a two-hour ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a steam-engine train making four round-trips daily with stops at Tall Timber's own depot.

But as the heated pool attests, isolation at Tall Timber doesn't mean deprivation. The resort accommodates no more than 26 guests at a time, and none of them is expected to rough it—not with the ready availability of a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, saunas, swirling hot tubs and one-and two-bedroom suites, all with fireplaces. The smallest of the five-star (Mobil Travel Guide), five-diamond (AAA Tour Book) resorts in the country, Tall Timber's guest-staff ratio is a pampering 1 to 1.

For all its luxe facilities, Tall Timber avoids the glitzy. "There is no TV, no bar, no dancing, no entertainment except what you get from Mother Nature," Beggrow says. Or as the resort's brochure advises wryly: "If you for some reason enjoy noise, air and water pollution, you may not find Tall Timber to your liking."

Instead, the setting here offers natural grandeur—alpine meadows, tumbling waterfalls, icy trout streams, wildflowers and wildlife in profusion. There are five hiking trails and a 100-acre ranch with eight saddle horses. After a day outdoors, guests' appetites are sated in Tall Timber's first-class restaurant, where dinner might include brook trout caught that afternoon and strip steak, with a dessert of crepes St. Helen flambéed at the table. While the service is strictly crystal and candlelight, and the wine list can reach up to a $190 bottle of Château Lafite-Rothschild '76, the ambience is relaxed. Dressing for dinner hardly requires much more than putting on a clean pair of jeans.

Tall Timber directly reflects the dreams of Denny Beggrow, 42, and his wife, Judy, 44, who, along with other family members, practically hand built the resort. The Ohio-born son of an engineer and his accountant wife, Denny began learning the hotelier's trade when his family moved to West Palm Beach and bought a small motel. Denny also worked summers at a Colorado dude ranch. It was there that he met Judy, whose parents owned the place. The young couple married in 1969 when Denny was still a student at the University of Denver, but they had already mapped their future. "We wanted to build the best resort in America," he says.

They began the following summer. Denny and his brother David, using $100,000 inherited from their maternal grandmother, bought the then-undeveloped wilderness tract that is now Tall Timber. At the start, Denny recalls, "We lived in tents—my brother, Judy and I in one tent, my parents in another. We mixed mortar by hand, we scrounged for building materials." By 1973 Tall Timber had enough facilities in place to welcome its first paying guests.

Over the years, says Denny, "We've had guests in the public eye, but our policy is not to mention names. We've had people who head Fortune 500 companies, television folks, Hollywood—some are very nice, some horrible. And we've had a lot of very-special-yet-ordinary people who save all year to come here on vacation for a week." But even with tariffs averaging around $300 a day per person and bookings a year in advance, Tall Timber still hasn't turned a profit, Denny says. To stay solvent, the Beggrow family has depended on its other business: designing and refurbishing golf courses.

"We need to build more units to break even," Denny says of Tall Timber, whose season is from May through October, plus three weeks over the Christmas-New Year's holidays. "But we do want to keep it small and special. A lot of people may not understand us; we're individualists, really, introverts in an extrovert's field." And what do Tall Timber's own people do when they want to unwind? "Our vacation," says Denny, "is to take the whole crew to Disney World."

—Michael Neill, Julie Greenwalt at Tall Timber

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