John Wayne Stayed Here: Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs

I visited the Twin Peaks Lodge and Hot Springs, Ouray, in late May, and managed to show up right around check-in time. Duane Ennis, the front desk manager, was as busy as you can imagine, checking in guests for the Memorial Day weekend. I hung out in the lobby, wondered how much the place had changed over the years, how many guests had come through those doors and stood in that lobby, since John Wayne had stayed here while shooting True Grit.

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For anyone who’s never worked in the customer service business—at a motel, a hot springs, or anywhere else—please know that a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, to make the places we all enjoy so much, so cozy. This was evident at just about every hot springs I visited on my tour, doing research for a book I was writing about Colorado’s hot springs, and it was no different at the Twin Peaks Lodge. Duane did it all with a smile, though, and I was grateful when the steady influx of motel guests slowed, allowing him time to give me a tour of the grounds.

The soaking and swimming pools at Twin Peaks were clean and neat, bordered by manicured lawns and rock gardens, but standing at the west end of the swimming pool, or just about anywhere else on the property, it was hard to focus on anything but the views. The lower flanks of Hayden Mountain bordered the south, with the snow-capped summit of Abrams Mountain sparkling beyond, in the sunlight. In the eastern skies—rising high above the tiki bar—stood the Amphitheater, a striking natural formation carved into the rock and resembling a giant glacial cirque, but believed to have been formed by a volcanic explosion. All around, steep, ledgy rock faces rose straight up and scraped the sky. Ouray is known as the “Switzerland of America,” and standing at the end of the pool, it was easy to see why. Duane had a look on his face I’d seen before, on the faces of many Colorado hot springs staff, that “I can’t believe I work here” look.

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“In the summertime,” he said, “they set off fireworks up there in the Amphitheater. We have the best views.” 

Duane talked low, he talked slow, and he didn’t talk too much. The Duke would have approved. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine it: sitting there at the tiki bar under a night sky, surrounded by those towering peaks, fireworks echoing from the Amphitheater south, through Uncompahgre Canyon, while twinkling white and gold stars mingled with the bursting colors of the July 4th celebration. A cool drink was in my right hand, and an even cooler John Wayne sat to my left. I decided it would be nice, darn nice, but the views that day were pretty nice, too. Really, Pilgrim, they were the best.

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Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs Ouray, Colorado. Photos by Susan Joy Paul.

Touring Colorado Hot Springs (April 2012, FalconGuides) introduces you to 32 Colorado hot springs, with directions, maps, and the details you need to plan your hot springs vacation.

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